In recent weeks, many have drawn parallels between the Israel's ongoing war against the Hamas and the Indian response to Pakistan over the Mumbai terror attacks. For some, India has more valid grounds for an aggressive response than Israel; and for others Israel is a far too controversial and unsavory model. But there are those who wish and demand that the Indian government emulates Israel in dealing with Pakistan.
Not many countries and societies endorsed the Israeli action, especially the death of hundreds of Palestinians. India is not an exception in deploring Israel.
However, the political disapproval of the Israel's policy towards the Palestinians should not prevent the professionals from examining Israel's experiences. Not learning from the successes and failures of others is often costlier.
At the same time, if India were to adopt an Israel-type strategy vis-'-vis Pakistan, a number of crucial issues have to be recognized and sorted out.
1. Israel is able to pursue an aggressive strategy against the Islamic militants primarily because of the unqualified support of the Bush administration. Whether it gave an official approval or merely signaled its understanding, the US support is crucial. Without it the massive operation would not have happened. Can India secure such a support from the US or any other power or a constellation of powers for an aggressive counter-terrorism strategy against Pakistan?
2. Likewise, thanks to the American support, Israel has managed to ward off any punitive measures by the UN Security Council. Does India enjoy such a guarantee if the friends of Pakistan were to lobby for international sanctions against it?
3. Mounting international criticism has not prevented the Israeli leaders from pursuing a course of action that they consider vital for the security of their citizens. They are prepared to stand to the widespread international disapprovals, large-scale protest rallies and adverse coverage by the international media. Do the Indian leaders have the stomach to withstand massive public demonstrations in different parts of the world?
4. Israel was able to launch an aggressive campaign because of its vast and at times unparalleled intelligence base. For example, it struck nearly 50 targets in the Gaza Strip within the first few minutes of the air campaign. As of now, real-time intelligence and successful surgical strikes are possible only in Bollywood movies. Actionable intelligence still remains a pipe dream and would be so for a long time.
5. Israel could launch its war because Hamas is a non-state actor that controls only a part of the Palestinian territories. The internal schism between the mainstream Fatah and the militant Islamic group came out clearly during the current crisis. While over a thousand Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, the Fatah-dominated West Bank remains relatively tranquil. This crucial divide has partly enabled Israel to pursue its military option. This is not the case in Pakistan. Despite all the internal tensions and acrimony, 'neutrality' over an Indian action is not an option for any Pakistani group. As highlighted by the recent statements, even jihadi groups opposed to the military crackdown would rally behind the Pakistani flag.
6. The military arsenal of Hamas is rather limited and largely consists of short range rockets. Its widely-published threats of turning the Gaza Strip in to a volcano if Israel were to launch a ground offensive has not materialized. There are signs of fatigue and internal divisions within its ranks. Pakistan is entirely different story. It is not a paper tiger but a nuclear power. Even the BJP-led NDA government refused to cross the LoC during the Kargil war, notwithstanding its past hard-line statements. Thus a militant counter-terrorism strategy against Pakistan is no longer the last option, unless one is prepared for thousands of civilian deaths on both sides.
7. Since mid-2005, the Hamas has launched over 5,000 rockets against Israel and despite the ongoing crisis, rockets continue to fall into Israel. Some had landed almost 40 km deep inside Israel. Yet, the major population and economic centers are beyond the range of Hamas rockets. This is not so for India. A number of critical economic targets are within the range of a Pakistani counter-offensive. This would mean large-scale destruction of economic assets accompanied by unacceptable human casualties.
8. Despite the accuracy of its military machine, Israel could not escape causing civilian deaths. Various human rights organizations agree that a bulk of the Palestinians who were killed in the Gaza Strip were civilians. Likewise, India would not be able to escape from a large scale 'collateral damage' which would have unbearable political consequences.
9. So far the campaign against Hamas enjoys widespread domestic support within Israel. Months of insecurity against rockets has made the wider public to rally around the government. Democratic societies cannot launch a war without such a strong backing of its citizens. Would there be a strong internal support within India for a war against Pakistan over Mumbai attacks?
10. Ultimately military campaign alone will not stop the Hamas violence. Israel has been seeking to end the rocket attacks by forcing Hamas to accept a ceasefire from a position of weakness. In the process Israel has squandered considerable international understanding and sympathy. Likewise, a military campaign will not end Pakistan's support for terrorism against India. At best it could make such a policy a costly enterprise, not just for Pakistan but also for India.
Above all, military successes rarely ensure political victory. The Middle East had many such examples. In 1956, for example, Israel won the Suez war but handed over the leadership of the Arab world to President Gamal Abdul Nasser. President George Bush (Sr.) won the Kuwait war but lost his re-election bid in 1992. His son quickly overthrow of the Saddam Hussein in 2003 only to find himself in the Iraqi quagmire. Thus even if it achieves the impossible 'victory' over Hamas, Israel's search for peace would be settled only in the negotiating table. Likewise, any realistic end to terrorism in South Asia rests on Pakistan's cooperation and not its defeat, even if that were possible.
Thus war is still an option. But look before you fire.
(P.R. Kumaraswamy is a professor of West Asia studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )