Interview with Indian General(ret.) Asthana about the Gaza war: „Until a two states solution that is acceptable to both parties is reached, the Israel-Palestine conflict will persist“

Interview with Indian General(ret.) Asthana about the Gaza war: „Until a two states solution that is acceptable to both parties is reached, the Israel-Palestine conflict will persist“

Global Review:   Modi led the G 20 summit in India as the host nation, held an interesting speech, and announced the “India- Middle East-Europe Economic corridor” with support by India. The EU and the USA launched B3W, Global Gateway, Global Infrastructure Partnership Initiative. At the date of 10th anniversary for the New Silkroad BRI in China, Modi announced the birth of a sort of “Western” or West Asian Silkroad-the India-Middle East- Europa Economic Corridor. However, Xi did not come. Was it embarrassment of Modi by Xi, or a demonstration that BRICS plus, SCO is the new partner for India and not G-20, or his disgust against the West and its allies or security concerns? Is it possible that the Hamas massacre attack and Gaza war could be some sort of intended sabotage against the new Western/West Asian Silkroad”? Is the Israel -Hamas war the end of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic corridor?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

President Xi Jinping’s absence from the G20 summit hosted in India is more related to internal political developments in China at that point of time, as well as concerns about series of setbacks in Chinese economic and social issues. It is learnt that President Xi Jinping had promised full support to G20 in earlier conversation with Prime Minister Modi and the same was backed up by Chinese representation in G20 and their agreeing to the Joint Statement.

The India-Middle East- Europa Economic Corridor (IMEC) is a strategic and economic initiative to have multimodal corridor between India and Europe and countries enroute, for trade through shortest route, avoiding Pakistan as well as Iran. It has nothing to do with China or BRI. The global initiatives like B3W, Global Gateway, Global Infrastructure Partnership Initiative are aimed at providing efficient, cost effective and non-exploitative connectivity and infrastructure support to needy countries without getting them into debt trap, as has been the case with many countries involved with BRI.

The brutal attack by Hamas on Israel on 07 October 2023, had many reasons and dilution of Palestinian cause and growing nearness of Arab World to Israel was one of the possible reason for that. There is no doubt that Israel Hamas war has delayed the  progress on IMEC, which seems paused for the moment but none of the participants has denounced it. Considering the economic and strategic importance of the project it will resume after some kind of resolution of Israel-Hamas crisis.   

Global Review: Many Middle East experts claim that the Hamas war was an “intelligence failure” by the Mossad, IDF and Shin Beth, while others claim that the Israelis intelligence warned the Netanyahu government, but that the right-winged coalition was to obsessed with the judicial “reform” and a Saudi-Israel deal that it didn´t care about the warnings. What is your opinion?

 Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

In my opinion it was a combination of all the factors you mentioned in the question, to a varying degree. Mossad, IDF and Shin Beth not being able to pick up the intention and magnitude of preparation by Hamas was an intelligence failure. The indicators picked up about hostile actions were allegedly ignored by Netanyahu is well reported by various media outlets. It stands vindicated by the fact that he ordered the redeployment of Israeli forces to control internal dissent arising out of resentment to judicial reforms, with additional focus on West Bank in last two years, which was seen as an opportunity by Hamas, coupled with sense of complacency in Southern Israel opposing Gaza Strip.  The formidable, technologically enabled fencing was assumed to be impregnable; hence found to be inadequately manned, violating important military principle that any obstacle, if not covered by troops and fire can be breached. There are enough reasons to believe that Netanyahu ignored the indicators of potential Hamas actions not only by his agencies but from neighbouring Egypt too, as US congressional panel chairman has said that ‘Israel was warned by Egypt of potential violence three days before Hamas‘ deadly cross-border raid’

Global Review: Tal Schneider claims in the Times of Israel that the Hamas attack is the result of Netanyahu’s policy to tolerate and prop up Hamas against the PA in the Westbank, so that a two state solution and independent Palestinian state becomes impossible because of this division. Netanyahu’s policy has now blown up in our face”: Do you agree?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

I agree that Netanyahu belongs to the school of thought that eroding PLO (now Palestinian Authority or PA) would divide the unified call for independent state of Palestine. Propping Hamas against PA was part of the plan and it did give some results as the struggle for independent state of Palestine remained well under control of Israelis for few decades and their encroachment efforts into West Bank also succeeded. The Palestinian leadership remained divided between Gaza and West Bank with different elected leaders, who were more interested in consolidating and retaining their power than Palestinian cause, marred with corruption tags and did not let elections to be conducted in last 18-19 years. Hamas grew unchecked sometimes with alleged Israeli’s help, with its military wing gaining strength to be able to strike Israel.  Hamas also encashed on the fear and disgruntlement of further encroachment into Palestinian settlements and tighter control under Netanyahu, more so in the aftermath of fierce confrontations in the area of al-Aqsa Mosque in 2021, wherein Israeli muscle power demonstrated its might and irked all Palestinians. That is why Hamas named October 7 attack as ‘Al Aqsa Flood’. All these incidents gave more confidence to Hamas that a brutal reply may turn the tides in their favour and blew up the conflict to the level we see today.

Global Review: It is astonishing that the Israeli media in the weeks before the Hamas war intensively discussed the lesson of the Yom Kippur war, but was similarly caught by a surprise attack. How could this happen? Was it an intelligence failure, a political decision, a mixture of both or Let it Happen on purpose (LIHOP).

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

I have already answered about the intelligence failure of Israel as one of the reason in last few answers. The Yom Kippur War, fourth of the Arab-Israeli wars, was initiated by Egypt and Syria on October 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Logically Israelis are expected to be cautious on 6/7 October, but Hamas could spring a surprise by its deliberate planning of Al Aqsa Flood operation over two years. A prognosis of Israeli’s intentions (specially of hardliners) in last five months of war indicates that it could have been looking for a ground strike from Hamas as an excuse to obliterate it and enforce a one state solution by re-occupying Gaza to undertake full security of the Gaza strip, but the brutality and magnitude of October 7 attack indicates that it is unlikely to be a LIHOP type of event because the political cost of such an attack was too heavy to invite such a happening for any politician, not even a hardliner like Netanyahu. In case they harboured such ideas or plans, it was a gross miscalculation.

Global Review: Some expert claim that the Hamas war was no surprise, as it was foreseeable. Hamas wanted to prevent a normalization, counter the efforts to make a bilateral Saudi- Israel deal without the Palestinian question and had to react to the provocations of Ben Gvir and Smotrich or Netanyahu’s UN speech where he showed a map with an annexed Westbank as part of Greater Israel. What do you think about this? In this context are now US reports that the IDF, Mossad and Intelligence community knew the detailed Hamas attack plans one month ago, but allegedly claimed that nothing could happen. Some expert claim that the Israeli intelligence and IDF focused too much on Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon  which were speaking of “a final battle” and a “final Intifada” in the Westbank and forgot about und underestimated Hamas in Gaza? Do you agree?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

A strong response from Palestinians/Hamas was foreseeable as Palestinians call 07 October attack as an ongoing step in spiral of revenge actions against their decades long forced subjugation by Israeli Security Forces, which they term as ‘Occupation Force’, more so after Israelis actions during and after Al Aqsa Mosque incident in 2021. Hamas was also concerned about improving relations of Israel with Arab world like Abraham Accord, I2U2, Saudi Arabia’s potential deals with Israel and initiatives like IMEC and feared loss of Palestinian cause in such reproachment. 

The strategy of Hamas on 07 October was to pick up maximum hostages to be used as bargaining chip later, embarrass Israel and provoke it beyond limits (by crude display of brutality), force it to respond disproportionately causing heavy casualties to innocent Palestinians in Gaza, so as to put the Palestinian issue from back burner to forefront, besides invoking global criticism of Israel for human right violations, which seems to have been achieved.

Hamas also expected favourable reaction in their support from Arab countries, radical Islamic countries and organisations, and drive a wedge in relationship of some Arab countries and others getting closer to Israel. This has not been fully achieved as Arab countries have voiced in favour of Palestinians (not Hamas, in context of its brutal assault on civilians) and have not intervened beyond diplomatic and moral support. Only Houthi’s have responded by blocking Red Sea traffic in exchange of ceasefire and resumption of aid for Palestinians, to some extent Hezbollah has launched few standoff attacks, and Islamic Resistance in Iraq has also launched some attacks on American bases, which is grossly below Hamas expectations.

There is a fair possibility of the IDF, Mossad and Intelligence community knowing about Hamas attack plans one month ago and dismissed as fake news by Netanyahu as reported, but they certainly did not expect the magnitude and brutality of that attack and were taken by surprise. In case it was deliberately ignored, it was too big a risk, which Israel is yet to probe and it is being suspected that one of the reasons of Netanyahu’s insistence to continue war is to avoid such probe and risk his appointment, till he replaces his lapses with a clear victory as per his perception.  

Its learnt that Netanyahu did concentrate more troops in West Bank and northern borders due to expected internal disturbances and possibility of Intifada and the troop density against Gaza was low due to over reliance on high tech fencing and defensive wall. They certainly under estimated Hamas, which seems to have achieved much of its aim of getting the Palestinian cause in the forefront, albeit at the cost of unprecedented human sufferings. Surprisingly Hamas is still quite popular in Gaza and amongst Palestinians despite whole world condemning their brutal terror attack of October 07, as they see it as only potent response to their ill treatment by Israeli occupation force in few decades.   

Global Review: Is this Hamas war a new quality and the first time since 1973 that foreign fighters entered and attacked Israeli territory on such scale? Was there not a wrong feeling of security that after Israel became a nuclear power, was equipped with and relied on hi tech weapons that it was not prepared for an asymmetric war?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

I don’t think that Israel had any wrong notion that Hamas will not attack it  because of it being a nuclear state. Palestinians and Hezbollah have been launching rockets from 1973 consistently after Israel became nuclear. The space for asymmetric war existed and continues. Even nuclear countries like India are suffering asymmetric proxy war by Pakistan sponsored terrorists. Israel was not prepared for an asymmetric war triggered through Hamas attack of such a magnitude, scale and sophistication. Surely it underestimated the growth of the combat capabilities and technological innovations of Hamas.

Global Review: Netanyahu said that he wants to turn Gaza in a “deserted island” and that the Gazans should leave and flee Gaza. But where should they go, and won´t Hamas use the Gazans as human shields for their propaganda? Is a big bloodbath inevitable?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

Netanyahu has tried everything to turn Gaza in a “deserted island” and force Gazans to flee Gaza, but no neighbouring country including Egypt is ready to accept them for two reasons. Firstly vacating Gaza will throw the Palestinian cause out of the window and they might not be able to come back again. It will allow Israel to enforce one state solution by force. Secondly allowing Palestinian refugees will give a chance to Hamas cadres too to get in the garb of refugees. Once they are inside Egyptian territory they will recommence striking Israel with rockets and countries like Egypt sheltering them will get dragged in conflict with Israel, which they wants to avoid.

Hamas has used Gazans and hostages as human shield and will continue to do so as long as they can. There is enough bloodbath already with over 30,000 Palestinians killed, over 70,000 injured, with large numbers of children and ladies and counting.  However, given the asymmetry of combat power between Israel and Hamas, ultimately Israel will be able to degrade Hamas capability convincingly, but with the kind of hatred it has invited from Palestinians on account of heavy casualties of civilians and children, the next generation of Hamas/terrorists to avenge such killings will be ready to contest Israelis for a long time. Israel will not be able to destroy Hamas completely and the idea of resistance will continue to disturb the peace & security of Israel for very long time.  

Global Review: How great is the possibility that Hezbollah and Iran will join the Hamas war, how would the other Muslim states and the international community react and what would this mean?          

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

Hezbollah has launched few standoff attacks, which is grossly below Hamas expectations. It has not openly declared war against Israel and has not put entire weight of combat power in attacking Israel, so far. The support from Arab countries, radical Islamic countries and organisations, has not been that strong as Arab countries have voiced in favour of Palestinians but not intervened beyond diplomatic and moral support. Houthi’s continue to block Red Sea traffic in exchange of ceasefire and resumption of aid for Palestinians. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq (a coalition of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias) which were targeting US bases, has started launching drone attacks targeting Israeli military and civilian infrastructure in Haifa and in the Golan Heights in recent past.

Iran has not openly joined the war, but seems to be helping its proxies to continue targeting Israel and US. It is unlikely to openly join war as it may involve direct American attacks on Iran, which Iran would like to avoid, till it itself becomes nuclear power. It is however trying to posture in Red Sea and also getting closer to Russia and China to strategically balance the threat arising out of this conflict.  

United States has been supporting Israel with aid, arsenal and ammunition along with criticising it for excessive collateral damages. Its optics of sending bombs to Israel and aid to Gaza does not convince rest of the world, and is being seen as an effort by Biden Administration to keep both Jewish lobby and Islamic voters happy in forthcoming elections. The strategic compulsion for US support is that Israel is the most trusted ally & stronghold of US in Middle east amidst its shrinking footprints and influence there, with its competitors like China and Russia gaining space in the region.  For Israel nothing else matters if it continues to get US support. Rest of the world by and large wants ceasefire and workable two state solution.

Global Review: Isn´t that a strange war while many states try to intervene, demand hostage and ceasefire deals, complain about a “Gaza Holocaust”, a genocide” while only 30000 Gazans were killed, mostly Hamas fighters and terrorists- Can you call not even 30000 dead a “genocide and not  speak about the “genocide” in Sudan Darfur, Congo, Yemen, Syria, Chechenia, Ukraine (from both sides) or about the “genocide” at the Uighurs, the Rohingyas, the Balochi people in Pakistan (slogans “genocide” on posters on their Long March) , “cultural genocide” at the Tibetans, etc. Do you think that the Israelis are committing “genocide” in Gaza or as the Tehran Times claims “Gaza Holocaust” or others say “Dominicide”? What in your assessment of the UN court´s response to the South Africa charge?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

The ratio of number of children killed in five months of war in Gaza is more than two years of Russia Ukraine War and in most of the conflicts you mentioned in your question, many of them can rightly be categorised as genocide. The UN court ICJ stopped short of calling Israeli action as genocide, or ‘domicide’ making Gaza unhabitable by destruction. In my opinion Western pressure has forced ICJ to be softer on Israel. If killing more than 13000 children in five months is not genocide, what else will it be? If it was any non-western country doing the same thing, the ICJ as well as security council would have termed it as Genocide and taken much harsher measures. 

Netanyahu’s handling of war, use of disproportionately excessive force level and the scale of destruction caused in Gaza indicates that his undeclared strategy is to make Gaza unhabitable, force Palestinians out of Gaza, and enforce one state solution without declaring it as such. To minimise its own casualties, IDF has opted for mass destruction and pulverising targets/buildings alleged as hideouts by standoff attacks, reducing hand to hand fighting in built up area.

The strategic error is that people are centre of gravity in such operations is a basic principle forgotten by IDF. In case Israel wants to govern these areas in any form it can’t do it without people cooperating with it. It is heading for a situation where its people will always be insecure because of threat and anger of oppressed community.

Global  Review: Is it possible to fight a “clean war” without atrocities, collateral damage when Hamas uses kindergartens and hospitals as military bases and human shields for their propaganda. When Biden says the Israeli government, IDF would not precisely hit their targets, used “stupid bombs”, has no plan for the post-war era, should have some more  ceasefire and should not make “inappropriate bombing”. How would you lead a clean Gaza war if you had the international community and Biden as your military adviser? And would you win? Or what means “win” and “victory”` The destruction of Hamas, a PLO- Gaza, an Arab solution or a Israeli solution or new refugees camps in Sinai, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria? A two state solution, a one state solution, a federation,, a Jordan solution?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

While fighting a war with group like Hamas using civilians as human shields, and kindergartens and hospitals as military bases, some collateral damages are inevitable, but the proportion of civilian casualties in the war in Gaza is exceptionally high, which was avoidable. Punishing Hamas for its brutality and barbaric attack was fully justified but Israeli methodology of doing so was driven by rhetoric and revenge mixed with political survival needs of Netanyahu and not by professional military strategy.

In my opinion, IDF’s use of airpower, 2,000-pound bombs, (capable of killing/wounding people more than 1,000 feet away and resultant collateral damages) are unnecessary, doesn’t justify use of area weapons designed for mass casualties and killing of over 13,000 children. Blaming Artificial Intelligence tools for civilian casualties is as absurd as blaming high tech fencing for conceding Hamas attack. Israeli strategy of weaponizing survival needs of Palestinians might add to new definition of state terrorism, if world community ever manages to define it. 

If I was to advice prosecution of this war, I would have set realistic aim. Instead of aiming to obliterate Hamas, I would have aimed at first getting the hostages released through negotiations for which a reasonable process had started after a week of war, which could have continued to get most of the hostages. After that I would have launched pin point precision operations based on hard intelligence to degrade the capability of Hamas by dividing entire Gaza into 400-500 segments dealing with 5-6 at a time by cordon and search operations to destroying all Hamas infrastructure in smaller segments and carried out combing operations without using airpower, artillery and heavy bombs which killed more civilians than Hamas fighters. The focus would have been destruction of infrastructure and killing those who are opposing it. The destruction of infrastructure and combing operations would have kept Hamas cadres on the run and forcing them to come out of human shield and confront IDF, giving a chance to kill the terrorists and not innocent persons. It would have been time consuming, little risky but more professional with lesser collateral damage, global resentment and local opposition.  The end state would have been a degraded Hamas, hope of two state solution in line with ultimate resolution of problem. If US could not obliterate Taliban in 20 years and pulled back after handing over power to them, it’s not practical  for Israel to achieve it too.   

Possible Solutions.  In asymmetric war against terror organisations there can’t be complete victory/win as Netanyahu is claiming to achieve. It can at best end into relative peaceful solutions, better than pre-war scenario. Hamas is an ideology which can’t be destroyed completely but its military capabilities can be degraded, which has been done to a great extent. PLO/PA has no credibility to govern Gaza and will not be accepted by people of Gaza unless there is a major shake up to include people of Gaza in governance with fresh elections.  

While Israel and Palestinians both have legitimate right to live, have a homeland, govern and defend themselves, but lack of accommodation of these rights within the boundaries of Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip remains problematic leading to bloodshed for over decades. While every peace propagator including US is talking of two state solution, but no such solution succeeded due to the competing claims to Jerusalem, which is crucial to Christians, Jews and Palestinians. Both sides have to realise that none is being accepted out of this landmass and both have to stay together irrespective of the cost.

The problem, therefore, remains how to divide that landmass into two states, as both sides want East Jerusalem, because Palestinians can’t compromise on al-Aqsa Mosque (Third holiest shrine for Islam) and Jews can’t compromise on Temple Mount or Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism). The complexities of Palestinian enclaves embedded by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their continued encroachment, makes it impractical for anyone of them to vacate their enclaves, complicating the situation further.

Israeli solution of One state of Greater Israel West of Jordon river will be unacceptable to Palestinians and Arab world and if implemented by force will leave Israel in a state never ending civil war with entire public remaining insecure. Shifting Palestinians out into refugee camps into any other country will be grave injustice to Palestinians and will have strong reaction from Arab world which so far hasn’t intervened into this war. A two state solution is the only answer with little accommodation on Jerusalem, which has best chances of better relative peace.

Global Review: How dangerous is the situation and to which degree could the Gaza war escalate and probably not? And why is nobody talking about the Iran nuclear weapon program anymore and about a nuclear Iran? Some Use experts and Israeli security advisers even think that not Hamas or Hezbollah is the problem, but Iran, therefore you had to attack and contain Iran sustainably and for the long term. What is the Indian and your position on the Gaza war?

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

The war is already escalated with Houthis blocking commercial shipping in Red Sea and American bases being targeted in Middle-East. It is also clear that Palestinian problem is not Iranian problem but a problem between Israel and Palestine. I don’t visualise Iran getting directly involved by choice. From Israel’s point of view, Israel is certainly a bigger long time threat, but it will not be easy for Israel or US to go in for all out war with Iran. US in its election year will neither like to get in to a major war with Iran nor will encourage Israel to do so alone.

The Indian position on Gaza War has been quite just and balanced. All statements from Indian MEA suggest that India condemned the Hamas attack on 07 October 23, unequivocally and called it a terror attack in absolutely clear terms. India was concerned about the excessive civilian casualties and hostages and called for ceasefire and negotiations to get hostages released. India also believes that two state solution is the only way forward for lasting peace in this region. My position is similar to that, however as a military professional I feel that Israel has not selected practical aim and strategy professionally, got carried away by revenge, rhetoric, and political ambitions, tried to seek one sided solution to this complex problem by brute force, ignoring human rights and world opinion and did not think through the end state and terms for conflict termination. Ultimately Israel will also pay the cost of mis-managing this war besides unprecedented sufferings of people of Gaza and face new set of terror groups emerging out of disgruntled Palestinians in the long run.  

The war may end with Israel’s combing operations over destroyed Gaza, claimed as victory by Israel. It may work as face saver for Israeli Government, but Israel can neither hope to be safe nor peaceful in the long term. In counter terror operations, people are centre of gravity. The next generation of Hamas will arise, with a frustrated populace demanding revenge. Until a two states solution that is acceptable to both parties is reached, the Israel-Palestine conflict will persist, albeit in an active insurgent form, for an extended period of time.

Major General (Dr) S B Asthana

Maj Gen (Dr) S B Asthana,SM,VSM,PhD (Veteran)

International strategic and security analystDirector,

United Service Institution of India
Rao Tularam Marg, New Delhi-110057TEL : 91-11-2086 2316,FAX : 91-11-20862324 Mob +919810885519

Governing Council, Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE)

IOED Representative at UN Headquarters, Vienna, Austria 

Advisor Global Advisors Consultants Corporation

Security Council, International Organization for Educational Development (IOED)

International Police Commission, (IPC, India)

United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA) 

Internet TV Media News Network (ITVMNN) 

Advisor, Foreign Policy Research Institute, India

Advisor, Amity University

(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who retains the copy right). The author can be reached at Facebook and LinkedIn as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site email LinkedIn Profile

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