On 28 March 2013, VIF welcomed a delegation from the Galilee International Management Institute (GIMI), Israel for a seminar on Response to Terrorism and Situation in West Asia. The seminar began with opening remarks given by Ambassador P. P. Shukla, Joint Director VIF and Maj. Gen (retd) Dr. Baruch Levy, GIMI. The Seminar was divided into four sessions with specific focus on “Global Terrorism: Response”, “Arab Spring: Implications and Ramifications”, “Af-Pak Post-2014 Scenario: Global and Regional Implications”, and “Geopolitics and Iran”.
Session I- Global Terrorism: Response
The Session was chaired by Ambassador Shukla and had Dr. Levy and Dr. Ajay Sahni as the key speakers. Dr. Levy spoke on the Israeli experience and concepts of global terrorism. Dr. Levy described Israel as an Island in the Middle East with inimical countries surrounding it and asserted that it, therefore, has a pro-active concept of national security where deterrence is achieved by early warning and military performance. Assessing the present situation in Israel and the entire region, Dr. Levy underlined the fact that the threat posed by religious extremism and the weakness of democracies in coping with terror are critical challenges. He asserted that intelligence and security agencies have to conduct both offensive and defensive operations to degrade terrorist organisations. Meanwhile, he also highlighted the need to prepare for handling energy, space and cyber terrorism, which will present new security challenges in the coming years.
Dr. Ajai Sahni focused on state-sponsored terrorism. He argued that all enduring terrorist movements in the world are state-sponsored or state-supported; everything else is tactical. The spectrum of state sponsorship of terror is wider and includes the provision of weapons, training, safe havens, ideological mobilisation, etc. Assessing the situation in India, Dr. Sahni mentioned that more than 62,000 people have lost their lives due to acts of terrorism sponsored by external support. He stressed on the need of open acknowledgement of state sponsorship of terrorism, while, at the same time, continuing to persist in other patterns of engagement with them. Dr. Sahni also stressed on the need to de-legitimise any cause behind an act of terrorism. This inflexible approach would force states away from tactical advantages that terrorism offers.
Session II – Arab Spring: Implications and Ramifications
The second session was chaired by Dr. Joseph Shevel, GIMI, and included Ambassador Kanwal Sibal and Admiral Shabtai Levy as the two key speakers. Amb Sibal spoke on India’s perspective on Arab Spring. He said that the term Arab Spring is a misnomer. It was basically the overthrowing of a regime whose sell-by date had expired. However, Amb Sibal argued that there can be no democracy unless there is a genuine break between religion and politics. He highlighted that there is an anti-thesis between Islam and secularism; they both are incompatible. Amb Sibal said that India is not comfortable with the overthrow of secular regimes and the coming to power of extremists like the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood. The erstwhile regimes, despite their despotic nature, exercised control over the extremists. He reassured that an Arab style revolution cannot take place in India as the Muslims here are empowered and part of the democratic system.
Adm. Levy began his talk by assessing whether it was an Arab Spring or Winter? The domino effect of the fighting and instability in Syria can reach Israel’s borders. He argued that freedom of navigation is central to Israel’s economic and security interests. Israel has tremendous experience in countering terrorism due to continuous involvement for the past 40 years. Today, Adm. Levy argued, the terrorists are greatly deterred by Israel’s actions and they refrain from touching its aviation systems for hijackings because they know there would be repercussions. He also expressed his hope that the Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan will remain intact. Israel has good relations with India, Turkey and Jordan which needs to be strengthened further. The developments in Iran and Afghanistan and the question whether they go into the Salafist/extremist/Al Qaeda fold needs to be observed closely.
Session III – AF–PAK 2014: Regional and Global Security Concerns
The session was chaired by Ambassador Satish Chandra and included Dr. Joseph Shevel and Lt. Gen. (retd) Ravi Sawhney as key speakers. Dr. Shevel began his talk by introducing the work which GIMI has been doing across the globe. Bridging gaps through education and capacity building programs has been the mission of GIMI. Dr. Shevel insisted that through cooperation in higher education and capacity building programs, Afghanistan’s growing instability can be cured. Also, on the Afghanistan’s security aspect, Dr. Shevel argued that a well educated and technically trained Afghan National Army (ANA) would be much more capable of ensuring Afghanistan’s safety post-2014.
Lt. Gen. Sawhney began his talk by describing a well captured image, depicting the ground realities as they were before 2001 and at present. The Afghanistan before 2001 was in rumbles, with no infrastructures like schools, hospitals, etc and no doctors and teachers. However, Lt. Gen Sawhney highlighted that Afghanistan has seen remarkable progress in many aspects of life. Assessing the sense of nationalism in Afghanistan, while Lt. Gen. Sawhney recognized the vast number of tribes and ethnic groups which constitute the nation, he, however, stressed that there is a sense of strong nationalism which holds them together.
On the prospects of Afghanistan post-2014, Lt. Gen. Sawhney addressed certain questions which would be central to the security of Afghanistan and the entire region. First was the question of the extent of forces of the US and NATO which would be left behind post 2014. The second question was on the process of reconciliation between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. Lt. Gen. Sawhney assessed the possibility of any successful reconciliation to be remote as Taliban insurgents do not seem to be willing for any reconciliation at all. The third question was of the Presidential elections which are to be held in April 2014. Lt. Gen. Sawhney argued that it would be absolutely necessary to see that the elections are held before the withdrawal and that the newly elected government gets sufficient time to establish firm control over the country.
SESSION IV – Geopolitics and Iran
The fourth session was chaired by Ambassador R. Rajagopalan and included Maj. Gen. (retd) Dr. Baruch Levy and Dr. Arvind Gupta as the key speakers. Dr. Levy, firstly, mentioned the long civilization history of Israel and Iran, describing how the two civilizations have, in fact, had periods of friendly relations. However, Iran, since 1979, has gone deep into fundamentalism and instead of becoming a liberated society, Iran has become an oppressed one. Iran has also taken up terrorism and has lead in sheltering, training and investing in terrorism and terrorist activities. Dr. Levy also expressed his concerns on Iranian nuclear program. Discussing the upcoming elections in Iran, Dr. Levy argued that a new President could bring about a policy change in Iran.
Dr. Arvind Gupta analyzed the much broader concept of geopolitics in context of Iran. It is an ancient civilization which gives its people tremendous depth and insight; it has an exceptional geographic location, dominating the Persian Gulf; it connects with Eurasia, South Asia, and controls an important Strait of Hormuz; it is the largest Shia country; and its ongoing nuclear program affects the security concerns of the West, GCC, etc. As far as the nuclear program is concerned, Dr. Gupta argued that Iran may survive the economic sanctions which have been put to stop Iran from pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. While affirming that the sanctions have hit the economy badly, there are doubts whether the sanctions will bring down the current regime. As Dr. Gupta rightly pointed out, Iran and its people have faced tough conditions in the past and they will readily cooperate with the regime, considering the fact that the nuclear project is a matter of national pride.
On the speculation of an attack on Iran, Dr. Gupta underlined the fact that Iran has a strong air defence system. He also highlighted that their nuclear projects and military establishments are underground and spread across vast lands, thus any ground military action will be too expensive. On Indian relations with Iran, Dr. Gupta asserted that it is highly speculative. Iran has not forgotten India’s vote against it in a resolution passed by the IAEA. Yet, considering the issues of energy security, India would need oil supplies from Iran, despite the tremendous amount of cut down which India has already introduced on Iranian-oil imports.
Ambassador Shukla concluded the seminar, thanking all the chairs and speakers. He thanked the delegation from GIMI and expressed his hope for more exchanges with specific focus on the agenda of Afghanistan post-2014 and Israel’s role in it.