Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Last Update : 01:11 PM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  09 Oct 2023  K.C. Singh | Did Bibi’s divisive agenda allow Hamas to hit Israel?

K.C. Singh | Did Bibi’s divisive agenda allow Hamas to hit Israel?

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh.
Published : Oct 10, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 10, 2023, 12:05 am IST

The Hamas outburst should actually come as no surprise.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: AFP/File)
 Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: AFP/File)

The well-planned and massive intrusion by a few thousand Hamas fighters into Israel on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war has upended America’s re-crafting of regional security architecture. The I2U2 — consisting of India, Israel, the UAE and the United States — was preceded by the Abraham Accords, normalising Israel-UAE relations.

The US was next drawing the Saudis into this new paradigm. On the sidelines of the G-20 in New Delhi, an India-to-Europe, maritime-overland freight and energy corridor was announced.

This writer had noted then that the Israeli absence indicated strategic distrust amongst all members. The Hamas attack has in the short run upended it.

The solidarity with Israel expressed by India shows a shift in India’s traditional position on West Asian politics. China has merely sought restraint by all sides while reiterating the need for a two-nation solution. To understand this evolution of India-Israel relations, the past needs recalling. India had voted against the UN resolutions to create the State of Israel for two reasons. First, having just evicted its colonial rulers, it saw it as an attempt by the same colonial powers to allow Jews to usurp Arab lands. Second, India having rejected the two-nation theory and the creation of a religion-based Pakistan, similarly rejected a new Semitic entity. India was not, as is erroneously believed in some quarters, simply pandering to domestic Muslim opinion.

The two Israel-Arab wars in 1967 and 1973 followed, both times, two years after the India-Pakistan wars. The first resulted in Israel defeating the Arab armies and occupying the Golan Heights, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The 1973 war, also known as the Yom Kippur War, enabled Egypt to restore moral parity by crossing the Bar Lev Line along the Suez Canal, considered impregnable. This enabled US secretary of state Henry Kissinger to get Egypt and Israel to accept détente and eventually sign the Camp David Accords between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978. This writer, on his first posting in Cairo, saw the television pictures of Anwar Sadat flying to Jerusalem in November 1979, which took the Egyptian people and the world by surprise.

With Egypt out of the anti-Israel Arab alliance and King Hussein of Jordan a reluctant participant, the danger of another major Arab-Israeli war receded. The end of the Cold War in 1989 opened the possibility of a comprehensive peace in West Asia. The Palestinians also miscalculated by supporting the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq’s Saddam Hussain in 1990, losing rich backers in the Gulf. Kuwait's liberation in early 1991 by the American military intervention created euphoria about the US ability to resolve other historical disputes.

The Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991 created a process to achieve the final resolution of Arab-Israel differences. With most Arab nations, including the Palestinians, joining this process, India found itself marginalised. The US invited India on the condition it established diplomatic relations with Israel first. India did so in January 1992, although it had been dealing clandestinely with Israel all along. But thereafter relations grew exponentially.

However, India continued to balance its diplomatic outreach to Israel by maintaining relations with the government of Pales-tine. Also, no Indian Prime Minister visited Israel until Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He established a personal relationship with Israeli PM Ben-jamin Netanyahu. Unfortu-nately, such equations can entrap a nation if the partner degrades his politics.

The Hamas outburst should actually come as no surprise. Since Mr Netan-yahu’s new coalition assumed power in last January, his far-right allies have set the agenda and undermined the relatively tolerant Jewish orientation and ethos. The leader of the Jewish Power Party, an anti-Arab organisation, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is the national security minister. Similarly, Bezalel Smo-trich, head of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zio-nist Party, is the finance minister. The coalition’s agenda challenges the traditional consensus on which the Israeli state has functioned. It espouses an extremely orthodox interpretation of Judaism. It proposes the regularisation of all illegal settler outposts. Jurisdiction over settlers is to be shifted from the military to civilian ministers, putting Arabs and settlers under different controls. This completely smacks of apartheid. A two-state solution is debun-ked and the judiciary overhaul became a priority.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid bemoaned that “Ben-Gvir and Smotrich were able to form the most extremist government in the history of the state”. The problem began with the government’s proposal in March to control the appointment of judges. Mr Netanyahu’s corruption cases have dogged him, triggering his desperation to get friendlier judges.

His far-right allies saw the present judges as obstacles to implement their radical agenda. The popular protests against the government’s proposal began to also affect the Israeli Defence Forces, as the Israeli military is a “people’s army” relying on volunteer reservists. Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant warned that “the growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and the security agencies”.

The reaction of the Israeli far-right is reminiscent of the BJP’s attack on liberal elements in politics or civil society. Israel’s right-wing coalition members demo-nised their political opponents, the media, the po-lice, the intelligence agencies and state prosecution as “leftists”. In India, the phrase used is “Urban Naxals”. Ronen Bar, the head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, warned that Jewish terrorism by settler extremists against Palestinians in the West Bank was fuelling Palestinian terrorism.

The Hamas attack was carefully planned to exploit this demoralisation and distraction of the Israeli security agencies. Iran has been arming and training Hamas fighters for years.

Russia too would be de-lighted over America getting diverted from its focus on Ukraine. Hezbollah, a Shia ally of Iran in Leba-non, have begun exploratory attacks in North Israel. Scores of Israeli hostages have been grabbed by Hamas to create a human shield against Israeli counter-attacks, especially from the air.

India should have stuck, like the Chinese, to its traditional balanced stance. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on CNN lambasted Mr Netan-yahu’s coalition and suggested that Mr Netanyahu needs a national-unity government without the far-right. It is likely to be a long, brutal fight that can spill beyond Israeli borders.

India’s instant solidarity with Israel has polarised the debate at home. While the violent tactics of Ha-mas are extremely condemnable, Mr Netanyahu’s government has made Israel vulnerable when it destroyed national unity and consensus. That is a lesson which the BJP needs to ingest.

Tags: hamas, benjamin netanyahu, israel palestine conflict