Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Sultan Qaboos of Oman in Muscat. Photo: Netanyahu's official Twitter account
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Sultan Qaboos of Oman in Muscat. Photo: Netanyahu's official Twitter account

According to the editor of the English-language edition of Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Avi Scharf, a flight from Tel Aviv landed in Islamabad, stayed on the ground for 10 hours, and then flew back to Tel Aviv. This apparently happened just after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on October 23. Scharf tweeted about this on October 25.

The next day, October 26, The Spectator Index tweeted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Just one minute after that tweet, The Spectator Index tweeted again that Netanyahu was visiting Oman.

But what about the tweet posted by Scharf?

Haaretz also reported on Saturday that Netanyahu flew to Oman, which neighbors Iran, on Thursday, October 25, and spent the night there before returning to Israel.

Oman: It’s time to accept Israel in the region

A day after Netanyahu’s visit, Oman publicly called on Middle East countries to accept Israel.

In a speech delivered at the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi said, “Israel is a state present in the region, and we all understand this. The world is also aware of this and maybe it is time for Israel to be treated the same [as other states] and to also bear the same obligations.

“We are not saying that the road is now easy and paved with flowers, but our priority is to put an end to the conflict and move to a new world,” he told the summit.

The trick

According to Avi Scharf’s tweet, the pilot of that flight did a trick by landing in Amman for five minutes and then flying from there to Islamabad so that it looked as if it was a flight from Jordan. Flight codes get changed when a plane lands an an airport and take off again. Remember that Pakistan and Israel have no diplomatic relations and planes registered in either country cannot enter the other’s airspace.

What might Riyadh ask in return?

Saudi Arabia has agreed to deposit US$3 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan for a period of one year as balance-of-payments support and also offered a one-year deferred payment facility for oil import of up to another $3 billion for the next three years.

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When Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were asked by the media about the conditions on which the kingdom had provided this aid to the country, they said it had asked nothing in return for this $6 billion bailout package.

The Reko Diq mines

On the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative, Saudi officials and businessmen showed Imran Khan their interest in mineral-resource development. The prime minister pointed out the presence of vast reserves of untapped mineral wealth in Pakistan.

Their interest is basically in the mines in Reko Diq, Balochistan. Both Saudi Arabia and China have long had their eyes on these mines. It is very likely that the kingdom has been given permission by the Imran Khan government to explore for valuable minerals at this site. If so, then things are just not moving in the right direction. For the sake of obtaining $3 billion cash and another $3 billion of oil imports on deferred payments, has Khan really sold out the Reko Diq mines to Saudi Arabia?

Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who is also the spokesman for PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in his reaction to Khan’s televised address to the nation after his successful begging-visit to Riyadh, said that the person who had earlier claimed that he would neither beg nor ask for loans from anyone was now not only roaming around the world with a begging bowl in his hand but was also going from one country to the other and one institution to the other asking for loans.

History shows that Pakistan has always suffered whenever it has intervened in someone else’s conflict. It could be that Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to join its side in the Yemen war

Reko Diq represents one of the largest copper reserves not only in Pakistan but in the world, having estimated reserves of 5.9 billion metric tons of ore grading 0.41% copper. The mine also has gold reserves amounting to 41.5 million ounces.

In the same televised address to the nation, Khan said Pakistan would play the role of a mediator in the Saudi-Yemen war and would make all-out efforts to resolve the conflict. History shows that Pakistan has always suffered whenever it has intervened in someone else’s conflict. It could be that Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to join its side in the Yemen war.

Oil refinery in Balochistan

The mystery doesn’t end here, because during the talks with Khan, the Saudi government reaffirmed its interest in setting up an oil refinery in Pakistan. Talks on setting up of the refinery in or near Gwadar, Balochistan, near Iran, started during the prime minister’s visit to the Kingdom last month. Later a Saudi delegation visited Pakistan to study the prospects of the project.

“Saudi Arabia confirmed its interest in this project, and [a memorandum of understanding] will be signed after obtaining cabinet approval,” the Pakistani Foreign Office said. An agreement for setting up a refinery near Gwadar is expected to be inked between Pakistan State Oil and Saudi Aramco soon.

In a statement, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani asked the government to take parliament into confidence regarding the proposed bailout package and the construction of an oil refinery in or near Gwadar “in total disregard to Article 172 of the constitution.”

“It is demanded that the government should lay the terms and conditions of the recently concluded financial arrangements between the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before the parliament as these agreements will have strategic repercussions for Pakistan and the region,” he said, adding that if there was anything sensitive, then the government could convene in camera sessions of either or both houses separately or in a joint session.

What does this have to do with an Israeli plane?

While Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have any official diplomatic relations, many news reports have surfaced in the past indicating extensive behind-the-scene diplomatic and intelligence cooperation between the two countries in the pursuit of mutual goals against regional enemy Iran.

If Netanyahu actually made a surprise visit to Pakistan, just like the one he made to Oman, something is really cooking up in the most important geo-strategic location on the globe.

It may be possible that Riyadh has asked Islamabad to join the Israel-Saudi duo to curb Iran’s influence in the region. Oman and Pakistan both are the neighbors of Iran.

Maybe Saudi Arabia’s investment in Balochistan, a province of Pakistan that shares a very large border with Iran, is a strategy to keep a close eye on and increase its influence in the region. Amid Pakistan’s poor economic conditions, it may be possible that Saudi Arabia has used this opportunity to push Pakistan for better ties with Israel.

A denial with no proof

Last Saturday morning, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry replied to a tweet posted by Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Ahsan Iqbal in which he asked the government to explain the landing of an Israeli jet in Islamabad. In his reply, Chaudhry said, “We will not negotiate secretly with either [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi or Israel.”

It is true that Chaudhry denied the news, but that denial was without any proof. The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority also categorically denied the news that an Israeli jet landed at Islamabad, but again it did so without any substantial proof in its clarification statement, which was tweeted by the government of Pakistan’s official Twitter handle.

People might say that the Saudis supported Pakistan because Imran Khan attended the FII conference at Riyadh amid an outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but it is also possible that the kingdom took advantage of Pakistan’s broken financial condition and agreed to help with a $6 billion package in exchange for increasing its and Israel’s influence over Iran.

It is all about national interest

Even if a Pakistan-Saudi-Israel nexus is in the making or Pakistan and Israel have initiated diplomatic relations, there is nothing wrong in it. Actually, it is not about good or bad but national interest.

International relations were, are and always will be conducted on the basis of realism, in which states seek to promote their individual national interests. And Pakistan wouldn’t be the first Muslim-majority country to initiate diplomatic relations with Israel; Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Albania, Uzbekistan, Jordan and now Oman have already done so.

Whatever is the reality, however, it is the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to take the nation into confidence as far as the Saudi loan is concerned, by letting the people know what it has agreed upon with the kingdom in return for $6 billion in aid.

The writer is a journalist and economic and political analyst and columnist for Asia Times and various online and print media outlets. His analysis focuses on economic, political, social and cultural issues, especially those related to corruption, human rights violations, the global market economy, foreign policy, and environmental crises. Find him on Twitter @an_alisalman

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