India and Israel have both been subjected to frequent terrorist attacks. The battles between these countries and their attackers are asymmetric. The armies of India & Israel are dominant in their immediate region and there is little danger of a successful military attack on either country. So the weapon of choice against both India & Israel is the covert weapon of terrorism, backed by unfriendly regimes.
So far, the responses of India & Israel have been starkly different. Israel has believed in an immediate and effective military response, while India has restricted itself to verbal condemnation and indirect pressure via America & the UN.
Part of this difference is due to the nature of the two societies. The defining event for Israel remains the German Holocaust and the defining trait of Israel has been to strike preemptively through military might. The primary objective of Israel is to remain much much stronger than its enemies.
The defining event for today’s India was the long, peaceful, non-violent struggle of Mahatma Gandhi. Indian society has not yet completely recovered from this influence. The average Indian still believes in appeasing India’s attackers to gain respite from their attacks. It took the horrific attack on Mumbai in 2008 to nudge Indian society and allowed it to consider the thought of a military response.
Despite its slight change of heart, the problem for India remains nuclear blackmail. This is a problem Israel has never faced.
But this is a problem Israel might soon face. The recent row between Israel and America is probably due to Israel’s frustration with the Obama Administration. Israel seems to have finally understood that USA will neither attack Iran nor will USA be successful in imposing draconian sanctions on Iran. In other words, Israel fears that America is moving into a posture of containment of an eventual nuclear Iran rather than ensuring Iran never becomes a nuclear power.
We do not believe that a future nuclear Iran will ever launch a weapon against Israel. To do so would invite total destruction. But an Iran capable of a nuclear retaliation would become substantially immune from an Israeli attack. This immunity would create the same problem for Israel that potential Pakistani nuclear retaliation has created for India. Iran could get much bolder in supplying advanced weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas which in turn could become much bolder in their attacks on Israel.
Israel faces far greater risks than India in this scenario. India is a large country and a couple of nuclear attacks would not pose an existential danger for India. This is why India is still able to concentrate on its economic development and not allow Pakistani terror to be its sole focus.
In contrast, Israel is a small country and a single nuclear attack could jeopardize its very existence. Israel clearly understands this risk. It is also clear that Israel cannot think of a solution besides forcing America to act on its behalf. Israel is now realizing that this solution is not feasible. This deep frustration could have prompted the Israeli right wing to insult Vice President Biden so obviously and gratuitously.
Israel has at least a couple of years before it faces the problem of a nuclear Iran. How will Israel act in these two years? Will Israel try to minimize the risk from Hezbollah or Hamas before Iran goes nuclear? If not, what strategies and tactics will Israel develop to manage the risk of nuclear blackmail? Or will it simply turn into a version of today’s India?
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