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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

It seems a just resolution of the Palestinian issue is the minimum
that Pakistan will settle for if it is to recognize Israel.

By Prof. Elie Podeh | February 2021
Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri with his Israeli
counterpart Silvan Shalom in the first-ever high level meeting
held in Istanbul in September 2005.

Following the series of agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in the autumn of 2020, a top official close to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan secretly arrived in Israel on November 20. He conveyed Pakistan’s desire for closer relations with Israel but intimated that this cooperation would need to be “soft” and “slow” due to domestic Pakistani opposition. Though Pakistan has not boarded the normalization ‘train’ yet, as the Trump administration and Israel would have wanted, it is a fact that Israel and Pakistan hold clandestine relations and this is a puzzle. While Israel is waging a fierce battle against Iran’s desire to go nuclear, it has not waged a similar battle against Pakistan, which acquired nuclear capability in 1998. A close scrutiny of Israel-Pakistan relations solves this puzzle.

Like other Arab and Muslim countries, Pakistan objected to the UN General Assembly resolutions 181 and 273, that supported the establishment of a Jewish State and its entry into the UN. Yet, in early 1953, Pakistan Foreign Minister Zafrallah Khan met with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Abba Eban in New York. This first known official Israel-Pakistan meeting was a testament to the Pakistan government’s recognition of Israel’s role as a player in the Middle East. However, Pakistan did not consolidate relations with Israel due to Arab and Islamic opposition.

In 1998, Pakistan acquired nuclear capability in response to India’s success in producing nuclear weapons. This capability was achieved with the financial support of Libya and Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, Israel did not wage a public relations war against this “Pakistani threat” because, according to veteran Israeli diplomat Moshe Yegar, “Pakistan was considered in Israel as a responsible country and not one that sponsored terror.” Moreover, it is possible that through its ally, the U.S., Pakistan had promised Israel not to transmit any technological information to Israel’s enemies. Such a promise was indeed made in the 1990s, when Israel was apprehensive of the transmission of Pakistan’s nuclear knowledge to Iran or possibly to other adversaries. Such an assurance was later given by successive Pakistani leaders.

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The writer teaches at the Department of Islamic and ME Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a Board Member of Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. He can be reached at

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