Between Mumbai and Tel Aviv
The new Israeli leadership that will come to power in March will have to make a similar strategic assessment to the one Rabin and Peres made in 1993.
Comparing the attack on Mumbai of November 26, 2008 with the attack on New York of September 11, 2001 was over the top. Hundreds of people were killed in Mumbai; thousands died in New York. Mumbai is an impoverished, terror-stricken city in the developing world; New York is the arrogant and complacent capital of the developed world. In Mumbai, two hotels and one guesthouse were hit, while in New York an iconic symbol of the West, its power and its wealth, collapsed.
In another sense, however, the comparison between November 26 and September 11 was not an exaggeration at all. In the case of both Mumbai and New York, an unprecedented combination of Islamic zealotry and destructive efficacy was revealed. In the case of both Mumbai and New York, Muslim countries allied with the West were exposed as hothouses for advanced terror. Both Mumbai 2008 and New York 2001 taught the world that below the quiet surface of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, deep and dangerous processes are taking place that could turn the world order into violent disorder.
The terror in Mumbai had a direct operational significance: Islamic extremists possess the military capabilities of elite commando forces that enable it to hit population centers with chilling daring. But it also had a strategic significance: Pakistan is turning into a clear and present international danger. The regime in Islamabad has remained moderate, but it is increasingly atrophying. The corrupt pro-Western establishment is losing control over large parts of the country's physical area and over critical components in the Pakistani power structure. Since Pakistan is a nuclear power, possesing dozens of nuclear weapons, this loss of control could have far-ranging consequences.
Last week, 10 terrorists managed to paralyze a busy metropolis with 12 million residents. The death they wrought was painful and shocking. What is truly disturbing about the attack they carried out with great skill is what it represents: the seeping of Western military capabilities into the forces of jihad operating in Pakistan. If an equivalent creep of Western strategic capabilities into the forces of global jihad takes place, the world will be a different place. It will be a world threatened no less by the chaos of Pakistan than by the ayatollahs of Tehran.
There are no illusions regarding Pakistan. No covert Mossad operation can delay the danger and no air force assault can prevent it. Perhaps the danger will pass on its own. Perhaps stabilizing forces on the Indian subcontinent will save the day. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton might take a forceful initiative that will beat back the nightmare. But the events of November 26 at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels and at Chabad House proved that the Pakistani volcano is active and smoking.
When Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres went to Oslo in 1993, they did so in large part because they realized the strategic threat posed by Iran early on. They wanted to end the conflict with the Palestinians and Muslim world before the conflict with radical Islam became intolerable. Peres and Rabin were right, but they were also wrong: Their efforts did not end the friction at home but increased it to a large extent.
The new Israeli leadership that will come to power in March will have to make a similar strategic assessment to the one made in 1993. Iran will still be the focus, but Pakistan will play a central role in the analysis.
Things are happening in the Islamic world. Some of the changes give rise to hope. Iraq is stabilizing, Syria is considering peace, the Gulf is moderate and the Sunnis are looking for partners. Some of the changes are worrisome, though. The rise of Shi'ite Islam, Iran's budget deficit and the disquiet in Pakistan presage storms to come. There is no cause for panic, but also no room for inaction.
The new extent and scope of the threats should cause a thorough upheaval in Israeli thinking. Where peace is possible, nearly any price must be paid to achieve it. Where peace is not possible, this must be recognized, and the implications of disharmony must be understood. At the same time, attention must be paid to the governmental structure and code of values of the state in the new era. Israel lies on the coast of an ocean that can be very calm, but which can also give rise to tsunamis. The next government must bolster the security of this coastal state. The way to do this is both to search for genuine peace and grow stronger, to increase the height of the storm walls and be prepared for what may come.