30 Sep. - 6 Oct. 1999
Issue No. 449
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Still in the closet, barelyBy Dominic Coldwell
India's minister for external affairs, Jaswant Singh, met with his Egyptian counterpart Amr Moussa this week on the fringe of the UN General Assembly. Singh is reported to have told Moussa that "people are reading too much into" allegations that his country has been intensifying ties with Israel.
Shortly after Singh made these remarks, however, the US journal Defence News estimated that Israeli export authorities are currently negotiating conventional arms sales with India to the tune of $150 to 200 million for each of the next five years. Moreover, at India's request, Israeli government and industry officials are accelerating the shipment of more than $150 million worth of previously ordered weapons, munitions, surveillance systems and military communications gear. In addition, the sale of conventional arms may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to the Vancouver-based Sikh separatist journal Chandrhi Kala International, India is once again planning to explode multiple nuclear devices.
In its latest edition, the paper reports increased night-time activity near Pokhran -- India's infamous nuclear test site. Chandrhi Kala International was the only source to predict India's five nuclear detonations three days before they occurred last May.
More significantly, the paper notes the presence near Pokhran of a "foreign friend who wants to circumvent the [Comprehensive nuclear Test Ban Treaty] CTBT, [and] whose nationals with a strange accent were spotted ... in Jodhpur and Jaipur."
Though the paper has not identified this "foreign friend", most commentators have pointed to Israel. Tel Aviv is not only suspected of possessing 200 to 400 nuclear warheads, but has so far refused to declare its nuclear capability, preferring a policy of "deliberate ambiguity".
The rumours come just weeks after the Arab League announced it had information proving that India and Israel have been "increasing military and nuclear cooperation". Following two days of deliberations, the League, however, refrained from disclosing any evidence.
In a report dated 24 August, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Mohamed Zakaria Ismail warned that the alleged collusion constituted a "threat to the Arab world", and urged the Arab League to take the "necessary measures" in the hope "that there will be no such relations between India and Israel in the future".
One day after Ismail issued his terse remarks, India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra travelled to Tel Aviv with a retinue of senior diplomatic and security officials in tow. Mishra, who recently unveiled his country's plans to build a nuclear defence shield by air, sea, and land, was there to confer with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. These talks came just weeks after the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that Israel had shipped military spare parts and equipment to help India fight Pakistani-backed Kashmiri separatists this summer. Barak is also planning a first-ever visit to India next year.
Rumours of alleged nuclear cooperation between New Delhi and Tel Aviv have been rife for a long time. The London Times last year quoted Indian sources as saying that Indo-Israeli nuclear collusion stretched back 20 years. A P J Abdul Kalam, the Indian government's chief science consultant and the head of its missile programme, visited Israel twice in 1996 and 1997. According to Ha'aretz, "senior Israeli scientists [also] went on reciprocal visits to India". Between 8 and 11 March 1998, India's army Chief-of-Staff Gen V N Malik visited Israel. The Arab League last year protested this trip on the grounds that Malik allegedly travelled to a town in occupied south Lebanon.
It was following Malik's journey that India exploded its five nuclear devices between 11 and 13 May 1998. Israel has refused to acquiesce to US pressure to condemn the blasts. Nonetheless, India refrained from issuing an invitation for a reciprocal visit by Israel's Chief-of-Staff Lt Gen Amnon Shahak. Israeli sources quoted by Ha'aretz said the planned trip was cancelled for "had it taken place, it would have been interpreted as Israeli support for the Indian nuclear weapons programme". According to an Israeli source, Tel Aviv wants "to take the relationship with India out of the closet... But the Indians are very sensitive".
News of Indo-Israeli cooperation is politically delicate, not least because it calls into question India's credentials as a long-time champion of the Palestinian cause. India is home to the world's largest Muslim population after Indonesia. New Delhi depends to a large extent on remittances from its one million expatriate workers in the Middle East to balance its budget. The countries bordering the Persian Gulf are also major oil suppliers to the energy-strapped subcontinent.
Despite these ties, New Delhi established full diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv in 1992 and upgraded ties in 1994. According to Israeli figures, trade between the two countries now totals an estimated $700 million a year. More importantly, India has set up several joint projects with Tel Aviv in defence research, running the gamut from "guidance technology [to] special materials and electronic warfare", according to the Washington Times.
More recently, Israel sold India unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance purposes. These serve as "command posts" in the skies, spotting targets, and providing co-ordinates of their location for accurate fire. In addition, India recently bought fast-attack patrol boats and automated manoeuvring combat instrumentation for training combat pilots, both sourced from Israel. India's upgraded Mig-21s are also being mated with Israeli electronic avionics.
On the basis of existing relations, it would seem that Indo-Israeli cooperation could soon see a significant intensification. Israeli defence analysts quoted by Ha'aretz estimate that "the Indian market still offers deals worth $2 billion".