July 30, 2006Foreign AffairsSecurity

Lebanese stakes

A Hizbullah victory is not in India’s interests

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

It is rather easy for people to watch scenes of war and the devastation caused by the Israeli bombings of Lebanon and rush to judgement. Israel is overreacting, many contend, and even if it did not start the aggression, its retaliation is way out of proportion. MPs from the Left have gone a step further. Not only should India take the initiative on imposing international sanctions on Israel, they demand, it should also apply direct pressure by suspending purchases of Israeli arms. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, has made sympathetic noise but has not gone beyond making statements against the damage caused to innocent civilians.

Ordinary people can be forgiven for media-induced amnesia, but members of parliament should know better. For when India found itself at the receiving end of Pakistani aggression in the 1999 Kargil war, it was an overnight shipment of Israeli arms and technology that gave Indian troops the advantage that helped turn the war. And while the naïve can continue to believe that jihadi infiltration in Jammu & Kashmir has declined, and due to the peace process, the fact remains that Israeli technology—in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles and high-tech sensors—is helping Indian security forces keep a lid on the influx of terrorists. Moreover, Israel is the only, and many times the only willing supplier of some of the key military equipment that India needs. For all the sympathies the Indian people may have for innocent Lebanese civilians, taking an anti-Israel position is not in India’s interests. (See Harsh Pant and Subhash Kapila)

While there can be several opinions on Israel’s decision to fight a war of choice, it is in India’s interests that it win it. Consider. The success of the mujahideen in the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s and that of al-Qaeda in pulling off 9/11 both galvanised jihadis worldwide, including those engaged in a war with India. The globalised effects of these successes have been in terms of inspiration, infrastructure and tactics of Islamist terrorists across the world.

The apparent success of the mujahideen in forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan inspired the jihad in Kashmir. Pakistan quickly repurposed the infrastructure, institutions and resources to pursue its proxy-war against India. The mujahideen who fought the Soviets brought themselves and their expertise to fight the Indian army. So has it been with 9/11; where jihadi cells’ have used the al-Qaeda pattern in carrying out attacks in Bali, Madrid, London, New Delhi and Mumbai. These attacks were inspired, even if not directly ordered by al-Qaeda, enabled by the common Pakistan-based infrastructure, and used similar tactics. Even if the Hizbullah does not actually win, there is still a risk that it will spark off a new generation of terrorists. But if it does win, then that risk increases manifold.

The singular characteristic of Hizbullah’s war strategy has been the use of rockets. Most of these are vintage Katyushas that have short-range and limited accuracy. While that makes the rockets poor weapons for military combat, they are nevertheless effective to strike terror when fired at civilian targets. But what has taken the world by surprise is the Hizbollah’s use of longer range rockets as well as more sophisticated cruise missiles. This implies that a supply-chain for rockets and missiles, that links China, Iran and Syria among others, is already established. The Hizbullah is in de facto control of Lebanese territory bordering Israel, which allows it to launch these rockets with relative ease.

Now think Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa is in effective control of several parts of this region, as became publicly visible in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Imagine it too procures an arsenal of rockets. The geography is different, but it is not unreasonable to expect that its missiles will be different too. There is a ceasefire along the Line of Control that may make shelling and rocket attacks appear unlikely today. Things can change. Israel could at least launch air-strikes to attempt to put the rockets out of business. India may find itself responding to rocket attacks by collecting proof to convince a sceptical US State Department.

If there is a lesson in all this, it is for India to anticipate Hizbullah-inspired terrorism. This means intelligence co-operation with friendly countries to prevent new supply-chains from forming. One of the most important partners in this will be, well, Israel.



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