ISLAMABAD: An Israeli publication on Monday again alleged that former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari paid a secret visit to Tel Aviv as a messenger of Pakistani leaders — a claim that was instantly denied by the government and personally by Mr Bukhari.
Israel Hayom, a Hebrew-language daily, claimed that Mr Bukhari visited Israel in the last week of November during which he met senior officials in the foreign ministry and former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.
It further said that during the visit that took place under “heavy pressure from the United Arab Emirates”, Mr Bukhari delivered messages from the country’s leadership.
Such reports first surfaced in December according to which an unnamed advisor of the prime minister, possessing British passport, had toured Israel to convey an official message proposing normalisation of ties between Pakistan and Israel in return for improvement in ties with Gulf states and support for Islamabad’s position on several other issues.
FO terms report ‘misleading’; Bilawal seeks explanation about trip of an aeroplane from Pakistan to Israel
It was then speculated here that the report was about Mr Bukhari. He had on that occasion clarified: “If it is directed against me, I would like to clarify that I was in Rawalpindi with the deputy commissioner on the day and pictures of the event are also available.”
He had later served a legal notice on Middle East Monitor, which is published from London. The publication subsequently withdrew the report and apologised to Mr Bukhari.
The only addition in the report published in Israel Hayom now is that it identified Mr Bukhari as the adviser that visited Tel Aviv.
Moreover, editor of another Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s English Edition Avi Scharf tweeted that Israel Hayom had published the latest article after a “military censor … allowed to publish that Pakistan PM @ImranKhanPTI’s advisor Zulfi Bukhari traveled to Israel last Nov to meet Mossad chief Cohen”.
Mr Bukhari denied the report on Twitter. “DIDNOT go to Israel. Funny bit is Pakistani paper says I went to Israel based on Israeli news source & Israeli paper says I went to Israel based on a Pakistani source -wonder who this imaginative Pakistani source is. Apparently, I’m the only one who was kept out of the loop.”
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, meanwhile, sarcastically said: “Last November news already denied and settled issue... let’s craft some new conspiracy with extra masala.”
Foreign Office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri too rejected the report as “baseless and misleading.” He emphasised that no such visit to Israel had been undertaken.
Pakistan does not officially recognise Israel though there have been multiple reports in the past of secret contacts between the officials of the two countries. Islamabad’s longstanding position on the issue of formalising ties with Israel has been that it could happen only after Tel Aviv reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, meanwhile, sought an explanation about the reported trip of an aeroplane in November from Pakistan to Israel, where it is claimed to have stayed for ten hours.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari cited news outlets saying Imran Khan’s close friend and special assistant was the one on board the aeroplane.
“This information should come before the nation now. We have concerns regarding what is done in the darkness of the night. If an aeroplane did not pick up Zulfi Bukhari then who did it pick up?,” he maintained.
Israel Hayom report claimed that its revelation was validated by the participation of Pakistan and Israel together in a joint naval exercise being jointly hosted by US Navy in the Black Sea.
Pakistan Navy had last week clarified, in response to a query from Dawn, that it will take part in the naval exercise ‘Sea Breeze 2021 (SB21)’ as an observer.
The exercise is being held from June 28 to July 10 in the Black Sea region.
“Pakistan is among the participating countries and Pakistan Defence Attaché Ukraine will participate as observer,” an official of Pakistan Navy’s media directorate had said, adding no Pakistani ship will take part in the activities.
The drills are being participated by 32 countries including Israel. Besides, Israel and the two hosts, other participating countries are Albania, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom.
Pakistan Air Force and Israel have in the past together participated in the US Air Force’s advanced aerial combat training ‘Red Flag’ exercises.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2021