As India grieved for those who died during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Israel also mourned the death of six of its nationals. This tragedy should further bring the people of India and Israel together in their determination to counter the menace of terrorism and extremism threatening democratic states. Fighting terrorism is a major issue and challenge for both India and Israel. Both are democratic, pluralistic states with large domestic Muslim minorities, and both face the scourge of Islamist terrorism, which is sponsored by their neighbors.
This shared dilemma has led to a better understanding of each other's concerns. It has been suggested that democratic nations that face the menace of international terrorism should form a "viable alliance" and develop multilateral mechanisms to counter this menace. Israel has supported this and has gone to the extent of saying that an "unwritten and abstract" axis with India and the United States exists to combat international terrorism and make the world a more secure place.
While there has been no attempt to form an explicit alliance among the three states, India and Israel have definitely started cooperating more closely on the terror front. India has found it increasingly beneficial to learn from Israel's experience in dealing with terrorism, because Israel has also long suffered from cross-border terrorism. And the terrorism that both India and Israel face comes not only from disaffected groups within their territories, but it is also aided and abetted by the neighboring states, increasingly capable of transferring weapons of mass destruction to the terrorist organizations.
States such as Pakistan in South Asia and Iran and Syria in the Middle East have long used terror as an instrument of their foreign policies. There are, thus, distinct structural similarities in the kind of threat that India and Israel face from terrorism. It is also important to note that when the extremist mullahs call on their followers to take up arms in support of jihad, their topmost exhortations have always been the "liberation" of all of mandatory Palestine and Kashmir and the annihilation of the US.
THIS REALIZATION has drawn the two nations closer, with India being the first close friend Israel has to its east, and Israel being the first close friend India has to its west. Israel, which has faced relative isolation across the globe, views India as its strategic anchor in Asia. Israel also sees major benefits in coming closer to a country with a big Muslim population, the second largest in the world, hoping that it might help dilute the importance of the religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both states are uniquely stable entities in an otherwise largely chaotic region stretching from North Africa to the Himalayas, which some have argued should be seen as a single strategic region. The search for strength in each other's inner reserves is natural in their quest for security and the fight against terror.
As a result, a basic understanding has emerged that, despite the fact that circumstances surrounding the nature of terrorism they face are different, there can be no compromise with terror. India and Israel not only exchange crucial intelligence information on Islamist terrorist groups, but Israel is also helping India to fight terrorism in Kashmir by providing important logistical support, such as specialized surveillance equipment, cooperation in intelligence gathering, joint exercises and cooperation to stop money laundering and terror funding. It is a distinct possibility that the level of intelligence cooperation may be even more extensive than that between India and the US with the two nations deciding to share intelligence on a regular basis in their efforts to fight terrorism jointly.
Israel's long experience in training, equipping and operating elite undercover units deployed in Palestinian towns and villages to gather intelligence, spot targets and engage gunmen is useful for the Indian security forces facing similar situations in Kashmir and the Northeast. Other areas where Israeli know-how can be incorporated by India include tactics aimed at lowering the risk of ambush, use of infantry and commando units seeking out and destroying arms caches and terrorist bomb-making capabilities, and the use of dogs, robotics and specially trained sappers to detect hidden roadside mines.
DESPITE THIS convergence, there remain differences of perception on the issue of terrorism. While for India, Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism, Israel reserves that status for Iran. Israel might be sympathetic to Indian concerns regarding Pakistan, but it is not ready to make new enemies. Meanwhile, India enjoys historical ties with Iran. However, the recent terror attacks in India raise some difficult questions for Israel.
The nuclearized environment in South Asia is part of the reason that elements within the Pakistani security establishment have become more adventurous. Realizing that India would be reluctant to escalate the conflict because of the threat of it reaching the nuclear level, sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence have pushed the envelope on the sub-conventional front, using various terror groups to launch assaults on India. For India, this presents a structural conundrum: Nuclear weapons have made a major conventional conflict with Pakistan unrealistic yet it needs to find a way to launch limited military action against Pakistan without crossing the nuclear threshold. Nuclear weapons have allowed Pakistan to shield itself from full-scale Indian retaliation as well as to attract international attention on the disputes in the subcontinent. This was what happened during the 2001-02 military stand-off after the terror attacks on the Indian Parliament.
To resolve this structural dilemma, Indian strategists have focused on "Cold War" military doctrine - the ability to launch quick, decisive limited strikes against Pakistan to seize some territory before the international community could intervene, which can then be used as a post conflict bargaining chip. This doctrine is still evolving and its is not clear how effective it would be in making sure that the conflict remains limited, as Pakistan might be forced to bring down its nuclear threshold to respond to this challenge. What needs to be recognized, however, that Indian options are severely limited and its adversaries know this.
As Iran moves ahead with its nuclear weapons program, Israel will face an even bigger challenge than India as Iran's sponsorship of terror groups is much more sophisticated than Pakistan's. If anything, the recent terror attacks should force the international community into recognizing the costs of not doing anything to prevent irresponsible actors such as Iran and Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The writer teaches at King's College in London and is the author of Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy.