Israel blames Iran for embassy bomb attacks

Tehran rejects Netanyahu's 'lies' after diplomats in India and Georgia targeted

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The Independent Online

Israel blamed Iran for two co-ordinated bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia yesterday, significantly raising already heightened regional tensions.

The wife of an Israeli diplomat in Delhi needed surgery to remove shrapnel and three other people were hurt as a diplomatic car in which she was travelling exploded when she left to collect her children from school. A bomb in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was defused.

The incidents intensified the friction that has been building between Israel and Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world."

Mr Netanyahu linked the attacks with several other thwarted attacks against Israel in recent months, including those in Azerbaijan and Thailand, which he said had been conducted by "Iran and its protégé Hezbollah".

The bombings, for which Iran adamantly denied responsibility, came 10 days after the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened to respond to international sanctions by backing "any nation or group" that tried to "confront or fight" Israel.

The Delhi incident took place in the high-security central area of the city, a few hundred metres from the closely guarded residence of the Prime Minister and the Israeli embassy. The Delhi Police Commissioner, B K Gupta, said that as the car approached a crossing, the wife of an Israeli defence ministry official, Tal Yehoshua-Koren, noticed a motorcyclist ride up and stick what appeared to be a magnetic device on the car. The car had driven a short distance when there was an explosion and it caught fire.

Israel's foreign missions had already been placed on high alert ahead of Sunday's anniversary of the 2008 assassination in Syria of a Hezbollah leader, Imad Moughniyeh, for which Israel was widely blamed.

The attacks in Tbilisi and Delhi also followed a warning this month by Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel's internal security service, Shin Bet, that Iran would attempt to hit Israeli targets around the world to stop what it believed were Israel's assassinations of nuclear scientists, four of which have taken place since November 2010 and used magnetic bombs. The technique of the attacks appeared to replicate that used against the Iranian scientists.

Even if Hezbollah agents carried out the attacks, Mr Netanyahu's levelling of blame at Iran appears to be in line with a long-standing belief in Israeli security circles that the Lebanese group's out-of-area operations are orchestrated by Iran.

The Georgian interior ministry said the attempted bombing in Tbilisi was foiled when a locally hired embassy driver noticed a package attached to the car's underside and promptly called the police, who defused the device. Ravi Singh, 50, who owns a petrol station near the site of the Delhi blast, told the Associated Press: "It was a loud explosion. We realised it was not a firecracker but an explosion, and rushed toward the car."

Israel's defence ministry said Ms Yehosuhua-Koren's injuries were not life-threatening. Mr Gupta said her driver, Manoj Sharma, 42, and two people in a nearby car, were slightly injured.

Iran's ambassador to India, Mahdi Nabizadeh, rejected Mr Netanyahu's accusation as "lies" and, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency, added: "We condemn any terrorist attack and strongly reject unrealistic charges by an official of the Zionist regime."

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

Foreign affairs specialists in Delhi were sceptical about whether Iran would have participated in such an attack and risk damaging relations between Tehran and India.