The final triumph for Dr Yehoyada Haim, Israel's ambassador to New Delhi (1995-2000), came when at the end of a successful posting he convinced home minister L.K. Advani, senior RS member Najma Heptullah, West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to visit Israel. These were the first high-level visits since Indo-Israeli ties were normalised in 1992. The outgoing ambassador talked to Janaki Bahadur Kremmer about mutual relations, international terrorism and other matters. Excerpts from the interview:
The BJP's admiration for Israel finally seems to be crystallising in official visits, defence ties and agreements to fight Islamic fundamentalism. What else binds the two nations?
I don't think the fact that the BJP is in power is the major factor in India and Israel coming together. Remember first we started relations in 1992 when the Congress was in power, it continued with the United Front government and now with the BJP. So I believe it was very natural. But there's also a great admiration and love for India in Israel and vice versa.... I felt it everywhere I went. There is a very unique affinity between Jews and Indians. But I can't precisely define just what that affinity is. The Indian president's best friend is Jewish (Aluf Har-Even, Narayanan's former roommate in London in the 1940s) and so is his second-best friend (the late Prof Eli Kaduri). Perhaps psychologists should try to find out what binds us. Personally, I think Indians have friendly faces.
There's a view that two "hard" states are joining hands to fight Islamic fundamentalism. Do you agree?
I don't think so. The fact that we've had so many leaders visiting Israel recently was just my good fortune. We are not fighting Islamic fundamentalism. Islam is not terrorism. But I believe that many organisations are using religion as a cover for political ambitions - it is against Islam to kill innocent people or use suicide bombers. If we cooperate against terrorism that exists not only in India and Israel but also in the Muslim countries what is wrong with that?
Are you concerned about US opposition to Israel's defence trade with India?
Well, we're very close friends with the Americans and so far I don't know of any opposition to our (defence) ties with India. If there was any, I would probably have been told about it.
There's talk of a French-Israeli-Indian axis against Islamic terrorism. But can Israel work independently of the US on such matters?
Both India and Israel have so far been fighting terrorism individually. That's another thing that's similar between India and Israel: Israel has been calling for an international war against terrorism and so has India. One has to fight it seriously. And I'm sure the Americans will be very willing too since terrorism has also affected them. Democratic countries should get together and fight terrorism with concrete measures. It shouldn't just be declarations on a piece of paper.
Israel has been helping the Sri Lankan government to fight the Tamil Tigers, it's also helping Indian security forces in Kashmir. Is this only to provide expertise where needed or is there something more to it? How does Israel view its role in the region?
We're not supplying soldiers or any expert either to Sri Lanka or in Kashmir. It's totally against Israel's policy to send military personnel abroad. But as I said earlier, wherever there's terrorism, we are ready to fight it.
So what sort of help were you providing Sri Lanka then?
Well, I've been asked many times about our security ties with India too. My answer to these questions is that I'm not going to start talking about Israel's military or security ties with India or Sri Lanka as I'm leaving.
How did Jyoti Basu's visit happen?
I met him in Calcutta and we discussed the modalities. We talked about communism and I told him that I have read Marx and Engels. I believe that the only place on earth where communism ever existed is the kibbutz - because there you work according to your ability and get what you need. And he in turn told me that he would like to stay for one night in a kibbutz.
What about L.K. Advani's visit?
Mr Advani is a very unique man. I like him very much. Ideologically and personally he reminds me of some people from an earlier generation of Israelis. He was very happy as he could personally see the methods we've developed to fight terrorism. He also met Mossad's head. Now, we're going to examine what counter-terrorism methods are appropriate for India. For example, Israel is totally fenced by the most sophisticated electronic fences, but how can India achieve that in a jungle or high up on a mountain? The head of Mossad took down notes and is now doing his homework (on India).