Less than two weeks ago, Yoram Cohen, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, warned that Iran would not allow assassinations of its nuclear scientists to continue without retaliation.
Lecturing at a closed forum in Tel Aviv, Cohen said that Iran believes Israel is behind the attacks on its nuclear experts, which have killed four scientists since November 2010. “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not that Israel took out the nuclear scientists,” Cohen said. “A major, serious country like Iran cannot let this go on. They want to deter Israel and extract a price so that decision makers in Israel think twice before they order an attack on an Iranian scientist.”
Commenters at the Washington Post, this site, and elsewhere, have been quick to suggest that the bombing in India and attempted bombing in Georgia could have been false flag operations initiated by Israel. Iranian officials have likewise made the same accusation.
This possibility strikes me as wildly improbable for several reasons.
Firstly, Mossad — like any other intelligence service — relies on the support of Israel’s foreign service staff. As deeply committed Zionists as they all might be, for Mossad to injure or kill Israeli diplomats would be impossible to justify and breed massive distrust between two government agencies that depend on each other.
Secondly, Israel doesn’t have too many friends but it counts India as one of them. It’s an alliance that’s worth more to Israel than it is to India. Why put that in jeopardy for a stunt like this?
A much more obvious explanation for these attacks is the one ventured by the head of Shin Bet: Iran is telling the Israelis they can’t continue their campaign of assassinations with impunity. And beyond that there is probably a wider implicit warning: to those who claim that Israel could launch a military strike on Iran without suffering a significant reprisal — think again.
Luckily for Tal Yehoshua Koren, the wife of an Israeli Defense Ministry representative to India, who was injured in today’s attack, she seems to have learned from the example of Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, who survived an assassination attempt in November 2010.
If you suspect someone has just attached a bomb to your car, jump out as fast as possible.
Haaretz adds: 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.