New Delhi: Days after reports of landmark talks between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diplomatic circles are rife with speculation that Pakistan could become the latest country to recalibrate its policy towards the Jewish state.
Pakistan does not recognise Israel as a country but last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed in a TV interview that he is being pressured to change that.
Adding to the speculation is a hush-hush visit of a Pakistan Army business jet, operated by its intelligence agency ISI, to Amman in Jordan Sunday, when the reported talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel were on in the Red Sea city of Neom in Saudi Arabia.
The reports of talks have, however, been rejected by Saudi Arabia even as both Israel and the US are keeping mum. The reports came during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan too has officially denied any such dialogue. Its Foreign Office issued a statement Tuesday, saying the country was not reconsidering its Israel policy and that Prime Minister Khan’s “statements in this context have been clear and unequivocal”.
It added that Pakistan “cannot recognise Israel” until a “just settlement of the Palestinian issue” is found.
Pak aircraft sparks speculation
Analysts, however, are not buying it.
Quick to point out that something is on in the background, Pakistani scholar and military expert Ayesha Siddiqa tweeted Tuesday asking “if policy not under consideration then what was Pak Army aircraft PA-9834 doing in Amman for 2 days & reported by Israeli media?”
— Ayesha Siddiqa (@iamthedrifter) November 24, 2020
She was speaking in the context of an earlier tweet put out Monday night by Avi Scharf, the online editor of the prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, claiming that Pakistan government’s business jet PA-9834 was airborne after spending two days in Amman.
Pakistan gov't bizjet PA-9834 airborne from Amman after two days pic.twitter.com/pWi8WfRCF6
— avi scharf (@avischarf) November 23, 2020
Sources in Pakistan said that the aircraft was indeed operated by the ISI but were not aware of what it was doing in Amman, which is geographically close to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The whole incident brings back memories of when an Israeli business jet landed in Pakistan in 2018 leading to similar intense speculation then.
The incident had attracted attention since Israel and Pakistan do not officially share bilateral ties, which means that aircraft registered with either of the two countries cannot enter the airspace of the other.
At that time too, it was Scharf who first tweeted about this incident on 25 October 2018 citing a few real-time images from Flightradar24, a website that tracks aircraft and their movements, of the flight’s path.
Israel & the Arab world
Since that 2018 flight incident, a lot has changed in the Arab world when it comes to Israel. Major players of the Arab world, who once shied away from Israel, have now established ties with the country this year.
In the last few months, the “Abraham Accords” were signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August, and Bahrain followed a month later. Sudan’s transitional government also announced normalisation of relations with Israel in October.
Imran Khan alluded to this in his interview last week, saying that after the recognition of Israel by Arab countries including the UAE and Bahrain, Islamabad is also being asked to recognise Israel, something that his government has rejected until now.
“I have no second thought about recognising Israel unless there is a just settlement, which satisfies Palestines,” he said.
Asked to name the countries that have insisted on Islamabad recognising Israel, Khan deflected the question.
Pakistani TV anchor Mubashir Lucman, once considered close to the military establishment, appeared on Israeli news channel, i24News, Monday to argue for better ties between the two countries.