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.

 -
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 Long after the US / NATO have withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, these common threats will continue to haunt India and Israel and thereby lead to a strong congruence of national interests.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

Defence and Security Alert (DSA
Defence and Security Alert (DSA) magazine is the only ISO 9001:2008 certified, premier world class, new wave monthly magazine which features paradigm changing in-depth analyses on defence, security, safety and surveillance, focusing on developing and strategic future scenarios in India and around the world.