Gratified, but confused.
That is, in short, the general Israeli reaction to the initiative recently taken by General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to bring into the open Pakistan's hitherto clandestine relations with Israel.
Nobody denies the previous existence of clandestine contacts between the two countries, which recently culminated in an open, high-profile meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries in Istanbul and Musharraf's dramatic (to Jewish eyes) appearance before the American Council for World Jewry in New York on September 17, 2005, to receive a standing ovation repeatedly -- the like of which no Indian leader had ever received from a Jewish audience either in Israel or in the US.
Nobody denies the previous existence of clandestine contacts, though many questioned and doubted my assertion that these had existed since the days of General Zia-ul Haq in the 1970s and that Israeli physical security experts and gadgetry are playing a role in the protection of General Musharraf from jihadi terrorists, who have already made three unsuccessful attempts to kill him.
The rogue & the meek
Why gratified? Because the recent breakthrough in the relations between Israel and Pakistan is widely perceived in Israel to be as significant as the earlier breakthroughs in the relations with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. It is seen as yet another success in Israel's attempt to break out of the cordon jihadist imposed around it by the Islamic world.
Large sections of the Israeli analysts' community are convinced of the tactical significance of open contacts -- even in the absence of diplomatic relations -- with Pakistan, the Ummah's only nuclear power with considerable influence in the Islamic world.
That what was previously perceived as an anti-Zionist Islamic nuclear power should have chosen to shed its anti-Zionist label is interpreted as a development of great tactical significance.
The opposition from Pakistan's fundamentalist and jihadist elements to the establishment of open contacts has not surprised Israeli experts. It was expected. What has pleasantly surprised them is the large number of e-mail messages that Israeli media and others have been receiving from Pakistanis in Pakistan and elsewhere hailing General Musharraf's initiative and greeting the people of Israel.
Not only that. Sections of the Israeli media have reportedly been receiving messages from persons claiming to be Jews living in Pakistan. That there are Jews in Pakistan, however small in number --particularly in Karachi -- and that they have survived without having to give up their faith has been a pleasant discovery for them.
Musharraf's repeated statements that the open contacts would not lead to diplomatic relations till the creation of an independent Palestine State are regretted, but understood. It is appreciated in Israel that Musharraf has taken considerable risk to his life even by making the contacts open and it would, therefore, be unfair to expect him to do more at this juncture.
While nobody that I met questioned the importance of contacts with Pakistan, there are some who doubted the wisdom of the decision of the two countries to make the contacts open. They felt that Israel's national interests would have been better served by continuing to keep them clandestine. Open contacts could prove counter-productive. That seems to be their fear.
Why confused? Because not many are convinced of the strategic value of a relationship with Pakistan from the point of view of Israel's security and safeguarding its existence from continuing attempts to destroy it being made (according to them) by anti-Zionist organisations such as the Hamas, the Hizbollah and even extremist sections of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Security in Israel has definitely improved since my last visit in February 2004, but it is said that it is due to their own actions in strengthening physical security and not due to any change of policy on the part of these organisations, which are pledged to bring about the destruction of Israel.
Nobody has any illusions that the relations with Pakistan would help in diluting the continuing jihadist hostility to the existence of Israel. The recent high-profile contacts with Pakistani leaders have definitely a cosmetic value, but between cosmetics and reality, there could be a wide gap.
Confused also due to another reason -- what would be the impact on Israel's relations with India? There are no illusions about Musharraf's sudden expressions of love for Israel and the Jewish people. His motive is to hyphenate Israel's relations with India and Pakistan, to counter the growing security-related relationship between India and Israel and to demobilise the Jewish support for India's cause in the US.
Israel still has many well-wishers of India -- particularly in the older generation. Israel has still many in the intellectual and security circles, who do not see the end of the international jihadi terrorism, which targets the US, Israel, India and the UK, in the short and medium terms. Israel has still many analysts, who understand as well as we in India, the malign role of Pakistan in nursing jihadi terrorism and using it to serve its strategic objective. Israel still has many security analysts, who continue to attach importance to the value of the security-related relationship between the two countries.
But they are all confused by the policies of the present government in New Delhi headed by Dr Manmohan Singh. They cannot understand the total lack of public expressions of warmth for Israel since the present government came to power, though it has not made any change in the policy followed before it came to power. They cannot understand its alleged attempts to renew and reinforce contacts with what they consider as the death-wishers of Israel, such as the PLO, Hizbollah and others.
India was the first Asian country to have allowed Israel to establish a consular mission in Mumbai. It came into existence long before its diplomatic mission in Singapore. Indira Gandhi was the first Indian prime minister to have sensed in her perceptive mind the gathering force of pan-Islamism and the threat which it could pose to both India and Israel. It was her realisation of the importance of close relations with Israel, which led to the beginning of the initial contacts in 1968.
It was P V Narasimha Rao, who decided to bring these contacts into the open in 1992 and to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, without letting India's decision continue to be a hostage to the jihadists' hostility to the existence of Israel. The previous government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee took these relations to new heights.
India has greatly benefited from the goodwill of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, particularly in the US. Why this sudden outward coldness towards Israel while wanting to continue to benefit from its goodwill? It is this which has created some misgivings in Israeli/Jewish minds and Musharraf has been the first to notice it.
By his moves, Musharraf is hoping to put an end to what he perceives as the Indian-Israeli honeymoon, which could be detrimental to Pakistan's national interests. Hopefully, he will not succeed, but if he does, India cannot escape its share of the blame.
Since its creation in 1947, the Pakistani military has repeatedly underestimated its Indian counterpart and paid a high price for it. Similarly, Indian diplomacy tends to underestimate Pakistani diplomacy and has often been paying a price for it. We saw it in the manner in which Pakistan has undermined India's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. We are seeing it now in relation to Israel.
B Raman visited Israel from September 9 to 14.
He is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also a Distinguished Fellow, International Terrorism Watch Programme, Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org