India and Israel Share Similar Legacies

Some political analysts and critics in India attempt from time to time to derive analogy between this country and Israel in handling terrorist threats and subversive activities by the secessionist and terrorist groups in both the countries. Incidentally, both the countries have paid heavy price in terms of human casualties, loss to public and private properties and constant looming fears at the hands of Islamic terrorist organizations for the last several decades. While India is a large country facing such threats from the cross-border terrorism on account of two potential adversaries and hostile nations, Israel is a much smaller country surrounded from all sides by the hostile Islamic countries posing similar threat for its very survival.

While Israel is known to deal with such groups with a firm resolve and heavy punitive action and strikes against the perpetraters, India is often criticized for its soft approach, delayed or no action. The case in point could be the recent rocket attacks launched by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Israeli land leading to some casualities while Israeli Prime Minister was away on US visit. Israel immediately reacted with heavy shelling and bombings on Hamas establishments, and the Prime Minister immediately rushed back home cutting short his visit to personally supervise the operation against the adversaries. As against this, barring two recent exceptions of Uri and Pulwama attacks, most of the terrorist attacks in India have gone either unpunished or were characterized by a slow and cautious reaction. In the current piece of writing, the author proposes to analyze the shared legacies, parallels and contrasts between the two nations inter alia whether a long term strategic partnership between the two nations is desirable and mutually beneficial.

Common Characteristics

Origin: It is now universally accepted that Hinduism is amongst the oldest civilizations originated in the Indian sub-continent as also the oldest surviving religion in the world. Long before the arrival of now two dominant Abrahamic religions, Hinduism ( ancient Vedic Dharma) prospered as a culture and religion which many modern scholars believe to be dated back to 1500 BCE while some others trace its origin around 2500 BCE. The Jewish people too are believed to have originated in the land of present Israel with a long physical, cultural and religious history. According to the Jewish Bible, a Jewish monarchy existed since early 1000 BCE, and the first use of the term "Israel" is also more or less of similar vintage in certain historical records. In fact, the names India or Hindustan were given by the British and Arab invaders; otherwise, terms like Bharatvarsha, Jambudvipa, Bharata, Nabhivarsha and Aryavarta find a popular mention in ancient Hindu scriptures . Similarly, the present day popular term "Jews" has its origin from the Biblical Hebrew word Yehudi, with its original meaning referring to “the people of the Tribe of Judah or the people of the Kingdom of Judah”. As against this, the Christianity is only about two millennia old and Islam came approximately 1400 years back.

Persecution: Both Hindus and Jews have a long history of persecution and struggle for their existence threatened by the religious fundamentalists and their patron Christian and Islamic rulers. For illustration, the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir comprised of an absolute Hindu population till 11th Century CE as per the historical records and today the Kashmir Valley has more than 98% Muslim population. Hindus were either forced to convert or driven away by the successive Muslim rulers. The last mass exodus of Hindus from the valley was in early 1990s on a life-threatening call and unabated violence of fundamentalists and terrorists. As a country too, India has a long history of foreign invasions during the last two millennia. While the early invaders of the Arab and Turk origin like Mohammad Bin Kasim, Mahmud of Gazhni and Mohammad Gori largely engaged to mass killings, loot, arson and destruction of Hindu religious symbols and monuments, the subsequent invaders towards the late twelfth century preferred to stay in the country and established the dynasties of Slaves, Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Saiyyids, Lodhis and Mughals. This period (about 600 years) was characterized by a large scale persecution of Hindus that included mass killings, conversion, forced marriages of Hindu women and systematic destruction of symbols and monument representing cultural and religious heritage. After the British took over the reins of the country, they systematically denigrated and destroyed Indian culture and education besides mass exploitation of skill and resources. Besides the Christian missionaries were brought in and allowed to spread their religion indulging in mass conversion mainly through evangelism.

Like Hindus, Jews too have been among the people facing worst persecution worldwide for a long period so much so that their very survival was under grave threat at a point of history. During the Middle Ages, the concept of anti-Semitism in Europe was so common because many Christians, driven by the clergy, held the Jewish people responsible for killing Jesus. Because Jews were collectively held responsible for the sinful act, the prejudice led to full-scale persecution in many parts with blood libels, expulsions, forced conversions and massacres of Jews in Europe and America for a long time. The persecution of Jews reached to a new paradigm of holocaust and genocide when the Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler killed nearly six million Jews during the Second World War from 1941-45. Jews living in Muslim countries too faced constant discrimination and persecution in middle ages including jiziya tax as in case of Hindus in India under Muslim rulers. In early twentieth Century too, there were many riots and pogroms against Jews in 1920-21. Tension and persecution of Jews reached to newer dimensions with the growing animosity between the Arabian countries and Israel in the Middle East after the formation of the independent Jewish state in 1948. The Wars of 1948 and 1956 in the Middle East resulted in mass exodus of Jews as refugees following hostilities and atrocities at the hands of Arabs in the neighbouring countries.

Emergence of India and Israel: The present day Israel (also known as the Holy Land or Palestine) is the birthplace of the Jewish people and Judaism, and is also the place where the Hebrew Bible was originally composed. Incidentally, it is also the birthplace of Christianity and contains sites sacred to all the three main Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In twentieth Century, the place was under the British Mandate (de facto rule) and Jews were constantly demanding a separate homeland for self. Under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, though the British had favored the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine but kept opposing the concept later on because of their own political and economic interests in Palestine and Arab nations. However, the United Nations adopted a resolution in November 1947 to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British Mandate was due for ending. The Jewish Agency under David Ben-Gurion proclaimed formation of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948. The US President Harry S. Truman recognized the newly formed nation same day, followed by the recognition of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as well, the two superpowers of the time. The formation of the new Jewish state, however, immediately led to strong protests and violent opposition from a host of Arab nations leading to the wars of 1948, 1956 and 1967. During this period, the state became a point of convergence and shelter of Jews uprooted elsewhere following Arab animosity and persecution.

India is a homeland for Hindus since ancient time; however, Hindu culture has traditionally been tolerant and receptive towards the people of all caste, creed or religion. Consequently, modern India has a sizeable population of almost all religions of the world. During the past millennium, it remained under the dominance of Muslim rulers for approximately six hundred years followed by British colonizers ‘rule for almost 150 years. Initially, Indian National Congress jointly represented all communities and pursued the freedom struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. However, some Muslim leaders formed a separate Muslim League, propounded a two-nation theory and bitterly fought and pressed for an independent Muslim state following the independence. Consequently, the British India was divided into two dominions giving birth to the present day Islamic Pakistan and democratic India. The partition, apart from massive bloodbath and bitterness between two major communities namely Hindus and Muslims, also gave rise the problem of Kashmir which voluntarily had chosen to integrate with India but Pakistan staked its claim over the state on the basis of the Muslim population being in majority. After fighting three consecutive and unsuccessful wars over Kashmir in 1947-48, 1965 and 1971, Pakistan resorted to patronizing and sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of India from its own soil. Consequently, after the Palestine in the Middle East, Kashmir has become another hotbed of terrorists and a possible trigger point for full-fledged war(s) in future.

Terrorism: Ever since its creation, Israel has constantly faced threat from many Palestinian groups which have committed and abated political violence against Jewish people and state machinery. Some of the common groups are the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Abu Nidal Organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and so on. Among these groups, the PLO under the legendary Yasser Arafat was the most influential group which has officially renounced terrorism in 1988. Among the other existing groups, the Hamas has been most active in the recent years causing severe harm to the life and property of the Jewish state. These terror groups have engaged in all kinds of subversive activities against Israelis over the years which included hostage taking, plane hijackings, stone throwing, stabbing, shootings, rocket attacks, bombings, and so on. Palestinian terror groups, particularly Hamas, have launched thousands of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip alone in the on-going Arab-Israel conflict. While Israel, US and European Union countries regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, the countries like Russia, China and Turkey do not subscribe to this concept giving some legitimacy to their action. A large number of civilian and military personnel have been killed or injured in such terror attacks.

The history of Pakistan supported insurgency and terrorism in India and Afghanistan is traced back from the year 1979. United States then perceived Pakistan as a potential ally which could provide base and other necessary logistics for their operational ease in Afghanistan in return of aid with money and weapons. Ironically, then US and allies also encouraged and assisted various Mujaheedin groups in Afghanistan with money, weapons and training to fight Soviet backed Afghan government forces. The funds and weapons received from the Western sources were actually diverted by Pakistan to recruit, train and arm misguided Muslim youth in 1980s and beyond to abate and sponsor insurgency and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan ISI and Army actively supported and coordinated insurgency and terrorism in India and Afghanistan and the same terror machinery is now threatening Pakistan as well in addition to these two countries.

In India, certain extremist and secessionist groups like Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Mutahida Jehad Council (MJC) and Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) are active for decades with the moral and material support from Pakistan. Their goal is either to see Jammu and Kashmir as an independent state or its merger with Pakistan. In addition, a large number of terrorist outfits are also active with the support of Pakistani army and ISI. Among the most dreaded outfits are Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) which are responsible for the most terror attacks on the Indian people and other interests. In addition, outfits like Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Tahreek-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Jabbar etc. have also been involved in several subversive activities in the past. Since 1970s, about 20,000 lives have been lost and over 30,000 injured in more than 12,000 small and big terrorist attacks in Kashmir and other parts of the country by conservative estimates.

Another important parallel between India and Israel is their nuclear power status and capabilities. Both the nations are nuclear powers with sizeable assets of nuclear weapons and credible strike capability and delivery systems. Both Indian and Israel are not signatories of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Nuclearisation: Israel is not known to the international community to have ever conducted any nuclear tests but is widely regarded to be in possession of the nuclear weapons. There is always deliberate ambiguity maintained by nations in regard to their nuclear status and capabilities. By the current estimates, Israel is believed to have a stockpile of minimum 80 to a maximum 400 nuclear warheads with a credible delivery system through a variety of means, including aircrafts, submarine-launched cruise missiles; and intermediate to intercontinental range ballistic missiles. Supposedly, its first nuclear weapon was created in late 1966 or early 1967.

India has officially tested its first plutonium based nuclear device in May 1974 under the code-name ‘Smiling Buddha’. However, in May 1998 it carried out final round of nuclear tests under the code-name ‘Operation Shakti’. Under this operation, one fusion device and four fission devices of various capacities were tested and the then Indian government simultaneously declared India a full-fledged nuclear state with a doctrine of no-first use. The current estimates suggest that India may have 100 to 120 nuclear warheads in its stockpile. India has also developed a nuclear triad with a credible delivery system through land, air and water.

Contrasting Characteristics

Size & Polpulation: While Israel is a very small country with an area of 20,770 square kilometres, India is a vast country with an area of 32,87,263 square kilometres. The total estimated population of Israel as of January 2019 is 8.98 million of which about 75 percent are Jews and the people of remaining 25 percent are comprised the Arab and other origins while India has as estimated population of 1350 million with about 79 percent Hindus, 15 percent Muslims and the remaining 6 percent comprised of the people of other Indian religions, Christians, Parsees and so on. Besides the size and populations, India is characterized many other diversities in terms of its geography and demography.

Existential Threat: Unlike India, Israel is located in a region where most of its neighbours don't even acknowledge its right to exist. Israel faced such a real threat in 1967 from its Arab neighbours who wanted to wipe it out from the world map. Of course, Israel fought valliantly against the common enemy forces and convincingly defeated them in a war merely lasted for six days. As against this, India has some territorial disputes and faces threat from Pakistan and China but certainly not an existential threat. India had to face an abject defeat at the hands of China in 1962 War, and had advantage but unfinished wars in 1947-48 and 1965 with Pakistan. However, taking lessons from the past failures, India was able to defeat Pakistan and achieve its limited objectives in 1971 War and 1999 Kargil Conflict.

Approach towards Adversaries: While Israel tackles its security threats, whether perceived or real, with assertiveness and immediate response, India has traditionally followed an unwritten doctrine of the "strategic restraint". The founding fathers of Israel, Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, and their successors neither had faith in peaceful coexistence with Arabs nor much sympathy for the Palestinians taking lessons from their own bitter past experiences. On the other hand, after independence the Indian leaders have traditionally followed a Gandhian approach of peaceful coexistence and settlement of issues though it has never worked. Israel has always adopted an aggressive military strategy and brutal use of force to deal with enemies while India has taken to it as a last resort. Only recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted a tit for tat approach to deal with enemies and adversaries.

Military Strategy: Undoubtedly, the Israeli approach has been to maintain military and strategic superiority and deterrence over the enemies. For this, they never have any qualms either on the manpower front or the military equipment and hardware. They follow a policy of compulsory conscription for all eligible adults and have heavily invested in weaponry and strategic warfare systems including the nuclear deterrence with the most advanced technologies and techniques. As against this, the successive civilian governments in India have been slow and conservative in decision making or even in appreciating and acknowledging the genuine needs of the Indian Armed Forces. The recent Inter-governmental Agreement with France is a case in point for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighters. The case was dragged for over ten years by a particular political ruling dispensation with no decision taken and finally when the agreement materialized at the initiative of the rival ruling party, numerous controversies have been created by the politicians and loyalist bureaucrats of the former dispensation even before delivery of a single fighter jet.

Deriving Analogies is Unfair

By two consecutive punitive strikes on the terrorist camps across the LOC during the last two years, India has certainly established a paradigm shift in its policy and approach towards dealing with the cross-border terrorism and, to that extent, comparison with the Israel and US is not entirely misconceived or misplaced as is being done by some analysts and experts. But let us remember that there are remarkable differences between the geo-political, civil-military relations and strategic culture of the two countries; therefore, it may not be fair to always compare and criticize India vis-a-vis Israel and US. Incidentally, for these very reasons, it is easier for Israel to handle terror and subversive activities caused by the organizations like Hamas compared to similar threats to India caused by the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfits.

In modern age, both India and Israel are democratic countries but the foundation of both the countries is based on different conditions, principles and practices. Jews have constantly faced hostile surroundings and adversity including the fear of total extermination. As such the state of Israel was created after prolonged violent struggle and if they have been able to survive so far, it is largely on account of their technologically strong and superior military over the hostile Arab neighbours. In addition, their covert nuclear deterrent capability is also helpful because so far none of their adversaries have this capacity and power. As against Israel, India had a long more or less non-violent struggle to achieve its independence and the founding fathers laid a great emphasis on moral and ethical principles during the process. Though Indians (Hindus) faced constant persecution at the hands of Islamic rulers and subsequently by the European (British) colonizers but they never had to suffer the way Jews suffered at the hands of their detractors and enemies worldwide. This basic difference has greatly influenced India’s civil-military culture wherein a greater emphasis is always given to explore peaceful solution to problems and military intervention is always an extreme and last resort.

Owing to the reason cited above, Israel has been a classic example of a "nation-in-arms" with an immense military culture permeating the society. As a nation, it follows a compulsory conscription policy which was initially implemented due to their quantitative disadvantage compared to its Arab neighbours and adversaries. Consequently, every man and woman Jew on attaining the age of eighteen has to serve in military for a given period barring some exceptions like those who suffer with some disabilities, engaged in religious duties, and so on. This policy fosters a strong civil-military bond and a strong will to serve and sacrifice for the interests of the nation, which is missing in Indian situation. Besides, the dominance of the defence establishment in Israel has also facilitated both the retired and serving personnel to exert substantial influence on political, social and military culture of the nation. As against this, no such concept of compulsory military conscription exists in India and the balance of power is heavily tilted in favour of the civilian authority and leadership. Indian Armed Forces are traditionally apolitical and have no association or influence in the political process. Indian bureaucracy and political leadership has dominant role in maintaining security and decision making while the military has liberty in implementing such decisions.

So far as India is concerned, two terror strikes so far across the border have been more or less symbolic punitive or pre-emptive action while Israel has a long history of severe punitive strikes against such organizations whether it was almost immediate punitive air strikes in retaliation of the rocket attacks by Hamas on the Israel’s soil recently, covert action of Mossad, Israel’s National Intelligence Agency, to track down and kill those who were allegedly responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes or the operation “Thunderbolt” of the Israeli commando group at Entebbe Airport, Uganda about 4,000 Km away from home to rescue hostages of the hijacked plane. In the long rule of the successive Congress and some other weak coalition governments in India, such political will and support to military had been lacking. Only the present NDA government led by Mr Modi has shown this resolve and commitment by giving necessary teeth and adequate liberty to the Indian Armed Forces. Such strategic military capabilities as also political resolve is build up over a period with sustained efforts. The recent air strikes on the Balakot terrorist camp already dragged two countries to the brink of a dangerous war. Therefore, one or two such limited strikes at best serve more as a symbolic demonstration of punitive or preemptive military actions rather than a policy resolve and in-built capacity to aggresively handle the cross-border terrorism.

The origin of Israel’s unwritten military doctrine “offense is best defence” was under the compulsions of its small geographic entity and constant existential crisis ever since its birth in 1948. It cannot afford any large scale armed conflict or hostility within own territory. Besides, its endeavours to defend self by engaging all possible means have always received unstinted support from the United States which has been the biggest leeway or latitude. As against this, India neither had such geographic compulsions nor a diplomatic freedom or support internationally, although its own policies and preferences have been responsible for this nemesis. After independence in Nehruvian era, on one hand the leadership pursued a policy of non-alignment; on the other hand it pursued special friendship and cooperation with the Communist block led by USSR (now Russia) and China, while the US and Western Block were natural allies by virtue of India being the largest developing democracy. This contrast and ambiguity in diplomatic relations left India on shaky grounds for the decades whenever it needed support in the hours of need, barring exceptions of 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the liberation of Bangladesh. Ultimately, the non-aligned movement proved to be of no worth and fizzled out with time while its long term ally Russia remained always ambiguous and non-committal in the context of India’s tricky neighbor and main adversary the Communist China.

Apart from the civil-military culture of Israel, every single citizen and political leadership have unanimous opinion against the sponsors of terrorism and terrorist outfits working against the interests of the country. In India, various political parties and their followers are so much divided that many of them try to relate genuine nationalism as hyper nationalism and patriotism as jingoism in the garb of the freedom of expression ro serve for own political interests. For instance, India has carried out two selective and localized surgical strikes (name given by the political establishment): Once in September 2016 when Indian Army commandos crossed LOC a few miles inside to destroy some terrorist posts in the forward areas used by the Pakistan army as Launchpad, while on the second occasion in February 2019 when the Indian Air Force fighters penetrated deep inside the Pakistan territory to destroy the largest training camp of one of the most notorious terrorist organization Jaish-a-Mohammad at Balakot in Khaiber Pakhtunkhwa province. On both the occasions, the opposition parties led by the Congress raised numerous questions and doubts about the very objective and outcome of such strikes, possibly out of the apprehension and fear, lest the ruling party might get an advantage before the electorate of the country. In their zeal to bring down the political ruling rivals, many of them don’t even bother how this will impact the nation’s image outside or how it will affect the morale of the Armed Forces within the country.

There is yet another and perhaps far more important and crucial difference between India and Israel in their endeavor to contain potential enemy nations and terrorist organizations. Nuclear India has two potential enemy nations with a long shared land border and both the neighbours are nuclear powers with no qualms about its use. China has double standards on terrorism: On one hand, it is accused by the international community for detaining almost a million Muslims in camps to contain religious extremism in its Xinjiang province; on the other hand, it constantly supports Pakistan for its covert operations and dreaded terrorists like Azhar Masood in United Nations. Pakistan openly patronizes and sponsors terrorist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Laskar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujaheedin from its soil justifying their activities as freedom struggle for Jammu & Kashmir, the northern-most Indian state. Then Pakistan also keeps on threatening use of nuclear weapons against India every now and then. As against this, Israel itself in an undeclared nuclear power but it does not face a nuclear holocaust because none of its Arab adversaries have this potential so far. Quite obviously there is a lot of difference in two situations: one nation is facing armed militia and potential adversaries with small military strength and capabilities, the other nation is pitted against adversaries more or less compatible, or even superior, in conventional military strength and simultaneously are also nuclear power states, like China and Pakistan.


Since independence, the India's political leadership under successive governments had neither recognized Israel as a sovereign state were efforts to establish diplomatic relationship for decades possibly out of the fear of antagonizing Muslims domestically and a large number of Islamic nations in the international community. However, formal diplomatic relations were ultimately established in 1992 and ever since the two countries have gradually moved forward to develop an extensive economic, military and strategic relationship in bilateral ties. On date, India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel has now become the second-largest defence supplier to India following Russia. The two countries also have strategic ties for the intelligence sharing on terrorist groups and joint military training.

In fact, India and Israel are natural allies and have a lot of scope for joint help and cooperation in several areas. People of the both countries share natural affinity and warmth; perhaps India has the unique history of being the only nation where the Jewish people never faced any discrimination or persecution, a fact that was acknowledged and appreciated by the Israeli Prime Minister during his recent visit to India. There is a lot of scope to learn from Israel to tackle external terrorism and extremism within the country; after all only less than two decades back, lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits were driven out from Kashmir Valley and neither Indian political establishment not the security forces could do anything about it. It is now well known that even the Spice-2000 precision guided bombs and Popeye-2 (AGM-142) missiles used by the Indian Air Force to destroy the targeted terrorist camp at Balakot were of Israeli origin. Hence India needs to shed its inhibition in its own interests in pursuing a long term strategic partnership with Israel for military and civil cooperation.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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