Attack designed to hurt Israel-India ties

By Anshel Pfeffer and Yaakov Katz, December 4, 2008
Indian commandos storm the Chabad House via the roof

Indian commandos storm the Chabad House via the roof

The targeting of Israelis and Jews in Mumbai was intended to strike a blow against Indian national symbols and its international relations, according to Indian and Israeli intelligence assessments.

Initial reports indicated that the terrorists might have chosen the Chabad House at random. But the interrogation of the sole surviving terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, and other evidence found among the terrorists’ equipment, proved that the target was selected and located well in advance.

The close ties between the defence establishments of India and Israel were well known to the planners. Chabad House, without any security arrangements, was a much easier target than the well-defended Israeli consulate.

“It is clear,” said one Delhi-based defence source, “that the planners were hoping both to harm India’s ties with the West and to ruin the self-confidence of its ruling class. That is why this attack has such significant political and diplomatic repercussions.”

The death-toll in the Mumbai attack was not the highest in terrorist attacks in India over recent years. But the complex operation carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar a-Taibeh organisation was different, not only in its unprecedented sophistication but also in its choice of victims. This was the first time that India’s business and cultural elite found itself in the terrorists’ crosshairs.

The first stage of the attack was the shooting at the CTS-Victoria train station that claimed the lives of some 50 civilians. But Indian intelligence assessments have since suggested that this was merely a diversion from the terrorists’ real objective: the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel, the symbol of India’s heritage and wealth, just next to the Gateway to India, the triumphal arch that symbolised Britain’s Raj and also the end of imperial rule.

The first response to the attack at Victoria Station was similar to that in previous attacks, with local police forces and anti-terror units deployed. Only at a much later stage, when the government realised the complexity and seriousness of the attack, was the use of federal military units approved. In some cases, their arrival on the scene was delayed by as much as 24 hours due to the huge size of the sub-continent and the lack of transportation.

In the case of the Chabad House, with its obscure location in a crowded neighbourhood, these delays were longer. By the time the elite marine commandos landed on the roof of Nariman House, Indian intelligence agencies were already monitoring satellite-phone communications between the terrorists and their operators and had reached the conclusion that they had no real intention of negotiating a hostage release, had already killed most of those captured and were simply trying to draw out the drama for media purposes.

This led to a decision by the Indian government neither to negotiate nor to treat the operation as a hostage situation.

This week, Israel dispatched two top security officials from the Shin Bet to Mumbai to participate in the investigation. The United States and the United Kingdom, Israeli officials said, had also sent similar teams.

The attack came as Israeli security services are on one of the highest levels of alert in the state’s history, out of fear that Hizbollah will strike at a target abroad to avenge the February assassination of its top military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus.

“There are threats coming from many different directions including Hizbollah, al-Qaeda and Global Jihad,” an Israeli Counter-Terror Bureau official said. As a result, since the Mumbai attacks Israel has been beefing up security in Asian countries.

Last updated: 3:46pm, December 4 2008