Kim Sengupta: These attacks could serve as a catalyst for war

There is a perception that the Israelis must carry out any attacks before the US elections

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The bombings have already become remarkable for their rapid frequency: in Delhi, in Tbilisi and now in Bangkok. The perpetrators, we are told, were Iranians and their allies, Hezbollah. The targets: Israelis.

If all true, this is a dangerous moment in a scenario already incendiary due to the confrontation between Israel and the West and Iran over its nuclear programme.

At the Herzliyah security conference in Israel this month one got the impression that the hierarchy in Israel was divided on military strikes. Senior officers in the military were cautious while some politicians were eager to put others' sons in harm's way.

Part of the debate was about timing. The sanctions imposed by the EU and the US, including the most potent, an oil embargo, do not come fully into play until the summer. After that it will take a few months to gauge the effects. Yet, at the same time, there is a perception the Israelis must carry out any attacks before the US elections in November, during a period when Barack Obama would find it difficult not to back Benjamin Netanyahu's government. The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, keeps warning about Iran reaching a "zone of immunity" after which it would be much more difficult to destroy its nuclear capabilities.

The latest bombings have undoubtedly strengthened the hands of the hawks in Tel Aviv. Their view is that sanctions are no longer the only argument and the time factor has become less material and along with the danger of nuclear war, Iran and its allies are embarking on a terrorist war against the Jewish state.

Israel can retaliate with "unofficial war". But that would be nothing new – up to six scientists involved with the nuclear programme have already been assassinated inside Iran. Hezbollah, too, has suffered from the long reach of Mossad.

Could continuing bombings be the trigger for strikes against Iran? The murder in 1982 of the Israeli ambassador to the UK by a Palestinian faction led to full-scale war against the PLO in Lebanon when the political landscape in the region was less febrile than it is now.

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