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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Israel unlikely to respond to New Delhi and Tbilisi attacks

Haaretz reports that although there is ample evidence that Iran was behind the two attacks on Israel's embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi on Monday, Israel is unlikely to respond.
The bombings sparked the usual tough rhetoric from Israeli officials: Lieberman said Israel "would not overlook" the attacks, while Netanyahu vowed to "continue to act forcefully, systematically and patiently" against Iranian terror. Nevertheless, a harsh Israeli response is seen as unlikely.

One reason for this is that if, as is widely believed, Israel is behind a recent series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran, government officials presumably knew that Iranian revenge attacks were likely and took that possibility into account. Though an innocent diplomat's wife cannot be compared to a scientist directly involved in Iran's nuclear program, Monday's attacks were still limited enough that they didn't violate the "rules of the game." Indeed, the modus operandi of the New Delhi bombing exactly mimicked that used to kill several of the Iranian scientists. Hence a direct Israeli military strike on either Hezbollah or Iran seems unlikely.

Moreover, while Iran and Hezbollah have been trying to take revenge for Mughniyeh's assassination ever since it occurred on February 12, 2008, Yehoshua Koren is the first casualty in a long line of failed attacks. The previous attacks, which according to foreign news sources, have been thwarted by close cooperation between Israeli intelligence and local security services, included attempts to bomb the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan, to assassinate an Israeli consul in Turkey, and, most recently, to bomb popular tourist sites frequented by Israelis in Thailand.

Monday's targets - two embassy cars, neither of which was on embassy grounds at the time - were both at relatively low-level targets, located at the outer perimeter of the security envelope Israel provides its overseas embassies and consulates. This may indicate that Hezbollah and Iran are having trouble reaching more "prestigious" targets.

Moreover, while both attacks attest to careful observation and planning and precise execution, the results were meager enough that neither Tehran nor Beirut is likely to be rejoicing.


Nevertheless, two caveats are in order. First, these attacks may not be the last, but rather the first in a series. Second, it could be that the planners were capable of wreaking greater harm, but deliberately chose to cause only modest damage. Israel has repeatedly warned that a mass-casualty Hezbollah attack on Israeli targets overseas would spark a massive Israeli assault on Lebanon, and that is something Iran doesn't seem to want right now.

The attacks also shed new light on the surprising comments made last week by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a speech in Beirut: that Hezbollah doesn't take orders from Iran. It could be that Nasrallah already knew of the plans for Monday's attacks and was trying to portray them as independent Hezbollah initiatives.

Hezbollah's interest in distancing itself from Iran - at least verbally - stems in part from the organization's difficult domestic situation: Tuesday is the seventh anniversary of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination, and despite Nasrallah's repeated denials, many Lebanese, along with much of the international community, think Hezbollah was behind that killing. Just on Monday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati - who owes his appointment to Hezbollah - personally announced that the international tribunal investigating Hariri's murder plans to indict new suspects, alongside the four Hezbollah operatives already charged; he said the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, had informed him of this during a recent visit to Beirut.

Adding to Hezbollah's domestic woes is the fact that one of its key allies, the Assad regime in Syria, may not survive. The Syrian opposition no longer bothers to hide its loathing for Hezbollah and Iran, so a new Syrian government would likely be bad news for the Lebanese organization.
Obama may end up isolating Iran and Hezbullah despite himself. Heh.

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