The Region: India and Israel: The parallels
Nov 30, 2008 20:27 | Updated Dec 2, 2008
By BARRY RUBIN
For years, India has been subjected to periodic terrorist attacks throughout the country. But what happened in Mumbai is something new and different: a full-scale terrorist war.
This is the kind of threat and problem Israel has been facing for decades. What are the lessons for India from Israel’s experience?
First, India needs and has the right to expect international sympathy and help. It will get sympathy but will it get help? Once it is clear that other countries must actually do something, incur some costs, possibly take some risks, everything changes.
If the terrorists came from bases or training camps in Pakistan, India would want international action to be taken. Pakistan must be pressured to close such camps, stop helping terrorists and provide information possessed by Pakistani intelligence agencies.
But will Western countries make a real effort? Are they going to impose sanctions on Pakistan or even denounce it? Will they make public the results of their own investigations about responsibility for the terror campaign against India?
NOT LIKELY. After all, such acts would cost them money and involve potential risks, perhaps even of the terrorists targeting them. Moreover, they need Pakistan, especially to cooperate on keeping down other Islamist terrorist threats, not spread around nuclear weapons technology too much and cooperate on maintaining some stability in Afghanistan.
This parallels Israel’s situation with Syria, Lebanon and Iran. For decades, the US and some European countries have talked to the Syrian government about closing down terrorist headquarters in Damascus. The Syrians merely say no (though sometimes they have just lied and said the offices were closed). The US even did impose some sanctions. But by being intransigent, pretending moderation and hinting help on other issues, Syria has gotten out of its isolation.
So, despite all the pious talk about fighting terrorism, in real terms, India – like Israel – is largely on its own in defending itself from terrorism.
ANOTHER PROBLEM India faces, like Israel in the case of Lebanon, is that it is dealing with a country that lacks an effective government. Pakistan is in real terms a state of anarchy. Even within the intelligence apparatus, factions simply do as they please in inciting terrorism. Given popular opinion and Pakistan’s Islamic framework, even a well-intentioned government would be hard put to crack down.
In Israel’s case, the whole rationale for regimes such as those in Iran and Syria is radical ideology. So pervasive is the daily supply of lies and incitement to hatred that popular opinion supports the most murderous terrorism. Murder of Israeli civilians brings celebrations in the Arab world. Appeals to law and order, holding governments responsible for their actions, shaming them or going over their heads to turn to the masses on humanitarian grounds simply don’t work.
So what’s a country to do? It might consider cross-border raids against terrorist camps or retaliation to pressure the terrorist sponsor to desist. Sometimes it will actually take such action. But can India depend on international support for such self-defense measures or will it then be labeled an aggressor? How much is India willing to risk war with Pakistan even though it has a legitimate casus belli due to covert aggression against it by that neighbor country? And let’s not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, a situation which Israel may soon face in regard to Iran.
Now we can see the logic of terrorism as a strategy by radical groups and countries pursuing aggression by covert means. Their victims are not only put on the defensive but have to make tough decisions about self-defense.
FINALLY, THERE is the dangerous “root cause” argument. Many Western intellectuals and journalists – as well as some governments – are ready to blame the victim of terrorism. In Israel’s case, despite desperate efforts to promote peace – concessions, territorial withdrawals and the offer of a Palestinian state – it is said to be the villain for not giving the Palestinians enough.
The terrorists and their sponsors use this situation to their advantage. By being intransigent – demanding so much and offering so little – they keep the conflict going and are able to pose as victims simultaneously.
Will some suggest that if India merely gives up Kashmir and makes various concessions, the problem will go away? This might not happen but it is worth keeping an eye on such a trend.
The Indian government is thus going to have some very tough decisions to make. How will it mobilize real international strategic support and not just expressions of sympathy for the deaths and destruction? How can it destroy terrorist groups, including installations outside its borders, and deter their sponsors?
Israel’s experience offers some lessons: Depend on yourself, be willing to face unfair criticism to engage in self-defense, take counterterrorism very seriously, mobilize your citizens as an active warning system and decide when and where to retaliate.
Defending yourself against terrorism is not easy. Unfortunately, even in an era of “war against terrorism” those truly willing to help in the battle are few and far between.
Since radical Islamists really believe their own propaganda, however, they tend to minimize their allies and maximize their enemies. You don’t want to make 900 million Hindus and additional other Indians, in South Asia and elsewhere, mad at you. There are about as many Hindus and Sikhs as there are Muslims and, as one Indian reader put it, “There is a Hindi saying: One and one makes 11. It is time for India and Israel to become allies. It is a jihad we are both facing.”
The writer is director of Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.