The attack on Israel by Hamas militants, which has led to the death of more than a thousand civilians and soldiers, has not only brought the conflict between Israel and Palestine back to the centre of global politics but has also raised many fundamental questions. Those who believe that the world of terror can be silenced by a robust masculine state should think twice and change their strategy. Israel has long prided itself and has been imitated by many countries for the way it has dealt with terrorism. The Bharatiya Janata Party in India is one of them. This group of people believe that terrorism can only be countered by military means. The more one deploys military arsenals and the more sophisticated equipment one gets, the easier it becomes to neutralise terrorism.
There is no doubt that terrorism is a menace, and it should not have any place in the modern world. But it’s a mistake when it is believed that terrorism is only a military problem. The origin of terrorism lies in politics. And that way it is a political problem. Military means should be used to deal with the violence and to enhance the bargaining chip vis a vis the political leaders of the conflict zone.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who always projected himself as the protector of the Jewish state, was caught napping this time when Hamas attacked from road, sea and air. It is a massive intelligence failure. The Israeli state boasts of one of the best intelligence networks in the world, but this time they had no clue. An operation of this scale, which is considered to be the biggest attack on Israel since 1973, must have taken months of planning and resources, but Israel had no inkling. This is a massive “blow to brand Israel” as Navtej Sarna, the former Ambassador to Israel and USA, says. He writes, “A people determined not to let history repeat itself, ready to defend themselves against enemies who would rather throw them into the sea. Ruthless border security, top class surveillance systems, the last word in intelligence gathering, pre-emptive strikes, political assassinations, daring rescues, all that and more goes into the strange alchemy of the Israeli brand.”
Attila Somfalvi, the Israeli political analyst also writes in his column in The Times of India, “How did it happen that under the watchful eyes of drones, satellites, reconnaissance balloons, cameras, eavesdropping and human intelligence — the best intelligence — people in the world failed to identify the assessments of terrorist organisations for the death blow they delivered to Israel?” This clearly underlines the limits of the strategy designed based on the military mindset, and again establishes that even if the enemy may be too weak or too small it can nonetheless have the capacity to inflict fatal wounds through terrorist means, and no amount of security apparatus can keep citizens safe. To find a solution to any conflict, the peace process is the only way and politics is the only option.
It is in this context that an analysis of Somfalvi becomes very important. He raises a much deeper question. To find out the answer for the failure of the Israeli state, he writes, “Instead of nation-building, Netanyahu and his allies were busy destroying the Zionist enterprise. Instead of strengthening Israeli deterrence, they disparaged soldiers, pilots, and anyone who did not align with the anti-democratic agenda of the Netanyahu government.” He further explains: “Deterrence, they say, is achieved by building a strong perception among foes that it is unwise to mess with the Israeli Defense Forces and its security apparatus. However, deterrence is also achieved by the political leadership capable of creating loyalty and unity and managing all segments of the population. In this aspect the current government has utterly and clearly failed.”
And therein lies the lesson for a country like India and its present leadership which believes in a masculine state, and engineers and deepens fissures in the society to remain in power.
Israel has been in turmoil under Netanyahu. Netanyahu in his present regime is hell bent on subverting democratic institutions and pursuing divisive and ultra-nationalistic policies. In the name of judicial reform, he has brought an amendment in the Israeli Parliament to finish the independence of the judiciary. Unlike India, Israel does not have a written constitution but through judicial process, judiciary has acquired the power of judicial review. Netanyahu, who himself is facing serious corruption charges, fears that an independent and powerful judiciary can be detrimental to his political career. But the public at large does not like his decision. It has divided society. Even the president of Israel has shown his disagreement and advised the Netanyahu government to not to go ahead with the amendment; advice which was ignored by the government. Massive protests erupted in the streets before the said Bill was brought to the parliament. Even retired soldiers had joined the protest, but the government did not listen and passed the Bill. Hamas must have realised that this is the right time to attack Israel thinking that a divided Israel would not be able to give a unified response. This is what Somfalvi referred to in his column when he said that the political leadership should take every segment of society along and a united society is a better deterrence to counter the enemy.
Like Israel, India has also been battered by the terrorism. Before Kashmir flared up, Punjab was burning and hundreds of lives were lost, including the life of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Indian leadership has always tried to find a political solution though the security apparatus was always ready to deal with any law-and-order and insurgency problem. But the present leadership has a different approach. Like Israel, it believes in military solutions. For them terrorism is a law-and-order issue, and it should be dealt with accordingly. But what worries me more is the fractured polity and a divided society.
The Narendra Modi government does not believe in taking the Opposition along. His politics of polarisation has divided the country on communal lines. Even among Hindus, a clear line has been demarcated between pro- and anti-Modi groups, and neither is willing to listen to the other side. There is such bitterness that families avoid talking about politics at the dining table, decades of friendships are showing strain, WhatsApp groups have become the cause of acrimony between acquaintances. India in its nature is a highly political society; people have always had clear political affiliations but the bitterness, hate-mongering and non-accommodation of other views which is seen today was never the case earlier. People had differences but it never led to relationships souring. Demonisation of a particular community was never appreciated earlier, and those who were opposed to the government did not live with constant fear of languishing in jail. Such threats were non-existent then.
Communalism was a major problem in the past. India has witnessed horrific riots, but the country has not seen hate-mongering of such scale and magnitude; communalism was never justified so openly; and political parties, groups and leaders were not brazen in their anti-minority diatribe. Law-enforcing agencies were not so partisan. It is this echo-system which is the major threat to our democratic roots. It also weakens the country’s response while dealing with conflict situations.
Like the Benjamin Netanyahu government, the Modi government does not believe in finding a political solution to a problem or conflict. It believes in brazening it out. The Kashmir conflict is a classic example. It bulldozed its way to remove Art 370. The entire Kashmir leadership was either sent to prison or kept under house arrest for months and years. No attempt was made to initiate a dialogue with the local leaders. Rather, they were branded as traitors, anti-nationals, and corrupt. It is a situation like this that enemies of the country like to exploit. I hope India learns its lesson with the escalation of violence in Israel, and mends its ways.
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B