Myths about Israel’s security model

Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s veiled comparison of India’s strike against militants along the Line of Control with Israel’s military operations in its neighbourhood exposes the admiration India’s ruling elite have for the West Asian country’s aggressive foreign and security policy. Speaking at a public event in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday, Mr. Modi said, “Our Army’s valour is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that the Indian Army is no less than anybody.” His comments raise once again the question whether the Israeli security model is desirable for India.

Feeble deterrence

In fact, such an aggressive, militarist policy is not a successful model even for Israel if we look at the broader picture. Decades of war have pushed Israel to a security dilemma — whatever its leadership does to minimise the security threats it faces actually deepens the crisis further. Take a quick look at Israel’s military operations against groups it calls terrorist. In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent troops to Lebanon to defeat the Palestine Liberation Organisation which was targeting Israel from southern Lebanon. Begin then famously said Israel would win “forty years of peace” after the war. But the outcome was more complicated than the status quo. The PLO retreated from southern Lebanon, first to Tripoli and then to Tunis. But the Israeli intervention stirred up the Lebanese civil war, kicking off another protracted bloody phase of fighting between different sects. Instead of winning peace for 40 years, Israel continued the Lebanese occupation for 18 years. By that time, the PLO had moved to the West Bank, but Hezbollah, a Shia militia which was formed during the civil war, had established itself as a sizeable military force in southern Lebanon and as an influential sociopolitical movement among the country’s disadvantaged Shia community.

In 2006, six years after it pulled troops out of Lebanon, Israel had to return to the neighbouring country to stop Hezbollah’s cross-border attacks. Israel bombed the country for 34 days and also conducted a major ground offensive. But throughout the war, Hezbollah continued the rocket attacks into Israel (almost 4,000 rockets in a month). Israel claims the operation was a success as it destroyed much of Hezbollah’s military infrastructure. But in reality the war left Hezbollah more powerful in Lebanon’s fractious politics, while it amassed weapons and rebuilt its military might over the next several years. So the security threat Israel faces from southern Lebanon still very much remains.

Backfiring bombings

The story of Israel’s wars on Hamas is not substantially different. To be sure, Hamas is a violent group that has targeted both the Israeli military and civilian centres. But Israel has been unable to claim a moral anti-terror position against Hamas because of the continuing occupation and, to be more specific, its policy of collectively punishing the Palestinian people. Israel withdrew forces and settlers unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, but it never stopped punishing the people of Gaza, and Hamas never stopped firing rockets into Israel. Ever since the withdrawal, Israel tried everything its mighty military could do to weaken the Hamas in Gaza. In 2007, it imposed a brutal land, air and sea blockade on Gaza, and between 2005 and 2014, it bombed Gaza thrice. Both the blockade and the wars have triggered widespread international criticisms and even allegations of war crimes. The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the 2008-09 Gaza war, led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Another UN report, on the 2014 Gaza war, also reached similar conclusions. During the war, Israeli bombings killed 2,165 Palestinians, including 1,644 civilians, while militant attacks killed 66 Israeli soldiers and four civilians. But what has Israel achieved from this bloodshed? Hamas continues to rule Gaza and still possesses the capability to fire rockets into Israel. Even after all these military operations, if Israel is not feeling secure or doesn’t possess credible deterrence against militant groups, realists would suggest it should well rethink its strategy.

Low risk potential

Another argument why the Israeli model is not desirable for other countries is that Tel Aviv’s cross-border attacks were against relatively weaker powers. Israel is the only nuclear armed state in West Asia. By conducting cross-border strikes in Lebanon, Palestinian territories, or even in Syria, Israel doesn’t face an immediate escalation of a conventional war. Hezbollah and Hamas have the potential to file rockets into Israel, target its citizens and mount pressure on the country's political leadership. They could also make any Israeli ground operation costly. But they are largely guerrilla forces who use asymmetric tactics rather than posing any existential threats. So the risk Israel takes with its cross-border attacks is the human cost of such operations and hostile international public opinion. Israel’s history shows that it is not very bothered about either of these things.

India, on the other side, has two nuclear armed powers in its neighbourhood. The source of overseas terrorist threat it faces is Pakistan, a nuclear power with considerable conventional military prowess. It doesn’t mean that India shouldn’t act, but it should play within a limited hostility doctrine. It can’t risk a nuclear war. Moreover, India is a country that cares about its international image and international laws. It can’t go about violating global norms and then hope to play a responsible role in international politics.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 7:56:31 PM |

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