Monday, February 13, 2012

Binyamin Netanyahu accuses Iran over bombs targeting Israeli diplomat

The Guardian

Tehran's ambassador to India denounces Israeli claim as 'sheer lies' after blast in New Delhi and discovery of device in Tbilisi

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of being behind twin attacks on Israeli targets in India and Georgia on Monday in a move likely to further escalate tensions between the two countries and increase international pressure on the Iranian regime.

The attacks, in which four people were injured, followed a warning from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, earlier this month that the Islamic Republic would retaliate against international sanctions and would back "any nation or group" that sought to "confront and fight" Israel.

In Delhi, witnesses said they saw assailants on motorcycles attaching a device to a car when it stopped at a traffic light. In the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, an Israeli embassy driver discovered a device planted on the undercarriage of his car. The modus operandi in both incidents mirrored the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran last month, which Iran claimed was carried out by agents for Israeli intelligence.

The Iranian regime also blamed Israel for a string of earlier assassinations and covert operations. Many in the international community have voiced alarm at the prospect of a low-intensity war between the two states conducted by intelligence operatives and their proxies.

Within hours of Monday's apparently co-ordinated attacks in the Indian and Georgian capitals, Netanyahu declared: "The elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah."

Tehran, he added, was "the largest terror exporter in the world" and was also responsible for recent attempted assaults on Israeli targets in Azerbaijan and Thailand. Israel, he said, would "act with a strong hand".

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said Israel "know[s] how to identify exactly who is responsible for the attack and who carried it out".

Iran described the accusations as "sheer lies". Mehdi Nabizadeh, Iran's ambassador to Delhi, was quoted as saying by IRNA: "Any terrorist attack is condemned [by Iran] and we strongly reject the untrue comments by an Israeli official. These accusations are untrue and sheer lies, like previous times."

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, which were initially linked to the anniversary of the assassination of a Hezbollah militant in Lebanon four years ago.

Four people, including the wife of an Israeli diplomat on her way to collect her children from the American Embassy School in Delhi, were reported injured when an explosive device wrecked a car with diplomatic plates.

According to Delhi Police Commissioner BK Gupta, the woman noticed a passing motorcyclist attach what appeared to be a magnetic device to the car when it slowed to approach a crossing.

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

Some witnesses told Indian television channels that they saw two riders on the bike.

The woman, Tali Yeshova, was taken to hospital for treatment and was expected to fly back to Israel later. Her driver and two other people in a nearby car sustained minor injuries, Gupta said.

In Tbilisi, police safely defused an explosive device found underneath a car of a local man employed as a driver at the Israeli embassy.

The Israeli foreign ministry declined to give details, only saying Israeli authorities were co-operating with local security forces.

Israeli missions around the world had been alerted to potential attacks around the anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah figure who was killed when his car exploded in 2008. Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran, blamed Israel for the blast.

Israeli officials have also warned of the threat to embassies and other targets from Iran or its allies.

Last month, the Israel Defence Force chief of staff, Benny Gantz, warned: "We are witnessing efforts by Hezbollah and other hostile elements to perpetrate a brutal terror attack far from Israel."

Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel's internal security agency Shin Bet, said earlier this month that Iranian agents were attempting to attack Israeli targets around the world in retaliation for covert operations, including the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

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