After any major terrorist attack, as in Pulwama, one hears a loud chorus of corrective alternatives to counter the malaise. Chief among these in the public domain is the ‘Israeli approach’. Beyond the implicit muscularity, perceived efficacy and ostensible success of the ‘Israeli approach’, the genesis, success rate and applicability of the same in the Indian context is still under-assessed.
First, the scale and dimensions of the landscape are starkly different. Israel has a population of less than 9 million, against more than 1300 million in India. This country’s land mass itself is over 60 times larger than that of Israel. More importantly, the terror factor in Israel is essentially unidimensional and linear with the sole Israeli-Palestinian construct. In contrast, the armed insurgency and terror framework in India is multi-dimensional with various separatist agendas, Maoist class-struggles and sectarian/ tribal movements, given the inherent diversities of the Indian fabric and its perceived wounds, angst and aspirations. Because the intensity, the issues and evolution of each of these aspects are unique, the reality makes it imperative for the state to formulate a singular approach, unlike in Israel.
Israel has been afflicted with relentless insurgency and wars since it declared independence in 1948. Its genealogical ‘war of independence’ (1947-49) was followed by multiple reprisal operations ~ the Suez Canal crisis (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), War of Attrition (1967-70), Yom Kippur War (1973), multiple escalation in insurgencies, two Intifadas, the Lebanon wars (1982, 1985-90, 2006), the Gaza war (2008-9), Operation Pillar of Defence (2012), Operation Protective Edge (2014) etc. This perennial state of unrest and insecurity has influenced the national character, the mainstream consensus and the basic instinct that is geared up for an overall security preparedness. This trail of continuous bloodshed has ensured that irrespective of the political party in power, it is invariably confronted by military men and women with substantial anti-terror experience. From David Ben-Guiron at the time of independence to leaders like Ariel Sharon, Yitzak Rabin, Ehud Barak to Benjamin Netanyahu, the political leadership of the country has been dominated by highly decorated, daring and combat personnel who brought along the accompanying militaristic sensibilities and approach to governance and policy-making.
While such leadership created an unquestionable environment of decisiveness, bluntness and innovation in ‘hitting back’ with targeted killings, systematic disruption of enemy infrastructure and specialised covert operations, the Israeli ingenuity has essentially allowed them to remain one step ahead of the enemy in managing the security threats, though the track record in solving the core issue, has remained an abysmal failure, even after 71 years.
The surreal Israeli counterterror operations like the Entebbe airport rescue, Operation Opera where a surprise Israeli air attack destroyed an under-construction Iraqi nuclear facility to the assassination of the ‘most wanted’ Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, the reckless dare and guaranteed ‘reciprocal-hit’ has been unparalleled. This spirit is embedded in Benjamin Netanyahu’s famous quote, “Peace is purchased from strength. It’s not purchased from weakness or unilateral retreats”. Implicit is the assertion of being able to bludgeon the enemy into discussing peace, though this has certainly not materialised. In 2018 itself, 290 Palestinians were killed, mainly on account of the ‘open-fire’ policy on demonstrators. As of today, 30 UN member countries do not recognize Israel and it has the ignominy of having breached multiple UN resolutions.
On the contrary, the Indian experience of managing and resolving insurgencies in two of its most troubled states at one point of time ~ Mizoram and Punjab ~ has been exemplary. Unlike the singularly militaristic approach of the Israelis,- the Indian approach of political rapprochement and dialogue, remedial socio-economic actions, administrative changes along with the steely bluntness of its security forces wherever required, was able to usher in the required thaw and tackle insurgency. Multiplicity of governance inputs, including continuous engagement within the constitutional contours, had resolved the issue permanently and not just contained the ‘security threat’, as seems to be the Israeli specialisation and success so far. The brazen Israeli approach has ensured that all along its borders with five of its neighbouring states ~ Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories ~ an uneasy disquiet and tension prevails. So to invoke the ‘Israeli approach’ as a means to resolve an insurgency like the sort that prevails in Kashmir, would be bereft of actual reality attributed to the same.
However, there are certain operational elements and lessons that are worth imbibing from the Israeli conduct and experience, notably the specialised anti-terror forces and training for covert urban operations, equipment and technology (including cyber/online), security barricading/layering, inter-services alignment and above all, a political consensus of ‘not lowering the guard’ in the security environment.
The system of conscription in Israeli Defence Forces affords a natural training ground for all citizens to go through the rigours, sensitivities and early alerts for any potential threat and related ‘actionable’ information that becomes priceless in neutralising any terror threat. But ostensibly the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ is also reeling under the global wave of uber-nationalism that is giving the domestic politics of Israel an even more strident, belligerent and ethno-religious texture that works towards the detriment of reconciliation, dialogue and peace.
The new Basic Law: Israel the Nation-State of the Jewish People, adopted in July 2018, further diminishes the role, relevance and inclusiveness of the non-Jewish populace within Israel, who are at the forefront of popular disenchantment with the State of Israel. Fanning provocative steps like the shift of the US Embassy to Jerusalem to further deligitimise the Palestinian claims and emotions, may win Benjamin Netanyahu more support in the electoral calculus and build portents of ‘political-muscularity’; but the road towards ending the bloodshed becomes still more intractable and hopeless.
It is against this backdrop that we must selectively invoke the ‘Israeli approach’ only in terms of operational efficacy, will and consensus, as opposed to a holistic framework to tackle insurgency, as we have our own methods of resolving the same, much more effectively and permanently.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)