Analysis: Israel closely watching India's investigation of Mumbai attacks

Defense industries concerned that Israeli criticism of India may jeopardize contracts.

chabad house raid 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
chabad house raid 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The attack in India last week was not the first time in recent history that Israelis or Jews were targeted abroad, and it will likely not be the last. The attacks themselves did not come as a surprise for Israel, which in the past 16 years has seen its citizens targeted in bombings in Argentina, Kenya and Egypt. What caught the Israeli defense echelon's attention, though, was not the attack itself, but the inventiveness of the operation, the fact that 10 targets were struck simultaneously, and the attackers' ability to hold out for over 60 hours. Since Wednesday, Israeli defense officials have been carefully monitoring media reports emerging from India, with an emphasis on the attackers' identity, methodology and tactics. On Sunday, Israel dispatched two high-ranking defense officials to participate in the investigation being conducted by Indian intelligence, and to serve as intermediaries between the two countries. According to reports in the Indian media, Israel, the US, the UK and India have all dispatched investigators, forensics experts and intelligence officials to Mumbai and New Delhi. Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that at the moment, Israel was not altering security arrangements abroad, nor was it updating the numerous travel advisories issued since the assassination of Hizbullah arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last February. These security levels were the highest in Israel's history, with Hizbullah having vowed to strike its institutions anywhere in the world to avenge the assassination. Officially, Israel is not responsible for security at Chabad facilities abroad, although the Mossad and Shin Bet do provide advice to various Jewish groups in the Diaspora on security-related issues. While not connected to Mughniyeh - India has yet to identify those who planned the carnage in Mumbai - the attack on the Chabad House demonstrates the relative ease of targeting Jews or Israelis overseas. "There is a reason why the terrorists decided to attack the Chabad House, and not the Israeli consulate in Mumbai," one official explained. "They wouldn't have had much of a chance infiltrating the consulate, but the Chabad House turned out to be a piece of cake." According to the official, once preliminary findings are presented to Israel, the defense establishment will make the necessary changes to its deployment abroad. "We will need to adapt to the way these attacks were carried out," the official said. "If, for example, we discover that all the terrorists were disguised as women before the attacks, then that is something we will need to prepare for in the future." Future attacks are not all that defense officials have on their minds, however, and there is concern that Israeli criticism of India and its performance during the crisis will impair the two countries' defense relationship. Together with other reports, an article that appeared in the Post on Friday in which Israeli officials were quoted as having criticized the way India handled the rescue operation has caused a certain amount of diplomatic tension. One official who criticized India was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who said Friday night that Indian forces were not on par with elite Israeli units. Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Foreign Ministry tried to ease tensions on Sunday with praise for Indian security forces. Israeli defense industry officials are concerned that the criticism will sour defense ties and spur India to suspend or even cancel multimillion-dollar deals. India is one of Israel's biggest customers when it comes to military platforms. In 2006, it purchased more than $1.5 billion worth of weapons, an unprecedented amount. According to Israeli defense officials, it has signed contracts valued at over $1b. since the beginning of 2008, comprising almost one-quarter of the $4.1b. in foreign contracts signed with Israeli defense industries this year. There are two schools of thought in Israel's defense industries. One believes that India will want to speed up delivery of the platforms it has purchased - missiles, drones and AWACS - in the wake of the attacks, while the other asserts that India will want to freeze the deals due to the Israeli criticism. "Barak's comments are not helpful, and the Indians are very sensitive," one senior industry official explained. "Our relations with them are also a matter of national security."