There are many Israelis who are convinced that they are experts on terrorism. There are also more than a few who fancy they know a lot about India. Terrorism in India is a slightly more complex topic, and the chorus of those who were once somebody in security, quick to harshly criticize over the weekend the way in which Indian security forces handled the coordinated terrorist assault in Mumbai, were guilty of more than arrogance. That chorus is liable to do serious damage to a vital strategic relationship.
The land of Shanti, a haven for backpackers, is also the second most-terror-plagued country in the world after Iraq. The attacks in the Subcontinent occur nearly weekly and claim the lives of dozens of civilians, while warranting at best a brief mention on the margins of the foreign news in our press. And yet, there are those in Israel who think we have advice to offer a mammoth country that is home to 1.1 billion people belonging to hundreds of religious groups and sects while it is coping with simultaneous multiple attacks on large civilian targets, a scenario Israel has never experienced. The insulting tone of inaccurate reports stating that India "refused" to accept aid from Israel is especially ludicrous.
"If the media in Israel want to criticize the Indian operation," an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi said, "they should quote their Indian colleagues rather than interview all sorts of self-styled Israeli experts. They would find that the Indians certainly know how to criticize themselves." Indeed, the newspapers and local news channels are filled with criticism, particularly from the ordinary Indian on the street, who is incensed that his country - which in the last decade succeeded in building a flourishing economy and is competing with America's Silicon Valley - could not manage to secure the shoreline surrounding one of the most important national, commercial, and tourism sites.
This criticism has already resulted in the resignation of the home minister responsible for public security, Shivraj Patil, and threatens the ruling party, which faces general elections in four months. Since Friday night, those same media outlets have devoted extensive coverage to the criticism in Israel. The statements made here are seen as an insult, a blow to national pride, and are especially galling coming from a country that has not always succeeded in saving its own people who were captured and held hostage.
The Indians are also angry that the Israelis are focusing solely on the attack on Chabad House and the Israeli and Jewish victims who were killed there, while ignoring the fact that the security forces managed to rescue hundreds of civilians from the large hotels under attack and forgetting about the losses suffered by the Indian police and army units who stormed the terrorists.
For years, India has been perceived in Israel as the leader of the non-aligned countries and as a country that instinctively backs the Arab states. In recent years, though, senior officials in both countries attest to the blossoming of an unprecedented relationship. Both India and Israel are highly concerned over the nuclear Islamic superpower that is Pakistan, which is now in the advanced stages of disintegrating. There is a free flow of information exchange between the two countries. The attack on Mumbai highlights both of their positions on the front line against Islamic terrorism. The great deal of attention being paid to Israeli criticism of India does not help solidify this front.
"We must not spit now into the well from which we drink," said an Israeli defense source who is familiar with the ties between the two states. "And we must not anger the Indian establishment so they view us as a threat rather than support. There is a common fight against terror, and we need to leverage this into even closer cooperation."
As of yesterday evening, the Indian government had not officially responded to the Israeli criticism. At least they understand there were more urgent matters to deal with during the latter part of the attacks on Mumbai. That includes self-criticism and extensive investigation.
"The people in positions of influence in the intelligence and defense apparatus know to distinguish between what the official agencies say [and the unofficial commentary]," an expert on Indian defense matters said, "and they are happy with the excellent cooperation that is ongoing behind the scenes. But due to diplomatic reasons and domestic policy considerations, they must downplay these ties." The anger over Israeli boastfulness will keep these ties hidden from view.
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