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That Bomb in Delhi
“Tarry a little, old Jew,” remonstrates Portia with Shylock before having his macabre petition for a pound of human flesh thrown out of the window at the magistrate’s court in Venice.
Portia, if Shakespeare allowed, would be compelled to rein in the Indian media with a sharper rebuke over the last few days after a suspected magnet bomb exploded at the back of an Israeli embassy car in Delhi, injuring a diplomat’s wife.
Terror, Hezbollah, Iranian extremists — whatever the Israeli government’s compulsions to say of the incident, much of the Indian media largely projected as fact. Hillary Clinton ad libbed it even more loudly. Iran’s denial was buried in the inside pages of most newspapers, if it was carried at all.
No one had the time or the inclination, Portia would have noticed, to explain or ask when or how the villains switched over from Lashkar-i-Taiba, Al Qaeda and others that had been quoted all these days as threatening Jewish targets in India.
How did Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu home in on Iran within minutes of the incident? Did he know something ahead of the event, in which case had Delhi been informed about Israel’s apprehensions about an attack?
I have yet to see a fair TV discussion, for that matter, about the modus operandi of the attack, involving a magnet bomb allegedly planted by a motorcycle rider. How was it different from the method used to kill a clutch of Iranian scientists in recent incidents, someone might have asked?
If it was not too dissimilar in the method should we be asking the more serious question — about a likely agent provocateur who might wish to corner public opinion in India ahead of an Iran-Israel military showdown, for example?
Had India been dragged into the Middle East conflict with the attack? The media were insistent it had, almost hoping their scaremongering were true. No one in Tbilisi or Bangkok made much of the real or imaginary Middle Eastern shadow descending on them though there were similar-looking attempts there too. But Indian journalists spotted an imminent threat from a new, unheard-of source.
What they perhaps end up doing unwittingly is fill the coffers of the drooling hawks who seek more lethal hardware, intrusive vigilance equipment and hefty unaccounted budgets to squander on make-believe security that can only be promised but never guaranteed.
For the record, India has been involved in the Middle East for longer than today’s newspaper editors or TV stations have existed. It was involved in Egypt with Nasser. It kept in touch with Iraq, Syria — not to forget Iran both before the revolution and with the ayatollahs who followed.
The end of the Cold War prompted a course correction when India established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. I attended the first Feast of Passover hosted by the Israeli embassy in Delhi as correspondent for an international wire agency. All the food — chicken, wine, leavened bread — as well as the crockery was flown in from Brooklyn.
Orthodox Jews, I discovered, are as rigid in their habits as any dyed-in-the-wool Brahmin. Gershon Kedar, my Israeli diplomat friend, would meet me only at Dasaparakasa, an avowedly vegetarian restaurant in Delhi, because other venues were not kosher to him.
I can understand Israel’s fear of terrorists. Still, has Tel Aviv not spawned its own version of evil aggression against innocent civilians in West Bank and Gaza? Has it not carried out cold-blooded assassinations of perceived adversaries?
Even in the 1990s, Israeli diplomats who came home for dinner showed a degree of insecurity. As they left after dinner once, a diplomat couple scanned the underside of their car with torches they both said they always carried.
That moment of caution was probably prompted by a botched kidnapping in Kashmir around the time in which an Israeli tourist was killed and some others managed to escape after shooting their captors on a houseboat. Still, the Middle East has always been present in India. And this shooting if linked to the Iran-Israel standoff is only a small proof.
India needs the Middle East. It gets its largest share of foreign exchange remittances from its workers in the region. It gets its oil from there. But so does China. Have we ever found Beijing hopping from Iran to Saudi Arabia, to Israel to show its sense of involvement?
Quiet, unflappable, serenely confident of protecting its interests and, above all, an understated but powerful presence — that’s how China is seen in the Middle East. Actually, you can’t see it, perhaps only feel it, Indian anchors may note.
(However, there are rare and sane voices in the Indian media too. Some of them recently slammed the government for rushing into the unfolding Maldives drama, in which New Delhi has probably ended up embracing a pro-Islamist government while dumping a secular leader who celebrated South Asia’s multicultural heritage.)
Finally, let me lean on history to frame Israel and Iran in a context that largely eludes our media. Israel and Iran have a longer history of camaraderie than their present rivalry allows us to see.
While the Shah of Iran was a close ally of Israel, the ayatollahs have shown amazing finesse in dealing with the alleged enemy state. There would be no Iran-Contra affair had Israel not been ready to sell weapons clandestinely to Tehran.
Why shouldn’t the bonhomie come back? That’s why, as Portia decreed, let’s not jump to quick conclusions. There’s nothing to lose in simply observing, silently, like others.
JAWED NAQVI is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.