Attacking Israel’s Diplomats: The View from Iran
The attack sounded all too familiar. An assassin on a motorcycle reportedly slapped a magnetic bomb on a car on Monday afternoon and rode away as the occupants scrambled to escape the vehicle. Nearly half a dozen similar attacks in Tehran have targeted scientists linked with Iran’s controversial nuclear program in recent years. And Iranian officials have pointed the finger at Israel and the U.S. as the culprits behind the assassinations. But this time it was different: the target was the wife of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, who was injured in the blast along with a driver. Another explosive device attached to an Israeli embassy vehicle in Tblisi, Georgia, was found and defused on Monday afternoon.
So is this the Iranian regime’s attempt at payback? Israeli officials certainly seem to think so. “Iran is behind these attacks, and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of the Likud party on Monday afternoon. Iranian officials quickly dismissed the accusation. In a report published on the semiofficial Fars News Agency website, Ramin Mehmanparast, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said these charges were leveled at Iran as part of a “psychological war” against the country. “The finger needs to be pointed at those countries who openly support terrorist actions, especially those of the Zionist regime,” Mehmanparast said. “These countries have to explain why they defend and support the actions and crimes of terrorist groups in Iran and other countries in the region.” An article published by the semiofficial Mehr News Agency about the attacks and Netanyahu’s accusation ran with an equally blunt headline: “The Zionist Hype Has Begun.” (See photos of Israel’s drills for a missile strike.)
If an Iranian link is found to either of the bombs, it would signify a marked escalation in the covert war between Iran and its perceived enemies. And it wouldn’t be particularly surprising. Iranian officials were enraged by the attacks against the nuclear scientists and have promised revenge. The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a scientist who worked at the Natanz uranium-enrichment plant, in mid-January seems to have been the last straw. “We will not neglect punishing those responsible for this act,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after the killing last month. General Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, was even more explicit. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.” The Iranian government has organized a number of events to commemorate Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination and to send the message that his death won’t go unanswered. One recent event was an odd BASE jump from Tehran’s landmark Milad Tower last week, in which the participants wore T-shirts emblazoned with Ahmadi-Roshan’s picture as they parachuted down from the top of the building.
The assassination of Ahmadi-Roshan last month, coupled with a tightening of international sanctions against Iran and persistent rumors of an Israeli attack, has led to a siege mentality in the country. And the government’s hard-line supporters have become even more conspiracy-minded. It’s worth noting that some members of the Basij militia who attacked the British embassy last November were carrying pictures of another recently assassinated nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari.
(See “Syria’s Clashing Armies.”)
The Israeli diplomat’s wife who was targeted on Monday was reportedly flung from the vehicle by the force of the blast, according to an Indian journalist who arrived on the scene shortly after the attack and posted photos on Twitter. The diplomat’s wife was rushed to the hospital, where she is reportedly in critical but stable condition. The attack will no doubt prove to be an embarrassment for the Indian security forces because of its proximity to the residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Israeli leaders have accused Iran of involvement in other attacks that were foiled in the past month. One was an alleged plot to attack Israeli tourists in Thailand that was reportedly going to be carried out by a Hizballah agent. Another was an assassination attempt against the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan, which borders Iran. Two Azerbaijani nationals were arrested in that plot. The Iranian government struck back on Sunday when they summoned the Azerbaijani ambassador and gave him a protest note claiming that some of the assassins of the Iranian scientists had recently travelled to Azerbaijan before heading to Israel to meet Mossad agents.
(See “Can Israel Stop Iran’s Nuke Effort?”)
Despite the fiery rhetoric coming out of Tehran, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence yet tying the Iranian government to the plots in Thailand or Azerbaijan or the attacks on Monday. In fact, the Iranian chief prosecutor, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said in a press conference on Monday that Iran had submitted a file against the “Zionist regime” to international courts and intended to pursue the cases of the assassinated scientists through legal means. Meanwhile, Iranian nuclear scientists and Israeli diplomats will no doubt be watching their backs.