While Israel Blames Iran for India, Georgia Bombings, U.S. More Reserved
Marsha Cohen and Jim Lobe*
MIAMI/WASHINGTON, 13 Feb (IPS) -
While Israel and its allies here blamed Iran for Monday's two nearly simultaneous car bomb incidents in the capitals of India and Georgia, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama echoed local authorities in both countries who said they were not sure who the perpetrators were.
"I don't have an assessment to give you of what the Israeli government is saying," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington.
"We have no information yet to share with you about who was behind those attacks, but we're obviously working and discussing with the Israelis and others to ascertain exactly that," he added.
Independent analysts in Washington also professed uncertainty about responsibility for the bombings.
Some said Iran, which had vowed last month to retaliate for the assassination, reportedly by Israel's spy agency, Mossad, of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, was the most likely candidate.
Others suggested that Laskar-e Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani terrorist group which carried out the 2008 bombings in Mumbai, India, also had to be considered a major suspect for the attack in New Delhi, which sent the wife of the Israeli Embassy's military attaché to the hospital. After surgery to remove bits of shrapnel from the bomb, she was released late Monday, according to news reports.
The Indian government has promised Israel a thorough investigation of the blast that injured the woman and several other people. According to reports, an explosive device was placed on her car by a motorcyclist while it was stopped at a red light close to the Israeli embassy.
At nearly the same time, in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, a similar device, described by some reports as a grenade, was found attached to a car owned by one of the Israeli embassy's local drivers and dismantled before it could be detonated.
A spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, Shota Khizanishvili told reporters that the incident may have been linked to the driver's personal life, rather than his work at the embassy, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
Coming so soon after the Jan 11 killing - also by a bomb attached by a motorcyclist to a car - of the Iranian nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the two attacks appeared to many both here and in Israel that Tehran was trying to take the revenge it had promised.
Roshan was the fourth Iranian scientist to be killed in this way in the last two years. NBC News quoted senior U.S. officials last week as confirming that the assassination campaign has been organised by Israel's Mossad working with the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iraq-based Iranian group that the U.S. lists as a terrorist organisation.
"In recent months we have witnessed several attempts to attack Israeli citizens and Jews in several countries, including Azerbaijan, Thailand and others," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu charged Monday. "&Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, were behind all of these attempted attacks," he said.
Tehran called Israel's charges "sheer lies" and suggested that Israel itself may have been responsible as part of its "psychological warfare" against Iran.
Israeli officials noted that Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the assassination, also reportedly by Mossad, of Imad Mughiniyeh, one of the founders of Hezbollah, which, with Iran's help, began as a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s. Mughniyah had been accused of planning and carrying out terrorist attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets at Iran's behest throughout the Middle East and even in Argentina.
Indian officials, meanwhile, did not rule out involvement of the LeT, which has been linked to Al-Qaeda and Pakistan's military intelligence. Among the 164 people killed in its Mumbai attack were six people at Nariman House, a Chabad religious centre that catered to Israelis and visiting Jews from Western countries. Investigators concluded that the centre was a specific target of the LeT attack.
Since the fall of 2009, Israel has issued travel warning to its citizens visiting India, a popular destination with Israelis: "The terror group that carried out the 2008 Mumbai attack can conduct a number of attacks across India, including on the concentration of Western tourists and Israelis and may also attack Chabad houses."
Early reports on several Indian news sites said that "low grade explosive material, including sulphur and potassium chlorate with sulphuric acid," had been used to detonate Monday's explosion. These early reports also noted that Abdul Karim Tunda, said to be affiliated with the LeT, used this method in late 1990s and early 2000s to set off explosions in various parts of India.
As of Monday night, however, the explosives used in the attack had not been positively identified, according to Delhi Police Commissioner B. K. Gupta.
The Times of India reported early Tuesday morning that the bomb attached to the Israeli embassy vehicle by a magnet was the type that has been used in past terrorist operations in Iran, Israel, Georgia, Turkey and Armenia. The newspaper also reported that its manufacture was of a sophistication that had not been seen in India to date.
U.S. experts on Iran and South Asia Monday said they were uncertain about who was responsible.
"The Israelis have been very quick and categorical in blaming the Iranians; it's not an unreasonable charge," said Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA analyst on the Near East and South Asia, now at the Brookings Institution.
"Israel and Iran have been engaged in a Spy vs. Spy war for years. This war has been getting hotter and hotter, with Israel's deep concern about Iran's nuclear programme," he told IPS. "What we're seeing now is a very dangerous game, getting more and more dangerous all the time."
"It's not a cold war anymore," Riedel, who has advised the Obama administration on South Asia policy, went on, noting the assassinations of the Iranian scientists, as well as other efforts to sabotage Tehran's nuclear and missile programmes. "Iran and Hezbollah are fighting back, and want to show their ability to carry out simultaneous attacks."
At the same time, he stressed, "There are a host of people who would like to see a war between Iran and Israel, particularly Al-Qaeda" with which LeT has been linked.
Stephen Tankel, an expert on LeT at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agreed that the perpetrators could be Iran, Hezbollah, or LeT.
"Does Lashkar have an interest in targeting Israelis? Yes. Do Hezbollah (and Iran) have an interest in targeting Israelis? Yes and arguably more so," he told IPS. "Do both groups have transnational networks? Yes.
Neither Hezbollah nor Lashker-e-Taiba is previously known to have operated in Georgia. Tankel said, "I've not heard of Lashkar folks in Georgia, but that does not mean they're not there."
"Gun to my head, I'd be more inclined to believe it was Hezbollah, but I wouldn't be shocked if it turned out I picked the wrong horse," says Tankel. "Remember, we're talking about two state-sponsored organisations that are pretty good at covering their tracks."
Monday's incidents also coincided with the opening of the trial of Umar Patek in Jakarta, Indonesia. Patek, who is believed to be a member of another Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Jemaah Islamiah, is accused of masterminding the explosions that killed 202 people, most of them foreigners, at a night club and bar in Bali on 2002.
*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.