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World’s largest Islamic state may establish ties with Israel

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LONDON, March 30 (JTA) — Indonesia, the most populous Islamic state in the world, appears set to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel after Indonesian elections are held in June. The Israeli ambassador to Singapore is reported to have made several unpublicized visits to Indonesia in recent months to meet political and military officials, including aides to President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, the favorite in the elections. The visits were apparently aimed at establishing an Israeli diplomatic presence in Indonesia in the post-Suharto era. Suharto was forced to resign in May of last year after popular protests. Recognition of Israel by Indonesia, which has a population of 210 million, could clear the way for the establishment of ties with Israel by such Asian Muslim states as Malaysia and oil-rich Brunei. The London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Monday that Israel had created relationships with the Indonesian military and business elites earlier in the decade, culminating in visits by former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 and Shimon Peres in 1995. One of the key figures in the Suharto regime, Gen. Benny Mordani, who was defense minister from 1988 to 1993, publicly advocated the establishment of relations with Israel, a proposal that was enthusiastically embraced by some politicians from the minority Catholic, Chinese and Buddhist communities. Mordani is believed to have made several secret visits to Israel and to have concluded various intelligence and military cooperation accords, some of which are understood to be still operational. Israeli expertise is understood to have been used by the Indonesian army against separatist rebels in the early 1990s. Veteran Foreign Minister Ali Alatas is known to oppose diplomatic ties with Israel before it resolves its dispute with the Palestinians, but he is unlikely to remain in office after the election. The Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat noted that a leader of Nahdat-ul-Ulema movement — an Indonesian Islamic society with an estimated 35 million members — has been advocating diplomatic ties with Israel, but has been opposed by others, including many within his own movement. A recent article in the Catholic-owned, English-language Jakarta Post, which supports ties with Israel, said the United States has been putting pressure on Jakarta to agree to the ties.

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