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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Sharon's historic India visit
Sunil Raman
BBC World Service Hindi Section

Fifty-three years after India recognised Israel and 11 years after establishing diplomatic ties, an Israeli prime minister is visiting India.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon cancelled his trip to Taj Mahal amid security fears
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived on Monday to begin a three-day official visit from Tuesday to institutionalise relations with India.

Co-operation between the two countries in various fields has improved in the last decade.

Security issues though remain the focus of ties between the two countries.

It was the coming to power of a coalition headed by the right-wing BJP in India in 1998 that dramatically changed relations between the two nations.

India signed $2bn defence deals with Israel last year, trade is above $1bn and diplomatic ties have further grown.

'Common' perception of terrorism

The BJP shares the Israeli Government's perception of a growing threat from Islamic terrorism.

Indian policeman guards an entrance to the presidential palace in Delhi
Extra security teams have been placed in Delhi

There have been suggestions within both countries that - along with the United States - they should formulate a common strategy to combat Islamic terrorism.

When in 1999, India and Pakistan fought a war over the Kargil heights, Israel not only opened its ordnance depots to India, but provided photographs from its military satellites.

In recognition of Israel's military assistance, Indian Home Minister and a leading right-wing ideologue LK Advani visited Israel in 2000.

Mr Advani spoke of their "common" perception of terrorism as a menace, even "more so when coupled with religious fundamentalism".

The 11 September attacks against the United States strengthened this perception.

Defence partners

India has provided a long shopping list of defence items to Israel.

Indian Muslims protest against Sharon's visit in Bombay
There have been angry protests in India against Mr Sharon's visit

A defence expert, Cmde Uday Bhaskar, said India's needs in fighting terrorism and militancy could be met by Israel, which has expertise in surveillance and electronic warfare.

Having emerged as Delhi's second biggest supplier of defence items after Russia, Israel is now involved in the modernisation of India's defence forces.

The Indian Government considers Israel to be a credible defence supplier.

After years of stalling the sale of the Phalcon anti-missile radar system to India, Washington recently approved its sale.

Last week, India announced it would purchase an electronic warfare system for warships from Israel.

Israel has also provided India with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for use along the Line of Control with Pakistan.

Now India wants Israel's assistance in forming an anti-terrorist squad.

The Indian home minister is expected to ask for Israeli expertise to raise a 3,000-strong rapid deployment anti-terrorist force.

Unprecedented security

For decades, India was shy of forging relations with Israel, fearful of Arab opinion.

Now - in the backdrop of tense Middle East situation - Mr Sharon's visit has become controversial.

But the Indian Government has made it known that its Arab policy will not be a hostage to relations with Israel.

Last week, the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath, was invited to India to convey Delhi's commitment to an independent state of Palestine.

Certain political groups, Muslim organisations and non-governmental organisations have decided to hold protests against Mr Sharon's visit.

Advance security teams from Israel have already arrived in Delhi, and experts say the security plan resembles the one adopted when Bill Clinton visited India during his presidency.

The name of the hotel where Mr Sharon is staying has not been made public, and extra security teams have been stationed in central Delhi.

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13 Jul 00  |  Media reports
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18 Apr 02  |  Business

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