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Perspectives | Bombs Targeting Israeli Diplomats and the Iran Connection

17 Feb 2012 00:54Comments
MoradiKharzeiSedaghatzadeh.jpg[ perspectives ] Accusations of Iranian involvement in bomb plots directed at Israeli diplomats in New Delhi and Tbilisi on Monday appear to have been strengthened by the arrests of three Iranian nationals who accidentally set off explosives in Bangkok the following afternoon. Gen. Prewpan Dhamapong, head of Thailand's national police force, said that authorities there "know for certain that [the bombers' intended target] was Israeli diplomats." According to the police chief, "The type of improvised devices they used were the same" as those in India and Georgia. "The type that [are] attached to vehicles" -- often referred to as "sticky bombs."

The men -- Saeid Moradi, 28; Mohammad Kharzei, 42; and Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, 31 (pictured) -- were apprehended following an explosion in the two-story house where they had been staying in the residential neighborhood of Sukhumvit. Moradi was apprehended at the scene after he blew off one of his legs attempting to hurl a grenade at police; after he was hospitalized, his second leg was amputated. Kharzei was arrested later on Tuesday as he tried to board a flight to Malaysia. Sedaghatzadeh succeeded in flying to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, only to be arrested there Wednesday as he tried to fly on to Iran. Thai police had also been seeking to question a fourth Iranian national, identified as Leila Rohani, who rented the Sukhumvit house, but according to authorities she left the country and is now in Tehran.

In Monday's New Delhi attack, a motorcyclist attached a sticky bomb to a car carrying Tal Yehoshua Koren, the wife of the Israeli defense attaché to India. She remains hospitalized with shrapnel injuries to her spine and liver. The same day, an explosive device was found and defused in a motor vehicle belonging to the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi. No arrests have been made in either incident. Responding to Israeli accusations that the Islamic Republic was directly responsible for the plots, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast declared, "Israel has bombed its embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi to tarnish Iran's friendly ties with the host countries.... Israel perpetrated the terrorist actions to launch psychological warfare against Iran." After the similarity of the various explosive devices was made public, Israeli Ambassador to Thailand Itzhak Shoham stated, "We can assume that there is the same network of terror." In January, Thai police arrested a Swedish Lebanese man linked to Lebanese Hezbollah, which is closely aligned with the Islamic Republic. The man led police to a large deposit of bomb-making materials, including more than four tons of urea and several gallons of ammonium nitrate; he claimed the materials were intended for transport to another country, which authorities did not name.

This week's events come in the wake of the assassination last month of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in a Tehran car bombing, the most recent in a series of unsolved attacks targeting Iran's nuclear program in which Israel has been implicated. For perspectives on Ahmadi Roshan's assassination and the context in which it took place, see here.

Following are excerpts from commentaries on this week's bombing incidents and related issues; those whose perspectives we survey range from a London-based scholar of international relations to a former Israeli intelligence agent, from an Indian counterterrorism expert to an analyst for the English-language subsidiary of Iran's state broadcasting network.


"Iran Seems an Unlikely Culprit for the Attacks on Israeli Diplomats"
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic

Let's assume that sections of the military and security apparatus in Iran are responsible for the string of bombings in Georgia, Thailand and India. What would be the motive? The argument that Iran is retaliating for the murder of five civilian nuclear scientists in Iran is not plausible. If Iran wanted to target Israeli interests, it has other means at its disposal. It is hard to imagine that the Iranian government would send Iranian operatives to friendly countries, completely equipped with Iranian money and passports -- making the case against them as obvious as possible.

If the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are as professional, highly trained and politically savvy as we have been told repeatedly by Israeli politicians themselves, if they have successfully trained and equipped the cadres of Hezbollah and other movements with paramilitary wings in the region, then why would they launch such a clumsy and self-defeating operation?

And why India, Georgia and Thailand, three countries that Iran has had cordial relations with during a period when Iran is facing increasing sanctions spearheaded by the United States? A few days ago, India agreed a rupee-based oil and gas deal with Iran and resisted US pressures to join the western boycott of the Iranian energy sector. As a net importer of 12% of Iranian oil, India's total trade with Iran amounted to $13.67bn in 2010-2011. What would be the motive for damaging relations with one of Iran's major trading partners and regional heavyweights?

For Iran it doesn't make sense to risk alienating India by launching an assassination attempt in the capital of the country. Similarly, Iran has good economic and political relations with Georgia and Thailand. Why would the leadership in Tehran risk a major crisis with these countries during this sensitive period when IAEA inspectors are moving in and out of Iran to investigate the country's nuclear programme?


"Iran's Fingerprints Are All Over Clumsy Thai Bomb Attempt"
Michael Ross, former deep-cover officer with the Israel Secret Intelligence Service (Mossad)
National Post

For the better part of my career in the Mossad, it was my job to track, hunt down (and where possible), neutralize Iranian or Hezbollah terrorist cells of the type that clumsily attempted to assassinate Israeli diplomats that played out on the clammy and stifling streets of Bangkok.

While it's easy to deride the incompetence of the Iranians' plot in Thailand (especially when compared to the assassination of scientists involved in Iran's non-conventional weapons projects), this is how Iran and its proxies operate. [...]

Many pundits whose memories are short (or are simply too young to remember these events) have been drawing attention to the aborted attack as proof that this couldn't be the work of the Iranian government on the basis that the sheer amateurism and ineptitude of these attacks don't exhibit the hallmarks of a clever state actor like Iran. In fact, this four-person cell is of the exact type that Iran deploys -- either under the direction and aegis of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) -- or Hezbollah, an otherwise wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime. This four person cell consisted of three men and one woman; Saeid Moradi (the hapless fellow who lost both legs trying to throw one of his explosive devices at a police unit), Mohamed Khazaei, the cell commander who was caught trying to flee Thailand, Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, most likely the technical and explosives specialist, who was arrested in Kuala Lumpur after trying to escape via Malaysia (a well-known transit point for IRGC-QF/Hezbollah operatives working the Far East), and Leila Rohani, the logistics person who managed to escape and has fled back to Tehran. Ms. Rohani was responsible for renting the safe house and providing other logistical support in Bangkok because being a woman would not attract the attention of the authorities in the same manner as three men of Near Eastern appearance. The fact that they were operating on Iranian identities is entirely consistent with their modus-operendi.


"'India Won't Act Tough Even if Iran's Hand Proven'"
Interview with Ajai Sahni, founding member and executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management
Zee News

Israel has blamed Iran for attacks in India, Georgia and now Thailand. Do you think Israel just jumped the gun, or has it logic to back up its accusation?

Israeli intelligence is usually very good, and they have a strong reputation on this, which they are unlikely to jeopardise by completely fabricated claims. The circumstantial evidence around this case, particularly including the nature of the explosive device and the near simultaneous developments in Tbilisi and Bangkok, is also fairly compelling. In Bangkok, particularly, Iranians have been arrested in connection with the incidents, and there were also antecedent intelligence warnings regarding the threat of Iran-linked terrorist incidents. Despite the very obvious difficulties of understanding why Iran would go for such an operation on Indian soil at this juncture, the Israeli allegations will have to be taken very seriously. It is not possible to say more than this, at present, and investigations will hopefully provide a more accurate picture of what actually happened, and the conspiracy and linkages that underpinned the incident.

If Iran is to be blamed for this attack, why did it choose Indian soil? Anyways, why would Iran want to antagonise one of its last-standing major trading partners? And if it is not Iran, which did other agencies carry out such an attack?

This is the real imponderable here. There is no rational strategic or tactical calculus apparent in this attack, if it emanates from any state entity in Iran. On the other hand, Iran-linked non-state actors, most prominently the Hezbollah, could have acted within a more comprehensible calculus. Such operations could have been undertaken without specific state sanction by such non-state groups, under the wider and ongoing mandate that such agencies enjoy. It is significant that, just days before the attack at New Delhi, on February 3, 2012, Ayatollah Khamanei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the country's highest authority, had described Israel's "Zionist regime" as a "cancerous tumour that should be cut and will be cut," and had declared, further, "we will support and help everyone who opposes the Zionist regime." Such broad exhortations may have been the provocation for the actions undertaken in Tbilisi, New Delhi and Bangkok.

Virtually every Islamist terrorist grouping operating on Indian soil, including all the Pakistan-backed groups, moreover, is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic in its ideological stance and pronouncements. Thus almost any one of these groups would also have the motives for such an attack, or may be tempted to cooperate with others who provoke such attacks. Of course, there is a wide gulf between these groups -- all of whom are fundamentalist Sunni in orientation -- and the Iranian regime or Hezbollah, who are fundamentalist Shia, and willing collaboration here is unlikely. A purely mercenary local actor could also have been recruited to execute the attack, creating another "circuit breaker" that will make it difficult to trace the link back to the primary conspirators.


"Israel Frames Iran for Its False Flag Embassy Bombing Saga"
Arash Zahedi, Tehran-based political analyst and broadcaster
Press TV (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting subsidiary)

Maybe some would argue that Iran might be conducting an "Eye for an Eye" operation for it has said Israel and the West are behind the serial killing of its nuclear scientists.

First of all, it has been time and again, not only argued but proven by evidence, that Iran has itself been the victim of terrorism. It has lost its citizens to it, from President to ordinary people! But it has continued thriving in many fields despite these hostilities. Tehran has proved and itself knows best that terrorism will not stop anyone from doing what they wish to.

In addition, a country making some of the most sophisticated missiles in the Middle East, with advances in various fields and with a world class intelligence work that has proven beyond capable in the many tests they have had in the past 3 decades, the most notable example of which was during the 8 year imposed Iraqi war, can do immeasurably better in the absolutely unlikely event of a retaliatory operation of this kind! After all, if Iran had intended to take revenge for the killing of its scientists in Tehran, it would undoubtedly target somebody as important in Tel Aviv, not an Israeli ambassador's wife in New Delhi!

But what about the Thai incident? Who are these suspects obviously not involved in a sophisticated terrorist attack? Individuals with bombs so poorly made, constructed and kept who depart from the scene chaotically with a clear lack of operational security in entering and moving about since they entered Thailand. People who carry their Iranian passports, wether fake or real, to a terrorist operation! It all indicates a purely amateurish operation with little advance planning for contingencies.

It is not hard to find politically unhappy groups in any given country and make them do things in exchange of some cash or other incentives. What Israel is doing in the West Bank of blackmailing desperate people to change them into Palestine "traitors" makes it all the more likely that Tel Aviv could be the number one funder of such operations. And who else better than elements affiliated with the outlawed MKO (Mojahedin Khalq Organization) to conduct these acts, a group that has fought against Iran alongside Iraq's ex-dictator Saddam Hussein? They have proven they will do whatever it takes to tarnish Iran's international image time and again besides being involved in a number of bombings against the Iranian nation that have killed many.

All views expressed are solely the respective authors' own.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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