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Secret safe, Sharon sets off
- Terror in Tel Aviv, tremor in Delhi

New Delhi, Sept. 10: Terrorism — the signature theme of Ariel Sharon’s tour — compelled him to green-light from Indian soil a missile strike in Gaza Strip and cut short his groundbreaking visit.

The Israeli Prime Minister skipped Mumbai and left a day before schedule this evening, but not before he won an assurance that India will neither initiate any anti-Israel resolution at the UN nor pass on sensitive Israeli technology to Iran, viewed by Tel Aviv as “the centre of world terror”.

A trilateral axis between India, Israel and the US, more in the abstract than in the formal sense, was part of the agreement Sharon reached with the Indian leadership. The countries have a “mutual interest in making the world a more secure place for all of us. There is American support for development of this unwritten axis”, Israeli deputy Prime Minister Yosef Lapid said.

But the tightrope walk continued on two Ps — Palestine and Pakistan.

In a cleverly-worded joint statement issued this evening, the two countries condemned “states and individuals who aid and abet terrorism across borders, harbour and provide sanctuary and provide them with financial means, training and patronage”.

The references to “states” and “individuals” in the three-page Delhi Statement on Friendship and Cooperation and Agreement reflected the hardnosed negotiations behind the scenes.

The statement addressed Israel’s concerns on India’s refusal to dump Yasser Arafat and its friendship with Syria and Iran. It also echoed India’s problems with Pakistan. However, as an undeclared price for living with India’s endorsement of Arafat, Israel refused to go out of its way to condemn Pakistan.

Senior Israeli officials said Tel Aviv was willing to work closely with Delhi to fight terror, but were not sure of the extent Islamabad was involved in encouraging violence in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. They contended that the mountainous region bordering Pakistan was “very difficult to manage”.

Another area the Israelis are watching with keen interest is India’s growing ties with Iran.

India assured Sharon that the country had an impeccable record on non-proliferation. The sensitive technology India received from Tel Aviv will be used only to address security concerns and not to be passed on to a third country, Delhi added.

The assurance coincided with heightened activity today on defence deals in the pipeline between Israel and India ( ). Lapid declared that Israel would sell three Phalcon airborne early warning systems to Delhi, drawing an immediate expression of concern from Pakistan.

India, which restored full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, has not moved any anti-Israeli resolution since 1994, though it has been one of the most vocal and consistent supporters of the Palestine cause. Sharon has been assured that there would be no change in Delhi’s position at the UN. The joint statement said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee accepted “with pleasure” an invitation from Sharon to visit Israel. India also added in the statement the need, voiced yesterday by Vajpayee, for peace in West Asia.

But the spectre of terror lurked close by. Soon after the Israeli Prime Minister received word of the suicide strike near Tel Aviv last night, a hoax call sent into a tizzy the Delhi hotel where he was staying. The caller, who was arrested later and found to be unstable, said a Palestinian group was going to storm the hotel.

The crank call was followed by the news of another suicide strike in Israel, this time in Jerusalem, prompting the Israeli leadership to shorten the visit.

“We have to cut short our visit to India for the same reason that brought us here,” Sharon’s deputy Lapid said. Sharon was to visit Mumbai, racked by the twin blasts, tomorrow — the second anniversary of the September 11 strikes in the US.

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