The new Triple Alliance

By MARTIN WALKER, Chief International Correspondent  |  Jan. 13, 2002 at 2:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- No treaties have been signed, and few specific details of the military intelligence agreements have been made public. But the conviction is growing in diplomatic circles where attention must be paid to such developments that the world is witnessing the emergence of a new Triple Alliance in Eurasia.

Israel, India and Turkey always had important interests in common, and Israel and the Turkish military (as opposed to the Turkish state) have been cooperating closely for the past five years and more. The Israeli Air Force uses Turkey's far larger airspace for training and their pilots -- like the two navies -- exercise together.

Israeli Special Forces have taken part in Turkey's regular "incursions" into the Kurdish territories of Northern Iraq, and now Israel is seeking American approval to manufacture the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow 2 anti-missile missile in Turkey.

But the events of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan have taken the strategic closeness to an entirely new level by bringing India into the equation. India keenly wants to join the Arrow 2 consortium, desperate to acquire a missile that could offer some prospect of destroying Pakistan's own nuclear missiles (acquired from North Korea and China) in mid-flight.

This week's highly successful visit of Israel's foreign minister Shimon Peres to India, the third such meeting in less than a year, was simply the most visible sign of the new relationships.

The two countries now have an intelligence-sharing agreement that includes Israeli access to the results from India's own new reconnaissance satellite. Launched in October, and Israeli technicians are helping India upgrade some of its obsolescent military hardware from the sights and rangefinders on tank guns to secure military communications.

Most important of all is the agreement that Israel will sell 3 Phalcon Airborne Warning and Command aircraft, originally intended for China until the United States vetoed the deal, to India in a billion-dollar deal that will palpably shift the balance of military power in Asia. Reckoned to be as advanced as or better than the American AWACS aircraft, the Phalcon would allow the Indian Air Force to control a series of air battles all along the 1400-mile frontier with Pakistan.

(Washington nervously asked Israel last week to "maintain a low profile" on the Phalcon sale in light of current tensions in the subcontinent, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported Thursday.)

The three countries of Israel, India and Turkey share a great deal in common. They are all regional superpowers, with highly regarded armed forces in dangerous neighborhoods. All three have large Islamic populations that aren't going away and all three are increasingly worried by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. All three nations embrace modernization and secular societies, and all three are hugely dependent on energy imports, although they encircle the great energy basins of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian.

They also have some enemies in common, as Israel's Shimon Peres pointed out in his trip to India, warning his Indian counterpart Jaswan Singh of the danger of Iran, which Peres called "the center of world terrorism," becoming a nuclear power.

At the same time, during talks with Pakistani officials in Tehran, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Sadeq Kharrazi stressed that both countries "reject the presence of the Zionist regime in the region - Iran is concerned about Israeli activities in the Indian subcontinent."

"If it is true Teheran is worried about my visit, that is a good thing," Peres told Israel Army Radio. "Until now, Teheran has been involved in terror and has pretended to be innocent. We know Teheran is supplying Hezbollah and other terror organizations with money and arms."

"If India seeks our help to fight terrorism, we will gladly do it. If in any small way Israel can help, our cooperation is there," Peres said, adding that he saw India as "Israel's best friend in the region, an open society and a democracy."

"I think that at the end of it all, we aspire to be the Israel in South Asia, and nothing more," complains Prakash Karat, a member of the executive committee (known as the Politburo) of India's Congress party, the opposition to the government of premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Congress party, whose decades in office during the Cold War positioned India as a leader of the Non-Aligned Group, kept close ties with the Soviet Union and India remains dependent on Russia for much of its military hardware. The BJP coalition government, by contrast, is reforming the economy along free market lines and becoming much closer to the U.S.

The emerging Triple Alliance is thus of far more than regional importance, linking together three pro-Western and powerful states in the unstable Middle East and Central Asia. Because Turkey is a member of NATO and Israel is also a close ally, whose security depends heavily on American support, the Triple Alliance also extends America's influence and reach in a region that contains the bulk of the world's energy resources and most of its security headaches.

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