Sources: Israel not expected to respond harshly to India, Georgia attacks
'Iran is behind these attacks; it is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world,' Netanyahu says in a meeting of his Likud Knesset faction.
Israel is not expected to respond harshly to on Monday's twin attacks on Israeli representatives in India and Georgia, Israeli sources said Monday night.
In one attack, the wife of Israel's defense attache in India was moderately wounded in a car bombing outside the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. In the other, a bomb attached to a car belonging to the Israeli embassy in the Georgian capital Tbilisi was discovered before anyone was hurt.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly accused Iran of responsibility for the attacks, which occurred one day after the fourth anniversary of the killing of a senior Hezbollah official, Imad Mughniyeh. Both Hezbollah and Iran have long blamed Israel for Mughniyeh's assassination, and Hezbollah has repeatedly vowed revenge. But Tehran, predictably, denied any involvement in Monday's attacks, with the Iranian ambassador to India terming Netanyahu's accusation "nothing but lies."
A senior Foreign Ministry official, however, countered that this accusation was backed by both intelligence information and evidence collected at the scene of both crimes, particularly an examination of the bomb that was defused in Tbilisi. Taken together, he said, this information indicated direct involvement by official Iranian entities in the attacks. "Iran is behind these attacks; it is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world," Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud Knesset faction on Monday, after noting that "Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah" were behind several previous "attempts to attack Israeli citizens and Jews in several countries" in recent months.
The New Delhi attack occurred on Monday afternoon, shortly after Tal Yehoshua Koren left the embassy, where she works, to collect her children from school. According to an eyewitness, a man on a motorcycle raced up and attached a "magnetic object" to the back of the car. Shortly afterward, it exploded, wounding Yehoshua Koren moderately; her Indian driver and two passersby were lightly wounded.
Yehoshua Koren suffered shrapnel wounds in her back and lower body, and was operated on last night. Two Israeli doctors who happened to be in New Delhi were in attendance along with the hospital's regular staff, having rushed to the hospital as soon as they heard the news. She will be flown back to Israel once her condition stabilizes.
The news of the attack on Yehoshua Koren arrived not long after the report that a bomb had been found on an embassy car in Georgia. The Georgian driver had been heading to the embassy from his home as usual on Monday morning, but shortly after he started the car, he heard a strange noise. He therefore stopped and examined the car, and found a suspicious-looking bag attached to the bottom. He promptly called the police, who found a bomb inside the bag and neutralized it.
Neither attack was preceded by an intelligence warning.
"There were general warnings all the time, and specific warnings about other countries, but not about New Delhi and Tbilisi," the senior Foreign Ministry official said. "It's clear to us that Iran was behind this attack, but it's not yet clear whether it was [involved] directly, or via Hezbollah, or via some other organization."
After the attacks, several Israeli embassies in countries considered particularly vulnerable were temporarily closed and their employees told to go home to minimize the risk of additional bombings. In addition, the alert level at all embassies and consulates - already high due to the anniversary of Mughniyeh's killing - was raised further on the theory that Monday's attacks could be the first of several, though there is no firm intelligence to this effect. Finally, all embassy and consulate staffers were told not to use embassy vehicles until they had been checked by security officers.
Israeli experts from both the police and the security services will be assisting the investigations in both New Delhi and Tbilisi, and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. On Monday, Krishna called Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to pledge that Israel will be kept fully abreast of the progress of the probe. An initial examination of the bombs concluded that they were professional, but not exceptionally sophisticated.
The bombings sparked the usual tough rhetoric from Israeli officials: Lieberman said Israel "would not overlook" the attacks, while Netanyahu vowed to "continue to act forcefully, systematically and patiently" against Iranian terror. Nevertheless, a harsh Israeli response is seen as unlikely.
One reason for this is that if, as is widely believed, Israel is behind a recent series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran, government officials presumably knew that Iranian revenge attacks were likely and took that possibility into account. Though an innocent diplomat's wife cannot be compared to a scientist directly involved in Iran's nuclear program, Monday's attacks were still limited enough that they didn't violate the "rules of the game." Indeed, the modus operandi of the New Delhi bombing exactly mimicked that used to kill several of the Iranian scientists. Hence a direct Israeli military strike on either Hezbollah or Iran seems unlikely.
Moreover, while Iran and Hezbollah have been trying to take revenge for Mughniyeh's assassination ever since it occurred on February 12, 2008, Yehoshua Koren is the first casualty in a long line of failed attacks. The previous attacks, which according to foreign news sources, have been thwarted by close cooperation between Israeli intelligence and local security services, included attempts to bomb the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan, to assassinate an Israeli consul in Turkey, and, most recently, to bomb popular tourist sites frequented by Israelis in Thailand.
Monday's targets - two embassy cars, neither of which was on embassy grounds at the time - were both at relatively low-level targets, located at the outer perimeter of the security envelope Israel provides its overseas embassies and consulates. This may indicate that Hezbollah and Iran are having trouble reaching more "prestigious" targets.
Moreover, while both attacks attest to careful observation and planning and precise execution, the results were meager enough that neither Tehran nor Beirut is likely to be rejoicing.
Attacks may be first in series
Nevertheless, two caveats are in order. First, these attacks may not be the last, but rather the first in a series. Second, it could be that the planners were capable of wreaking greater harm, but deliberately chose to cause only modest damage. Israel has repeatedly warned that a mass-casualty Hezbollah attack on Israeli targets overseas would spark a massive Israeli assault on Lebanon, and that is something Iran doesn't seem to want right now.
The attacks also shed new light on the surprising comments made last week by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a speech in Beirut: that Hezbollah doesn't take orders from Iran. It could be that Nasrallah already knew of the plans for Monday's attacks and was trying to portray them as independent Hezbollah initiatives.
Hezbollah's interest in distancing itself from Iran - at least verbally - stems in part from the organization's difficult domestic situation: Tuesday is the seventh anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination, and despite Nasrallah's repeated denials, many Lebanese, along with much of the international community, think Hezbollah was behind that killing. Just on Monday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati - who owes his appointment to Hezbollah - personally announced that the international tribunal investigating Hariri's murder plans to indict new suspects, alongside the four Hezbollah operatives already charged; he said the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, had informed him of this during a recent visit to Beirut.
Adding to Hezbollah's domestic woes is the fact that one of its key allies, the Assad regime in Syria, may not survive. The Syrian opposition no longer bothers to hide its loathing for Hezbollah and Iran, so a new Syrian government would likely be bad news for the Lebanese organization.