Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Terror Strike in Lutyens’ Delhi

On 13th February at around 1515 hours, a bomb exploded in the car of the Israeli Defence Attaché in close proximity of the Indian Prime Minister’s official residence at New Delhi injuring a woman occupant who was later identified as the wife of the Defence Attaché Col. Yossi Refaelov. Tal Yehoshua Koren, 42, the wife of Israeli Defence Attaché, was on her way to pick up her two children from the American School run by the US Embassy.

According to eyewitness accounts, a biker wearing a red helmet and a brown jacket stuck a magnetic device on the car, following which it exploded on Aurangzeb Road, not far from the Prime Minister's 7 Race Course Road home. They said the device was probably actuated by remote control, as it exploded within seconds of the biker riding off.

The magnetic device or sticky bomb is similar to a limpet mine, a type of naval mine attached to a target by magnets; they are so named because of their superficial similarity to the limpet, a type of mollusk.

A magnetic device or "sticky bomb" and bike-borne planters were involved in the attack on the Iranian scientist Mustafa Ahmadi Roshan in January 2012.

The diplomat’s wife who also works in the Israeli Mission sustained injuries caused by shrapnel which had penetrated her liver and spine. She underwent two major emergency surgeries at a private hospital in Delhi and her condition was critical but stable according to hospital authorities. The driver of the Innova, Manoj Sharma and two occupants of a nearby car, Arun Sharma, 60, and Manjit Singh, 78 also suffered injuries. They were being treated for injuries at different hospitals.

A few hours earlier, a bomb planted in the car of an Israeli Embassy in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi was detected and diffused. Authorities in Georgia said an explosive device was planted on the car of a driver for the Israeli embassy. Shota Utiashvili, spokesperson for the Georgian interior ministry, said the driver noticed a package attached to his car's undercarriage and called the police. A grenade was found in the package and it was defused.

Thus, it appears to have been a well planned and coordinated attack on Israeli diplomats world-wide. While the attack in Tbilisi was thwarted, the attack in New Delhi was successful.

Israel accused Iran and its Lebanese protégé, the Hezbollah of carrying out the terrorist attack in New Delhi and a foiled attempt to kill another diplomat in Georgia, as tensions rose over Israeli efforts to shut down Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attacks on Iran and linked them to alleged threats to Israeli targets in Thailand and Azerbaijan, Georgia's southern neighbor, in January.

"We will continue to operate methodically and patiently against international terror that originates in Iran," he said, suggesting Israel didn't plan to immediately retaliate. 

An official at Iran's embassy in New Delhi denied any Iranian involvement in the explosion or other attacks. "We condemn such incidents," the official said.

U.S. officials condemned the attacks and said they were working with Israeli intelligence agencies to investigate them, but stopped short of agreeing that Iran or its militant allies were responsible.

The nature of the bombing in New Delhi and the attempt in Georgia raised the prospect of escalating tit-for-tat strikes by Israel and Iran or its allies.

Timing of the Attack

Why were the Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia targeted and what is the significance of the timing of the attack?

One possible explanation is that four years ago, (on 12th February 2008) the deputy commander of the terrorist outfit based in Lebanon, the Hezbollah, Imad Fayez Mughniyah (or Mughniyeh) alias al-Hajj Radwan was assassinated by a car bomb by suspected Israeli agents in the Syrian capital Damascus. Hezbollah which swore revenge for the killing of its leader have attempted to target Israelis in retaliation. It is possible that the New Delhi attack and the attempted strike in Tbilisi were in retaliation for Mughniyeh’s killing.

The second explanation which sounds more plausible as of today, is Iran had vowed to retaliate against Israel for the assassinations of its nuclear scientists and technicians. Tehran has blamed Israel and Washington for the killings of scientists working on its controversial nuclear programme. 

Iran emerges as the prime suspect in both these incidents because in the past the Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the clerics who rule Iran, have called for the destruction of the state of Israel. Interestingly, just before the attacks took place, Professor Alan M Dershowitz in an article titled Warning Iran Against Hitting 'Soft' American Targets” and published in the Wall Street Journal online wrote: “The Iranian government has now made crystal clear that it is at war not only with Israel and Zionism but with Jewish communities throughout the world. As Iran's Rafah news website—identified with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—threatened last month, Iran plans to "take the war beyond the borders of Iran, and beyond the borders of the region." And last week an Iranian News Agency headline declared that "Israeli people must be annihilated."

These and other recent threats have, according to news reports, led Israeli and American authorities to believe that Iran is preparing attacks against Israeli embassies and consulates world-wide, as well as against Jewish houses of prayer, schools, community centers, restaurants and other soft targets.”

He further goes on to state that “If this were to happen, it would not be the first time that Iranian agents have bombed or attacked Israeli and Jewish targets in distant countries. Back in 1992, Iranian agents blew up the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians, many of whom were children. The Argentine government conducted a thorough criminal investigation and indicted several Iranian officials, but those officials were well beyond the reach of Argentine legal authorities and remain at liberty.”

The 1992 attack referred to by Professor Dershowitz was a bomb attack on the building of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires carried out on March 17, 1992. About 29 people were killed in the attack and 242 others were injured.
Messages intercepted by the US National Security Agency revealed Iranian knowledge of the impending attack, as well as the complicity of Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh.

In May 1998, Moshen Rabbani, (the Cultural Attaché in the Iranian Embassy in Argentina until December 1997) was detained in Germany, and the Argentine government expelled seven Iranian diplomats from the country, stating that it had "convincing proof" of Iranian involvement in the bombing. However, none of the suspects have been prosecuted. In fact the attack occurred when Iran and Argentina were hoping for a resumption of nuclear cooperation, although Argentina had announced the suspension of the shipments of nuclear materials to Iran a couple months before the bombing. A number of sources report on Hezbollah involvement with the assistance of Syria.

Why India?

It may be too early to blame Iran (or the Hezbollah) for the terrorist strike in New Delhi. Though it does appear that Iran, given its past track record and the only actor with a motive, may have carried out the attack, thorough investigations are needed to determine the perpetrators. However the question is why was New Delhi chosen for attacking the Israeli diplomat? Firstly, India is perceived to be a soft state and the internal security apparatus is considered to be inept. Secondly, any act of terror carried out within India, particularly in one of the major metropolitan cities is likely to get maximum coverage in the Indian as well as foreign media.

Compounding the difficulty of pinning blame was the question as to why Iran would stage a terrorist attack in New Delhi, a country which recently resisted further sanctions being imposed on Iran by the US. Also, India last month surpassed China as Tehran's top oil consumer, defying international pressure to cut back imports of Iranian oil. Having said that, one must also acknowledge the fact that India does not support Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. It is also a well-known fact that Iran’s international behaviour in the past has defied rationale and logic as can be seen from the attack by "Iranian protestors" on the British Embassy in Tehran in November 2011. (See http://kumar-theloneranger.blogspot.in/2011/11/international-legal-perspective-of.html)

If it is established that Iran or its proxy the Hezbollah were involved then the question arises as to whether the terrorist who planted the bomb was a foreigner or an Indian working on behalf of Iran or the Hezbollah. According to Mr. B. Raman, the Hizbollah had operated in the 1990s in Bangkok and Buenos Aires and was known to have a local support base in Tbilisi. But it had neither operated in New Delhi in the past nor was it known to have sleeper cells in India. Unless the terrorist involved is arrested and interrogated, it would be difficult to say whether he had come into India from outside to cause the blast or whether he is an Indian Muslim recruited by the Hizbollah for the attack.

While it is a known fact that there are sleeper cells of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operating in India, there are no known groups or individuals with ties to Iranian-backed groups like the Hezbollah in India.

It must be pointed out that the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s attack on the Narriman House in Mumbai, housing an Israeli religious-cum-cultural centre, during its terrorist strikes in Mumbai on 26/11, was the first instance of a terrorist attack on Israeli targets inside Indian territory outside Kashmir. It is also relevant to point out that foreign diplomats posted in India have not been targeted by terror groups, save and except, the case of the British Deputy High Commissioner, Percy Norris, who was assassinated in Mumbai (then Bombay) in November 1984.

If suspicion that individuals or groups owing allegiance to or sympathizing with cause of Iran or the Hezbollah turn out to be true, then it does not augur well for India and its over-stretched security agencies who will have a lot to do to cope with international terror outfits, apart from the home-grown terror groups like Indian Mujahideen and Pak-based groups like LeT.

Indian response

India must wake up to the fact that such types of attacks on foreign diplomats and nationals within India have become a reality. The attack on Mumbai in November 2008 in which several foreign nationals were killed was not an exception; rather it was the norm. India must appreciate that cordial bilateral ties with states such as Iran and Syria who sponsor terrorism do not necessarily prevent or deter these states from making use of India as a battleground to settle scores with its enemies. If India, through its investigations, is able to unearth any possible connection between Iran or its protégés and the terror attack, it must take steps to expel Iranian diplomats posted in India who may have connived in the attack and prosecute Indian or foreign nationals involved in the execution of the crime.