After the explosion

Iran’s intentions are clear — and Israel and the world need India to apply pressure on Tehran

Written by Amos Harel | Published: February 22, 2012 3:29 am

Iran’s intentions are clear — and Israel and the world need India to apply pressure on Tehran

The recent terrorist attack in New Delhi,which left three Indian citizens and an Israeli diplomat’s wife wounded,is only the tip of the iceberg. Not just of an Iranian bombing campaign — within 24 hours two other attacks failed in Tbilisi and in Bangkok — but of a real,widespread war,most of it held in the darkness,between Iran and Western intelligence agencies,among them the Israelis.

Despite Tehran’s insistent denials,it seems that this time the Iranians were caught redhanded. While the Delhi police have yet to attain a promising suspect in Monday’s attack,the Thai authorities have been luckier,thanks to the surprising clumsiness of the terrorists in Bangkok. Three suspects carrying Iranian passports were arrested after leaving an apartment where explosives blew up,apparently by mistake. One of them even managed to hurt himself badly,detonating another bomb while attempting to escape from the policemen. And here comes the interesting part: authorities in all three countries now believe that similar explosives were used in these cases. This time,all roads lead to Tehran.

But the story is much bigger than that. During the last decade,two opposite efforts took place around the world: the Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear capability,presumably of the military kind,and lead terrorist campaigns against Israeli and sometimes Western targets — and an effort to curb those ambitions by major parts of the international community. The last two years have brought about a typical mixture of good news and bad news. The Iranians now look closer to their goal,though not getting there at the pace they had previously expected,but on the other hand,most important international forces (excluding Russia and China) are now united in recognising the imminent danger in Iran’s plans. This leads to more firm acts in order to prevent Tehran from reaching its target — see the much stricter sanctions announced against Iran last month,by both the United States and the European Union.

This fight is mostly held as a secret,sometimes dirty,war. Cyber attacks and contra-attacks,uranium enrichment centrifuges suddenly going out of order,Iranian nuclear scientists dying mysteriously in the centre of Tehran. Sometimes,as has happened this week,the struggle spills from its designated fighting zone into prestigious diplomatic quarters,unaccustomed to such bloodshed. There is,of course,a distinct difference: the Israeli woman and the Indian victims of the Delhi attack were innocents,not involved in this fight. But the Iranians wanted to send a message — and Tehran is not famous for its sensitivity to civilian casualties. Although the Israeli agencies did not have sufficient information about these attacks,it’s hard to say that they were surprised. In the last four years,more than 20 similar attempts by the Iranians and their Lebanese cronies,Hezbollah,had been thwarted.

The first impression from Monday and Tuesday’s relative failures is that the Iranians acted too hastily. It might be that the terrorists,by most assessments members of the regime’s devoted Revolutionary Guard,were under a lot of pressure to show immediate results. Iran and Hezbollah both promised publicly to avenge the deaths of four Iranian nuclear scientists and of Imad Mugannyah,Hezbollah’s leading terrorist operative,assassinated in Damascus four years ago this week (Israel is blamed by the Iranians for all these attacks,but never acknowledged,or openly denied,any responsibility). It also seems that the regime in Tehran has quite a lot on its plate at the moment: worsening sanctions,the collapse of the Iranian economy and the threat of growing unrest among the population regarding next month’s parliamentary elections.

Will the recent events affect Iran’s race to the nuclear bomb? Not necessarily. What’s at stake is far more dramatic than these recent incidents. The debate regarding the proper way to handle the Iranian nuclear threat will no doubt continue in the next months. Recently,Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak introduced a new concept to the discussion. Iran,claims Barak,will soon enter an “immunity zone”,in which its nuclear capabilities would be safe from harm. Barak refers mostly to an enrichment site named Fordo,where centrifuges are hidden deep underground,far out of reach for both Israeli and American bombs. By the end of this year,he assumes,enough centrifuges would be kept there to secure the fate of the nuclear programme. The Obama administration remains cautious. American officials define the “red line” elsewhere,at the time when Iran decides to move forward and produce an actual nuclear warhead. This,they assume,will probably take a year longer than Barak’s deadline. But Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish remarks about Iran had already alarmed Washington.

Obama now spends much of his time trying to restrain Israel from attacking the Iranian nuclear sites. Earlier this month,the American president noted that he believed Israel still hasn’t made up its mind about the attack. Israeli decisionmakers are by no way in agreement regarding this issue. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan,who ended his term last year,publicly described an Israeli military strike in Iran as “the silliest idea I’ve ever heard”. Dagan warns of a possible regional war,in which Iran,Hezbollah and Hamas might launch thousands of rockets and missiles at Israeli civilian population centres. Others,on the other hand,warn that a nuclear Iran might pose almost an existential threat to Israel and that this danger should be dealt with by all means necessary.

Where does this leave India? It’s no secret that the India-Israel defence relationship has drastically improved in the last decade. Senior Israeli officials have told me that they were very satisfied with the Indian assistance in the Delhi explosion investigation. But it seems that in the future months India will need to do a little more than that. This week’s terrorist campaign supplied ample proof about the true nature of the ruthless regime in Tehran. The most effective way to obstruct the Iranian nuclear programme remains immediate,stricter,international sanctions on its oil industry and Tehran’s banking system. But in order for that to succeed,the world needs India. Delhi should be on the same page as the US and the EU. Israelis are aware of how important Iranian oil is to India’s giant economy. Still,there are ways to solve this problem. Iran’s intentions are rather clear by now — and should also be considered east of Tehran,not only west of it.

The writer is defence analyst for the Israeli newspaper ‘Ha’aretz’ Views are personal

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