Why were the hostages at Mumbai’s Nariman House, including a young Chabad rabbi and his wife, killed – and killed brutally?

The obvious answer is that they were Jews and their Muslim attackers were fueled by a fanatical Jew-hatred.

That’s likely true – but it’s not the complete answer.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that India had shown it a copy of transcripts of telephone conversations between the murderers – who killed more than 160 people – and their allegedly Pakistani handlers.

As well as being ordered to “inflict the maximum damage” throughout their entire November killing spree and to kill non-Muslim women hostages, they were told, “If the [Nariman House] hostages are killed, it will spoil relations between India and Israel.”

We don’t have the dossier that was shown to the Times and so can’t know what was said before and after that chillingly pragmatic sentence, but it seems pretty clear that damaging those relations was on the attackers’ agenda.

If their motive was indeed this Machiavellian, it was also, frankly, dumb. While India has condemned Israel’s ground invasion in Gaza, the two states have long had friendly relations. They share security intelligence and Israel helps train Indian military personnel (who did not, nevertheless, distinguish themselves in the Mumbai massacre). They are both vibrant democracies (sometimes accused of being too vibrant) and U.S. allies. And India, like much of the world, is fighting Muslim fundamentalism – but its fight, like Israel’s, is harder and more personal, with a rabidly Islamist state across the border.

How would the murder of a houseful of helpless Jews undermine such strong ties? Did the terrorists think that Israel would break off with India? Israel has, unfortunately, suffered worse evils, and maintains friendships nevertheless.

“The last telephone transcript in the dossier,” the Times reported, included the exhortation, “Brother, you have to fight. This is a matter of the prestige of Islam.”

Killing innocent people in a bloodbath is certainly a cockeyed and cuckoo way to enhance “the prestige of Islam,” wouldn’t you think?

Meanwhile, a coalition of Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists is organizing a rally for Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, just opposite the White House. It is calling for the new president to, among other tasks, “stop Hamas and Hezbollah’s rocket attacks into Israel.”

RKB