WASHINGTON (JTA) — Iran and Israel appear to be locked in an assassination contest.
Israeli leaders blamed Iran for two assassination attempts late Sunday and early Monday — in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in New Delhi, India. The bomb in Tbilisi was disabled before it could be activated, and the attack in India wounded the wife of an Israeli diplomat and her driver.
The attacks follow a number of reported attempts on Israeli and Jewish targets, most recently in Azerbaijan and Thailand. They also follow a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and military figures associated with Iran — most recently on Jan. 11. Iran has blamed Israel for being behind those attacks. In keeping with Israeli policy on such issues, Israeli officials have declined to comment.
Experts warn that the attacks could get worse.
“It’s clear we’re already in a situation of escalation, but what’s still not clear is how far that’s going to go,” said Michael Adler, an expert on Iran at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
If Iran manages to kill Israelis, it could invite an escalated response from Israel.
“We don’t need a war of words to descend into a war of assassinations to descend into something much bigger,” said Joel Rubin, director of government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, which supports projects aimed at advancing peace.
After the bombing in India on Monday and the foiled attack in Georgia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fingered Iran.
“Iran is behind these attacks; it is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world,” he said. “The government of Israel and the security services will continue to act together with local security forces against such acts of terrorism. We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”
On Tuesday, an Iranian national was injured by bombs that exploded in a Bangkok house he shared with two other non-Thais. Unnamed Israeli officials said the bombs were being prepared for a large-scale attack against an Israeli target.
“The attempted attack in Bangkok proves once again that Iran and its proxies are continuing to perpetrate terrorism,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement from Singapore. “The recent attacks are yet another example of this.”
Iran’s ambassador to New Delhi, Mehdi Nabizadeh, rejected Netanyahu’s accusations about the Indian and Georgian attempts, calling them “untrue and sheer lies, like previous times,” Reuters reported. Nabizadeh also condemned the attack.
But on Feb. 3, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country is prepared to assist those who would “confront” Israel and the United States.
“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help,” he said in a rare Friday sermon. “We have no fear expressing this.”
The attacks in Georgia and New Delhi took place the day after the fourth anniversary of the car bombing in Syria that killed Imad Mughniyeh, the operations chief for Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanon proxy. At the time, Hezbollah leaders said they would avenge the killing at a time and place of their choosing. That was widely seen at the time as a signal that Hezbollah was ending its unofficial moratorium on attacking Israelis and Jews outside the Middle East that had been in place since the mid-1990s.
In 1994, an Iranian-sponsored bombing thought to have been carried out by Hezbollah operatives leveled the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring more than 300. A bombing attack on that city’s Israeli Embassy two years earlier had left 29 dead.
For its part, Israel has not acknowledged responsibility for the attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. But a number of unnamed American officials have told media outlets that they believe Israel is behind the killings.
Patrick Clawson, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Israel’s posture in the region stems from the existential threat that Israeli leaders believe is posed by Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Recent reports suggest that Israeli leaders think that time is running out to halt the program before Iran has passed a point of no return on the way to a nuclear weapon.
“Israel’s attitude would be diplomats are expendable because of national survival,” Clawson said.
In the New Delhi attack, Tal Yehoshua Koren, the wife of a diplomat stationed with the Israeli Defense Ministry mission in India, was the injured woman, Ynet reported.
On Tuesday, she was in stable condition following surgery to remove shrapnel and reportedly woke for the first time. The bomb reportedly was attached to the car by someone on a motorcycle and detonated remotely while she was riding.
Some reports say that Koren realized what happened and began exiting the car before the explosion. She was taken to the hospital by rickshaw, Ynet reported. She could soon return to Israel, according to reports.
The Associated Press reported that the shrapnel was removed from her spine and that she has partial paralysis in her legs.
After the attack, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz called a meeting to assess the situation of Israel’s foreign missions. India’s foreign minister reportedly called his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, and said his country would work to capture the attackers. He also said his country will provide additional security for the embassy.
In a call with Indian reporters following Monday’s attack, Paul Hirschson, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, commended the Indian and Georgian governments for working with Israel to follow up on such attempts and prevent them in the future. He also suggested that Israel’s responses to such attacks would not be confined to prevention.
“I don’t think we’re going to say we’re going to twiddle our thumbs happily at attempts on Israelis anywhere,” he said Monday in a conference call organized by The Israel Project.
(JTA Israel correspondent Marcy Oster contributed to this report.)