A recent revelation claiming that Israel had supplied high-tech weapons to Pakistan has caused a flutter. Although vehemently denied by the governments of Israel and Pakistan, the fact that the United Kingdom’s department for business, innovation and skills, which assesses export licences, had listed Pakistan as one of the destinations to which Israel exported arms with British components in 2010 and 2011 has generated bewilderment.
As Israel’s single largest customer buying up to 50 per cent of its total weapons exports, India has reasons to be anxious if the allegations are true. The items mentioned by the British as transfers from Israel to Pakistan include electronic warfare suites, radar and optical target acquisition systems and aero engines.
Such sophisticated equipment could retrofit Pakistan’s American-heavy Air Force capacities and enhance its conventional fighting power against India.
If one were to extrapolate further (and the unpredictable history of Israeli military diplomacy does permit peregrinations), what if there were direct sales of other military hardware from Israel to Pakistan without the “third party” route involving British components? It would be a sacrilege from the Indian point of view if Pakistan clandestinely received, say, Israeli weapons that neutralise Israeli materiel which India uses to secure its porous border with Pakistan.
As an Islamic Republic that does not recognise Israel, Pakistan could be interpreted as pulling a fast one on the whole world if the details of defence dealing contained in the British records are true. The former Pakistani dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, had always shown a pragmatic streak in wanting to open channels with Israel.
In 2012, much after he relinquished power, he gave an interview to Haaretz explaining why Israel and Pakistan must cooperate.
Albeit such candour would be anathema to anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli Islamist zealots in Pakistan, Musharraf argued that an Israel-Pakistan rapprochement would help Islamabad counterbalance New Delhi.
“Israel has always been pro-India against Pakistan… advising them (Indians) and cooperating on intelligence, which is a very big deal. Pakistan adjusting its stance towards Israel has the advantage of possibly breaking those anti-Pakistan activities.”
In a cloak-and-dagger world, the motives of Pakistan to try and court Israel are obvious. But why, if the British government’s report is accurate, would Israel want to jeopardise its business and political relationship with its No. 1 client, India?
Analysts have come up with varied rationales. One is that Israel may be subtly sending India a warning not to cosy up to Iran by demonstrating that Tel Aviv can hold the hand offered by the opportunistic military top brass in Rawalpindi.
A related speculation is that since Pakistan is a Sunni-majority country at odds with Iran on the question of protecting Shia minorities, Israel is conveying a hint to Tehran that it could be surprised by its eastern neighbour, Islamabad.
Iran’s official Press TV has closely followed the revelations of Israel arming Pakistan, indicating that there is great interest in Tehran about what exactly happened with those British arms component sales.