The attack on Israel on October 7 by the Gaza-based Palestinian organization Hamas has a unique quality that could change the geopolitical dynamics in West Asia in unexpected ways and possibly harm India.
The one-sided Indian official response in the midst of a growing international crisis and the wholesale violation of human rights, including the physical flattening of Palestinian townships through the use of air power and artillery over a small area, street by street, building by building, while a full-scale Israel-imposed blockade of food, medicines, and water, is in favor of the confirmed aggressor of seven decades even by the UN’s reckoning.
Our nation’s self-esteem is damaged because we used to be able to stand tall among rich and impoverished countries. India’s political philosophy of freedom and dignity from colonial oppression, its humanist approach to international life and causes, and the country’s efforts to uphold democratic values at home were primarily responsible for this, even though it was a precarious idea for a poor nation with disparate and frequently discordant internal realities.
In West Asia and the Middle East, particularly among its citizens, if not in all of its monarchies and governments, as well as inside India and its broader neighborhood, the current Indian posture on Israel-Palestine is likely to spark questions. India’s carefully cultivated reputation may also be anticipated to suffer in much of Africa and among sizable segments of civil society in Western Europe and North America, albeit not necessarily with their governments, in light of the revealing of a new policy on the Palestine-Israel dispute.
The common statement we use these days—released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the Hamas attack—that India rejects “terrorism in all its forms” was primarily created for the Pakistan context, though it can be questioned even there. The leonine state violence that Israel has waged against Palestine and some of its neighbors for decades, ostensibly in self-defense, since the Jewish state was established in 1948 as well as earlier acts of terrorism by Zionist or Jewish religious nationalist gangs (whose actions put India’s own religious nationalist roving battalions’ worst atrocities in the shade) render this rubric ineffective.
The recent Indian statements appear to have two purposes: first, to be used for domestic political purposes in the months leading up to significant elections with the aim of inciting triumphalism and majority communalism within India against its largest religious minority because the Palestinians are primarily Muslim; and second, by standing firmly behind Israeli militarism to indirectly signal to the United States that India is willing to line up behind it in a crucial theater.
This is a gesture of restitution to the US for earlier failing to act as Russia’s lackey in the conflict in Ukraine, which involves the US’s adversary. Russia has historically allied with India and continues to do so by providing it with petroleum at the most affordable prices possible, which helps our finances during these trying times for the rest of the world.
We need to fully comprehend this extraordinary event, an act of military and intelligence innovation that has left Israel stunned and perplexed and many other militaries, including the American, scratching their heads, in order to comprehend the likely strategic repercussions of the Hamas attack in West Asia and beyond.
Prior to October 7, Palestinian organizations had never conducted a military operation inside Israel, much less one that resulted in more deaths for Israel than the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when the country was attacked by the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan with Jordan’s participation.
The fact that Hamas launched a full-scale military attack quite deeply inside Israel is what makes the incident exceptional and unforgettable. It will also probably leave a mark on West Asia. Israel has suffered a severe psychological damage as a result of the ‘invading force’, which was actually a ragtag militia that was improvising as it went along despite having top-notch information. How did you obtain that intelligence? The US and NATO centers are currently discussing this issue in professional circles.
In the past, Palestinian organizations and individuals have secretly detonated explosions inside Israel or committed random acts of violence like stabbings in order to express their protest and collective rage against Israeli military occupation of their territories. They have also launched stone missiles with slingshots at Israeli armed personnel inside designated Palestinian areas. The attack on October 7 is completely out of the ordinary and could have repercussions that are far-reaching.
The countries of West Asia, including the Gulf monarchies and others, are likely to be apprehensive of making bilateral rapprochement gestures toward Israel in the wake of this incident, which has resulted in the largest Israeli military attack on Palestinian territory in history, for fear that their own masses may turn against them. As a result, the Abraham Accords, which were supported by the US under President Donald Trump, appear to be ineffective. The US, Israel, and a number of Gulf governments were intended to sign these in order to establish a new concordat. The Biden administration aided this effort by attempting to include Saudi Arabia.
If the Abraham Accords are in peril, the I2U2 deal, which aims to strengthen ties between Israel, India, the US, and the UAE through increased trade and investment, may also be in jeopardy at this point. The reputation of Modi’s India among Arab countries is likely to be at an all-time low as a result of the unprecedentedly vehement support that New Delhi has provided for Israel. We can only hope that Indian immigrants to the Gulf are not subjected to social hatred.
The communication corridor between India, the Middle East, and Europe, which was praised by the Indian leader at the recent G20 conference in Delhi, is probably also in peril. In any case, this seemed like a completely implausible proposal, and Modi’s go-to tactic of feel-good advertising may have been all that was behind it.
What may now be facilitated instead of these widely publicized proposals uniting Israel, the US, India, and the Gulf monarchies, is the closing of the gap to some extent between Iran and Saudi Arabia, historical rivals and enemies that have recently been sought to be brought together through the aegis of China to the displeasure of the Western powers – and Israel. Evidently, Israel’s continued widespread brutalization of Gaza has been a defining act that cannot be ignored.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and the all-powerful Saudi heir and vice-president Prince Salman spoke on the phone as preparations for Israel’s ground assault on Gaza intensified. Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China discussed the “injustice” to Palestine due to historical causes with Gulf leaders while on the phone.
S. Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, has been conspicuously silent thus far while not being averse to traveling the world to correct the record when he deems India’s position deserves greater articulation. The US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who incidentally announced in Tel Aviv that he was visiting the country after the Hamas attack both as secretary of state and as a Jew, introduced a disturbing religious communal dimension when he said that after the prime minister’s strong interventions, Tel Aviv might be the logical destination for him.
It is interesting that India’s prime minister, just as he had done with regard to China following the Galwan incident when, to everyone’s shock, he gave the Chinese a clean chit, personally assumed the foreign policy lead on the Israel subject. He publicly supported Israel “in this difficult hour” in the Hamas-Israel dispute.
The external affairs ministry then spoke publicly about the general responsibility “to observe international humanitarian law” in a sort of rescue maneuver. Israel was obviously intended to be addressed by this as it prepared to attack Gaza, but it’s unlikely that anyone paid attention. These kinds of statements are obviously made simply for the record.
The Indian spokesman continued by noting that India had always supported a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine and described the Indian position on Palestine as being “longstanding and consistent,” which seemed to mock India’s historical support for the anti-colonial Palestine cause given the current situation and the prime minister’s personal stand.
Given the current situation and the prime minister’s personal stance, it appeared that the Indian spokesman was mocking India’s historical support for the anti-colonial Palestine cause. However, the Indian spokesman went on to say that India had always advocated for a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine and described India’s position on Palestine as “longstanding and consistent.”
As a result, we will look the other way, just like the Americans and sanctimonious Europeans, as Israel pulverises Gaza, its buildings and infrastructure, and the imprisoned inhabitants in the world’s “largest open air prison,” as has been discussed for years. It appears that the plan is to physically end the Palestine question before moving on to political action to mark a new beginning. But if history teaches us anything, it is that nothing like this can succeed.
In stark contrast to India’s approach, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, denounced Hamas in a speech delivered not long after the Hamas attack, but acknowledged that the violent action, in which hundreds of civilians were also targeted and murdered, did not occur “in a vacuum.” He made no apologies for referring to Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian areas for the past 56 years. (The UN understanding excludes the years preceding 1967.)
The most famous Israeli daily, Haaretz, published an editorial criticising Netanyahu’s government, blaming him for the October 7 incident. It slammed Israel’s “occupation” and impending “annexation” of the West Bank, the Palestinian territory other than Gaza. The journal slammed Netanyahu’s foreign policy for failing to consider the “existence” of Palestine, accusing it of a far-right bias. It is instructive to note how significantly India’s viewpoint differs from that of the UN and educated Israeli public opinion.
Although it is simple to condemn terrorism, the world has been selective in how it is recognised and defined. New Delhi is unhappy that the UN has been unable to adopt any useful resolution on the topic. Notably, the US consistently refrained from designating the Taliban in Afghanistan as “terrorists.” It is obvious that the terrorism issue cannot, as the Modi administration claims, constitute the foundation of a foreign strategy. A shibboleth is not a replacement for sound policy.
Hiding behind the glibly trotted out expression “national interest” – as even some well-meaning senior diplomatists of an earlier vintage have done – does not rescue us from the burden of striking the right balance as between our values, national character and philosophy, and real world needs. Modi, however, is a known worshipper at the altar of power and seems solely devoted to a values-less, transactional, way of life in all spheres. Regrettably, this has tended to inform and influence discussions and debates in open forums.
Regarding the idea of terrorism in the context of Palestine and Israel, it is instructive to remember that even Yasser Arafat, who led Fatah and the PLO in a wholly secular manner without regard to sectarian or religious considerations, was referred to as a terrorist by Israel, the US, and others – though not India at the time. The renowned Palestinian leader is believed to have died slowly from drug poisoning caused by his suffering. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi was murdered because he was perceived by some as a moral and emotional terrorist.
It is unclear where the Indian prime minister would stand on Arafat or Gandhi, but it is interesting that after Modi pledged to stand strong with Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack, the Israeli ambassador in New Delhi allowed himself to become overconfident and told the news agency ANI that such was the level of support he found for his country in India that a unit of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) could be formed of Indians ready to go and do battle for Israel (against the Palestinians An International Brigade of the Far Right does seem like an intriguing idea in today’s environment, whether or not it is practical.
Perhaps the irregular armed bands in variously named units who beat and kill in the name of cow protection or love jihad, or give calls for genocide of one religious community in India, are natural candidates to fill the ranks of the IDF even if they run away from joining the ranks of the Agniveer in their own country.
The moral dimension to the killings of ordinary people inside Israel, among them women and children, in cold blood, by the Hamas on October 7, is likely to remain a part of the discussion even when placed in the context of the long record of brutal repression of the occupier in Palestine, first with British and later with US backing, although there could be room for ambiguity.
Nevertheless, while acknowledging the dark side of the Hamas assault – the striking down of civilians – the UN secretary-general has been sensitive to the fact that the Hamas action was not “in a vacuum”. The question of judging a lone fact in the course of examining a long process of history is fraught with difficulty, and perhaps it is this that the secretary-general had in mind.
Massive anti-Israel demonstrations have been held in Britain, Australia and other countries in the wake of last week’s events, while the political situation in West Asia is still unfolding. The wider West Asia and the Gulf theatre are abuzz with mass mobilisations and political activity. Where this leads we can only know with the passage of time.
When approach to terrorism is the key ingredient of what passes for New Delhi’s policy on the Palestine-Israel question, it is useful to look at the UN General Assembly resolution 37/43 of 1982-83. It “reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle” (emphasis supplied). The Oslo accords of 1993, 1995 do not override this basic formulation.
Section 21 of the above resolution is explicit. It speaks of “the expansionist activities of Israel in the Middle East and the continual bombing of Palestinian civilians, (which) constitutes a serious obstacle to the realization of self-determination and independence of the Palestinian people”.
In February 2006, Hamas had won the highest number of seats for election to the Palestinian Legislative Council, easily surpassing Fatah of President Mahmoud Abbas who heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. In light of recent developments, Hamas’s general appeal among Palestinians is said to be rising. What’s the likely orientation of the people of Palestine in the present situation? And, what political outcomes may be expected in Israel where a strong anti-Netanyahu current is visible to observers?
We shall have a clearer picture in the coming weeks, and this cannot but impact the Arab situation overall. Considering the Modi government’s radical departure from the orientation of Indian policy toward the Palestine- Israel question, how will India deal with the extremely complex situation that is now likely to emerge? Continuing to ride on American coat-tails does not appear to be a viable idea.