Peres visit underlines entente with Delhi


INDIA: Israel said yesterday it was willing to offer India all possible support against terrorism. The Indian army is engaged in a stand-off with Pakistan over the activities of militants backed by the nuclear Islamic state.

"Israel and India are co-operating on security and intelligence matters because we have a common enemy: terrorism," the Foreign Minister, Mr Shimon Peres, said at the end of his three-day Delhi visit.

Meanwhile, in Ohio to sign an education bill, President Bush asserted: "We are working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis there's a way to deal with their problems without going to war." A spokesman said he meant no disrespect to Pakistanis.

"The two countries' security services have exceptionally close relations and there is much sympathy towards Israel in India," Mr Peres said. The delegation includes Maj Gen Uzi Dayan, head of Israel's National Security Council.

Mr Peres added that Israel's commercial relations with India, including military hardware, were "progressing well", but refused to divulge details of the Phalcon airborne early warning and control system that Delhi is buying from Tel Aviv.

The Phalcon deal, pending for nearly two years, was cleared recently by the US anxious to avoid an arms race in the region between India and Pakistan, and Delhi and Beijing.

India has been to war three times with Pakistan and once with China since independence 55 years ago.

Mr Peres condemned the December 13th attack on India's parliament, but said war was not the way to end Islamabad's support for Muslim insurgent groups. He added: "We can only be of help in the matter of methods and experiences but not on policies."

Under international pressure the Pakistani President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, is expected to make a major policy statement on terrorism today. This was signalled yesterday by the visiting US senator, Mr Joseph Lieberman.

Iran, meanwhile, has expressed suspicion at Mr Peres's visit to India, calling it "strange".

The Islamic Republic of Iran is worried about the activities of the Zionist regime in the region of the (Indian) subcontinent, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Mr Sadegh Kharazi, said.

Since 1992, when India and Israel resumed diplomatic ties, military and security relations have flourished to the extent that Tel Aviv has become Delhi's second largest arms supplier after Russia.

India's Hindu nationalist-led federal coalition considers Israel its "natural ally" and "wholly dependable" strategic partner.

India and Israel have also formulated a joint ministerial commission for exchanging intelligence on terrorism. Defence analysts speculate that Israel may have violated US government embargoes by exporting to India sensitive and dual-use nuclear technologies, in the perception that Delhi and Tel Aviv are threatened by Pakistan's nuclear capability which they term the "Islamic bomb".

The Hindu coalition that surged to power on an anti-Muslim vote has long wanted closer links with Tel Aviv. It sought to break free of Delhi's traditional ties with Arab states, nurtured by successive governments for fear of disrupting oil supplies.

Israel's long-standing argument to Delhi has been that like itself, India, surrounded by hostile neighbours, was a nation "under siege" and hence needed to strengthen its security apparatus.

Israel's thrust into Asia began nearly four decades ago, despite Non-Aligned Movement leaders such as India putting Tel Aviv on their banned list and forbidding citizens from visiting the country. But they secretly established deals with Tel Aviv on intelligence gathering, defence equipment and military training.