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With secret visit to Israel, is Pakistan set to betray the Muslim Ummah?

Israel Pakistan relations

On November 20, a top Pakistani establishment adviser boarded BA 0165 flight from Lahore to London. The 8 am flight landed at its scheduled time in the British capital. But curiously, the Pakistani insider, occupying a business class seat did not deboard. The flight then continued to its next destination—Tel Aviv’s David Ben-Gurion airport in Israel.

It is well-known that Pakistan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Yet, Pakistan’s deep-state operator was well received and escorted by Israeli officials, according to Noor Dahri, an international relations expert and executive director of Islamic Theology and Counter Terrorism think tank.

The visit of the Pakistani adviser was meticulously planned, and definitely not an accident, Noor Dahri wrote on twitter. Israel’s top-secret guest then went on to stay for two days, during which he met many senior officials, including Yossi Cohen, the director of Mossad, the famed Israeli intelligence service.

During the exchange a secret message of Pakistan Army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, was delivered, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. Expectedly Pakistani government denied the back-channel confabulation. But the Israeli government, already engaging Gulf countries deeply, did not do so.

In an interview with i24 television channel, Dahri revealed that this is not the first time that Israel had received high-profile visitors from Pakistan. Former Pakistani Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif sent two delegations to Israel. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto too had met an Israeli delegation in Washington. Subsequently, she sent a top-secret team to Israel to help realign the frosty relationship between the two countries.

Further, in 2005, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri met the Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom, according to a statement by the Israeli foreign ministry. The visit led to an encounter between the Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon and Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf where they shook hands in public. Fast forward to 2018, an Israeli plane landed in Rawalpindi, though Pakistan anxious not to upset the Arab Muslim heartland, remained silent about the arrival of this aircraft. The Express Tribune of Pakistan further reported that Pakistani Immigration and passport office had listed Israel as a country whose citizens were allowed to visit the country, but this move was subsequently explained away as an administrative error.

The visit of the Pakistani insider to Israel has taken place in broader geopolitical context. Key Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have already agreed to normalise ties with Israel despite their vocal espousal of the Palestinian cause. The Israelis now apparently want to bring Saudi Arabia, the oil rich Arab heavyweight and swing player, on board as well as Pakistan, the founding member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). One of the core objectives of this exercise is to tilt the regional balance of against arch-rival Iran, which exercises unrivalled influence in the Shia heartland of the region, especially in Iraq and Lebanon.

As the geopolitical order in the region mutates dramatically, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Mossad chief Cohen met the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in the Saudi city of Neom according to Asia Times website.  The Iranian Foreign minister Javad Zarif took to Instagram and opined that the covert meeting in Saudi Arabia between Crown Prince MBS and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contributed to the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizade.

There is speculation that there was a Pakistani overhang in the entire exercise. Pakistan is under the scanner because for two days a Pakistani army business jet operated by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was seen parked at the Amman, capital of Jordan, a country that shares a 731-km long border with Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa wrote on her Twitter in a reply to an article in the Dawn Newspaper: “If (a change in) policy (was) not under consideration then what was Pak Army aircraft PA-9834 doing in Amman for two days and reported by Israeli media?”

If Pakistan further reaches out to Israel, it will severely undermine demonisation of Israel and India as “Yahood and Handood”. India on its part needs to be watchful as well open-minded about new opportunities to shape the region that might arise out of possible Islamabad-Tel Aviv thaw.