Israel has blamed Iran for two bombings targeting its diplomats in India and Georgia this week, as well as for a botched bombing in Bangkok that Thai intelligence officials said was aimed at top Israeli diplomats.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran's
"terrorist activities" have been exposed, but Iran has denied any
involvement. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to Juan Zarate,
senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and
former Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism about the
attacks and Iran's alleged role.
RFE/RL: What do you make of Israel's accusations that
Iran is behind the recent attacks and plots targeting Israeli diplomats in
Bangkok, New Delhi, and Tbilisi?
Juan Zarate: It strikes me that this forms part of a
pattern that the Iranians have had not just in past few months but in the past
two decades: the use of retaliation and intimidation as part of a pattern in
their foreign policy. You look back to the attacks in 1992, 1994 in Buenos
Aires against Israeli targets, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia, and
others over the years, the 1990s and beyond, and then you see these attacks, in
addition to the one in Azerbaijan. There is no question that the Iranians are
trying to lash out both to respond to pressure that they’re feeling from the
West and perhaps Israel but also to message to Israel and the West that this is
the kind of retaliation that can be expected, if they continue to be pressured
and continue to be attacked with sabotage and sanctions.
RFE/RL: But these
attacks are very amateurish. In Bangkok one of the bombers blew up both of his
legs. In India, the wife of the target was injured. These operations don’t
appear consistent with the sophisticated operations we've seen in the past that
have been tied to Iran.
Zarate: You’re absolutely right and this is a bit of a
mystery with these plots and attacks so why they’re not being handled more
professionally. But we saw here in Washington, with the disrupted assassination
plot of the Saudi ambassador, what looks like a very sloppy operation turns out
to be tied right back to the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iranian
leadership. So it’s not clear to me what’s happening. One theory, and certainly
one folks in Washington are talking about, is that the Iranians are not only
under pressure but feel the need to lash out quickly and perhaps less
effectively than in the past, and using networks that are perhaps less
RFE/RL: Why would
Iran want to damage its ties with India, especially now that it is becoming
Zarate: It’s a very good question. I think one of the
challenges, though, for the Iranians is the fact that they not only have
proxies that have their own interests – Hizballah certainly – its own interest
for retaliation for the death of [senior Hizballah official Imad Mughnyah] four
years ago but also they have called on all actors [and] organizations to attack
the Zionist state, Israel, and so [it] very well could be that Iran has
provided the inspiration but others are providing the man power. But none of this
makes sense if the Iranians are trying to win friends so you’re right that it
doesn’t make a lot of sense. But there are interests at play here, and I think
part of it is an attempt by the Iranians to demonstrate an ability to
RFE/RL: If the
allegations are true, could this be Iran’s response to the assassinations of
its nuclear scientists, which they blame on Israel’s Mossad?
Zarate: I think absolutely. The Iranians promised
retaliation against those they take responsible for the assassination efforts
in their country and the sabotage effort, so there is no question in my mind
that at least in what the Iranians have stated, that there is an interest in
RFE/RL: Where is this going, this increased war of words
and exchange of accusations between Iran and Israel?
Zarate: Well, you certainly see tensions rising, you’re
right that the rhetoric has been raised to a new level and talk of war is more
open and certainly more vigorous, but I think at this stage we’re still at the
tit-for-tat stage where there seems to be a sense that this is containable and
that the proxy war underway is simply that: a proxy war. I think the real
danger is that the level of danger grows unmanageable and that the level of
mistrust grows and you have something that triggers a broader war. I worry
about a significant attack against an Israeli target for example that then
serves as a flashpoint for a broader war. But no doubt, you’re right that the
tension is increasing.