ANALYSIS / Israel cannot defend against attacks such as one at Mumbai Chabad house
Mumbai terror attack shows that Israel will never quite cover local Islamic terror in developing nations.
Since last February, the defense establishment has been involved in a worldwide effort to protect Israeli citizens and Jewish centers from attack by Hezbollah as revenge for the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. Serious attacks have been thwarted during that time. But the terror attack in Mumbai, in which the local Chabad House was a secondary target, indicates that Israel will never quite cover local Islamic terror in developing nations.
It is possible, with tremendous effort and close cooperation with foreign intelligence services, to stop Hezbollah cells when they plot attacks on Israeli embassies. Unofficial delegates can be briefed to be alert and cautious. But it is all but impossible to protect the Israeli tourist or delegate caught in such a ferocious and coordinated attack as the one in India this week.
On Thursday afternoon, events at Mumbai Chabad House took a dramatic turn. Indian security forces, in a strategy reminiscent of Russian operations in the face of similar kidnappings, are not allotting time to negotiate with the terrorists. Against a challenge of these proportions, the Indians opted to immediately storm the target sites, even at the price of the lives of hostages.
Israel has traditionally handled hostage situations differently. Frequent use of negotiations has not led to surrender to terrorist demands, but to their weakening, and the acquisition of valuable intelligence for rescue units. In the Mumbai hotels, the scenario was very different. Elite Indian commando forces battled dozens of hostage-takers in urban territory with the bodies of the victims lying on hallway floors. But at Chabad House, maybe because it was a smaller site, the Indians opted to delay storming the building.
As far as Israel is concerned, the terror attacks were preceded only by vague alerts of possible attacks on Israeli targets in India (more specific threats against the Chabad House in Thailand led to private security during the Jewish holidays). Although intelligence gathering on international Islamic terror is a high Mossad priority, and even though Military Intelligence has expanded its operations since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the information is very limited. Chabad House is a prominent and well-known target and, like other sites attacked on Wednesday, is considered a "soft" target. In other words, no real security.
The delay in storming the building apparently allowed time for Israeli involvement in analyzing the tactical conditions and exploiting expertise in negotiating with hostage-takers. The Israeli army has a detailed plan for rescuing hostages abroad, but it is unlikely India would have allowed it. Why did the attackers also choose a Jewish target? A senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Lior Lotan, says that Chabad House was a secondary target, a hit on the "Smaller Satan" while attacking the "Great Satan," the "Crusaders," Western tourists and relations between the West and Indian authorities.
Dr. Yoram Schweitzer of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies says Al-Qaida's interest in Israel has increased over the years. Since 2002, there have been a series of attacks on Jews and Israelis, from the attack in Mombasa, Kenya, to Katyusha rockets fired into Israel from Jordan and Lebanon. Also the broad security cooperation between Israel and India increased motivation for the attack.
However, the extent of Al-Qaida's involvement in the attack is still unclear. The Indians opted to point the finger at neighboring countries- meaning Pakistan and its intelligence services-for operating Islamic extremists. According to Schweitzer, Al-Qaida preferred suicide attacks over a shooting onslaught (the two types were combined Wednesday) or mass hostage-taking. However, targeting tourism and using it to harm the Indian economy is well suited to Osama bin Laden and his followers and their philosophy. The terrorists hit hotels, a train station and a cinema simultaneously sites that are crowded, frequented by tourists and almost completely without security. The inspiration came from somewhere.
The attack does appear to be a success for the terrorists. It indicates careful planning, effective implementation and control over a large number of subcells. Above all, it is a huge failure by the Indian defense establishment, surprised in the heart of their financial capital, apparently also missing the terrorists' arrival by boat from Pakistan. Brave police officers, including the Mumbai counterterror chief, died trying to stop the attack. When the dust settles, higher-ups in Indian intelligence will have a lot of explaining to do.