NEW DELHI – As Israeli planes and tanks exact a heavy toll on Gaza, India’s leaders and strategic thinkers have been watching with an unusual degree of interest – and some empathy.
India’s government has, no surprise, joined the rest of the world in calling for an end to the military action, but its criticism of Israel has been muted. For, as Israel demonstrates anew its determination to end attacks on its civilians by militants based in Hamas-controlled territory, many in India, still smarting from the horrors of the Mumbai attacks in November, have been asking: why can’t we do the same?
For many Indians, the temptation to identify with Israel was strengthened by the terrorists’ seizure of Mumbai’s Jewish Center (the Lubavitcher Chabad house) and the painful awareness that India and Israel share many of the same enemies. India, with its 150-million strong Muslim population, has long been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and remains staunchly committed to an independent Palestinian state. But the Mumbai attacks confirmed what has become apparent in recent years: the forces of global Islamist terror have added Indians to their target list of reviled “Jews and crusaders.”
Just as Israel has frequently been attacked by rockets fired from across its border with Gaza, India has suffered repeated assaults by killers trained, equipped, financed, and directed by elements based next door in Pakistan. When President George W. Bush’s press secretary equated members of Hamas with the Mumbai killers, her comments were widely circulated in India.