A Shimon Peres Recipe for Mr Modi

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A Shimon Peres Recipe for Mr Modi

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza/ Arré

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esterday, the pub-happy urban poor and the hump-crazy Tinder freaks made an inappropriate sex-talking “iDadi” trend, over a guy who went by the name Shimon Peres. They are not to blame. Peres after all is neither a Martian that Elon Musk wants to lord over, nor did Peres come up with any T-shirt-worthy slogans like Che. Then why bother?

The reason is only this – Shimon Peres in far away Israel is perhaps more relevant to the state of the nation right now than Elon Musk or Che Guevara will ever be. Peres represented a combination of two seemingly contrasting philosophies – the Machiavellian ideology of a strong state and the Gandhian one based on peaceful coexistence. A combination that India, as it deals with the aftermath of surgical strikes on terror camps across the Line of Control, sorely needs.

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The year was 1976. An Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked and landed in Entebbe, Uganda. Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin was supporting the hijackers, much like the Taliban did in Kandahar. Peres was then the defence minister of Israel and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister. The situation seemed hopeless, especially with Uganda about 4,000 kilometres away and with hostile airspace in between. But, Peres and Rabin sanctioned something that was unthinkable. In the most sensational rescue mission ever, Israeli commandoes travelled in three planes, landed at Entebbe (some in the guise of Ugandan soldiers), and freed the hostages.

Twenty-three years later, Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC 814) was en route to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, when it was hijacked. Our response to the situation was to submit to the hijackers thus making our weakness amply clear. Comparisons between Entebbe and Kandahar may seem unwarranted, but they do highlight a chasm in political will between them and us. For something like Entebbe, a different form of conviction is required, one that combines concern, strength, and ownership. Sadly, that too is often missing in India where politics and rhetoric mix with bureaucracy in an unhealthy cocktail.

Peres was at heart a man on the quest for peace, but peace from a position of strength.

Also, unlike Kandahar, Entebbe and the years that followed highlighted Israel’s preparedness with the intent and ability to train and arm troops with the best technology and weapons. In India, 32 years after Entebbe, when terror unfolded in Mumbai, the NSG had to wait almost 10 hours to set foot in the city. In Israel, Peres and numerous others, before and after him, helped create an ecosystem that combined military strength with political will and bureaucratic expediency. In India, we do not even honour a great field marshal with a protocol funeral. Kandahar, Mumbai, and numerous other terror strikes don’t signify the failure of our security forces – they are examples of how the political and bureaucratic apparatus royally screwed up. In Entebbe, Israel had Peres with years of experience. In India, we had clowns better known for “family” loyalty and terror tourism.

Peres started as a young member of the armed Jewish resistance, Haganah, and then moved to the defence establishment after the formation of Israel in 1948. He was responsible initially to procure arms in secret to fight the British and then contributed immensely to build the fighting force that Israel is today. Interestingly, he also played a key role in Israel’s secret and still undeclared nuclear weapons programme. His philosophy was that only with strength, enemies would find war futile and peace fruitful.

Ironically, a man known for war and initial settlement building, Peres would soon search for peace with the Palestinians, with his friend and former PM Rabin. While the quest for peace turned sour, Peres continued in his pursuit with the view that there was no alternative – continued war was not an option.

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With Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres made one of the greatest quests for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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Peres was at heart a man on the quest for peace, but peace from a position of strength. With Rabin, he made one of the greatest quests for Israeli-Palestinian peace and signed the famous Oslo Accords, now though etched only in memory. For their efforts, Peres, Rabin, and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Mind you, there was fierce opposition to the deal within Israel. Rabin had to pay for it with his life, assassinated by an Israeli fanatic. Undeterred, Peres continued with his work. The Second Intifada put paid to the work by Peres and others. In time, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation gave ground to more radical elements like Hamas. And in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu came to power, caustically opposed to a two-state solution.

Peres, who finally became the president of Israel, a largely ceremonial role, nevertheless stuck to his quest for peace. And even before his death, he called for reconciliation, bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer through the Peres Centre for Peace. 

Prime Minister Modi will do well to follow Peres’s cue, to strive for long-term peace with Pakistan, even as he ponders short-term vengeance with strikes on terror camps across the LoC and before he goes too far climbing the escalation ladder. Reach out to shake hands, but keep the other hand ready on a gun. This was Peres’s philosophy and it wasn’t easy. It won’t be easy for Modi either, especially now with the nation on the edge. But, Peres believed in it and he was determined to let the future bury the past, and not let the past bury the future. Modi can do it too.

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