December 4, 2008
Analysis: Mumbai attacks mean new challenges for Israel
Chabad men mourn near the bodies of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivkah, 28. Photo by Brian Hendler/JTA
The attacks on 10 sites in the Indian city, which killed nearly 200 people, could lead to a shift in the way Israel views global terrorism and the way to combat it.
Besides tightening security around the institutions -- Israeli representatives and businesspeople abroad may be advised to concentrate their offices in a single, well-protected compound -- experts say there will have to be more training of counterterrorism forces, restructuring of intelligence gathering and enhanced global cooperation in training special forces and sharing intelligence.
The Indian special forces who responded to the Mumbai attacks were criticized as being slow to respond, inadequately prepared for such an attack and lacking key equipment.
Israeli experts long have predicted a mega-terror attack involving local, Western and Israeli targets, including symbols of government and economic power. Experts believe Mumbai will become the new model for international terrorist networks, such as Global Jihad or al-Qaeda.
As the Mumbai case showed, even in cases in which Israel ostensibly is not the focus of the conflict or attack, Israeli and Jewish institutions are likely to be targeted.
The lone surviving Mumbai terrorist, 21-year-old Azam Amir Kasab, reportedly told investigators that he and his comrades were given specific instructions to kill Israelis.
Weeks before the attack, reports said, members of the terrorist squad spent time at the Chabad center to gather intelligence. If true, this shows that the attack on Israelis and Jews was part of the overall planning of a highly sophisticated, multitarget operation.
It has enormous implications for security at Israeli and Jewish institutions worldwide, but equally so for intelligence gathering.
At the behest of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Dan Meridor, produced a classified report in 2006 on Israel's defense and intelligence needs in an age of potential high-tech megaterror. His recommendations, which remain secret, apparently were largely ignored; Mossad chief Meir Dagan preferred to focus the agency's intelligence-gathering effort almost exclusively on Iran's nuclear program.
Counterterrorism experts now are calling for revising this approach.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the bombings in subsequent years in Bali, London and Madrid all involved the Global Jihad's modus operandi of hitting several targets simultaneously.
Israeli experts see even greater sophistication in the Mumbai attacks. More targets were involved, the targets were selected carefully to shut down a big city and the nature of the attack required a huge military effort to bring it to an end. The possibility of Hezbollah, Hamas or Global Jihad attempting something similar in Israel is a worst-case scenario that Israeli security specialists must consider.
What was new about Mumbai was the sheer size of the targets taken over by the terrorists. Indeed, the Mumbai attacks may serve as a game-changer in the way counterterrorist forces prepare for attacks.
Going room to room and floor to floor in a multistory, modern building to flush out terrorists who could be anywhere and to save hostages requires highly coordinated action by much larger special forces than currently exist in Israel -- or for that matter, anywhere else. For Israel, it means training more special forces at home and possibly helping train others abroad. It also means heightened surveillance at potential target sites to spot suspicious people, guests or customers trying to gather intelligence and prepare for an attack.
Israeli experts note that the attackers in Mumbai were highly skilled in the use of weapons and explosives, had detailed intelligence on their targets and used sophisticated navigation devices. In other words, they performed like soldiers in a regular army.
Like soldiers, they likely spent time at terrorist camps undergoing training. An effective preemptive counterterrorist measure could be to hit terrorist training camps in places such as Lebanon or Pakistan, Israeli experts say.
While acknowledging the difficulty of fighting terrorists at as many as 10 sites, Israeli experts have been very critical of the way Indian security and special forces operated.
They point to three stages of failure: the lack of any prior intelligence on the planned terrorist operation, the failure to intercept the terrorists as they infiltrated the Indian coast and the slowness of the counterterrorism operation on the ground.
The experts were particularly critical of the drawn-out operation at Nariman House, the building that houses the Chabad center. Unlike the large hotels, the experts say, there was no reason to take 12 hours to liberate the much smaller Chabad house. For the hostages to have had any chance of survival, the counterterrorist operation needed to take place in minutes, not hours.
Others in Israel slammed the critics, noting that Israel, with its long history of fighting terrorism, has had its fair share of failures, too.
For its part, the Israeli government has studiously avoided any official criticism of the Indian effort. Diplomats, fearing possible strains on the close ties between Israel and India, urged Israeli critics to tread more carefully.
Israeli-Indian military, intelligence and counterterrorism cooperation is extremely close. Over the past several years, India has purchased an estimated $8 billion worth of military equipment from Israel, including the Green Pines radar system employed by Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile batteries. India's defense-related purchases from Israel amount to some $1.5 billion annually.
Just three weeks ago, Indian Defense Secretary Vijay Singh visited Israel to discuss the purchase of state-of-the-art Phalcon early-warning planes, missiles, helicopters and maintenance equipment for unmanned aircraft. The visit also focused on counterterrorism, with high-level intelligence exchanges on the war against global terrorism.
After Mumbai, the already deep cooperation between the two countries on counterterrorism almost certainly will be enhanced. India will want to share Israeli expertise, and Israel will be desperately keen to provide it. Both sides recognize that fighting global terrorism will take a huge international collaborative effort.
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