The case against Iran for attacks on Israel’s foreign interests is far from air-tight, as inconsistencies come to light
An Israeli embassy car carrying the wife of a defence attaché was targeted in a terror attack in New Delhi on February 13. On the same day, in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, police defused an explosive device attached to a vehicle belonging to a citizen working for the Israeli embassy. And a day later, three blasts rocked Bangkok.
It was in the Thai capital that suspicions became clearer. Two Iranians were arrested for plotting to attack Israeli diplomats stationed there.
On the face of it, the three incidents seem to establish a straightforward case of a well-organised international plot by Tehran against its bitter enemy, Israel. Many suspect it was a boastful tit-for-tat campaign designed to rattle Tel Aviv for allegedly assassinating Tehran’s nuclear scientists on its own soil.
But a closer inspection of the incidents produces more questions than answers.
If the perpetrators were indeed state-backed operatives, why were they so inept? The New Delhi bomb was stuck on the opposite side to the petrol tank; the car explosives in the Tbilisi case were detected by their intended victim before they went off; and the Bangkok assailants blew up their house accidentally with the explosives meant for their mission.
“The attacks in India, Georgia and Thailand have all been highly amateurish,” Will Hartley, an analyst with the US-based private intelligence service IHS Jane’s, told Bloomberg on February 15.
The New Delhi attack car bomb no doubt resembled the method used — allegedly by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad — to kill Iranian nuclear scientists in recent months. A copycat bombing may have been Tehran’s attempt to demonstrate that it could not only match Israel in the deadly game but even expand the playground.
But throwing that theory up in the air is the fact that the attack took place in India, a nation with which Iran has had historically amicable relations. The two countries are also currently in delicate negotiations to establish a payment method for oil, in an attempt to circumvent American sanctions against Iran’s energy sector.
Also, India is one of the very few nations that has the requisite diplomatic clout to facilitate a rapprochement between Iran and the West. Tehran can ill-afford to lose a friend like that in exchange for the life of an Israeli diplomat.
These inconsistencies reduce the likelihood that it was a series of assassination plots sponsored by Tehran, at least in New Delhi. Authorities in India too seem to be in no rush to arrive at any conclusions. New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said at a news conference a day after the attack, “We don’t yet have the evidence to point the finger at anybody. We are exploring all possibilities.”
One of those other possibilities could be the that of an international terrorist organisation acting independently.
While this is somewhat improbable in the India case, since groups like Hezbollah which are sympathetic to Iran do not have a known operational presence in the country, it is a stronger likelihood in the Bangkok incident.
Maria Ressa, author-in-residence at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, told Asia360 News that “Hezbollah has been present in Southeast Asia for a long time now. The group, in the past, has hatched plans to hit the Israeli and the American interests, especially the embassies, in Singapore and Thailand. There were even many arrests related to the cause.”
In January this year, Thai police detained a Lebanese-Swedish man, Atris Hussein, for his alleged links with Hezbollah militants. Hussein led authorities to a stockroom, just outside Bangkok, filled with more than 4,000 kilograms of urea fertilizer and many gallons of liquid ammonium nitrate, which experts said were the “initial chemical materials [for producing] bombs”.
But the shoddy execution of the recent attacks, especially in Thailand, has also left many security experts questioning the involvement of a highly trained organisation like Hezbollah in the attacks, never mind a state-backed group.
Like the India authorities, Thai police declined to make any link between the February 14 explosions and the January arrest of Atris Hussein.
Hezbollah itself has denied having any role in the incidents. In an age when terror groups fall over each to claim credit for an act of terror anywhere in the world, the denial by Hezbollah is telling.
The remaining possibilities include fringe groups exploiting the lax security apparatus in the region to carry out the attacks for their own, as yet unknown, agendas.
Some believe that it is quite possible that the complete picture may never emerge and that Iran and Israel would forever keep blaming each other for the incidents.
But whoever was responsible for the current chain of violence, the perception that Iran is behind the mayhem has “undoubtedly exacerbated the already mounting tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, and international efforts to curtail it,” said Will Hartley, head of the Terrorism & Insurgency Center at IHS Jane’s in London.
Israel is insisting that India help sponsor a resolution against Iran in the United Nations Security Council condemning the attack on its diplomats in New Delhi, as well as the incidents in Tblisi and Bangkok.
But it is way too early at the moment to connect the dots; and establish the spread of the Iran-Israel conflict to lands far away from their borders.