India, Israel and the Gaza war

GAzaAs the fighting in Gaza threatens to escalate further, the Indian government has taken the prudent and correct approach by refusing to be stampeded into foolish parliamentary resolutions that will do nothing to either help in resolving the crisis nor in advancing India’s interests.

The Ministry of External Affairs had already stated that India was concerned about the situation, pointing to both the civilian casualties in Gaza and also the rocket attacks on Israel. Politicians might want to grandstand in the parliament for the benefit of domestic audiences by blaming Israel entirely for the current crisis. But that would neither help Indian interests nor be accurate.

It is necessary to recall how this latest crisis began and how it escalated because the terrorist group Hamas – and sundry supporters and do-gooders of all kinds in both the region and elsewhere, including in India – are attempting to turn the issue away from the responsibility for the current situation to the larger Israel-Palestine question and the condition of Gaza. Hamas has cited these larger issues as part of the reason for rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and is continuing to rain rockets and mortars on Israel, disregarding entirely the consequences for ordinary Palestinians in Gaza.

This crisis started as a consequence of the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers. Though Israeli leaders appear convinced that this was sanctioned by Hamas leadership, it is possible that lower level Hamas operatives or terrorists from other groups were responsible. But what is indisputable is that the Hamas leadership openly congratulated the kidnappers. They even criticised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for condemning the kidnapping and for cooperating with the Israeli security forces in trying to find the kidnapped teens.

While this was bad enough, the escalation that followed was also set off by Hamas when it and other smaller Gaza-based terrorist groups started firing rockets into Israel. These rockets have not killed many Israelis but that was because of Israel’s spectacularly successful Iron Dome missile defence system, which identifies rockets that are likely to hit populated areas and intercepts them. What matters is not that Israelis were not killed but that the intention behind the rocket attacks was to kill them. No nation would tolerate such cross-border terrorist attacks. India, which has suffered enough such attacks and continues to suffer them still, should not accept such terrorism, as the MEA statement makes clear.

There is little doubt that Palestinians trapped in Gaza have suffered tremendously, with over two hundred dead, a large number of them being innocents caught in the cross-fire. But it needs to be noted that this is the consequence of Hamas’s action of firing rockets into Israel and using civilians as human shields. Israel has taken measures that no other state has in attempting to minimize civilian casualties, including informing Palestinians through telephone calls to vacate targeted buildings and innovations such as the ‘knock-on-the-roof’. This has clearly not been sufficient, but it is hardly the picture of wanton or even careless attacks, let alone ridiculous charges of ‘genocide’.

The fact that Hamas has built up an armoury of over ten thousand such rockets should also give us pause because it indicates that Hamas has prioritised rockets over the urgent humanitarian needs of the civilians in Gaza. While the plight of the average citizens of Gaza should be an international concern, at least a part of that concern needs to be addressed at the Hamas for its complete disregard for such humanitarian concerns of its own people, especially considering that Hamas has been running the government in Gaza for several years.

In addition, unlike Israel, the Hamas has refused to even accept an Egyptian-sponsored ceasefire, setting the stage for what is likely to be further days of bloodshed. But Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza such as the Islamic Jihad cannot have it both ways: complain of Israeli retaliation while they continue to lob hundreds of unguided rockets at Israeli cities.

In the longer term, however, Israel does need to be concerned about the prospects of peace-making. Israel’s greatest guarantee of peace will be the two-state solution and Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, have not done enough to push this process. While divisions among the Palestinians and the lack of a strong Palestinian leader might a problem, Israel can do more to help the peace process. In particular, Israel needs to be mindful of the slow but steady erosion of sympathy among its traditional core supporters in the US and West Europe. Walking an extra few miles, even if they ultimately do not succeed, is necessary at the least for this purpose.

There is a final reason why Israel needs to walk those additional miles: it is a lot easier to make peace when you are stronger. While the direct balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians or even between Israel and its neighbours are unlikely to change adversely in the next couple of decades, Israel also needs to consider the capacity and willingness of Washington to continue supporting Israel. The decline in American capacities and increasing isolationist tendencies at home means that a key pillar that Israel depends on might not be as strong in the medium to long term.

India can leverage its traditional closeness to the Palestinians as well as its current friendly ties with Israel to help advance the peace process, even if in a small way. But this requires care and finesse, which is unlikely to be found in the parliamentary din.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

(Courtesy: ORF)

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