Watching news footage of the latest Israel-Hamas conflagration, I can’t help but think back upon my visit to the Gaza frontier last year, as part of a trip to Israel sponsored by an American Jewish organization. Our group stopped by the Israeli village of Sderot, known throughout the country for being the settlement closest to the Gaza Strip and quite easily the nearest target of Hamas rocket attacks. We were shown around by the village’s head of security, a large man with the physique of an ex-soldier whose aviator sunglasses obscured dolorous eyes and an extraordinarily creased face. He had been a longtime bodyguard of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
At the northwestern edge of Sderot is a small hillock from which one can peer out into Gaza. Looking out from this perch at the Palestinian settlements of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia, just north of Gaza City, a battery that was part of Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system was visible to the right. High and to the left, a faint white glint in the sunny blue sky provided the only hint of Israel’s communications intercept capabilities. I asked our host, through a translator, how much chatter they could pick up from members of Hamas, whose buildings were within sight, barely two or three kilometers away. “We know what kind of olive oil they’re putting on their hummus,” he replied.
Israel’s handling of the Palestinian issue, particularly with respect to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, offers some cautionary lessons for India. On the one hand, tactically speaking, there’s no question that India can emulate some of Israel’s best practices. Intelligence collection and missile defense are already realms in which India is importing both hardware and know-how from Israel.
On the other hand, Israel’s inability to force Hamas into concessions despite its overwhelming military superiority and willingness to blockade the Gaza Strip indicate the limitations of its approach. Sderot may have bunkers and first-rate warning systems, but its residents are still insecure. The death of three Israelis – including the pregnant wife of a Delhi-based rabbi – and Hamas’s newfound ability to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with its missiles, brought this tragically home.