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The US-Israel-India Axis Will Have Ramifications In The Greater Middle East:.

*** The Israeli Government Decides 'In Principle' To Expel Yasser Arafat From The Palestinian Territories; When This Happens It Will Spark Off An Explosion Of Violence Across The Arab World And Anti-US Operations Will Escalate

*** Despite Their Closeness, India Will Not Risk Damaging Its Ties With The Arab World And Israel Will Not Foreclose Its Options With Pakistan As Both Govts. Recognise Each Other's Compulsions

NICOSIA - The visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to New Delhi signals the formal emergence of a strategic axis between the US, Israel and India which will impact upon virtually all of the countries from Central Asia to Morocco. The impact will be felt in different ways, reflecting changing geo-political realities of an area covering the Indian subcontinent and the greater Middle East. Apart from growing economic interaction within this alliance, the centrepiece of the axis will be defence and intelligence co-operation, also focusing on sales of high tech weapons systems and mutual access to military facilities and training.

These developments are being viewed with varying degrees of alarm in the Arab world, forcing states to re-examine structural relationships that lasted through the cold war. India had in the past aligned itself closely to the Arab position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, hoping to blunt Pakistan's diplomacy on the Kashmir issue at a time when US-Indian relations were was affected by cold war considerations. But after guerrilla warfare started in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the late 1980s - coinciding with the end of the Afghan war and followed by the US-led war to liberate Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 - India began to make a strategic reassessment of its relationships with the US and Israel, a process matched by a similar reassessment in the latter two countries.

In 1990-91, APS had started forecasting the emergence of an axis between these three countries as all sides had begun to perceive a convergence of strategic interests in the emerging global scenario. Groups in the US, mainly the Indian and Jewish lobbies, acted vigorously upon such convergences, with the governments often following on. From 1992, when Israel and India boosted their diplomatic relations after a visit to New Delhi by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the triangular relationship began to be transformed. The transformation gathered momentum in 1995-98 as "terror" or "resistance" attacks against all three countries intensified. After 9/11, Washington began to take a central role in consolidating this axis, while the US had a "re-marriage of convenience" with Pakistan necessitated by its war against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The atmospherics of the Sharon visit to India on Sept. 9-10, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister (who had to cut it short and rush back to Israel after two Palestinian suicide bombings within six hours killed many), indicated the extent of secret co-operation that had been growing since the two countries began low-level diplomatic relations in 1950, with the establishment of a consulate in Mumbai (then Bombay). On his arrival on Sept. 9 at the head of a 150-member delegation, Sharon was given the full ceremonial welcome with a 21-gun salute amid "Delta level" security, the highest alert in New Delhi.

Demonstrations by the Communist parties and Muslim interest groups in New Delhi were not allowed to overshadow the visit. The major defence deal agreed was for the $1 billion Phalcon airborne early warning radar system, the equivalent of the AWACS, which will give the Indian armed forces a clear edge in conventional warfare over Pakistan.

Also in advanced stages of discussion is the $2.5 billion Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. Like the Phalcon system, because of joint development by the US and Israel, the Arrow sale needs to be approved by Washington. With the US having approved the Phalcon deal, despite having banned its sale to China by Israel, the prospects for the Arrow to be transferred to India are strong - especially given the fact that New Delhi has strongly supported American plans for a global Nuclear Missile Defence (NMD) system.

The reaction in the Arab World has been muted. On Sept. 9 Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said: "Of course we can't tie any country's hands, (whether) to receive a certain official or not... But we hope India will remain sincere to its relations with Arabs and not give support to an aggressive country, an occupier, who rejected peace. We are expecting more than that from India". At the same news conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said Indian officials had assured him that they would abide by their "traditional stance ... and would support the Arab rights, including support for a just and comprehensive settlement".

India has reiterated that it is not abandoning its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But most observers are certain that its diplomatic activism in favour of the Palestinian cause has declined from what it used to be. Similarly, there will be a growing reluctance to treat the Arab world as a single bloc, with New Delhi focusing on bilateral issues. This is partly because of repeated criticism of the Indian military actions in Kashmir at Arab League and Islamic Conference Organisation (ICO) gatherings, but also because of the varying degrees of rapprochement between Arab countries and Israel.

There is a much greater level of alarm in Pakistan, which perceives the Israel-India linkage as being a direct threat to its own security. To meet the strategic challenge that such an axis would pose, Pakistan has been hinting that it would be prepared to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In July, Pakistani ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf said that "in view of Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement - the peace process - Pakistan needs to reconsider its relationship with Israel". There have been reports that a well-connected Pakistani businessman visited Israel in recent months to sound out the prospects for an improved relationship.

There was strong criticism from Islamic groups in Pakistan to the prospect of relations with Israel, including warnings of major civil unrest. In a tape released to mark the anniversary of 9/11, Al Jazeera TV showed a clip in which a voice said to be that of Osama Bin Ladin's right-hand man Ayman Al Zawahiri stated: "We ask our Muslim brethren in Pakistan: until when will you put up with the traitor Musharraf, who sold the Muslims' blood in Afghanistan and handed over the Arab mujahideen to crusader America? ...Not only this. He opened up nuclear installations to US inspection, choked off the jihad in Kashmir...and is (planning) to recognise Israel -- all for a handful of dollars the Americans stack in his pocket..."

Observers point out that Gen. Musharraf was not unaware of the potential risks when he suggested opening up relations with Israel. They note that, rather, it was high concern amidst the top military ranks about the strengthening Indo-Israeli relationship that prompted the regime to put out a trial balloon on the subject. In addition to that, Pakistani strategists believe that, by building up a relationship with Israel, Islamabad would have access to high-tech weapons systems and other arms from Israel. The Pakistani leadership also calculated that, through a relationship with Israel, it could prevent or constrain the powerful Jewish and Indian lobbies in the US from launching efforts to isolate Pakistan further. Finally, it has been speculated that Musharraf, who made the comment about relations with Israel shortly before a visit to the US, was only trying to soften US Congressional opinion over the Bush administration's promise of $3 billion in aid to Pakistan spread over the next five years.

Expressing that concern, Musharraf said in comments on BBC Talking Point on Sept. 11: "The people here (in Pakistan) are taking it (the Sharon visit to New Delhi) very seriously. We are watching whatever is happening and whatever statements are coming from across the border and I think it's a very sensitive issue. I only hope that the leadership in Israel, Prime Minister Sharon, understands the sensitivity of Pakistan to whatever happens between Israel and India. And I hope he is a straight man enough to understand the sensitivities of Pakistan and take all measures to address our sensitivity and maintain a degree of balance in relationships". Speaking on the same day in Dhaka, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said the enhanced Indo-Israel military ties were "unfortunate" and that "India and Israel are trying to change the strategic balance in the region by pouring in a wide range of sophisticated weapons and strategic defence systems".

The fact that the value of Israeli arms sales to New Delhi will soon overtake the one between Russia and India is also worrying Moscow.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Sep 15, 2003
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