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Attack on Mumbai Jewish Center Raises Questions About Israeli-Indian Military Ties


One of the militants who attacked a Jewish community center in the Indian city of Mumbai last November called local television during the assault to complain about Israel providing military support to India in the disputed region of Kashmir. Analysts say his complaint is one of several possible explanations of why terrorists attacked the center, known as Chabad House, alongside more high-profile targets in India's commercial capital.

The Mumbai Chabad House is unlike the other sites targeted by terrorists who attacked the city in November.

The New York-based religious movement Chabad Lubavitch runs the Jewish community center in a Mumbai residential neighborhood. By contrast, the other targets included two five-star hotels and a major train station.

The attackers who stormed the Chabad House killed six people, four of them Israeli citizens, including the rabbi and his wife who ran the center. The first indication of why it was targeted comes from one of the attackers who seized the facility.

The man who gave his name as Imran Babar called India TV on day two of the assault and listed a series of grievances, including one about Israel's army chief visiting Indian-controlled Kashmir last September.

Israeli army chief Avi Mizrahi went to the disputed region to advise India's military about fighting militants loyal to Pakistan.

Indian officials say Babar and the other Mumbai attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, or L-e-T, a Pakistan-based militant group trying to drive Indian forces out of Indian-controlled Kashmir, a Muslim majority region.

Hagai Segal is a Lecturer in Near and Middle Eastern politics at the New York University in London. He says L-e-T strongly resents Israel's military cooperation with India, which dates back to 1992, when the two countries established diplomatic relations.

"It is a very open and public relationship," he said. "But of course it is obvious how and why that would be a problem from the perspective of groups like L-e-T and for all radical Islamists within India itself but also within Pakistan."

Vijay Prashad, director of international studies at Trinity College in the U.S. city of Hartford, Connecticut says India is the world's largest buyer of weapons from Israel.

But he says information about Israeli weapon sales and other military assistance to India is hard to find because both sides keep it quiet.

"There are arms sales - arms sales can be tracked. You can go to arms shows, you can see what India is buying," said Prashad. "A lot of this stuff is available in government documents. But this counterterrorism relationship is very, very covert. It is a matter of just tracing who is traveling."

Prashad says India's then-Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani visited Israel while in office from 2002 to 2004 and spoke privately about how India could benefit from Israeli military expertise.

"There he laid out some of what he understood to be useful, for instance the building of the fence or wall on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan in Kashmir," added Prashad. "He wanted to use some of Israel's hi-technology devices - night goggles, sensory devices, things like that."

But, Segal says terrorists have been overstating the closeness of the Israeli-Indian military relationship for propaganda purposes.

"The idea that Israel's army is in Kashmir carrying out attacks or directly involved in command and control of the Indians is I think something we need to view with enormous cynicism," he said.

Another possible motive for the attack on the Chabad House mentioned by Imran Babar in his TV interview is anger over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Indian media say the sole Mumbai terrorist captured alive, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, also told police that his group wanted revenge for what he called Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel.

Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute in Washington says L-e-T has adopted the Palestinian cause to show it is part of a broader Islamist holy war against Zionists and their allies.

He also says L-e-T is driven by a hatred of Jews, as demonstrated by the statements of its founder.

"Those remarks that Hafiz Saeed makes in his sermons - you call them anti-Semitic because he speaks about Jews, he does not just speak about Israel... so it is an attack on the Jewish religion," said Weinbaum.

India says a Pakistan-based terrorist commander told one of the Chabad House gunmen in a phone call that killing the hostages would spoil the Israel-India relationship.

Israeli officials insist that will not be the case. They say Israel's close ties with India in tourism, trade and defense will remain strong.

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