Monday, February 13, 2012

The Mystery Bomber

The bomb attack this evening on an Israeli embassy vehicle was reportedly placed by a motorcycle-borne assailant a short distance from the Israeli embassy itself. High-level Israeli diplomats often travel with tight security details around India. Other nationals enjoy lesser protection.
According to a source, who works with the Israelis, it is easy to spot Israeli diplomats' cars by scanning for their '109 CD' license plates. Since the attack occurred near the embassy, it is likely the assailant lay in wait nearby looking for a "target of opportunity". In other words, an Israeli national who did not enjoy high security. Ms Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the woman injured in the bombing, would have presented just such an opportunity.
Shortly after, Israeli officials blamed Hezbollah and Iran for attacks. It's not hard to imagine why Iran would want to target Israelis either directly or through its proxy, Hezbollah. The two countries are virtually at war.

But there is also some skepticism. The allegations came before authorities in India and Georgia had even begun preliminary investigations.

Second, if Iran was found to be behind the attacks, it would present a lose-lose scenario for Tehran. Under the weight of US-sponsored sanctions, the country is struggling to find buyers for its oil. India is one of the few large customers that remains. No doubt, Israel (and the US) will now pressure India to stop buying Iranian oil. Indeed, if Iran did orchestrate the attacks, India would find near impossible to continue doing so. For the same reason, it is unlikely that Iran would have sanctioned a Hezbollah-run operation.

Georgia too, has been cozying up to Iran, although the stakes are arguably far lesser if Georgia-Iran ties were strained.  

And what of Hezbollah? A likely motive is that the terror group was taking revenge for the assassination of its military chief Imad Mugniyeh by Israeli intelligence four years and one day ago, using a similar MO. It is just as likely that Hezbollah believed the bombings would spur an Israeli attack on Iran, solidifying domestic support for the government in Tehran. It isn't clear why Hezbollah would pick Georgia and India as locations for the attack.

Assuming Israeli, Georgian and Indian officials find an answer to that question, the next step is finding out how Hezbollah did it. I can think of three options.

1. An undercover Hezbollah team. Unlikely. The team would need to spend considerable time in Delhi working out logistics not just for the attack, but also living in the capital for the duration of the mission.
2. Hezbollah contracted a foreign terror group that is active in India to carry out the attack. Here there are obvious questions about ideologies and religious allegiances that crop up. And hazarding a guess either way is, well, hazardous.
3. Hezbollah contracted a domestic terror group such as the Indian Mujahideen to carry out the attack. There are worrying implications about this. First, it means Indian terror groups now have a global network that goes beyond the LeT. There may be a quid-pro-quo involved with Hezbollah assisting the local group in exchange for carrying out the attack.

Arguably, Hezbollah is far more dangerous than even the LeT. It ground the advanced Israeli military to a halt in a border war in 2006. More recently, it neutralised CIA espionage networks using sophisticated ELINT techniques and technology. A quid pro quo deal between Hezbollah and domestic terror groups is a frightening possibility to behold. India must work at rapid speed to nip this threat in the bud, if indeed it does exist.

Before any of all this, the Delhi police and Indian security establishment must answer a very big question. How did someone attack a foreign diplomat just a few hundred meters from the Indian Prime Minister's residence and escape before a cordon could be drawn?

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