While Americans last week continued to debate how to treat captured terrorists, Indians and Israelis reacted to new attacks by those on the loose and capable of killing all in their paths.
At least 200 people died in Mumbai, India, after seven explosions destroyed parts of commuter trains on July 11. Police suspected groups such as the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India, but government leaders were reluctant to acknowledge that Islamic terrorism now has strong roots within India. As Delhi journalist Swapan Dasgupta noted, "The Congress Party, the regional parties, and the Communists who are the constituents of the ruling coalition, depend substantially on Muslims-13 percent of the population-for political sustenance."
In Israel as of July 13, Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah had wounded 90 and prompted Israeli retaliation against terrorist bases in Lebanon and the bridges that linked them with Beirut. Israeli planes bombed the Beirut airport and Israeli ships blockaded the Lebanese coast; their goal is to stop terrorists from restocking their missile caches and other armaments. Journalists reported at least 40 Lebanese civilians killed. Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters killed each other in border-area battles, and two more Israeli soldiers were kidnapped.
The conflict placed difficult political pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, elected in March on a platform of unilaterally bringing peace by having Israel withdraw from most of its West Bank settlements and complete the security fence/wall that would separate Israelis and Palestinians. His hope was to have the two peoples agree that they could not get along and should go their separate ways, but Hezbollah and Hamas do not want to practice malign neglect.
Next to a photo of a smiling couple in an ad for JDate, "the leading online community for Jewish singles," the Jerusalem Post quoted an Israeli woman, Shula, who lives near the Lebanese border and was spending night and day with her children inside a bomb shelter: "We've gone backwards to the days when we raised our children under bombardments. All of the bad memories are returning. . . . There is nothing to do. You can't leave. You're helpless, waiting to see what will be. You jump back home to bring food and drink for the children, and then hurry back."
The key debate in Israel was whether its air force should attack Damascus, which still hosts the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and funnels supplies to Hezbollah. While President Bush was unlikely to endorse such an effort, some Israelis believed that the Bush administration would enjoy putting military pressure on a Syrian regime that allows and probably encourages infiltration from its territory of those hoping to destroy democracy in Iraq.
Hezbollah and Hamas, meanwhile, hoped to pressure Israel by parading their kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers. Israel's standard procedure for dealing with such hostages is said to be the "Hannibal Directive"-shoot their jailers even if that increases the likelihood that those kidnapped will be killed. As Israeli analyst Anshal Pfeffer explained, "The underlying rationale is that the nation can bear the deaths of soldiers, but not the uncertain fate of a captured serviceman."
Will this conflict escalate? If Israel, as part of what it deems "Operation Just Reward," bombs residential areas of Beirut that are terrorist strongholds, Hezbollah says it will target Haifa with its missiles. On July 13 one or two missiles did strike Haifa, a city 30 miles south of the Israel-Lebanon border with a population of 270,000 and a major oil refinery.
Lebanese Minister for Social Affairs Mila Mawad said his government had developed a cease-fire proposal under which Hezbollah would be required to free the Israeli soldiers it had captured, without requiring Israel to free terrorist Samir Kuntar, jailed for the killing of an Israeli family. The United States will be watching closely those political efforts. The Bush Doctrine-democracy is our most important product-will benefit if the new, democratically-elected Lebanese government can help prevent a full-scale war.
As the Indian government's internal dynamic makes a hard line against Muslim terrorists difficult to maintain, so the Israeli government's composition may also suppress military responses. Amir Peretz, head of the dovish Labor Party, is the defense minister-that was his price for entering the ruling coalition 2-1/2 months ago-and if he brandishes a big stick he may lose support in his own party.
On the other hand, if Peretz speaks overly softly he may forfeit his mainstream political future, so much remains uncertain about his reaction and that of Prime Minister Olmert. Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumo told Olmert on July 12, "I understand the eye-for-an-eye feeling, but it is important to maintain restraint and hope." Israel's head replied, "Our response will be very restrained. But very, very, very painful."