Bomb Attacks: Israelis believe attacks mark a new onslaught: Charles Richards looks at possible motives for the wave of anti-Jewish bombings and considers who may be responsible

ISRAEL has warned that the bombs in Buenos Aires and London mark a 'new stage of terror' against Israeli and Jewish targets.

Speaking on a brief stopover in London, Israeli's tourism minister, Uzi Baram, pointed the finger firmly at Iran which, he said, sponsored the Islamic groups that had carried out the attacks. Even though the car bombers did not die in the attacks, they were prepared to do so. Therefore, Europe should come to terms with the possibility of suicide car bombs. 'This is another level of attack, another level of terror.'

Investigators will be concentrating on two main areas: motive and organisational ability. The possible motives are: to derail the Arab-Israeli peace process; to avenge Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon; or a combination of these.

Israel has always ascribed a political motive to such attacks. When Israeli soldiers were attacked in southern Lebanon on Monday, Israeli officials said Iran had timed the attacks to coincide with Jordanian-Israeli agreements being reached in Washington.

However, many in the region believe the motive was simple revenge for the devastation wrought by Israel on the villages and population of south Lebanon during its invasion, codenamed Operation Accountability, exactly a year ago.

The method used for planting the explosives will also be scrutinised. The car bomb is the hallmark of Lebanese, rather than Palestinian, groups. However, Israeli security officials have been warning for a few months that some of the Palestinian Islamic extremists have shown great familiarity with bomb-making.

Several Islamic groups could have carried out the bombings. On the Palestinian side are Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) and Islamic Jihad. The main Lebanese group is Hizbollah, although another Lebanese group - Ansar Allah (the Followers of God) - said they carried out the Buenos Aires attack which killed nearly 100 in a Jewish community centre. All these groups have some contact with Tehran. Yesterday, a claim by an alleged Hamas spokesman, that it planted the London bombs, was repudiated by the movement in Jordan.

Israel believes none of these organisations acted alone. It says that to acquire, move around, prime and set off such a large amount of explosives presupposes the kind of organisational support only available to government agencies.

Iran has rejected accusations of involvement, which it said was a pretext for Israel to launch the kind of campaign against Hizbollah, Islamic groups and Iranian targets which it led against Palestinian extremists in the 1970s. 'Accusing the Islamists even before the British police could find the perpetrators shows that (Israel) wants to take advantage of these incidents to justify its current aggression and possible future attacks on its opponents in the region,' Tehran Radio said in a commentary yesterday.

Determining Iran's motives is never straightforward. The pragmatists around President Rafsanjani speak about seeking better ties with the West. However, there are reports of rivalries between different branches of the intelligence services. There are those who would like revenge for the bombing last month at Mashad, the holiest shrine in Iran, which was said to have been by the Mujahedin Khalq terrorist organisation. Iran has protested before that the Government allows the Mujahedin Khalq to operate in Britain.

For all Israel's protestations that the aims of such attacks is to derail the peace process, there is little evidence they will. The Arab-Israel conflict has changed dramatically over the past two years, with agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians, the PLO chairman returned to Palestine, and now a non-belligerency accord reached between Israel and Jordan.

That process seems irreversible. So if the bombers had a political motive, rather than a desire merely to hit at Israel, they are likely to be thwarted.