By Gaurav Bisht & Naresh K Thakur / Hindustan Times
Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza, which has sparked off its renewed conflict with Palestinians, has also affected the security environs of Himachal Pradesh (India) the hill state situated thousands of miles away from the war theatre.
Intelligence reports of threat perception to Israeli tourists from Indian-based terror groups has put Indian intelligence and security agencies in the hill state on high alert.
In the wake of threat to Israeli tourists visiting Himachal Pradesh, the state police have scaled up security at tourist destinations frequented by Israeli tourists.
Sources told Hindustan Times that the central government had sent an alert over the perceived threat to Israeli visitors from Indian Mujahedeen.
Though the intelligence and security agencies have so far not found any clues on plans to “harm” Israelis in Himachal Pradesh, the state police have made extra security arrangements in Dharamkot, a village 14 km uphill from the tourist town of Dharamsala.
In fact, Dharamkot is referred to as the “Tel Aviv of the hills” for being a favourite spot of Israeli tourists.
The state police have deputed a special superintendent of police rank official from Shimla to supervise security arrangements for Israeli visitors at Dharamsala.
“Security has been beefed up around the villages favourite among Israeli tourists,” director general of police Sanjay Kumar told Hindustan Times.
He, however, refused to share any further details on the threat perception to Israeli tourists in the hill state. It is learnt that Israeli embassy has asked Israeli visitors to remain “cautious” while making their plans to visit the state.
Meanwhile, an uneasy calm prevails in Dharamkot village, which, a few days ago, was abuzz with activities owing to heavy influx of Israeli tourists.
Things changed on August 14 midnight when around 100 police personnel were deployed in the small hamlet while Israeli tourists staying in countryside guest houses in the village gathered at Chabad house (Jewish Community Centre).
“For the past few days, we have seen a drastic decline, up to 85%, in the number of Israelis who were staying here in the countryside guest houses. Probably, it could be due to the monsoon as the region has witnessed heavy rains for few weeks,” said Pawan Kumar who runs a small restaurant in the fields, with the ‘Chabad House’ in the backdrop where two policemen were standing guard vigilantly.
Anil, owner of a countryside guest house, said that a few days ago, the hotels or guest houses in the village were full to the capacity.
“The new arrivals do not prefer to stay more than two to three days. Most of them are staying in the Chabad House,” he added.
When a Hindustan Times team visited the village, it found four makeshift police posts that have appeared in the surroundings of Chabad House where around a dozen cops keep an eye on the activities round-the-clock.
“I came here only a week ago. Most of the people from my homeland have returned back. I don’t know why but this probably is not due to war,” said Gil, an Israeli who identified himself with only the first name.
Another Israeli tourist J Roan said that he would be staying for a week or so. “I don’t feel there is any threat to my countrymen in these peaceful hills,” he added.
He expressed ignorance on the security alert issued by the Indian intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, the Rabbi at the Chabad House outrightly refused to talk about the issue. “I don’t want to get any statement of mine published in press, even my name, for the time being. You may contact me after a week,” he said.
Kasol village in Kullu is also a favourite destination of Israeli tourists. Similar security arrangements have been made in this village too.
“Though many of the Israelis have left, those still staying here are living under one roof,” Kullu superintendent of police Surinder Verma said while adding that constant vigil is being maintained in Kasol where security arrangements have already been beefed up.