But talks between Israel and India in cementing ties between the two kickstarted as planned on Wednesday. 

 

An Israeli official in the Indian capital New Delhi said Sharon would first complete all the official meetings of his ground-breaking visit to the country and would only depart from New Delhi at 6:00 pm (1230 GMT).

 

Prompting Sharon to hurry back home has been two back-to-back explosions that killed 15 Israelis on Tuesday.

 

According to his schedule, Sharon on Wednesday was due to meet India's Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, leading business groups, Defence Minister George Fernandes and main opposition leader Sonia Gandhi.

 

Arms Deal

   

Tuesday was spent consolidating political ties as India rolled out the red carpet for Sharon and his entourage.

  

On Wednesday, the two countries began talks on strengthening defence partnership with India seeking to import lethal hardware from Israel for countering its own domestic insurgency.

 

Israel's Defence Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron met his Indian counterpart Ajay Prasad, besides holding talks with India's naval chief Madhavendra Singh and Army chief NCVij.

 

Indian officials said the talks focussed on the purchase of surveillance equipment and assualt rifles that India needed to bolster its defence forces.

 

Procurement of Barak missiles for the Indian navy and Arrow missiles for the army also reportedly came up for discussions.


The two countries are strengthening defence partnership with India seeking to import lethal hardware from Israel for countering its own domestic insurgency.

 

Progress was also said to be made in the talks regarding the billion-dollar deal that would see Tel Aviv supplying New Delhi three Phalcon Awacs radar systems.

 

The Indian military was also seeking electronic warfare (EW) systems to arm seven of its frontline ships.

 

"Israel is already upgrading our MIG-21 aircraft and artillery systems and the talks on the EW for our borders have progressed well," said an Indian official.

 

Consolidate

 

Sharon's India-visit has created more than a buzz in New Delhi's corridors of power.

 

An Indian official said bilateral trade that totalled $ 1.27 billion last year, excluding defence spending, was expected to rise by 25% in 2003.

 

India, once a fervent critic of Israel, has moved rapidly closer to the Jewish state in the five years since the Hindu right came to power in New Delhi. The visit happened amid protests by Indian Muslims and supporters of the country’s Communist parties.

 

Officials from both countries now speak of a "strategic triangle against terrorism" among India, Israel and the United States.

  

New Delhi says it is a victim of "cross-border terrorism", a reference to separatist Islamic groups fighting Indian rule in the disputed state of Kashmir.

  

"I believe the Indian government has made an internal decision to change its relations in the Middle East and to do it in an open way, particularly in regards to Israel. I believe there's been a real breakthrough," a senior Israeli political source said.

  

Both Israel and India have taken pains to stress their emerging relationship was not an "anti-Islamic" alliance.

  

The Israeli prime minister, who arrived in New Delhi on Monday night, had been due to fly to Mumbai, India's western economic hub, on Thursday and scheduled to return to Israel the same  night.