India and the Israel-Hamas conflict CNN News18 19 Oct 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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India and the Israel-Hamas conflict CNN News18 19 Oct 2023

          With all Hamas fighters who invaded Israel now eliminated, the battle has moved into Gaza. Israel is attempting to eliminate the military power of Hamas within Gaza. The Palestinian scenario is unique. The Palestinian Authority (PA) which controls West Bank, is a supposed elected body and considered as official representatives of the Palestinian people, although fresh elections have not been held for over a decade. Hamas, which runs Gaza through the barrel of the gun, is designated as a terrorist organization by a number of countries, does not recognize the authority of the PA. Attempts to list Hamas as a global terrorist organization at the UNSC have failed.

PM Modi and earlier President Pranab Mukherjee have both visited Ramallah in the West Bank and met the leadership of the PA. PM Modi visited in Feb 2018 while President Pranab Mukherjee in Oct 2015. The PA has an embassy in India. The Indian government adopted a two-pronged approach to the current crisis. On one hand it deplored Hamas’s terrorist actions while, on the other, backed the two-nation solution supporting the Palestine cause. PM Modi had stated in Ramallah that India hoped to see an ‘independent Palestinian state living in an environment of peace.’

The MEA statement reiterated this approach when it mentioned, ‘India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent, and viable State of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel.’

On the terrorist action of Hamas, PM Modi backed Israel, by tweeting, ‘People of India stand firmly with Israel in this difficult hour. India strongly and unequivocally condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.’ India will never support any terrorist act or organization, no matter what its ultimate intentions are.

For political parties within India, which viewpoint they support is their decision. However, not condemning terrorist actions and subsequent retaliation sends forth a message that India may also not react to major terrorist strikes on its soil.  

What separates this conflict from most others is that Hamas, a terrorist organization, launched the initial operation. Hence, it is not a war between states but between a terrorist organization controlling a territory and a nation state. Further, like all terrorist organizations, they possess locally produced or purchased/ gifted armaments such as rockets, drones, anti-tank/ anti-airborne missiles and small arms, mainly for land-based operations. They lack air and naval power.

India and its adversaries, China and Pakistan are all nuclear states. Pakistan hosts anti-India terrorist groups on its soil, most of whom are globally recognized terrorist organizations. China funds and arms militant groups operating in the North East, while staying away from formally backing them. Thus, in case of a terrorist strike from Pakistan, Indian retaliation would be against the Pak state. Since India’s retaliatory Balakote Strike, Pakistan has ensured that terrorism does not cross India’s threshold, thereby provoking retaliation.

Secondly, no matter what Israel does, the philosophy of Hamas can never be eradicated from the minds of Gazans. After all, Gaza is the world’s most densely populated region, controlled by Israel, whom its residents consider as an enemy. The hatred which has been sown into Gazans is too deep to be removed. From childhood they are brainwashed into hating Israel and Jews and believing victory is only possible by war.

Similar is the case of hatred created against India within Pakistan. It has only increased with time and India’s growth. All advocating talks must remember that peace with Pakistan is only an illusion, never a reality and never lasting.

From the above flows the next. Israel gave thousands of permits for labour for Gazans amidst limited vetting. Latest count was 20,000 work permits. Financial inflows from those who travelled and worked in Israel was aimed at improving quality of life in Gaza. Spies of Hamas, exploiting these permits, studied security arrangements of camps, Kibbutz and towns close to the border. They led the attackers. Trusting a sworn enemy is a grave mistake which should be avoided. 

This brings forth the next Israeli strategic error. A nation unstable due to political infighting, with emphasis on pushing through unpopular reforms for political gains will consider national security at second priority. Nationwide protests against Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms had impacted the armed forces, apart from dividing the nation.

Tens of thousands of reservists had refused to join, lowering defence preparedness. Concerns of service chiefs on the subject were brushed aside by Netanyahu. Inputs regarding Gaza were placed on the sidelines as securing Netanyahu’s conviction from earlier charges was considered a greater government priority.

What flows is that no matter what the internal political climate is, the national security apparatus must remain in place and given its due importance. Ignoring or discarding warnings, as Netanyahu did, would be a fatal mistake. Intelligence agencies responsible for monitoring external threats must never be tasked to change direction towards internal to suit requirements of those in power. Armed forces must remain isolated from internal political turmoil.

Technology, which dominated Israel’s intelligence gathering as also was the basis for its border security, failed. The US, which monitors Gaza communications, alongside Israel, misread the tea leaves. Both, US and Israel, have satellites monitoring Gaza but these failed to detect the presence of thousands of rockets. Intelligence inputs were possibly ignored because the Netanyahu government was involved in internal problems.

The famed Israeli wall and fencing was considered a technological marvel. It was packed with sensors, automatic machine guns which would respond by fire to any movement, radars, cameras and communication devices, all linked together. Monitoring was done at multiple levels. Such was the Israeli confidence that they even reduced troops responsible for manning the fence.

Hamas, which had studied the Israeli system, employed cheap drones to destroy surveillance and communication equipment. Troops responsible for security never got inputs and failed to react. Many were caught sleeping when Hamas struck.

Technology, no matter how latest, can be bypassed and hence should always be just considered only as a force multiplier, not the solution. Added is the lesson that manpower should never be reduced on account of technology in crucial places such as securing the border. The employment of paragliders was unexpected in Israel as Gaza has no such facility. In our context, if employed, retaliation would be on Pakistan. Of greater concern is employment of drones.

Israel’s anti-missile system, the famed Iron dome, was overwhelmed by the number of missiles being fired. Cheaply manufactured inaccurate missiles were being destroyed by a costly resource. Multiple anti-missile systems are the answer for ensuring security.         

Finally, as it flowed from the Russo-Ukraine war, social media plays a vital role in determining global support. It enables governments to back a nation because of overwhelming internal support. Hamas initially displayed its brutality as a sign of victory, which Israel twisted to project attacks against unarmed civilians and inhumane behaviour including kidnapping of children.

Thus, large segments of the western world came out in support of Israel. Subsequent losses of lives in Gaza did little to dimmish backing as Israel’s demand was release of hostages which included women and children. Blocking internet in Gaza implies that little will flow from the region to change global opinion. India must plan for a viable social media organization to project its viewpoints on the global scale.

Every major global incident and its counteractions have ramifications. India as a recognized and responsible global power must carefully assess the direction it will take, as India’s words and support carry weight. Learning from errors resulting in the crisis and implementing changes to avoid them must be part of a learning process.