A very unusual bomb attack and India’s tightrope

There are fears of India becoming a ‘proxy battleground’ between the West and Iran.

Rajeev Srivastava

In a very daring attack that foxed Indian intelligence agencies, the wife of the Israeli Defence Attaché in New Delhi, her Indian driver and two bystanders on the road were injured on February 13, 2012, when what was believed to be an explosive-cum-incendiary device attached to the rear of her car exploded. She was reportedly going to the American School to pick up their children when the explosion took place. The scene of the blast is located in a high-security area where the tightly-guarded house of the Indian Prime Minister is located. The car was engulfed in flames, but did not explode into pieces, thereby indicating that the incendiary effect was more than the explosive effect.

The attack coincided with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a senior leader of the Hezbollah Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus and the first anniversary of the death of two Iranian nuclear scientists in Teheran due to a similar explosion caused by a sticky bomb. Iran had blamed the Israeli intelligence for these incidents and had threatened revenge. A similar explosion due to an IED attached to the car of an employee of the Israeli Embassy in Tibilisi, capital of Georgia, was averted the same day due to the timely detection of the IED and its neutralisation before it could explode.

Israeli leaders and officials have blamed the Iranian intelligence and the Hezbollah for the successful attack in New Delhi and the attempted one in Tibilisi. They have claimed that these two incidents came in the wake of another thwarted attempt in Bangkok. They have threatened reprisals against Iran and the Hezbollah. Incidentally the head of Mossad was in New Delhi last week.

Despite India being a target of many Islamic militant groups in the past none of them had any links with Shia militant group. All such past evidence was attributable to the interest of Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), both Sunni organisations, to carry out terrorist strikes against Israeli/Jewish targets in India. In the 1990s, there were instances of Shia terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, but there had not been an incident of Shia terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K in the past. In fact in India, Shiite groups are considered to be more liberal, and less affected by the pulls of pan Islamism. In the past, there was no evidence of any plans of the Hezbollah to attack Israeli nationals and interests in India. The Indian Intelligence agencies think there is a very little likelihood of any known militant group from the region being part of the bomb plan.

The political fallout

The attack on Israeli embassy staff in New Delhi on Monday has brought into sharp focus India’s growing dilemma. According to The Wall Street Journal, India’s defence purchases from Israel — part of a high-priority modernization of the country’s armed forces after decades of neglect — include surface-to-air missiles and surveillance and missile defense technology. The countries also share the experience of being frequent targets of terrorist attacks. While India has strong ties with Israel, it has robust trade ties with Iran owing to its growing energy needs, and is one of Iran’s largest crude oil customers. If Indian investigators ultimately determine Iran was involved in the attack, there would be enormous domestic and international pressure on India to back away from supporting Iran and perhaps even curb its oil purchases. In fact there are fears that India could become a ‘proxy battleground’ amid geopolitical tensions between the West and Iran.

The China factor

The energy deficient powers in the region China and India are eyeing the oil and gas reserves in Iran for their future energy needs. China and Russia have voted against US sponsored sanctions against Iran. The US and several European countries have accused China of circumventing sanctions against Iran by selling dual-use metals that Iran could use to manufacture advanced weaponry, including long-range nuclear missiles. The US claims that China has been selling tungsten copper (used in building weapons guidance systems) to Iran and that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has intercepted shipments of aluminum and titanium sheets (which serve as raw materials for missile production) coming from China destined for Iran.

While China is interested in investing in a gas pipeline from Iran via Afghanistan and Pakistan as her long term financial and strategic goal, India has shelved a similar proposal after US pressure particularly during the height of the US–India civil nuclear negotiations.

India relies on Iran for 12–15 percent of its oil needs and uses the Iranian port at Chabahar to move its goods into Afghanistan, since Pakistan does not allow India to transit its territory. India and Iran worked closely in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and India likely calculates that it will need to reinstitute similar cooperation to protect its interests in the region when the US withdraws its forces.

(Rajeev Srivastava is a film maker and freelance journalist. The views are his personal.)

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