The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi debut on Sharon agenda

New Delhi, May 15: Ariel Sharon could be the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India.

Diplomats of the two countries are engaged in hectic talks to finalise the dates of Sharon’s “historic” trip, though neither side is willing to indicate how soon it could be.

But when it does take place, Sharon’s visit will be significant — it would clearly indicate how close the two countries have become in less than a decade.

However, the visit will not be without its share of controversy. To many in the country and outside, he is seen as the man responsible for starting the recent spate of violence in West Asia and derailing the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

Moreover, many in the Islamic world are already apprehensive of Delhi’s growing closeness with Tel Aviv. With the visit, such apprehensions will no doubt become stronger and could even alienate many of Delhi’s traditional friends in the Arab world.

Sharon’s visit, if it materialises, would be against the backdrop of national security adviser Brajesh Mishra’s suggestion that India, the US and Israel form a trilateral axis to combat the scourge of international terrorism.

Mishra, in his recent address to the American Jewish Committee in Washington, had made it clear that the invitation from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which had been accepted in principle by Israel, will be implemented soon.

India and Israel upgraded their diplomatic relations in the early nineties when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. But relations between the two countries matured after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power in 1998.

In the past five years, the two sides have evolved a relationship and cooperation that spreads over every important area, including defence and counter-terrorism. But Delhi has been cautious in developing its relations with Tel Aviv, aware as it is of the sensitivities of the Arab countries.

In the last few years, there have been several important visits between the two countries. .K. Advani, as home minister, and Jaswant Singh, as foreign minister, visited Israel in 2000.

In turn, there have been several high-level visits from Israel. But Sharon’s visit will be the most important of them all, as it would provide the ideal opportunity for the two sides to set up an over-arching mechanism to take their relationship forward.

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