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UFO over Islamabad

Updated November 03, 2018


THE private Israeli jet that is supposed to have flown to Islamabad last week caused as much excitement as a flying saucer with flashing red and blue lights.

This is the tweet from Avi Scharf, editor of the English version of Haaretz, the leading liberal daily in Israel, that set the cat among the Pakistani pigeons: “Israeli bizjet flew from TLV to Islamabad #Pakistan, on the ground for 10 hours, and back to TLV.”

More interesting than the account of the flight is the reaction it triggered in Pakistan: political parties across the spectrum condemned the event while the government denied the possibility of an Israeli plane entering Pakistani airspace. However, if an Israeli representative did pay our capital a covert visit, it would be part of the country’s policy of reaching out to Muslim states.

Recently, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, visited Oman where he was given the full red carpet treatment by Sultan Qaboos. A couple of days later, Miri Regev, the Israeli culture minister, was in Abu Dhabi for the award of medals for a judo championship. As the Israeli team had won the contest, the country’s national anthem was played in the UAE for the first time.

Analysis: Secret no more — Israel’s outreach to Gulf Arab states

And Israel’s growing convergence of interests with Saudi Arabia, and the developing alliance between the two anti-Iran states, is no secret. Could the mystery Israeli visitor have been part of a deal for the $6 billion dollar bailout recently extended to Pakistan by the Saudis? Remember there is no such thing as a free lunch…

Many Arab states have recognised Israel.

But while this is speculative, it is a fact that many Arab states have either recognised Israel and have embassies in Tel Aviv, or deal with it fairly openly without formal ties. They realise that with the US and Israel in total harmony over Palestine, there is no chance of an independent state. As it is, younger Arabs have little time or sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Take a look: Israeli rapprochement?

In a recent issue of Haaretz, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid writes: “Should Islamabad choose to overcome its rampant anti-Semitism and its related and abundant conspiracy theories, it might be able to realise that in addition to an array of geopolitical interests, Pakistan and Israel share a key characteristic: They are the only post-colonial states founded on religious nationalism.”

So why are we allergic to Israel? Reco­gnition is not accorded as a reward for good behaviour, but as acknowledgment that a state fulfils the norms of statehood as defined by the UN. Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land, and its abhorrent treatment of subjugated people, has been the subject of much international condemnation. I have lost count of the columns I have written against Israel’s arrogant and brutal attitude towards Palestinians.

But I have also argued that in order to engage Israel over its policies, we first have to have a diplomatic presence in Tel Aviv. And if recognition is regarded as an award for decency, why do we not withdraw our embassy from Myanmar over its ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims?

If our refusal to acknowledge Israel is supposed to show solidarity with Arab states, let me remind readers that Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with the Zionist state long ago. Others have followed suit, directly or indirectly. Only Iran has stuck to its pro-Palestinian policy. So the question remains: if neighbouring Arab states have come to terms with the existence of Israel, why can’t we? We have no territorial disputes with it, nor have we the means or the intent to militarily help the Palestinians. Or do we consider ourselves better Muslims than Turks and Arabs?

So why this hysteria over a corporate Israeli jet that may have landed in Islamabad recently? It is certainly true that most Pakistanis are anti-Semitic, even though few have actually met a Jew. And Palestine is a cause that resonates deeply, even among Pakistanis who are not otherwise very religious.

In fact, I suspect that the creation of Israel was yet another reminder of how enfeebled the ummah had become when several Arab armies were defeated by a ragtag Israeli militia in 1948. Now the Israeli Defence Force is a formidable regional superpower that has repeatedly exposed the weakness of the Arabs.

I have little doubt that any Pakistani government that recognises Israel would face violent demonstrations by religious parties. In fact, this is probably what has kept previous rulers, both military and civilian, from extending recognition to Israel.

But policy should not be subject to blackmail, especially when national interests are involved. Currently, Israel manufactures some of the most advanced weapons systems in the world, with China and India as its biggest customers. And it is a world leader in the optimal use of water. So clearly, we have much to learn from a state we consider our foe.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2018