Nuclear Cloud Over The Middle East?

June 12, 1998 - The Jerusalem Post - Arieh O'Sullivan

Military officials do not seem worried by the recent Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, as long as Israel steers clear of involvement in their conflict.

About a decade ago reports surfaced in London claiming Israel had repeatedly tried to pressure India into launching a joint strike on Pakistan's nuclear weapons development plant at Kahuta. The reports, which were never verified, claimed Israeli and Indian pilots would be aided by detailed satellite photographs of Kahuta provided by convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

In a meeting in Paris in July 1985, senior Israeli diplomats and a personal envoy of the late Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi reportedly examined the option in detail. As an incentive, Israel held out an offer to cooperate with New Delhi on military intelligence and anti-terrorist operations.

Yitzhak Rabin, then the defense minister, reportedly pinned a lot of hope on that meeting. But India, which had not yet forged diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, ultimately rejected the proposal, ostensibly because of Soviet pressure or for fear of a possible backlash by Islamic states.

The stories were never really authenticated and India officially denied them, but Pakistan's suspicions never really subsided.

"This is typical. Pakistan has always argued about an Israeli-Indian conspiracy against them," said PR Kumaraswamy, a researcher from India at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Harry S.Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. He specializes in Israeli-Indian security relations.

"These rumors have been circulating for decades. It is very colorful and since Israel actually did bomb [the Iraqi nuclear reactor in] Osiraq, it added glamor and credence to the story. I don't think the Pakistani leaders actually believed it, though," Kumaraswamy said. Nevertheless, the resurrection of a similar scare this week was taken very seriously by Islamabad and set in motion a flurry of diplomatic and intelligence activity in the tense hours before Pakistan followed India's example and elbowed its way into the world's nuclear club by detonating some of its own atomic bombs.

According to a report in the Washington Times citing US officials, Pakistani ForeignSecretary Shamshad Ahmed had notified the US government and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israeli and Indian warplanes, equipped with long-range refueling gear and operating out of India, had planned to attack Pakistani nuclear facilities at dawn last Thursday, May 28th.

The Indian Express responded by accusing Pakistan in an editorial of making these allegations as a way of building Islamic solidarity against any impending sanctions by the West.

Senior Israeli military intelligence officials dismissed as utter nonsense the notion that any kind of attack was being contemplated against Pakistan. Pakistan and India "are coming out of the closet and they are trying to drag us with them," one senior intelligence official said. "We have nothing to do with it. They are trying to force us into being a party in this."

The official also maintained that Pakistan's espionage agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was acting on "faulty intelligence."

The misinformation may have been propaganda fed to them from some other body, the Iranians perhaps. "They took it seriously. They could have believed it, but they did the responsible thing and checked it out with the Americans," the official said.

The assessment is that Israel does not believe that Pakistan sees the Jewish state as its enemy. Intelligence officials also do not believe that Pakistan has transferred nuclear or missile technology to nuclear-wannabe Iran. And they have no proof that the two countries are engaged in any nuclear cooperation.

Shai Feldman, director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, concurred.

"I am certain that the Pakistanis have enough trouble on their hands and would refrain from doing something that would actually increase Israel's incentive to cooperate with India. Why would they buy another enemy when the situation is as bad as it is?" Feldman said.

"They are not stupid, and they probably know that if we had any evidence of transfer of technology to one of our adversaries then Israel would react and it wouldn't be very pleasant," he added...