Tehran describes accusations that it was behind bomb attacks targeting Israeli diplomatic missions as ‘sheer lies’
Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has accused Iran of being behind twin attacks on Israeli targets in India and Georgia in a further escalation of tensions between the two countries.
The attacks on Monday, 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 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 underside of his car.
Within hours of the apparently co-ordinated attacks in the Indian and Georgian capitals, Netanyahu said: “The elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah.” Tehran, he added, was the largest exporter of terror 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 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, ambassador to Delhi, was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency in Iran as saying: “Any terrorist attack is condemned [by Iran] and we strongly reject the untrue comments by an Israeli official.”
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 Iranians 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. Speculation that Israel is preparing for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations has also grown.
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. Israel is working on the theory that Hezbollah carried out the attacks but with Iran’s blessing.
Four people, including the wife of an Israeli diplomat, were reported injured when an explosion wrecked a car which had a diplomatic number plate.
According to BK Gupta, the Delhi police commissioner, the woman noticed a passing motorcyclist attach what appeared to be a magnetic device to the car when it slowed at a junction 300 metres from the Indian prime minister’s heavily guarded residence, close to a military compound in the diplomatic quarter. There was a loud sound, an explosion and the car caught fire, he said. The woman, Tali Yehoshua-Koren, married to the Israeli defence attache, was taken to hospital for treatment and was expected to fly to Tel Aviv later.
In Tbilisi, an explosive device was safely defused after being found under a car of a man employed as a driver at the Israeli embassy.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, an Iranian nuclear scientist, was killed in Tehran a month ago when magnetic bombs were attached to the side of his car. He was the fourth scientist to be assassinated in two years.
The Israeli ministry had warned missions internationally of attacks around the anniversary of the death of Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah figure killed in 2008. Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran, accused Israel of being responsible.
High-ranking officials have also warned of the threat to Israeli targets from Iran or its allies. Yoram Cohen, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, said this month that Iranian agents were trying to attack Israeli targets around the world in retaliation for covert operations, including the killing of Iranian scientists. He cited “three serious attacks” in recent months thwarted “on the verge of being carried out” – in Istanbul, Baku and Bangkok.”It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not that Israel took out the nuclear scientists,” he told a closed meeting, reported in the Haaretz newspaper. “A major, serious country like Iran cannot let this go on. “
India has favourable relations with Iran and had said it would continue to buy oil despite sanctions by the US and other countries.