Bomb Attacks on Israeli Envoys in India and Georgia

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More fuel today on the fire of tensions building up between Israel and Iran. Israel is blaming Iran and its ally, the Lebanon-based militant group, Hezbollah, for attacks on Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia. In Delhi a blast destroyed the car of Israeli embassy official, apparently a bomber on a motorcycle attached an explosive device to the vehicle. The diplomat and three other people were wounded. The attack in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was reportedly foiled. The US condemned the attacks and offered to help investigate them. Israel and Iran have traded accusations lately, mostly related to Iran's nuclear program and speculation that Israel may be preparing to launch a military strike against it. The World's Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem. He says that the Israeli response to today's attacks was swift.

Matthew Bell: Very quickly the Israeli government came out and said that we know who did this. They named Iran and Hezbollah and said that they wouldn't sit by idly.

Werman: What does this say about the vulnerability of Israeli interests right now?

Bell: Marco, I was just looking at a list compiled by Reuters of a timeline of attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets abroad going back to the early '70s. There are a couple of dozen of these types of attacks that have taken place, and Israeli officials will tell you that they plan for this sort of thing, that their facilities, their embassies overseas are very security conscious. And in fact, in recent years there's been even more security at these facilities, especially since four years ago there was the assassination of the militant commander, Imad Mughniyah, one of the top Hezbollah leaders in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah blames Israel for the assassination and they have said ever since then that they will choose the time and place for retaliation. Israel has not claimed responsibility for that assassination, but when I've talked to Israeli intelligence experts they say this sort of thing was probably only a matter of time and they point at Hezbollah in Iran.

Werman: Do these twin bomb attacks represent in any way a recent escalation of violence targeting Israel?

Bell: Yeah, the tension has been incredibly high between Israel and Iran, and again, a lot of the things that are being talked about in the media, this is covert and there aren't direct claims of responsibility, but going back the last couple of years there were assassinations in Iran of nuclear scientists, the most recent one being just in January. There have been reported incidents of sabotage on Iran's nuclear program. And then just the environment, Marco, between Israel and Iran over Iran's nuclear program has really been ratcheting up and up. About a week ago the defense minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, gave a speech and very bluntly said, essentially, "look, Israel might have to use military force against Iran's nuclear facilities."

Werman: I mean against the backdrop of suspicions that Israel might try to attack Iran sometime this year, it might seem to some that an angry reaction is expected from Israel. What are insiders saying about what the Israeli government response might be?

Bell: That's the big question, Marco. I talked to one former Israeli intelligence official today who said these things are hard to predict; you know, if you look at both of the attacks today in Georgia and in Delhi, of course, there were several people injured, but you could say that the two attacks failed, that no one was killed and that was clearly the intention, that whoever was doing this (and we should emphasize that we don't know who it was), was trying to kill someone, was trying to kill Israeli diplomats. So that didn't happen. If it did you could say that the Israeli response would probably be much more severe. Right now, the official that I talked to said look, Israel probably will just put this down onto the ledger and say we're keeping track of this sort of thing, but right now there's such a sensitive time that it's not clear it's going to warrant a major response right away at least.

Werman: The World's Matthew Bell in Jerusalem, thank you as always, Matthew.

Bell: Thank you, Marco.