While there have been reports of a feeling in Israel that the of the anti-terror operations in Mumbai last week could have been handled better, the Israeli government has been careful not to criticize India’s handling of the situation.
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a statement, “At no stage were the issues of whether or not Israel should join the operation, or do things that were within the power of the Indian Government and its strong and trained military to do alone, on the agenda. I am very pleased at the cooperation and would like to take this opportunity to thank the Indian Government for seeing fit to update us throughout the events.”
We spoke to a former agent of the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, who was a security adviser to assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to get a better perspective.
Yossi Aplher, when asked if he could point out any errors made by Indian agencies or things that India could have done better, said, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation. You know, it’s very easy to sit here on the banks of the Mediterranean and criticize. I think it’s just presumptuous.”
On the other hand, he thinks Israel has a lot to learn from the unfortunate Indian experience last week. “This is the first time that Israeli targets have been attacked in the broader conflict against militant Islam in the India-Pakistan context. One immediate conclusion that Israel needs to draw is that its interests in the region are now targets for the terrorists and have to be better protected. Just like against the attacks of Black September in Europe in the 1970s. That’s at a tactical level. At a strategic level we have be aware that we may be dragged into India’s conflict with militant Islam.”
Rubbishing the critics of the Indian operation, Aplher said, “I would not presume to criticize Indian intelligence. The whole attack had the hallmarks of a well-trained operation, with an extraordinary number of objectives.”
Israel is no stranger to attacks from the sea and has devised defenses against them. But the former Israeli spy draws distinctions between the Israeli experience and the Indian scenario.
“We’ve suffered attacks from the coast too. Terrorists have targeted our cities by sea as well. But it is important to remember that it was always a single target. Mumbai is around two and a half times the size of Israel. It would just be presumptuous for us to criticize India for the way the operation was conducted. In the 70s and 80s we set up a sophisticated system of protecting the coastline. This involved the Navy and the Coast Guard but it also included a series of radars. You know, there is nothing to bet the concentration of Israeli women soldiers at the radars watching the screens for blips that could turn out to be threats.”
The former agent of Mossad draws a distinction here. “But, and this is a very big but, you have a huge coastline. When I look at the map of India I see a coastline that’s extremely difficult. We’re a small, compact country with much fewer people and a tiny coastline. The differences in scale are huge. That’s why we hesitate to think that there is something that Israel can teach India on this, simply because of the differences in scale. But if India thinks it can learn from us you are most welcome and we would like to express our total solidarity with the people of India in this.”