The head of the Israeli Council of National Security, Uzi Dayan, was very cautious when he came back to Israel from another Indian tour some time back. "Our developing relations with India are not against anybody," he said, meaning Pakistan.
He also recalled that after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf came to power there were modest attempts to improve Israeli relations with Islamabad.
Nevertheless, nobody believes that the Israeli-Indian relationship is a platonic one. In the world after September 11, local conflicts like Kashmir, the West Bank or Kosovo have assumed new dimensions that have a direct implication on Indo-Israeli relations. The Kashmir issue is no longer a local dispute.
Sources in the Israeli military intelligence feel that Kashmir and Jenin have turned into two fronts in the same global war. It's no coincidence that the Palestinian defenders of the Jenin refugee camp called it "Kandahar", with Al Qaeda starting to raise its Palestinian profile. The commanders of the Jenin fighters were in Damascus, they said. Syria and Iran are allies, with links to arch terrorist Imad Fayez Mugniyah, known to be close to Al Qaeda.
Just three years ago, everybody was wondering how Yasser Arafat was going to declare a Palestinian state -- after a negotiated process with the Israelis or unilaterally? Today, the issue has gone beyond Palestinian independence to the Islamic notion of liberating Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque. It is strange that the US is trying to push the problem back to the secular course of establishing a state, while Arafat is reluctant to co-operate.
It was not Israel and India, but radical Islam that made the choice. Radical Islam could not tolerate a Jewish state dominating Muslim territory, while Indians are regarded as pagans, war with whom is obligatory. Jews are tolerated only as "Ahl a-Dhimma" -- the people under protection, which is to say that Jews can be tolerated only under Muslim rule, not vice-versa.
As the somewhat vague term of "radical Islam" started getting a sharper definition, India and Israel realised that they had a common enemy in the Wahabi school of Islam, the dominant religious theology of Saudi Arabia and the most fundamental Muslim thinking and practice today. Sources in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office say they are wary of Riyadh's peace plan for West Asia, given that Saudi religious societies still finance terror in the West Bank.
The obvious fingerprints of Wahabism can easily be discerned both in Kashmir and the West Bank as well as in other fronts of the global war like Chechnya, Kosovo and other places where Al Qaeda has a presence.
In fact, there are growing doubts now among experts whether bin Laden is truly a "Saudi dissident" as described by the formal government in Riyadh, or still a part and parcel of the Wahabi clergy that dominates the oil kingdom.
Keeping this in mind, the fact that President Musharraf hurried to Saudi Arabia the moment India and Pakistan eased the tension of war brinkmanship assumes extra meaning. Arafat too has an invitation to visit Riyadh the moment the tense relations with Israel ease enough to permit him to leave.
Why Riyadh? Is it to get Saudi help in dismantling the Wahabite madrassas in Musharraf's case, or gathering Saudi help in a possible attempt to stop the suicide bombings in Arafat's case?
In both cases India and Israel are facing similar problems -- whether to believe the Saudi rhetoric of peace initiatives, including fatwas or religious decrees against suicide bombings, or the actual continuing financing of madrassas and the families of suicide bombers.
A realistic examination of the situation leads us to believe that the Saudi rhetoric, including the famous peace plan of Crown Prince Abdullah, is only a smokescreen for the real policy of spreading Islam.
What brings India and Israel even closer is the fact that Arabs are now found on the frontlines in Kashmir and the West Bank, and elements at the top of the Saudi regime are increasingly seen as the strategic depth of both lines of confrontation.
Musharraf and Arafat are both very shrewd. They conceal their relations with extreme Islam with one hand, while wooing their Western "friends" -- the US in Musharraf's case and the European Union in Arafat's case -- with the other.
Although there are many differences between Arafat and Musharraf, their policies have similar characteristics. Both are despots who need conflicts with neighbours to shift attention away from them -- Arafat because of his corruption and Musharraf because his swift shift towards the US has angered radical groups who prefer the Taliban.
Both use terror as a tool, which pose the same problems to India and Israel.
And while India faces a nuclear threat from Pakistan, Israel faces a future nuclear threat from Iran, which already supports terror against Israel, both inside the West Bank and from Lebanon.
But while India is probably hoping for Israeli assistance to neutralise the nuclear threat posed by Pakistan, she is trying to convince Israel that the threat from Iran is not imminent, and it is better to wait until internal developments in Iran ensure that Israeli concerns are assuaged. Anyway, it is strange to perceive that Iran is no longer regarded as the main threat to global stability.
Israel can contribute to India's defences from its long experience with terror and atomic threats. The Arrow missiles and the Green Pine radars, which together form an effective anti-missile system, are a case in point. Though Israel needs a battery of these systems to defend itself against Iraqi threats, security sources said India's request for more is likely to be considered favourably. Other force multipliers sold to India include the advanced unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, with sophisticated cameras and capable of firing missiles, one of which was shot down by Pakistan recently.
New Delhi and Jerusalem are also keen to prevent nuclear know-how from reaching terror groups. Will the growing co-operation between Israel and India push Musharraf to transfer such know-how to Al Qaeda? He probably will do it if he's convinced that Israel might help India bomb Pakistani nuclear installations. This is most probably why Uzi Dayan calmed Pakistani concerns. There will be a limit to how far Israel can go hand in hand with India. Defence? Okay. Offence? Probably not.
Pinhas Inbari is a senior Israeli journalist, analyst and author.
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