Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, June 03, 1998

"Israel-India nuclear cooperation gets attention of the region,", June 3, 1998.

Israel and India have maintained close military and security relations over the past years and Israel decided not to join a world condemnation of Indian nuclear tests. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has rejected a request by the US to issue a condemnation against India and to join the sanctions that US President Bill Clinton has called for against India.

Other reports in Israel spoke of a trip that was canceled two days ago by Israeli chief of staff, Lt. General Amnon Shahak to India. The visit was agreed upon three months ago during the visit to Israel by the Indian chief of staff, General Malik. Israeli sources said the trip was canceled because "had it taken place, it would have been interpreted as Israeli support for the Indian nuclear program and would look as if Shahak went to assess the outcome of the nuclear tests.

Meanwhile, it was disclosed that Abdul Kalam, chief science consultant to the government of India and head of its missile and nuclear program, AGF, had visited Israel twice in 1996 and 1997. Israeli senior scientists in return paid a visit to India. Kalam was the chief mastermind of India's nuclear program and was the one who pushed for speeding up the process of developing nuclear weapons. The revelation of the trips came in an article that appeared on Tuesday in the Washington Times by Professor Brahma Chelney.

Chelney is a national security researcher at the Political Research Institute in New Delhi. Chelney visited Israel last month immediately after the Indian nuclear tests and met with government officials, scientists and journalists. In his article, he wrote that both India and Israel were developing a close cooperation between them in security fields, mainly in the sphere of technology.

Israel is deeply concerned over the developing relations with India and is worried that Washington would ask the Israeli government to immediately sever all sorts of military and intelligence cooperation with India. It is against this background that Shahak decided two days ago to cancel his planned official visit to India.

The revelation of close Israeli military ties with India has raised fears in Israel that a diplomatic dispute seems to be inevitable with countries like the US, China and Pakistan. Writing in Yediot Ahronot on Wednesday, leading Israeli military analyst Ron Ben Yishai said that there is always the fear that China might opt to cooperate closely with Iran and Syria and perhaps at a later stage with Iraq in return for Israel's support for India. Ben Yishai said that on May 13, in the aftermath of the series of nuclear tests, a message was relayed to the Indians that the visit would have to be deferred "to a more comfortable date," without designating any such date. Instead of visiting India, the Chief of Staff has accepted another invitation extended by his Belgian counterpart and is to fly to Belgium next week for a reciprocal visit to the Belgian army.

But according to professor Brahma Chelney, Shahak's visit was canceled upon a request from India and not by Israel. India decided to cancel the visit because it wanted to down play the significance of Israeli-Indian cooperation and because Arab ambassadors to the UN had strongly condemned the visit by Indian chief of staff to Israel three months ago.

Israel, meanwhile, viewed the Pakistani reports of a planned Israeli air strike on her nuclear installations as an attempt to enlist the Arab and Muslim world to Pakistan's side should the various international forums decide to implement punitive measures against Pakistan. The Pakistani reports as such were intended to divert the public world attention from the "Islamic bomb" to Israel's' nuclear capabilities, Israeli sources said.

Until now, Pakistan has refrained from becoming directly and actively involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Comments from Israeli Knesset members: Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor): "We are standing before a new situation, which requires a different estimation. There is a new situation in the region, due to the expected connection between Pakistan and Iran. Israel must study the issue and it is probable that it will require a different estimate of the issue."

Gideon Ezra (Likud): "I am opposed to a change in our nuclear policy. There is nothing like ambiguity for deterrence."

Haim Ramon (Labor): "I don't think there is a need to come out of the nuclear closet. A change in Israel's policy in this area will just give justification to others in the scene to arm themselves with this kind of weaponry. Anyone who wants to know about Israel's nuclear power should read [former nuclear technician] Mordechai Vanunu's interview in the Sunday Times. We must continue with the lack of clarity."

Pini Badash (Likud-Tzomet): "Lack of information on Israel's nuclear capability deters far more than exposures. I don't think we need to be dragged into the nuclear arms race or enter the problem of international supervision."

Yuri Stern (Yisrael B'Aliyah-New immigrants from Russia Party): "I think we must re-discuss Israel's nuclear policy because of the dramatic change on this issue which occurred in our region. Our deterrent ability has been damaged. I suggest that we consider coming out of the closet in this area."

Previous Stories:
Iran: Pakistan gives confidence to Arab states (6/2/1998)
Israeli nuclear reactor endangers neighboring countries, Arab League reports (10/15/1997)
Arab experts meet to discuss regional nuclear arms treaty (7/29/1997)
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