Israeli embassy

NEW DELHI — Israel blamed Iran on Monday for bomb attacks on its diplomats’ cars in India and Georgia, heightening concerns that the Jewish state was moving closer to striking its archenemy.

Iran denied responsibility for the attacks that appeared to mirror the recent killings of Iranian nuclear scientists that Tehran blamed on Israel.

The blast in New Delhi set a car ablaze and injured four people, including an Israeli Embassy driver and a diplomat’s wife; the device in Georgia was discovered and safely defused.

“Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud Party.

The violence added further tension to one of the globe’s most contentious standoffs. Iran has been accused of developing a nuclear weapons program that Israel says threatens the existence of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Comments by Israeli officials in recent weeks have raised fears Israel might be preparing to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. While Israel says it hopes that international sanctions can curb Iran’s nuclear program, leaders pointedly note that “all options are on the table” and have warned that as Iran moves closer to weapons capability, time is running out for action. Fearing an Israeli attack could set off a conflict across the region and send oil prices skyrocketing, U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing Israel to give sanctions more time.

Israeli military analyst Reuven Pedatzur said Monday’s action was unlikely to have any bearing on whether Israel attacks Iran, calling it an “isolated incident” with rather low impact.

The attackers in India and Georgia appeared to have used “sticky bombs” attached to cars by magnets, similar to weapons used against Iran’s nuclear officials. Netanyahu said Israel had thwarted attacks in recent months in Azerbaijan and Thailand and unspecified other countries.

“In all those cases, the elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iran’s Lebanese proxy. He vowed to “act with a strong hand against international terror.”

Israeli media reported that the government blamed Iran based on prior intelligence and that security officials feared this could be the start of a wave of attacks against Israeli targets overseas.

Iranian officials rejected Netanyahu’s accusation.

“This accusation is within the Zionist regime’s psychological war against Iran,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

“The Zionist regime, due to repeated crimes against humanity, is the main party accused of terrorist activities,” he said.The New Delhi attack took place just after 3 p.m. a few hundred yards (meters) from the prime minister’s residence as the diplomat’s wife headed to the American Embassy School to pick up her children, said Delhi Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta.

When the minivan approached a crossing, she noticed a motorcyclist ride up and stick something on it that appeared to be a magnetic device, he said. The car drove a short distance, there was a loud sound and then an explosion, and the car caught fire, he said.

“It was a loud explosion. We realized it’s not a firecracker, but an explosion, and rushed toward the car,” said Ravi Singh, owner of a nearby gas station.

The blast left the vehicle charred and appeared to blow out its rear door.

“The blast was so powerful, the car behind got damaged as well,” said Monu, a high school student who uses only one name.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said the woman, Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the wife of a Defense Ministry official based in New Delhi, suffered moderate shrapnel wounds and was treated at a hospital by Israeli doctors.

Her driver, Manoj Sharma, 42, and two people in a nearby car had minor injuries, Gupta said.

Israeli diplomats in India have been on constant alert since Pakistan-based militants rampaged across the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, targeting luxury hotels, a train station and the Chabad Jewish community center.

India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, said India would cooperate closely with Israel in the investigation and promised to bring the assailants to justice.

“I have just spoken to the Israeli foreign minister,” he said. “I assured him that the law of the land will take its course.”

Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said an explosive device was planted on the car of a driver for the Israeli Embassy in the capital of Tbilisi.

Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, said the driver noticed a package on his car’s undercarriage and called police, who found and defused a grenade.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attacks.

“The United States places a high priority on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world and we stand ready to assist with any investigation of these cowardly actions,” she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the incidents underscore U.S. concerns about the recent targeting of Israeli interests overseas. He added that Washington does not yet have information on who is responsible for the attack but stands ready to help the investigations.

Iranian lawmaker Javad Jahangirzadeh was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying the Israeli charges were meant to provoke the world against Iran and to undermine upcoming nuclear talks between Tehran and the world powers.

Another lawmaker, Avaz Heidarpour, was quoted by Mehr as saying Netanyahu’s allegations were an attempt by Israel to justify future operations against Iran.

“It’s very likely that the Zionist regime is paving the way to carry out an assassination abroad or hit inside Iran. So, they are making preparations for that,” Mehr quoted him as saying.

Hezbollah and Iran have deep grievances against Israel.

Hezbollah battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006. On Sunday, the Lebanese guerrilla group marked the anniversary of the 2008 assassination of one of its commanders, Imad Mughniyeh, in a bombing widely believed to have been carried out by Israel. Iran has been widely suspected of looking for payback for the covert plots against its nuclear program it has blamed on Israel’s spy agency Mossad and Western allies.

“There have been all kinds of mysterious things happening in Iran, and it could be an Iranian counterattack,” said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former top aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “It’s no secret that Iran uses Hezbollah globally, and Hezbollah has the capacity to carry out attacks around the globe.”

Iran and Hezbollah also could be trying to divert attention away from ally Syria’s crackdown on protesters.

Were Iran found to be behind the New Delhi attack, it would be a stunning action against one of its more reliable allies.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has resisted U.S. and European Union pressure to curtail trade with Iran over the nuclear issue. Energy-starved India relies heavily on Iranian oil imports, and the two countries are working to find creative ways for India to circumvent banking restrictions to pay for the oil by using rupees and investing in Iranian infrastructure projects.

Israel has urged the international community to consider all means, including military action, to stop Tehran.

Last month, a director of Iran’s main uranium enrichment site was killed in a blast from a magnetic bomb placed on his car, at least the fifth member of Iran’s scientific community killed in apparent targeted attacks in two years.

In a signal Iran could retaliate, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, was quoted by the semiofficial news agency ISNA last month as saying that Tehran was “reviewing the punishment” of “behind-the-scene elements” involved in the assassination.

“Iran’s response will be a tormenting one for supporters of state terrorism,” he said. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.”

Clinton categorically denied any U.S. link to an “act of violence inside Iran.” Israel has made no direct comments about Iran’s accusations of covert operations, but some officials have made provocative hints that Tehran’s many foes could have an interest in efforts to destabilize its nuclear program.

Iran also has blamed the U.S. and allies for a sophisticated computer virus, known as Stuxnet, that was programmed to disrupt the centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. Iran said the virus was detected in its systems, but added there were no serious setbacks.

In January, a foreign suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah militants led Thai police to a warehouse filled with materials commonly used to make bombs.

In 1992, a bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people. Two years later, a bombing at a Jewish community center there killed 85 people. Argentines have long suspected high-level Iranian diplomats were involved in the 1994 bombing.
 

An Egyptian shouts slogans as he stands over what was a concrete wall built around a building housing the Israeli embassy a day after it was demolished by Egyptian activists in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CAIRO — The surprise assault on Israel’s embassy in Cairo has pushed Egypt’s ruling military deeper into confrontation with a protest movement openly accusing the country’s caretakers of trying to cling to the legacy of Hosni Mubarak rather than dismantle it.

A potentially destabilizing showdown between the two rivals now seems increasingly likely.

Israel, not surprisingly, saw the rioting and break-in by protesters — who exuberantly trashed offices and threw documents out the window — in the context of its peace deal with Egypt. It seemed an ominous sign of Egyptians’ hatred of Israel unleashed and running wild.

But Egypt’s generals were just as much the target of the protesters.

The scene was a message to the military that while they may rule, they can’t carry the power by intimidation that Mubarak did. Protesters, and a growing part of the public, are becoming increasingly critical of a military they say is too close to the old regime, doing little to bring democracy and committing new abuses of its own.

“It is a conflict between a party that is trying to reproduce the old regime and a revolution that continues to press for its demands to be met,” said protest leader Khaled Abdel-hamid.

The military has responded to the Friday night attack on the Israeli embassy by warning that the country’s stability is in danger.

In a statement read on state TV, the military and the civilian government said Egypt was passing through a crisis “that threatens the very body of the state.” The leadership vowed to use tough emergency laws that were the hated hallmark of Mubarak’s 29-year regime.

“We are now somewhere between revolution and chaos, between toppling a regime and toppling the entire state,” the government-owned Al-Ahram daily warned Sunday in a front page editorial.

That smacks of preparation for a heavier crackdown of some sort, according to some in the youth-dominated groups who led the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February. The army, they believe, is ruling with the same authoritarian attitude as Mubarak and is willing to keep most of his former regime in place.

The storming of the embassy came amid a 13-hour rampage during which thousands of protesters battled riot police and army troops outside the high-rise building housing the Jewish state’s diplomatic mission. At least three people were killed and more than 1,000 hurt in the clashes. Some 130 protesters have been arrested and the military says it will refer them to emergency trials.

For many protesters, the aim was to tell the military that it cannot continue in the strongly pro-Israeli policies of Mubarak, who built close economic and security ties with Israel.

Notably, the protesters focused their rage Friday on a concrete wall that the Egyptian military erected outside the Israeli Embassy last month. It was put up to keep protests back after Israeli forces killed six Egyptian policemen in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel says last month’s killing was a mistake as its forces pursued militants behind an attack inside Israel that killed eight people.

To protesters, the wall was a sign that, like Mubarak, the military was more eager to protect Israelis than Egyptians.

“We don’t want to have a war with Israel,” Ibrahim Ezzat said outside the embassy just hours after it was stormed. “But if they attack, we have to respond. We always thought of our army as our sole guardian, but after what happened, something has to be done.”

Since Friday, doctors and baggage handlers at Cairo’s international airport have gone on strike, tens of thousands of school teachers have staged a noisy street protest, and ethnic Nubians campaigning for equal rights stormed local government offices.

“Egypt is at a crossroads right now,” said Emad Gad from Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies. “We have to watch and see how the military council is going to act. Either it will have a plan, a vision, impose law and order and restore the state’s prestige, or they will have no plans and, therefore, no power to stop us from descending into chaos.”\

Printed on September 12, 2011 as: Egypt military clashes with protesters