During his recent visit to India, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview given to an Indian magazine Times Now said: “We (Israel) are not enemies of Pakistan and Pakistan should not be our enemy either.” Termed as a high profile six day visit along with a team of 130 member delegation composed of investors and businessmen, it was viewed with suspicion by Pakistan as another evidence of the deepening of Indo-Israeli nexus.
Netanyahu’s assurance to Islamabad dispelling fears of his visit to India was perhaps in response to the reaction of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister in which he asserted that both India and Israel possess anti-Islam nexus. That Israel is in occupation of vast Palestinian lands and India is involved in the brutal suppression of Kashmiri freedom movement.
What is the reality of Indo-Israeli nexus and how it is impacting on Pakistan? What should be Pakistan’s policy approach on growing collaboration between Israel and India particularly as witnessed during the recent visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to India amidst protests against his visit launched by the Indian Communist Party.?
It is true that Pakistan and Israel are not neighbours and there are no direct conflicts between the two countries. Yet, Pakistan considers Israel as an occupier of Arab lands and the holy city of Jerusalem and fully supports the PLO for its struggle against Israel. If the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to India ruled out Pakistan as the enemy of Israel, it was primarily the outcome of long concerted Israeli effort to neutralise the second populous Muslim country and the only state in the Muslim world with nuclear weapons. Reportedly, during the last days while in power of former President General Pervez Musharraf, secret and backchannel talks were launched between Pakistan and Israel to grant mutual recognition but such efforts were abandoned because of political turmoil as a sequel to lawyer’s movement against his regime.
Instead of maintaining direct relations with Israel, which is the case with majority of the members of the UN, it makes sense for Pakistan to maintain backchannel contacts with the Jewish state in order to have an insight about any paradigm shift in Israeli policy on Pakistan
The reality of Indo-Israeli nexus is the result of post-cold war realities in which the isolation of Israeli at the international level diminished. By 1994-95 majority of the members of the UN, including India and China had recognized Israel and established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. In fact, the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to India took place to celebrate 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. Earlier in June 2017, the Indian Prime Minister had paid a visit to Israel.
‘During quarter of a century of their ties, particularly during the tenure of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indo-Israeli relations reached at their maximum zenith. Now, military, intelligence, economic and political relations between Israel and India are deep rooted. Prime Minister Modi, while expressing warmth for his Israeli counterpart, received him at the Palam Airport, Delhi by saying that “my good friend, welcome to India.” The Israeli Prime Minister reciprocated by stating that, “This is the dawn of a new era in the great friendship between India and Israel.” India and Israel agreed to deepen their trade relations by reaching a free trade agreement. Indo-Israeli trade which was only $ 200 million in 1992 has reached $ 4.16 billion in 2016. And during his visit to India, the Israeli Prime Minister made it clear it was not aimed against any third country but is “directed to achieve greater prosperity and greater security for our people, better health, cleaner air, clean water, more productive crops, more milk per cow.”
Pakistan’s policy approach on Indo-Israel collaboration needs to be based on three major realities. First, the policy must not be reactive or rhetorical in nature but must reflect political realism. What the Pakistan Foreign Minister commented on Netanyahu’s visit to India was not in conformity with pragmatic approach, a fact which needs to be analysed by minimum Israeli chagrin against Pakistan. Truly, Indo-Israeli cooperation in defence and military fields tends to cause a degree of insecurity in Pakistan particularly the reports of Israeli assistance rendered to India to deal with insurgency in its parts of Jammu and Kashmir. It is believed that the more Pakistan will turn against Israel, the more the Israeli government will deepen its strategic, military, defence and technological ties with New Delhi. So the reality of India taking advantage of Pakistan’s anti-Israeli approach for the pursuance of its own interests makes sense. The stance taken by the spokesperson of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that his country was closely observing the growing nexus between India and Israel makes sense because he didn’t launch a sweeping tirade against the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to India.
Second, Pakistan’s policy approach to equate Israel and the United States and including India in what Islamabad calls as a tripartite alliance against the Muslim world is counter-productive. Certainly, the decision of the U.S President Donald Trump to shift American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cannot be endorsed because of the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel since June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, but the reality is despite the rejection of that decision by the majority of the members of the UN, nothing has changed on the ground which can force Washington to reverse its decision.
Israel knows that it is now isolated because of its non-compliance of UN Security Council resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Israel from the Arab occupied areas, including West Bank. The Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, while speaking on the occasion of 13th session of the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Countries held in Tehran in January this year termed what he believed “emerging nexus of the United States, India and Israel as a major threat to the Muslim world.” In fact, what the Senate Chairman said in Tehran may be true, yet if it becomes an official policy of Pakistan to pursue a confrontational approach with Israel and the United States, the result may be detrimental for the country. Third, instead of maintaining direct relations with Israel, which is the case with majority of the members of the UN, it makes sense for Pakistan to maintain backchannel contacts with the Jewish state in order to have an insight about any paradigm shift in Israeli policy on Pakistan. After all, regardless of Israeli brutalities vis-à-vis the Palestinians, it is the strongest power in the Middle East and no Arab country has been able to challenge the Israeli power.
At the heart of Pakistan’s policy approach vis-à-vis Israel is Islamabad’s age-old apprehension about Indo-Israeli nexus to target Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program. Realistically speaking, unlike the Israeli success in destroying Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981 near Baghdad, such a probability is quite less in case of Pakistan. Yet, huge trust deficit in Pakistan-Israel perceptions and their ‘enemy images’ is a major reality and the two countries cannot proceed for establishing diplomatic relations unless Israeli policy on the Arab occupied areas changes and apprehensions of Islamabad about growing Indo-Israeli nexus are dispelled through peaceful and diplomatic means.
The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, January 26th 2018.