India and Israel: Common Threats, Divergent Strategic Cultures

Though India and Israel share a very sim­i­lar set of threats and chal­lenges, their strate­gic cul­tures are a study in con­trast. India has a huge land mass and the world’s sec­ond largest pop­u­la­tion. Israel is a tiny coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of just 7 mil­lion plus. It has no space to trade for time and has there­fore devel­oped a high­ly proac­tive and aggres­sive ori­en­ta­tion – that is very high-risk and relies upon seiz­ing the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tive at the very out­set of the con­flict. In sharp con­trast to Israel, India’s response to Pakistan’s asym­met­ric adven­tur­ism has been very weak, timid and reac­tive. India has tame­ly sur­ren­dered the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tive to a much weak­er Pak­istan for the last three decades . India must emu­late Israel and try and gen­er­ate an over­match­ing tech­no­log­i­cal mil­i­tary edge over its like­ly adver­saries. It will have to field dom­i­nant war fight­ing capa­bil­i­ties that would severe­ly raise costs for Pak­istan. In spe­cif­ic, India will have to invest heav­i­ly in air­pow­er, pre­ci­sion guid­ed muni­tions (PGMs), fire­pow­er resources and trans­paren­cy capa­bil­i­ties.

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This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India
Defence and Security Alert (DSA

India and Israel are locat­ed at the two extrem­i­ties of an arc of insta­bil­i­ty and stri­dent fun­da­men­tal­ism in the Islam­ic world. Both have faced repeat­ed con­ven­tion­al and asym­met­ric attacks from their neigh­bours. Both coun­tries have had to repeat­ed­ly resort to arms to pro­tect their vital nation­al inter­ests. Yet both coun­tries are lib­er­al democ­ra­cies with a tra­di­tion of dis­sent, free press and fair elec­tions. This shared amal­gam of threats and val­ues makes them nat­ur­al strate­gic part­ners. Long after the US / NATO have with­drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, these com­mon threats will con­tin­ue to haunt India and Israel and there­by lead to a strong con­gru­ence of nation­al inter­ests.

The Sovi­et inva­sion of Afghanistan unfor­tu­nate­ly undid most of India’s gains. Pak­istan rent­ed out its coun­try for an asym­met­ric assault against the Sovi­et troops in Afghanistan. The Sovi­et Union col­lapsed out of eco­nom­ic over­reach and impe­r­i­al over­stretch­ing in 1990. This gen­er­at­ed tri­umphal­ism in Pak­istan. Eager to set­tle scores, Pak­istan unleashed an asym­met­ric cam­paign first in Pun­jab and lat­er in Jam­mu and Kash­mir to desta­bilise India. By 1998 both states had turned overt­ly nuclear and in 1999 itself Pak­istan launched a local war in Kargil

In terms of Strate­gic cul­tures how­ev­er the two coun­tries are poles apart. India has a huge land mass and the world’s sec­ond largest pop­u­la­tion. Israel is a tiny coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of just 7.8 mil­lion plus. It has no space to trade for time and has there­fore devel­oped a high­ly proac­tive and aggres­sive ori­en­ta­tion – that is very high-risk and relies upon seiz­ing the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tive at the very out­set of the con­flict. This is because Israel always lacked the lux­u­ry of strate­gic depth to absorb an ene­my sur­prise attack. The sole excep­tion was in the 1973 Yom Kip­pur war. Israel had in 1967 seized huge ter­ri­to­ries in the Sinai, Syr­ia and Jor­dan and expand­ed to three times its orig­i­nal size. This, for the first time, afford­ed it the lux­u­ry of being on the defen­sive both strate­gi­cal­ly and tac­ti­cal­ly. It paid a price for releas­ing its relent­less grip on the ini­tia­tive and had to wage a grim strug­gle for sur­vival in that War of Atone­ment. How­ev­er, it fought relent­less­ly and regained the ini­tia­tive despite being sur­prised.

India, by stark con­trast, has been beset with a pacif­ic cul­ture. Post Inde­pen­dence, its polit­i­cal elite man­u­fac­tured for them­selves a con­trived nar­ra­tive of excep­tion­al­ism. India, they claimed had won its free­dom in a unique way by a non-vio­lent strug­gle based on Ahim­sa and Satya­gra­ha. Hence in the West­phalian sys­tem of nation states based on pow­er, it was an excep­tion­al state, in that it relied not so much on hard pow­er but the soft pow­er of moral per­sua­sion. Based on this nar­ra­tive of excep­tion­al­ism, the Indi­an polit­i­cal elite opt­ed for a neu­tral stance in the cold war and adopt­ed a pacif­ic role as peace mak­ers between the East and West. For a time, this neu­tral stance per­mit­ted India to punch much above its actu­al weight in a sharply polarised – Bipo­lar world. How­ev­er India’s severe neglect of its hard pow­er capa­bil­i­ties, cost it very dear­ly in region­al terms. Pak­istan that had been carved out of British India as an osten­si­ble home for its Mus­lims, adopt­ed a high­ly aggres­sive and proac­tive stance based on an exag­ger­at­ed per­cep­tion of itself as a Spar­ta of South Asia. It rent­ed out its ter­ri­to­ry to the West­ern bloc and gained mil­i­tar­i­ly by its oppor­tunis­tic alliance with the USA which helped it to coun­ter­vail a far larg­er India. India’s neglect of its hard pow­er capa­bil­i­ties there­fore cost it heav­i­ly in region­al terms. The Chi­nese inva­sion of India in 1962 humil­i­at­ed the coun­try very bad­ly. It was so bur­dened with its overblown peace rhetoric that it sim­ply could not fash­ion a coher­ent mil­i­tary response to China’s mil­i­tary aggres­sion. For­tu­nate­ly, this trau­ma result­ed in a return to real­ism in India and a long delayed mil­i­tary build-up was com­menced to rapid­ly make up for two decades of neglect. Israel offered help at that crit­i­cal junc­ture. Pak­istan tried to exploit the demor­al­i­sa­tion of the 1962 War and pre-empt the Indi­an mil­i­tary build-up by a high risk gam­ble to take Jam­mu and Kash­mir by force in 1965. This time India react­ed force­ful­ly and two corps sized offen­sives in West Pun­jab forced Pak­istan to recoil from the gains it had made in Jam­mu and Kash­mir. It was an invalu­able expe­ri­ence for India’s polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­er­ship. By 1971 India’s mil­i­tary build-up was com­plet­ed with mas­sive Sovi­et assis­tance. Pak­istan, seri­ous­ly pro­voked India by its mas­sive eth­nic cleans­ing in Bangladesh that led to a flood of over 10 mil­lion refugees into India and near­ly cre­at­ed an eco­nom­ic cri­sis. Hav­ing exhaust­ed all scope for a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of the cri­sis, India decid­ed to hit back. Mrs Gand­hi now dis­played the polit­i­cal will to ruth­less­ly pur­sue India’s vital nation­al inter­est in a proac­tive man­ner. India sup­port­ed the Muk­ti Bahi­ni in its des­per­ate strug­gle to stop the geno­cide unleashed by the Pak­istani Army. Pak­istan tried to seize the strate­gic ini­tia­tive by a pre-emp­tive attack on India’s air bases in the west. India react­ed strong­ly in the East with a major tri-ser­vice assault on the Pak­istani forces in Bangladesh. The IAF gained com­plete air-suprema­cy over the skies of Bangladesh and three Indi­an corps, ably sup­port­ed by the Muk­ti Bahi­ni, raced for the Cap­i­tal city of Dac­ca. The Indi­an Navy enforced a block­ade and iso­lat­ed the two wings of Pak­istan. It launched a very dar­ing assault on the Home base of the Pak­istani Navy at Karachi, sank many war­ships and left the port city ablaze. In just 14 action packed days, Dac­ca fell and over 93,000 Pak­istani pris­on­ers of war were tak­en. For the first time after the Sec­ond World War, a new coun­try was cre­at­ed with the force of arms. It was a deci­sive cam­paign char­ac­terised by a march on the ene­my cap­i­tal and enforced regime change. India had come of age at last. India emerged as a strong region­al pow­er of con­se­quence.

India’s severe neglect of its hard pow­er capa­bil­i­ties cost it very dear­ly in region­al terms. Pak­istan that had been carved out of British India as an osten­si­ble home for its Mus­lims, adopt­ed a high­ly aggres­sive and proac­tive stance based on an exag­ger­at­ed per­cep­tion of itself as a Spar­ta of South Asia. It rent­ed out its ter­ri­to­ry to the West­ern bloc and gained mil­i­tar­i­ly by its oppor­tunis­tic alliance with the USA which helped it to coun­ter­vail a far larg­er India

The Sovi­et inva­sion of Afghanistan unfor­tu­nate­ly undid most of India’s gains. Pak­istan rent­ed out its coun­try for an asym­met­ric assault against the Sovi­et troops in Afghanistan. The Sovi­et Union col­lapsed out of eco­nom­ic over­reach and impe­r­i­al over­stretch­ing in 1990. This gen­er­at­ed tri­umphal­ism in Pak­istan. Eager to set­tle scores, Pak­istan unleashed an asym­met­ric cam­paign first in Pun­jab and lat­er in Jam­mu and Kash­mir to desta­bilise India. By 1998 both states had turned overt­ly nuclear and in 1999 itself Pak­istan launched a local war in Kargil. India react­ed at the local / tac­ti­cal lev­el by mass­ing the effects of artillery and air­pow­er in the giv­en area and mount­ed a frontal cam­paign of attri­tion to throw out the Pak­istani intrud­ers. India and Pak­istan again came close to an all out con­flict in 2001 because of con­tin­ued Pak­istani adven­tur­ism. The sim­ple fact was that India had failed to gen­er­ate a clear con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary edge over its region­al adver­saries.

In sharp con­trast to Israel there­fore, India’s response to Pakistan’s asym­met­ric adven­tur­ism has been very weak, timid and reac­tive. India has tame­ly sur­ren­dered the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tive to a much weak­er Pak­istan for the last three decades. Chi­na is rapid­ly out­pac­ing it in terms of both eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary pow­er. India’s present cul­ture of rank paci­fism and its tren­chant refusal to use force to safe­guard its vital nation­al inter­ests has now reached lev­els that are cause for seri­ous con­cern

Mean­while, the return of Con­gress par­ty rule led to the sur­pris­ing revival of a paci­fist cul­ture of excep­tion­al­ism. A whole host of for­eign fund­ed NGOs launched a vir­tu­al cru­sade against alleged human rights vio­la­tions by the secu­ri­ty forces in Jam­mu and Kash­mir and else­where and just would not let the state respond force­ful­ly to the ris­ing men­ace of Left Wing Extrem­ism. Despite its grow­ing eco­nom­ic clout and mil­i­tary pow­er, India relapsed into anoth­er phase of paci­fism. Today, the Indi­an polit­i­cal elite have appar­ent­ly con­vinced them­selves that post-nucleari­sa­tion; any war in South Asia is unthink­able. Hence India has become reluc­tant to use force in any con­text what­so­ev­er, whether exter­nal­ly or inter­nal­ly. A shrill cacoph­o­ny of bleed­ing heart lib­er­als has stalled the very notion of the use of force to turn India into a soft and effete state as it was before 1962.

In sharp con­trast to Israel there­fore, India’s response to Pakistan’s asym­met­ric adven­tur­ism has been very weak, timid and reac­tive. India has tame­ly sur­ren­dered the strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ini­tia­tive to a much weak­er Pak­istan for the last three decades. Chi­na is rapid­ly out­pac­ing it in terms of both eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary pow­er. India’s present cul­ture of rank paci­fism and its tren­chant refusal to use force to safe­guard its vital nation­al inter­ests has now reached lev­els that are cause for seri­ous con­cern.

True, Israel’s neigh­bours are not nuclear weapon states like Chi­na and Pak­istan. While that is a major con­straint and the risk of esca­la­tion is fair­ly daunt­ing, yet India needs to grow out of its high­ly timid and over­cau­tious stance where it has been self-deterred against Pakistan’s much small­er capa­bil­i­ties.

India needs to field over­match­ing tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties in South Asia in terms of air­pow­er, pre­ci­sion guid­ed muni­tions (PGMs) and trans­paren­cy. It must enhance its capa­bil­i­ties to fight across the spec­trum of con­flict and espe­cial­ly by night and in all weath­er con­di­tions.

Israeli role mod­el

The two Israeli inva­sions of Lebanon in 1983 and 2006 offer very instruc­tive mod­els for emu­la­tion in the Indi­an con­text. Israel’s use of air­pow­er in 1983 forms a clas­sic tem­plate which India can emu­late in the Indo-Pak­istani con­text of asym­met­ric provo­ca­tions. In 1983 Israel had attacked Syr­i­an Sam bat­ter­ies in the Bek­ka val­ley. The Syr­i­ans thought mis­tak­en­ly that the Bek­ka val­ley mis­sile bat­ter­ies were the pri­ma­ry tar­gets. The pri­ma­ry tar­get was the Syr­i­an Air Force. The Israelis had laid a delib­er­ate Air ambush. Their AWACS were up and their F‑15s and F‑16s on run­way readi­ness. The moment the Syr­i­an Air Force rose to chal­lenge the Israeli Air Force over the Bek­ka val­ley, it was dec­i­mat­ed in an orches­trat­ed Air Bat­tle where AWACS and BVRs were used to dev­as­tat­ing effects. The Syr­i­ans lost over 82 MiGs in one day and lost all stom­ach for fur­ther bat­tle. India could draw suit­able lessons and fash­ion a range of air­pow­er respons­es to Pakistan’s asym­met­ric provo­ca­tions. The ini­tial tar­gets could be ter­ror­ist camps. These would force the Pak­istani Air Force (PAF) to defend its air­space and a major air bat­tle could be orches­trat­ed a la Lebanon. Once that is won, India could ini­ti­ate Air-land respons­es that are force ori­ent­ed rather than ter­ri­to­ry or ter­rain ori­ent­ed. India could thus ini­ti­ate a lim­it­ed Con­ven­tion­al con­flict to raise costs for Pak­istani asym­met­ric adven­tur­ism in a way that ensures esca­la­tion dom­i­nance and does not push Pak­istan over the nuclear Rubi­con.

India and Israel are locat­ed at the two extrem­i­ties of an arc of insta­bil­i­ty and stri­dent fun­da­men­tal­ism in the Islam­ic world. Both have faced repeat­ed con­ven­tion­al and asym­met­ric attacks from their neigh­bours. Both coun­tries have had to repeat­ed­ly resort to arms to pro­tect their vital nation­al inter­ests

The sec­ond inva­sion of Lebanon in 2006 high­lights the per­ils of our incre­men­tal or over­cau­tious response a la Cold Start which accepts major force con­straints at the very out­set. How­ev­er, it under­lines that even a war that results in a stale­mate serves to deter aggres­sive neigh­bours. Israel massed air­pow­er and fire­pow­er effects in South­ern Lebanon to such an extent that the Hezbol­lah was dazed. Though it put up a good fight in that con­flict and per­haps sur­vived as an organ­i­sa­tion, the Hezbol­lah has so far not dared to resume rock­et attacks / ter­ror­ist strikes against Israeli tar­gets. Sim­i­lar­ly, the 1973 War was a stale­mate of sorts. How­ev­er, it com­plete­ly drained the main Arab pro­tag­o­nists (Egypt and Syr­ia) of their will to wage any fur­ther con­flicts against Israel. Hence, even a stale­mate, if made cost­ly enough, could have a salu­tary impact and deter Pak­istan from any fur­ther asym­met­ric adven­tur­ism. India must emu­late Israel and try and gen­er­ate an over­match­ing tech­no­log­i­cal mil­i­tary edge over its like­ly adver­saries. It will have to field dom­i­nant war fight­ing capa­bil­i­ties that would severe­ly raise cost for Pak­istan. In spe­cif­ic, India will have to invest heav­i­ly in air­pow­er, pre­ci­sion guid­ed muni­tions (PGMs), fire­pow­er resources and trans­paren­cy capa­bil­i­ties. This can­not be a leisure­ly process that takes 25 to 30 years to induct any major weapon sys­tem. India’s adver­saries are rapid­ly build­ing-up their mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties. India has to not only keep pace but gen­er­ate a vis­i­ble tech­no­log­i­cal edge if it wish­es to deter. India must now dis­play the polit­i­cal will to use force to safe­guard its vital nation­al inter­ests.

In con­clu­sion there­fore, it needs to be said that though India and Israel share a very sim­i­lar set of threats and chal­lenges, their strate­gic cul­tures are a study in con­trast. When­ev­er India has been proac­tive and assertive, it has pre­vailed, as it did in 1971. Today India needs to trans­form its strate­gic cul­ture and turn from a pure­ly defen­sive and reac­tive ori­en­ta­tion to a much more proac­tive response strat­e­gy. In this, Israel pro­vides a use­ful role mod­el for study and analy­sis.

About the Author
Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bak­shi SM, VSM (retd) — The writer is a com­bat vet­er­an of many skir­mish­es on the Line of Con­trol and counter-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions in Jam­mu and Kash­mir and Pun­jab. He sub­se­quent­ly com­mand­ed the reput­ed Romeo Force dur­ing inten­sive counter-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions in the Rajouri-Poonch dis­tricts. He has served two tenures at the high­ly pres­ti­gious Direc­torate Gen­er­al of Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions. He is a pro­lif­ic writer on mat­ters mil­i­tary and non-mil­i­tary and has pub­lished 24 books and over 100 papers in many pres­ti­gious research jour­nals. He is also Exec­u­tive Edi­tor of Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) mag­a­zine.

Note by the Author:
The two Israeli inva­sions of Lebanon in 1983 and 2006 offer very instruc­tive mod­els for emu­la­tion in the Indi­an con­text. Israel’s use of air­pow­er in 1983 forms a clas­sic tem­plate which India can emu­late in the Indo-Pak­istani con­text of asym­met­ric provo­ca­tions. In 1983 Israel had attacked Syr­i­an Sam bat­ter­ies in the Bek­ka val­ley. The Syr­i­ans thought mis­tak­en­ly that the Bek­ka val­ley mis­sile bat­ter­ies were the pri­ma­ry tar­gets. The pri­ma­ry tar­get was the Syr­i­an Air Force. The Israelis had laid a delib­er­ate Air ambush. Their AWACS were up and their F‑15s and F‑16s on run­way readi­ness. The moment the Syr­i­an Air Force rose to chal­lenge the Israeli Air Force over the Bek­ka val­ley, it was dec­i­mat­ed in an orches­trat­ed Air Bat­tle where AWACS and BVRs were used to dev­as­tat­ing effects. The Syr­i­ans lost over 82 MiGs in one day

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