Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Friday that Israelis were deliberate targets of the well-organized bands of gunmen whose attacks across the Indian city of Mumbai included one on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish center.
Officials receiving reports from Mumbai initially hesitated to judge whether the attack on the center owned by the group Chabad-Lubavitch, where gunmen seized hostages late Wednesday, was planned or random.
Livni’s remark at a news conference in Jerusalem came after Indian commandos stormed the building Friday and found the bodies of five hostages, including the Israeli-born rabbi and his wife who ran the center.
“There is no doubt, we know, that the targets the terrorists singled out were Jewish, Israeli targets and targets identified with the West, Americans and Britons,” Livni said.
Like the United States and Britain, Israel has a close relationship with India, and the two countries view radical Islam as a common threat.
Israeli officials have released no assessment about the identity and motive of the attackers, whose rampage throughout Mumbai left at least 150 dead. Livni, without elaboration, blamed “Islamic extremists who don’t accept our existence or Western values.”
Israel said in February that it was tightening security at its embassies and Jewish centers around the world against a threatened revenge attack by Hezbollah. The Lebanese militant group blamed Israel for the Feb. 12 car bombing death of one of its top commanders, Imad Mughniyah, in Syria.
But the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Friday that security at soft targets such as the Chabad center in Mumbai was “currently rather relaxed in many countries.”
Like the U.S., Israel issues travel advisories for its citizens based on potential terrorist threats. Such an advisory has long been in effect for India, a country with a history of terrorist incidents and a large Muslim minority.
But Israeli Brig. Gen. Ni- tzan Nuriel, head of the prime minister’s counter-terrorism office, said in a televised interview that Israel had received no specific warning of an attack in Mumbai. “In all honesty, this isn’t an area in which we have very good intelligence control,” he said.
Israel and India share intelligence on terrorist groups. They have developed close defense and security ties since establishing diplomatic relations in 1992.
Israel is India’s second-biggest arms supplier, after Russia. India has bought more than $5 billion worth of Israeli equipment since 2002. In addition, Israel is training Indian military units and discussing an arrangement to give Indian commandos instruction in counter-terrorist tactics and urban warfare.
Some Israeli commentators speculated Friday, without offering evidence, that this security cooperation might have been one of the motives for the Mumbai attacks.
In any case, the cooperation is a sensitive topic in India, said Efraim Inbar, a security specialist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. He noted a decline since 2003 in high-profile visits by Indian and Israeli officials to each other’s countries to promote weapons deals and training missions.
Israeli newspapers reported Friday that India had turned down an offer by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to send counter-terrorist units to help fight the attackers.
Instead, Israel dispatched a delegation of volunteers from Zaka, an emergency medical services organization, to attend to victims of the attacks.