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Attacks in Mumbai: APN sends condolences; Alpher provides commentary on lessons to be learned

APN sends condolences to the people of India and to the families of Israeli, American and other nationals who were murdered by terrorists in Mumbai.

Americans for Peace Now sends its condolences to the people of India and to the families of Israeli, American and other nationals who were murdered by terrorists in Mumbai.

Former senior Mossad analyst Yossi Alpher offers a commentary on the lessons that Israel can learn from the Mumbai attacks:

What can Israel learn from the terrorist attack on Mumbai last week? Where can it help?

Beginning with the second question, we Israelis have a dangerous "know-it-all" tendency in situations like this that we have to be careful to suppress. This is not India's first experience with large-scale urban terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists. Moreover, the differences in scale between the Indian and Israeli experiences are so large as to preclude facile comparisons. Mumbai's population alone is two and a half times the size of Israel's. The length of coastline India has to guard makes Israel's look like child's play. Nor has Israel (or for that matter just about anyone else) ever experienced a simultaneous attack on eight urban objectives, including huge multi-story hotels, by well-trained terrorists possessing good intelligence. Besides, Israeli anti-terrorist intelligence and operations have also failed spectacularly at times, and at a heavy cost in civilian and military deaths. Remember Maalot, the coast road bus and the Savoy hotel in Tel Aviv, all in the mid-1970s--not to mention the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

Of course, Israeli experience should and will be made available if Indian security institutions request it. Israel has successfully sealed off its coastline against terrorist attacks for around two decades now, invoking fairly modest means. And it has developed elite units that specialize in the kind of urban anti-terrorist operations that we witnessed in Mumbai. Israel and India have in any case developed an impressive infrastructure of security cooperation. But it is generally downplayed in Delhi in view of regional and domestic Muslim sensitivities.

On the other hand, one impressive aspect of the official Indian response to the Mumbai attacks that Israel can learn from is accountability. The resignation of Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil following Mumbai reminds us of how our prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff refused to step down after the Second Lebanon War debacle. (Indeed, our prime minister still refuses to step down today, after being informed he will be indicted on criminal charges, but that is a different affair and a different national scandal.)

Clearly, the resignation in Delhi points also to an understanding in India that serious intelligence and operational mistakes enabled this attack to take place. And precisely because the Mumbai attackers singled out a Jewish target, Chabad House, a large degree not only of solidarity but of cooperation appears to be mandated.

At the broadest strategic level, Israel and Jews have now been dragged into the militant Muslim offensive against India and, indirectly, the India-Pakistan conflict. By the same token, the terrorists' decision to expand their targets to include westerners, Israelis and Jews places India in the same camp with the latter. This is the "global jihadi" aspect of these attacks and what distinguishes them from many earlier terrorist atrocities in India that focused solely on Indians. Israel must also assume from herein that terrorists closer to home, like Hezbollah and Hamas, will seek to emulate the Mumbai model of multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks aimed at killing large numbers of civilians in an urban center.

Another immediate lesson Israel must draw is the need to upgrade security for Israeli and Jewish institutions and offices in India, on the assumption that they will be targeted again. Israel cannot protect non-Israeli Jewish institutions like Chabad, but it certainly can advise them regarding the minimal security precautions they now must take. Whether additional non-western countries should be included in this effort is another issue; Chabad, for example, has centers like the one in Mumbai all over the third world, wherever Israeli backpackers are found.

In a way, the situation we witnessed in Mumbai last week is reminiscent of Europe in the 1970s, when Black September and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacks on both Israeli and Jewish targets mandated a sweeping Israeli security response. Whether the India attack should also be seen by Israel as requiring direct Israeli retaliation against the perpetrators or preemptive strikes on their training camps in an attempt to deter them from future attacks--as was the case in the 1970s--is a very different question. Certainly the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack must now be included in some way in Israeli anti-terrorism intelligence coverage, thereby at least indirectly linking Israel to the India-Pakistan conflict.

These considerations also once again highlight Pakistan's crucial role in both nurturing and combating global Islamic terror. President-elect Obama was right to prioritize the Afghanistan-Pakistan complex over Iraq in terms of America's global anti-terrorist interests.

Finally, one domestic Israeli response to the Mumbai attacks warrants our attention. It is election time in Israel. Because the Foreign Ministry's situation room takes responsibility for the fate of Israelis abroad in situations like Mumbai, FM Tzipi Livni, whose leadership of the Kadima party is criticized by her political opponents due to her alleged lack of experience, had an unusual opportunity to display her leadership talents at a time when all Israelis were glued to their TV sets and neither PM Ehud Olmert nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak had any call to address the nation.

Accordingly Livni held a press conference late Friday afternoon, apparently with the idea of showing she was "in charge". The results were mixed: she dwelled too much on murky details that could have been left to her subordinates in the Foreign Ministry, and not enough on the strategic dimensions. Particularly missing was a declaration of solidarity with the citizens of Mumbai in their time of trial. On the other hand, she was able to reassure Israelis that their personal security abroad at times of crisis was being looked after fairly effectively.