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Issue Date:  February 22, 2008

India's warming toward Israel concerns Iran

NEW DELHI -- India’s traditionally friendly relations with Iran have come under strain because of the launching of an Israeli spy satellite by an Indian Space Research Organization rocket last month.

This comes on top of recent tensions caused by India’s refusal to attend talks to complete a commercial deal on a proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline.

The satellite is equipped to capture images of small objects day and night while penetrating cloud cover. It is widely believed to be designed to enable Israel to track activities in its neighborhood, in particular, activities pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program.

Seyed Mahdi Nabizadeh, Iran’s ambassador in New Delhi, said Feb. 5 that he regretted India’s assistance in boosting the satellite into orbit from a launching pad in southern Andhra Pradesh state Jan. 21.

The Indian government justified the launch on technical and commercial grounds. But Nabizadeh said: “We hope the issue could be considered from the political point of view also. Our relationship with India is very strong and good. Many are trying to destroy [that] relationship. ... We hope that wise and independent countries such as India would not give their space technology to other countries to launch instruments for spying against friendly countries like Iran.”

The ambassador said Iran has not spoken to India on this matter at an official level but has expressed displeasure “informally.”

The development of the satellite and its launch were shrouded in secrecy. Its launch, originally scheduled for September last year, was postponed, apparently for political reasons.

“The Indian government is clearly divided between its formal position that Iran’s current nuclear activities are legitimate and its keenness to develop a close partnership with Israel,” said Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University.

India has become Israel’s biggest arms buyer. Between 2000 and 2006, India bought military hardware and software worth $7 billion from Israel. Deals include $1 billion for the Falcon early warning system, $480 million to develop a “next generation” Barak missile for India’s navy, and $2.5 billion to develop antiaircraft and antimissile systems.

-- Inter Press Service

National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008

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