Tension Heats Up After Israeli Diplomat Car-Bombed in India

In what is seen as retribution for similar attacks, Iran allegedly hits an Israeli civilian target. Now the world holds its breath as we await what comes next.

02.13.12 8:55 PM ET

With tensions between Israel and Iran already at a boil over Tehran’s perceived nuclear ambitions, a bombing attack that wounded the wife of an Israeli diplomat is raising fears of an all out war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for the attack, which took place in the Indian capital city New Delhi. According to initial accounts, a motorcyclist attached a magnet bomb to a car transporting the wife of Israel’s defense ministry representative in India. She suffered shrapnel and blast wounds and is described as in moderate condition.

Israeli officials said she had been on her way to pick up children from a school located inside the American embassy and was stopped at a red light. Two Indian nationals, including the driver of the car, were lightly wounded.

Earlier in the day, a bomb found attached to a car of the Israeli embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, was neutralized without incident, according to Israeli officials.

No one took responsibility for the two events and Netanyahu did not say what evidence Israel had against Iran. The two countries are sworn enemies, with Iran accusing Israel of waging a shadow war against its “peaceful” nuclear program—killing a handful of Iranian scientists in recent years and conducting other clandestine attacks. Iranian leaders have sworn to avenge the death of the scientists.

Still, New Delhi would seem to be an unlikely venue for an Iranian attack. Almost alone among oil importers, India has defied international pressure to join an embargo against Iran aimed at forcing the regime to give up its uranium enrichment.

Netanyahu, speaking to supporters of his Likud party shortly after the blast, said Iran “and its proxy, Hezbollah” had been trying for months to hit Israeli targets. “Iran is behind these attacks; it is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world,” he said.

Striking a more menacing tone, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “We don’t intend to let this pass idly.”

An intriguing facet of the New Delhi attack was the way the modus operandi—a motorcyclist affixing the bomb to a car and speeding away—mimicked precisely the method used to kill several of the Iranian scientists. Israeli analysts said it amounted to a message from Iran that it too could carry out daring pinpoint strikes far from its borders.

Other Israeli observers said Hezbollah was the more likely culprit, possibly in coordination with Tehran. The Lebanese militia is widely believed to be financed and trained by Iran. And it has its own scores to settle with Israel. This week, the group marked four years since the assassination of one of its top operatives, Imad Mughnieh, whose head was blown off by a bomb planted in the headrest of his car in Damascus. Israel’s Mossad is widely believed to have carried out the murder. On the anniversary of Mughnieh’s death every year, Israeli embassies around the world have gone on high alert.

The concern regionally is that these cumulative strikes and reprisals could escalate into a full-fledged war. For months now, Washington has been worried that Israel might be planning a broad assault on Iran’s nuclear installations, possibly in the spring.

After the New Delhi bombing, some analysts quickly drew a comparison between Israel’s current confrontation with Iran and its standoff with Lebanon in 1982. Following months of tension with PLO forces along the border, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was prompted by the shooting of an Israeli diplomat in London by a Palestinian group.

Analysts are weighing the comparisons, and experts are hoping for a détante—if even a short-lived one.