Lebanese stakes

A Hizbullah victory is not in India’s interests

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.

36 thoughts on “Lebanese stakes”

  1. Well Done Nitin,

    Great Analysis.

    The commie-muslim combine is quite powerful in India since May 2004. Their capacity of pressing this govt. into passing some resolution condemning Israeli action remains very high.

  2. Nitin,

    While I agree with you hundred percent on the need to support Israel, I seriously doubt Pakistan will allow, yes, allow, LET or JUD to shower rockets into Indian territory.

  3. India can only take vicarious pleasure in Israel’s air strikes.We would never have the nerve to strile across the LOC inspite of possessing all the information and evidence to incriminate our “peace-loving”, “anti-terror ally” (aaarrrgghh…!). The sight of distressed, displaced Indians should not shape Indians’ opinion against Israel.However Israel may not be doing itself or its cause any favour- 54 civilians with large number of children and UN observers among the casualties.

  4. Vaish – I have been wracking my brain over, why don’t we Indians [label me un PC, we Hindus] “have the nerve to strike across the LOC”

    Any ideas?

  5. Exactly nitin. btw there is talk that the Qana building was being used to launch rockets against Israel. The evidence might be forthcoming very soon i think.

  6. Nitin: Great analysis. Yes, we have selective amnesia. And yes, supporting Israel is squarely what our policy should be. Rockets in our neighborhood is not that far-fetched. We should plan on them being available – and adjust our strategy accordingly.

  7. Nitin, I doubt if any of the parties are going to “win” the war. It will result in a ceasefire, and perhaps an international force (which, Israel seems less reluctant to consider than in the past) present along the Lebanon-Israel border.

    @Pankaj: I won’t be surprized to find non-commie, non-muslim Indians that “in principal” support a resolution condemning Israel’s actions. I agree with Nitin that this will be a counter-productive policy for us. The question is whether our politicians have enough brains to see this fact.

    @Vaish: India doesn’t take vicarious pleasure in Israel’s air strikes. In fact, a large fraction of Indians feel that this is an excessive use of force, disproportionate to the events that caused this retaliation. However, as Nitin argues, we have to be pragmatic and maintain relations with Israel.

    @Kaul: Perhaps because we are a soft state. But more importantly, Pakistan is no Lebanon. The disparity between Israeli and its opponent armies is much greater than that between Indian and Pakistani.

  8. Kaul

    While I agree with you hundred percent on the need to support Israel, I seriously doubt Pakistan will allow, yes, allow, LET or JUD to shower rockets into Indian territory.

    Yes. I think so too. But I wouldn’t take a chance.

  9. But Israel has now screwed up public opinion against itself. Going and attacking without a well defined objective is just bad PR and dumb.

  10. Yes, Israel has to win this war. No doubt about it, but it is going to come out of this second best; not militarily but in the court of public opinion. While the Shiites are a majority in Lebanon it was also true that the Christians were pro-West and the Sunnis were anti Iran/Syria etc. To me it seems now that they have united against Israel and that cannot be good to the Israelis and for the ME region. In a way, Israeli hand was forced. If they did not react with force (and I reject the notion that they reacted with a disprortionate force) the Hezbollah would have become emboldened and tried a few more stunts along the same line. In this case Hezbollah wins.If Israel reacted with overwhelming force like they did it was inevitable that there would be collateral damage. Hezbollah would then fire rockets into Israel to avenge the deaths of the innocents (eg: Qana) and would come out looking like heroes. Again Hezbollah wins. And guess what, this war will become a great recruiting tool for jihadis. And sooner or later, it will land up in our neighborhood. Damn Hezbollah.

  11. Well written. A new dimension added to the Indian response to the middle east conflict.
    a. Not many people can think thus far. or
    b. They are not bothered by any of these. or
    c. They think, but are hypocrites. Speaking truth is not in their interest. (Left, Mulayam, Paswan etc. fall to this category)

  12. Hezballah’s win is not a defeat for Isreal. It is defeat for Sunni Arab regimes. The crescent of shia domination from Iran to lebanon is problem
    for the arabs. If US stops threatening Iran. balance of power will shift
    and saudis would be in big trouble. This is what Indian government should
    be advocating whether secretly or overtly.

  13. ” India may find itself responding to rocket attacks by collecting proof to convince a sceptical US State Department.”

    Ouch! 🙂

    I doubt Israel can destroy Hezballah, which is hiding and firing from residential neighbourhoods, without leveling southern Lebanon. It’s nice game Hezballah is playing and the world, everyone except Israel and not-sure-what-to-do US, is going along with its game plan. The only loser in this game is Israel no matter what it does.

    And we should not only be supporting Israel (that puny country of 6 mil trying to survive) verbally but militarily – those navy ships should be unloading cargo at Tel Aviv before going to Lebanon – but I doubt that’ll happen.

    Nitin, I don’t think LeT and its cohorts will fire rockets into India. Why bother? They can always step into the country and blow people up where and when they want. Why spend the money on rockets when you can create the carnage and murder 1000s every year for cheap. Also one knows where the rockets are fired from – can’t have that under plausible deniability terror-war.

    Niket, what is proportional force? Should Israel count the rockets that Hezballah fires off during the day and fire the same number into south Lebanon the next day? May be Israel should buy those Katyushas from Iran – same range and quantity so as not to be disproportional?

    Anon: India is much closer to Shia countries than Sunni countries in Gulf. India’s Muslim politics are Shia driven (I have never understood that – unless I am wrong, their numbers in India do not support disproportional influence).

  14. Chandra
    India’s muslim politics are Shia driven ? I don’t understand how you came to this conclusion .

  15. I have been reading a couple of good Arabic blogs (written in English)lately, they are generally pro-US/Israel and anti Hezbollah. Gives a more balanced side of the war than you are likely to read on US/Indian MSM. The blogs are, bigpharoah.com and sandmonkey.org.

  16. Well written article, but I would like to add some points:
    I will speak on use of word SUPPORT and LEFT. I am adding to your views and trying to point out Indis’s role that should be.
    1. Support, is it the right term?
    Should we give or withdraw support to states indulged in war for our vested interests, even if we are witnessing thousands of civilians being killed? I am not reinventing Gandhian thoughts here, but I speak from a diplomatic standpoint. We as an Indians (after Independence) have a history of peace initiatives taken across the globe. We have supported such initiatives in different phases of post-independence history.
    Most importantly we have PROJECTED ourselves in United Nations as a peace loving and responsible nation whose credentials in peace-proliferation are second to none. We maintain a NO-FIRST-STRIKE policy and due to such an image coupled with good recent foreign policies we have been able to at least get started with US on such Nuclear-fuel deals which are tomorrow going to be the bedrock of our development. See this link that for the Government of India maintained at UN:
    Out peaceful stand is our passport to permanent UN security-council membership. Please see this:

    India’s recent stand on the strikes at Lebanon:

    An excerpt:
    What Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the great founders of the Non Aligned Movement, wrote in a letter of 11 July 1947 to Albert Einstein remains relevant: “I do not myself see how this problem can be resolved by violence and conflict on one side or the other. Even if such violence and conflict achieve certain ends for the moment, they must necessarily be temporary. I do earnestly hope that some kind of agreement might be arrived at between the Arabs and the Jews. I do not think even an outside power can impose its will for long or enforce some new arrangements against the will of the parties concerned”
    Aggression should be there, but on international platform it should never be uncalled for and uncalculated and else we become Pakistan, Middle-east.
    2. Israel: Does it have its own Arsanel. India.?
    It is no secret that Israel is funded by America. America is its biggest supplier of arms. Does it manufacture its own? Answer is almost no, compared to its vast arms imports. Some data (Source : Noam Chomsky):
    1. From 1978 to 1982 Israel received 48% of all US military aid
    2. 35 % of all US economic aid.
    3. 1983- Regan administration declared a $2.5 Billion dollar out of $8.1 Billion dollar aid-budget.

    1. Occasional sanctions and raised eyebrows by US on Israel are only a deceptive cosmetic put on by the two nations.
    2. How Israel expends the aid amount is loosely monitored.

    Israel has nukes, but is it under US vigilance? Yes, but cushioned with the smile of a cat that has recently gulped a parrot. We need not mention Vanunu case. Such hypocrisy? Do we think our support or opposition as a matter of fact will ever matter to the fighting nations? No. As far as the support that we gained from Israel during Kargil is concerned, it is appreciable. But with India, Israel’s friendship has “actually improved” only in recent years. Alongside, we should understand that ALL “serious” nations in the world now think at least in these terms:
    1. Their independent Nuclear standpoint (even if they are in a process of acquiring it)
    2. Their weight in UN
    3. How many VOTES they gather in UN meetings? When I say vote it means number of nations that are with her. When you have more votes, indirectly your stronghold increases (and very often you get business partners).
    4. Stock exchanges are no longer governed by Local industries. International issues affect them.
    5. When we, especially India and China, speak, people listen.
    6. Further, “An enemy’s enemy is your friend”. (An Arab Proverb). This holds true today.

    We lost Iran’s faith by voting against it at UN, as we had thought we would get the Nuke fuel from US. It is kind of good diplomacy, but we lost of a friend. Now the two nations are ill at ease. All major fighting parties in Mid-east are inspired by the Iranian Revolution (Khomayini) and are FUNDED by Iranian government. This is official now no longer a secret. In such times, our voice should be of a responsible nation’s voice in unison and not a confused one (courtesy: Left Parties). And if you can’t speak well, remain silent (Left).

  17. You have used the word “win” so many times in your post. But you have not mentioned anything about what exactly you mean by “win”

  18. Nitin: The prospect of rocket attacks are even more dangerous for us than for Israel because due to our mythological fascination with Lakshman Rekhas, our responses shall be limited to artillery barrage from our side of teh LoC. And we do have precedent for this:

    During the Kargil Incursion, which surely is a more dangerous instance than a rocket incursion, the Indian side suffered more casualties than it needed to because it did not want to cross the LoC. Instead of blocking their supply routes across the border we restricted ourselves to brute force frontal assaults from our side of the LoC; this when they had control over the high altitude positions. I remember teh US actually praising the Indian government for its morally upright position of getting more of its own soldiers killed rather than commit the unthinkable crime of crossing the LoC at a time of war instigated by the other side.

    In fact, given the near certainty of a lack of response from the Indian side, it intrigues me why Pakistan has not upped the ante as yet with rocket attacks.

  19. seven times six,

    Indians have to be really careful while dealing with a rogue state. A rogue state does not play by the rules civil states do. The Pakis have succeeded in fighting an undeclared war deep inside enemy territory by outsourcing the job to non-state agencies. The rogue state kind of war is quite effective as the siege over civilian life is complete. Your trains, Your supermarkets, Your cinema halls and your nuclear power stations, everything can be hit. At the time and place the killers decide.

    Indians have to still articulate a correct response by factoring in paki nukes. It does seem that Operation Parakram, while giving the pakis a short term scare that India wont be dictated by nuclear blackmail, actually has emboldened them. The Lakshman Rekhas that are there would all go away once the noose of Islamic Death Trap tightens. The answers are all there. Only the will is missing.

  20. Alok Tiwary,

    I was scrolling down your post with an open mind, until, I came upon your Chomsky reference. Really?

  21. Kaul,
    We all know very well the “tough stand against terror” taken by our successive governments.Not even the flag-waving former home minister like L.K Advani, could muster enough courage to do that.We cannot take to task the Shahi Imam for making inane comments and what’s more we give him his fifteen minutes of fame for obtuse opinions.
    Alok, Just tell me, do you really believe we are going to be, err… rewarded for this “NO FIRST STRIKE” attitude? That too with a SC seat? India itself is unclear on how it should go about garnering support for the seat. On one hand we tout the UN ambassador for the post of Secy General on the other we snivel in front of Western powers and expect our problems to be solved.We may pat ourselves on the back for being stoic, but that’s neither going to win us brownie points, nor alleviate our domestic tensions.
    Umrao, that was an enlightening perspective you provided.

  22. history_lover: Just based on the relationships we have in the Gulf. Our closets friends are Shia countries Iran and Iraq (although minority Sunni dominate we are/were very close to Iraq people and one reason why we didn’t join in post-US attack for peace keeping) and Afghan (although I am not sure what the proportions are). Coupled with the fact that we have at best marginal relationships with most Sunni countries – Saudi, Egypt, and other smaller ones.

    Is my perception of Shia influence wrong?

  23. @Chandra
    But Iraq has usually been (politically) dominated by the sunnis for long . Also Afghanistan where the ruling groups have been Pushtuns is also mainly sunni (the pushtuns are mainly sunnis while the minority Hazaras are shias).
    Iran is the only shia state.Bahrain is shia dominated although ruled by a sunni dynasty.
    My personal opinion is that this has nothing to do with shia influence. Altough ,Indian shia ulema like all shia ulema have had links with the Iranian ulema.Shia muslims travel for pilgrimage and higher studies in Iran and southern Iraq.

  24. I haven’t read through the comments. But I’ll tell you what a disproportionate response to a situation looks like: Lining up an army along the border after Parliament has been attacked … and letting them hang around there for over a year without firing a shot in anger.

  25. As Krugman puts it in his article (syndicated, The Hindu, 01 Aug), Israel’s war, unlike the Yanks in Iraq, is a much more justified response to attacks on it.

    However, killing school children in this ham-handed manner is not only indefensible, but also stupid both politically and militarily. They are providing cannon fodder from succeeding generations to the Hizb.

    Their “support” to India has been based on wheedling at least tacit silence and money, so it isn’t as if we need to compromise our interests in return.

    And hullo : while the David-Goliath combination may sound v romantic, the fact is Israel isn’t a puny state: it is a rogue one fuelled by American money and interests.

  26. BD

    You have used the word “win” so many times in your post. But you have not mentioned anything about what exactly you mean by “win”

    I’m not being cocky, but Hizbullah wins by not losing. Going beyond declared war aims, Hizbullah will be seen as winning if it manages to avoid a total defeat (and surrender). For example, folks like Ayaz Amir are already pointing out that the Hizbullah is succeeding where Arab national armies failed. Hassan Nasrallah is being dubbed a modern day Saladin. The bar for ‘victory’, in the popular mind, is quite low. Even a stalemate may be construed as a victory, for a militia has managed to hold the mightly Israeli armed forces to a draw.

  27. Nitin, second your comment #27. Sadly,this does not look good for Israel. At the end of the day, Hezbollah just have to remain standing and they will be projected as “winners”. Sounds like the Tet offensive……the VC were almost delivered the knock out punch but it was projected as an American loss because the VC were still left standing. Guess who lost the war inspite of winning the battle!!!!!

  28. Anonymous (#26)

    Their “support” to India has been based on wheedling at least tacit silence and money, so it isn’t as if we need to compromise our interests in return.

    No state provides “support” without expecting anything in return. If Israel perceives that it is in its interests to sell arms to India, then it is in India’s interests to strengthen that perception given that it needs those arms. Can you cite any instance of any country “supporting” India without expecting anything in return?

  29. Great analysis, indubitably accurate. If only most of our countrymen (and women) had as much sense to realise this. But it seems to be India’s policy to consistently antagonise the very countries that extend it support, be it Israel or U.S.A, by taking a stand against them in any international skirmish. The only exception to this rule is Russia, and earlier, it was the USSR. Perhaps Indian politics today is still under the influence of the pseudo-socialist brainwashing that originated in the Nehru era.

    Our own national interests apart, we ought to remember the fact that the Hezbollah has a long history of repeatedly committing deliberate acts of violence, specifically aimed at killing innocent civilians. It is very clear that the Hezbollah’s mission is to annihilate Jews. Period. They are not open to negotiations, they are not open to discussion. They don’t seek peace. They simply seek the destruction of Israel.

    The media enjoys portraying one side as the completely innocent and victimized party, and the other as monstrous. In doing so, they conveniently ignore several facts: the Hezbollah has deliberately and purposefully placed its military assets such as rocket platforms and missile launchers amidst residential areas, even ON houses of innocent people. Quite like Saddam’s tacticians had done years ago, during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Attacks aimed at taking out such military installations will obviously destroy houses and kill people.

    No organization or body of power that has the interests of the common man at heart will deliberately put them at risk by resorting to such dirty tactics. And people fall for their ploy – this is exactly what they want – for the media to show pictures of devastation caused airstrikes that were apparently targetting noncombattants, so that they can generate public sympathy and support in their favour.

  30. Nitin

    Given that Israel is in the business of generating fresh battalions of embittered fanatics, it is in India’s interests that we do precisely what we are (unwittingly ?) doing … make mewling noises and hope like hell nobody notices us.

    A clear-cut victory for Israel will work to our detriment, both globally incresing the bitterness and forcing large numbers of battle hardened vets to seek fresher pastures with softer targets like India. Our best bet would be a dragged out operation which engages large numbers of fighters without creating enough damage to force them to withdraw. Secondly, an attack like this forces the Arab nations to hunker around the Hizb, increasing their money flow. As you bring out, the Hizb is almost in a win win situation, where very survival will be a famous victory. So isn’t Israel being stupid in getting into a situation like this ?

    Again from Krugman, the Israeli strikes ARE targetting non-combatants, in a continuation of the “Shock and Awe” tactics ; and that is the reason why they are being criticised. For repeating a bloody mistake with horrific human costs.

  31. ?! (Is that how you look as well? 🙂 Kidding),

    An unlikely clear-cut victory for Israel will be a big morale dumper for the terrorists. They will know that if an all pervading Hizb couldn’t win against the Israelis, then they either would have to prepare more or give up hope. With terror supply lines being squeezed after 9-11, preparing more would be quite tough. The bitterness among arabs may increase, but it’s already quite high above the threshold.

    From what it loosk like, it’ll be a long drwan out battle between existing and potential terrorists (who would’ve one day become one anyway) and non-anti-civilization grouping.

    Yes, the Israeli are targetting the non-combatants. Why? Because the majority combatants are hidden with the non-combatants. I wont go into the moral angle, because thats in short supply in all the camps. But it makes perfect sense for the victim of terrorism to try to destroy all avenues of terrorists. It will create more terrorism, yes. But just waiting for them to be appeased will also create more terrorists.

  32. The tag of ‘victim’ sits ill on Israel, given its history of violence against civilians. As you said, the moral angle is as short in supply in the Zionist religion-state as the Islamist ones. As for a “clear-cut” victory, as brought out in the comments, when mere survival is a victory, Israel would have to occupy very major chunks of territory to even try to achieve that. Expecting Israel to achieve what the US couldn’t do in Iraq is unrealistic.

    It is all very fine to say bomb all the bastards. But even Hitler’s Final Solution didn’t work; it is unlikely that Israel’s will. And guess who will suffer : the countries that provide softer targets like India.

    (Godwin’s Law :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law 🙂 )

    BTW, cross-border rocket attacks are actually what the Indian Army would define as an ideal intiator for the “Cold Start” doctrine to be enforced. Unless the Pakis display extreme stupidity, it is highly unlikely that they would give such a tempting opportunity to the Indians.

  33. ?!

    A clear-cut victory for Israel will work to our detriment…Our best bet would be a dragged out operation which engages large numbers of fighters without creating enough damage to force them to withdraw

    This would have been valid if the fighters against Israel were the same people as the fighters against India. I have argued that the effect is by diffusion: inspiration, infrastructure and tactics. A stalemate or a ‘victory’ for the Hizbullah will inspire many marginal jihadis into action. The longer the war continues in stalemate, the stronger the arms supply infrastructure. And the longer the war, the greater is the chance for asymmetrical warfare tactics to be refined and exported.

    As for the LeT firing rockets across the LoC; yes, this is very unlikely. And the Pakistanis are not stupid (and even Kargil stems from a particular rationalisation). But they don’t necessarily have to fire from that side of the LoC. But let’s agree that even this is unlikely. I still wouldn’t chance it.

  34. ?!,
    “Mere survival is a victory”
    It may give the arabs a sense of pride, but logistically and practically, the more you squeeze the Hizb supply lines, the weaker it will become. It may replinish its ranks after the attacks are done with, but it’ll still get weak. That’s when there is a chance of political, or even military, settlement.

    Sure, both parties are victims, if I try to be completely honest. But bombing the common person to terrify a state deserves to be put a stop to. The arabs also have been divided amongst themselves about what outcome they want from the peace process with Israel, so its not just Israel’s fault.

    Will it effect India? This will atleast prompt India to be more forthcoming. Within and with its foreign policy. Islamic terrorism is not going away just by twidling our thumbs and wishing it would. It’ll only give the terrorists the impression that they can get away with anything.

    my 2 c

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