Lessons from Tel Aviv for Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The problem with Delhi is that it often cannot sustain the nerve to go through its own strategies irrespective of whether they are carrots or sticks, confrontationist or otherwise.

Written by Abhijit Iyer Mitra | Updated: May 31, 2017 7:48 pm
Modi, narendra Modi trip, modi visit, israel, israel visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As Prime Minister Modi heads to Israel in July, security cooperation is likely to be on top of his agenda. While arms purchases tend to make headlines, it is actually the human factor — training, capacity building and best practice absorption that India really needs from Israel. Given the uptick of violence in several parts of the country, including Kashmir, and the government’s “muscular” approach in dealing with Pakistan, the lessons of how Israel manages its own disturbed areas may be particularly germane.

Of course the biggest difference in managing territory is that Israel believes, despite its looney right, that the “occupied territories” are, in fact, occupied. While Kashmir, in the Indian mind is an integral part of India, notwithstanding its current disturbances.

Consequently, Israel does not operate under any delusions of how “loved” it is by its neighbouring Palestinians; and doesn’t let sentimentalism get in the way of dealing with them. Instead, they have invested in the indepth study of human behaviour in military as well as civilian situations, using “light touches” alternating between carrots and sticks, as the preferred option.

India, on the other hand, which has done a miraculous job in keeping a multi-ethnic, non-denominational state together, despite being a third world country, cannot seem to avoid sentimentality and a massive capacity deficit coming in the way of managing its internal security.

Consequently its actions are for the large part erratic, ill thought out and veer between carrot and stick with no visible cause-effect calculus.

Israel uses both force and persuasion to achieve its objectives. Once the second Intifada had been crushed — largely through the construction of a separation wall and barbed-wire fences between Israeli and Palestinian-majority populations — the Palestinians found a new method to shake up the status quo. These were the knife attacks by so-called “lone wolves”.

Their initial success meant that border crossings would be shut for weeks, and work permits of Palestinians working in Israel cancelled — massively disrupting normal life. While this form of collective punishment worked in the immediate term, it also simply increased the pool of would-be attackers significantly. This is when the Israelis decided to change their entire approach.

The most important step was not to cancel Palestinian work permits in the wake of an attack; this drastically reduced the pool of disaffected people otherwise available for militancy. This also meant that those who continued to work in Israeli territories would be incentivised to provide advance warning of attacks – thereby creating a vital pool of informers.

Second, the immediate disruption at the point of attack was reduced, with border crossings forced to return to normal activity within 15 minutes to 1 hour of the attack, as opposed to the week-long shut downs with attendant misery that used to be the norm.

Third, punishment, while still collective, became much more focussed. For example, the house of the family of the person who had committed the attack would be demolished. Due process however was followed. Within hours of an attack, Israeli officers would show up at the house of the attacker and inspect it.

Invariably, they would find signs of radicalisation, such as posters of the “martyrs”, which they would then show to both family and media to deflate protests like “we had no idea our son was radicalised”. This was then used to buttress the legal case needed to demolish the house. If the family lived in rented accommodation (common in both West Bank and Gaza), concrete was poured into the rooms.

Family misery, magnified by Palestinian media coverage, the Israelis found, serves as a massive deterrent, forcing families to monitor their wards more actively and quietly report them in; most people will want to keep their families safe and their children alive, albeit in a jail cell.

What is important here is that Israeli authorities distinguish between retrospective and punitive (which is illegal) and deterrent and preventive (which is legal) in these actions. The legal justification for house demolitions is not to punish the family, but to deter others from following the same path. There are now several studies which seem to indicate that this does in fact has some effect.

The public relations exercise that accompanies the Israeli response is perhaps the single most critical link in the chain. In an attempt to break the media narrative, Israelis realised they needed to create one of their own. So Twitter and Facebook were leveraged to display videos and photographs of attackers caught in the act of destroying the lives and homes of others.

The intense trolling and negative commentary that follows these actions certainly turns up the heat; but the Israelis point out that videographic evidence serves to hollow out narratives common in the Palestinian media, such as, “he was a school teacher’s son”, “he was an unarmed young man” or “he wasn’t a stone pelter”.

With this combination of tactics, Israel has for all effects and purposes pre-empted Hamas’ hopes for a third Intifada and its attendant publicity.

The above narrative shows the act of controlling territory must be carried out through a mix of carrots and sticks. On the stick side, there needs to be clearly delineated but targeted collective punishment, not as revenge but from a legally sustainable deterrence angle.

The carrots have to be economic, and at the very minimum, avoid disruption to what little economic activities exist in the significantly poorer Palestinian territories.

So what is the one lesson Mr Modi could learn in Tel Aviv? That ad hoc clumsy incompetence cannot be a substitute for thought-through law and order which is both humane and tough. The problem with Delhi is that it often cannot sustain the nerve to go through its own strategies irrespective of whether they are carrots or sticks, confrontationist or otherwise.

Of course the big difference between Israel and India is that the Israelis aren’t tackling their own people – unlike in India, where the residents of Kashmir or the North-East or central India, or elsewhere as the case may be, are full-fledged citizens of the country.

That’s a difference, of course, the prime minister and his battery of advisors must keep in mind. But as Mr Modi travels to Tel Aviv, it might be instructive to look at the experiences countries like Israel have in dealing with trouble at home.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies and has recently returned from a visit to Tel Aviv and Ramallah

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  1. Rajendra Asthana
    Jun 1, 2017 at 6:55 pm
    Moral, settle Kashmiri Pandits in Mattan,South Kashmir area, build a wall like Israel to keep out KMs. Concentrate all resources in KP area, KMs to come in on permit basis for jobs. Build settlements in North like Israeli settlements. Settlae ex servicemen in these. Arm them to teeth.Cut all finances to KMs as Israel has done for Palestinians.
    1. H
      Jun 1, 2017 at 10:39 am
      FANTASTIC LESSONS ! I LOVED THIS ONE BEST: "Third, punishment, while still collective, became much more focussed. For example, the house of the family of the person who had committed the attack would be demolished. Due process however was followed. Within hours of an attack, Israeli officers would show up at the house of the attacker and inspect it."
      1. P
        Prof. Ghosh
        Jun 1, 2017 at 6:13 am
        Nothing wrong in improving relations with Israel but a Palestinian state is a must as well considering India's great human outlook. Israel is protected and armed by the USA thus we can not compare this tiny state with the Indian superpower. Israel can do quite a bit as the USA openly protects us. India has 1.3 billion people a huge industry and great army but what she lacks is an intelligent and effective leader like Indiraji. She fragmented stan and made Bangladesh while China the backer of stan ran and USA was in shock. Thus still hated by many as she was a brilliant leader with a great personality. Yes make terms with all but have your own independent approach. India has all much stronger than 1971 she just needs cautious and intelligently aggreessive leaders.
        1. Pork Kabab
          Jun 1, 2017 at 4:45 am
          Difference is Israel occupied that land after vacating during Roman rule and India/Kashmir is occupied by Muslims from outside. So they cannot be compared. Only solution - Kill Kashmiris and replace with Indian Hindus.
          1. Babu Gupta
            Jun 1, 2017 at 5:18 am
            Hindus do not believe in violence and kil s. As such, the Porki mentality muslims should be forced to go to Porkistan and original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley, which were forced to go out of Kashmir Valley should be brought back to their own homes. additionally, Indian government should settle retired military personnel in the valley and allow them to carry their service weapons.
          2. M
            Jun 1, 2017 at 2:11 am
            do you think he can understand, other than twitter
            1. nikhil garud
              Jun 1, 2017 at 6:25 am
              he is smarter than all combined. nobody can match his intellect. its not fo nothing that he alone is leading the revolution in India. He is Master of ALL
              1. H
                Jun 1, 2017 at 10:43 am
                Does pappu understand anything besides Bangkok in THIGHLAND? Do you still not understand you are betraying your country for money? That's like sel your mother to buy a bottle or two!
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