Four years after the assassination of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh on February 12, 2008, Iran and Hezbollah are attempting to execute revenge attacks on Israel. A series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists over the past two years, which Iran attributes to Israel, only strengthened Iran’s motivation to take revenge.
However, the attack on the wife of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi as well as the attempt at bombing a vehicle at the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi on Monday reveal the limits of Iran’s ability to exact that revenge.
In both cases, the attacks hit areas that are on the periphery of the Shin Bet’s eye outside of Israel: a local driver, a worker at the embassy in Georgia and the wife of a diplomat on behalf of the Defense Ministry in India. Since Mughniyeh’s assassination, there have been nearly 20 attempted attacks, some of which were the product of a joint Iran-Hezbollah initiative. The choice of locations outside of Israeli embassies shows the difficulty in hitting more “prestigious” targets.
In regards to the actual bombing, it is clear that the identification of the targeted vehicle and the knowledge of the daily routine of the Israeli staff is the outcome of intelligence surveillance and precise planning. The parallel strike on two targets, far away from one other, is a testament to the ambition of the planners. The way in which the attack in New Delhi took place, which according to eyewitnesses happened after a bomb was attached to the diplomat’s wife’s car by a motorcyclist while driving (where did they get that idea from?) – reflects a deep understanding of the weak points of Israeli security. The final outcome: one injury (which could have been far worse, had the diplomat’s wife picked up her children from school) which certainly did not provide Tehran or Beirut with much satisfaction.
However, there are two warning signs: first, the story isn't necessarily over. There may be more attempts to carry out terrorist attacks, which is why the security alert in Israeli embassies and missions around the world has been raised. Second, the fact that the attacks were not carried out against high-profile targets may have been a deliberate choice; Israel has made clear on several occasions that it may launch a major strike on Lebanon in retaliation against a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli target abroad.
Since it seems that at the moment Iran is not seeking such a conflict, there is a difference between targeting a diplomat or an embassy worker and trying to bring down a building. An attempt at the latter's magnitude – which attempted to emulate the success of the Buenos Aires attacks in the early 90s – took place in 2008, two months after Mughniyah's assassination. Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives were arrested after planning to blow up the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed Iran for Monday's attacks. Tehran, as expected, denies the claims. And although Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that Israel would not stand idly by in light of the attacks, it seems one has no reason to fear Monday's attack will result in a regional flare-up.
While assassinating nuclear scientists or arch-terrorists like Mughniyah are not on the same scale as an attempt to murder a diplomat's wife who has done no one any harm, if Israel is indeed behind the recent attacks, an Iranian revenge is something that should have been taken into account.
The Iranians, for their part, are playing according to the unwritten rules of a game Israel kicked off, and the clash has not yet moved beyond the playing field that was drawn up in advance. Surely, some tense days lay ahead, yet these 24 hours do not seem to herald a direct military confrontation with Iran or with Hezbollah.