Bleeding wounds

Global fraternity of anti-Zionists will also be jubilant that the growing rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the burgeoning trade with the UAE, has suffered a setback

Since comparisons help the process of understanding, there is an irresistible temptation in India to compare the massacre of the innocents in Israel on Saturday, October 7 to the assault on Mumbai by terrorists from Pakistan on November 26, 2008.

There are undeniable points of similarity. In both countries, the overwhelming majority of those massacred by the indiscriminate firing were civilians. The authorities in both Israel and India were caught entirely by surprise. India didn’t expect 10 terrorists to come by sea and Israel reposed inordinate faith in the surveillance and defence systems that had hitherto successfully prevented any infiltration from Gaza to Israel for the past two decades, at least.

However, these elementary points of similarity cannot divert attention from the sheer scale of the massacre by Hamas. As opposed to the 166 people and nine terrorists killed on 26/11, last Saturday’s toll is estimated to be at around 1,200, with new bodies being discovered each day. Additionally, no one is exactly sure how many hostages are being held by Hamas inside Gaza. Being a small country, nearly every Israeli Jew has been affected by the 7/10 massacre.

When India failed to anticipate the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, it was attributed to the laxity of the security apparatus and its failure to act on warnings. Israel, however, has acquired a formidable reputation for its alertness to a very conceivable threat. Since 1948, when the newly-formed nation state was threatened with complete obliteration by a gang-up of its neighbours, Israel has been aware that laxity in matters of national security can be very costly. On the day of Yom Kippur in 1973, Egypt caught Israeli forces by complete surprise and was able to inflict very serious damage on its armed forces. Since then, it had become a national mantra in Israel never to be caught by surprise again. Yet, this is precisely what happened.

In the months and years to come, the reasons why 400 or so Hamas terrorists were able to take the Israeli Defense Forces by complete surprise will be the subject of many studies. These will also assess the damage to Israel’s reputation caused by the fact that the element of surprise was total. Certainly, all the enemies of Israel will be emboldened by Hamas’ ability to cause great pain to the entire Jewish world.

The global fraternity of anti-Zionists will also be jubilant that the growing rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the burgeoning trade with the United Arab Emirates, has suffered a setback. Given the scale of the massacre of civilians last Saturday, Israel cannot afford to be soft in its retaliation against Hamas. The spectacle of human suffering in Gaza will, in turn, provoke an outcry throughout the Arab world, including in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. For the moment, the West has been vocal in expressing its solidarity with Israel but given the ability of the Palestine propaganda machinery to extract sympathy from gullible do-gooders (more so with Christmas approaching), it will be worth observing if support to a resolute Israel persists. Indeed, in the coming days, the political leadership in Israel will be faced with the challenging task of giving its military the requisite elbow room to pulverise Hamas militarily and politically.

Internally too, there would be conflicting impulses over Hamas’ threat to emulate the ISIS-style methods of hostage execution against the Israeli Jews in their custody. Unlike India, which couldn’t cope with the threat of its citizens being harmed by terrorists during the IC-814 hijack in Kandahar, Israel has a higher threshold of endurance. Yet, is the Israel of today the same as the Israel that stomached the Munich 1972 massacre of its athletes?

The doubts arise on account of the deep divisions in Israeli society that have come to the fore because of the controversy over Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms that intend to give the political class a greater say in judicial appointments. The spectacle of Israeli reservists proclaiming their unwillingness to fight for a right-wing government was unexpected. These protests and the growing visibility of young people questioning the fundamentals of Israeli nationhood may indeed have convinced many of those who have no love lost for Israel that the Jewish determination that defined the post-Holocaust generation has waned. Maybe last Saturday’s jolt will restore the national consensus, but Israel could do with a recalibration of the relationship between its democratic politics and national security.

Many of the country’s internal fissures and the rising appeal of anti-Zionist propaganda, particularly in the campuses of Europe and North America, have contributed to growing Israeli tensions with the United States of America and the European Union. In an earlier era, Netanyahu’s relation with the Barack Obama administration was quite terrible, and although the Joe Biden administration has reacted to the Hamas attack quite unambiguously, the US will have to take some hard decisions in an election year.

The next few months are going to be challenging for the friends of Israel. In its public announcement, Hamas linked the timing of its attack to the so-called desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine, in Jerusalem. Apart from the fact that some Muslims had taken offence to a handful of Jews offering prayers at the courtyard — the Temple Mount of the Jews — the status quo of the disputed shrine has been maintained by the Israelis. Hamas’ reference to Al-Aqsa was wilfully contrived and aimed at stirring up Muslim religious feelings in the wider ummah. This will undoubtedly have an effect this Friday, not least in India.

What will have some effect is Narendra Modi’s emphatic statement: “We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.” The unambiguous expression of support was both instant and done without the mandatory linkage to support for the Palestinian cause. Actually, with India developing a close bonhomie with Saudi Arabia without, at the same time, getting on the wrong side of Iran, its Israel policy had become infinitely less controversial. But with general elections due shortly, the communalisation of India’s support to Israel, not to mention its deep security relationship, will become a Hindu-Muslim issue. This is inescapable and both countries will have to endure the storm calmly.

Source: The Telegraph online