Blast hits Israeli diplomat's car in India


Assailants targeted Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia in near-simultaneous strikes today that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed on archenemy Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

The bombing of an Israeli diplomat's car in New Delhi by an attacker apparently on a motorcycle wounded four people, officials said. Israel said an attempted car bombing in Georgia was thwarted.

"Today we witnessed two attempts of terrorism against innocent civilians," Netanyahu told a gathering of politicians from his Likud Party. "Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world," he said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks. But Netanyahu also said Israel had thwarted similar attacks in recent months in Azerbaijan and Thailand.

"In all those cases, the elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah," he said, vowing to "act with a strong hand against international terror."

Both Hezbollah and Iran have deep grievances against the Jewish state.

Hezbollah battled Israel in a month-long war in 2006, and on Sunday, the Lebanese guerrilla group marked the anniversary of the 2008 assassination of one of its commanders, Imad Mughniyeh, in a bombing widely believed to have been carried out by Israel. Iran suspects Israeli involvement in a series of killings of officials and scientists involved in its nuclear programme.

The New Delhi attack took place just a few hundred metres from the prime minister's residence as the diplomat's wife was heading to the American Embassy School to pick up her children, said Delhi Police Commissioner BK Gupta.

When the car approached a crossing, she noticed a motorcyclist ride up and stick something on it that appeared to be a magnetic device, he said.

The car drove a short distance, there was a loud sound and then an explosion and the car caught fire, he said.

"It was a loud explosion. We realised it's not a firecracker, but an explosion, and rushed toward the car," said Ravi Singh, 50, owner of a gas station near the blast site.

The blast left a charred minivan with blue diplomatic plates, its rear door apparently blown out.

Gupta said the woman, Tal Yeshova, was stable and conscious. Her driver, Manoj Sharma 42, sustained minor injuries. Two people in a nearby car sustained minor injuries, he said.

Israeli diplomats in India have been on constant alert since Pakistan-based militants rampaged across the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, attacking luxury hotels, the main train station and killing six people in the Chabad Jewish community centre.

India's foreign minister, SM Krishna, said India would cooperate closely with Israel in the investigation.

"I have just spoken to the Israeli foreign minister," he said. "I assured him that the law of the land will take its course."

Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said an explosive device was planted on the car of a driver for the Israeli Embassy.

Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, said the driver noticed a package attached to his car's undercarriage and called police.

Police found a grenade in the package and it was defused, Utiashvili said.

There was no immediate comment from Iran or Hezbollah. But speculation will undoubtedly be raised over the possibility of Iranian-linked payback for assassinations on nuclear scientists and other covert plots that Tehran has blamed on Israel's spy agency Mossad and Western allies.

"There have been all kinds of mysterious things happening in Iran, and it could be an Iranian counterattack," said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former top aide to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. "It's no secret that Iran uses Hezbollah globally, and Hezbollah has the capacity to carry out attacks around the globe."

Hezbollah dominates the government of Lebanon, which borders Israel to the north.

Were Iran behind the New Delhi attack, it would be a stunning violation against one of its stronger allies.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has resisted US and EU pressure to curtail trade with Iran over the nuclear issue. Energy-starved India relies heavily on Iranian oil imports and the two countries are working to find creative ways for India to pay for the oil by using rupees and investing in Iranian infrastructure projects.

Israel, like the West, accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons and has urged the international community to consider all means, including military action, to stop Tehran. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.