War of assassinations?

War of assassinations?

Attacks ramp up Israel-Iran tensions

WASHINGTON ““ Iran and Israel appear to be locked in an assassination contest.

Israeli leaders blamed Iran for two assassination attempts late Sunday and early Monday – in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in New Delhi, India. The bomb in Tbilisi was disabled before it could be activated, and the attack in India wounded the wife of an Israeli diplomat and her driver.

The attacks follow a number of reported attempts on Israeli and Jewish targets, most recently in Azerbaijan and Thailand. They also follow a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and military figures associated with Iran – most recently on Jan. 11. Iran blames Israel for being behind those attacks. Israeli policy is not to comment one way or the other in such matters.

Experts warn that the attacks could get worse.

“It’s clear we’re already in a situation of escalation, but what’s still not clear is how far that’s going to go,” said Michael Adler, an expert on Iran at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

If Iran manages to kill Israelis, it could invite an escalated response from Israel.

“We don’t need a war of words to descend into a war of assassinations to descend into something much bigger,” said Joel Rubin, director of government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, which supports projects aimed at advancing peace.

After the bombing in India on Monday and the foiled attack in Georgia, Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, blamed Iran. Corroboration of sorts appears to have come on Tuesday, when an Iranian national was injured by bombs he apparently stored in his home. Thai officials would only say the bombs were intended for non-Thai targets. Unnamed Israeli officials said the bombs were being prepared for a large-scale attack against an Israeli target.

“The attempted attack in Bangkok proves once again that Iran and its proxies are continuing to perpetrate terrorism,” Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement. “The recent attacks are yet another example of this.”

Iran’s ambassador to New Delhi, Mehdi Nabizadeh, rejected the accusations, calling them “untrue and sheer lies, like previous times,” Reuters reported. Nabizadeh also condemned the Indian and Georgian attacks.

On Feb. 3, however, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran is prepared to assist those who would “confront” Israel and the United States.

“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help,” he said in a rare Friday sermon. “We have no fear expressing this.”

The attacks in Georgia and New Delhi took place the day after the fourth anniversary of the car bombing in Syria that killed Imad Mughniyeh, the operations chief for Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanon proxy. At the time, Hezbollah leaders said they would avenge the killing at a time and place of their choosing.

For its part, Israel has not acknowledged responsibility for the attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. A number of unnamed United States officials, however, have told media outlets that they believe Israel is behind the killings. There is some belief , though, that the United States itself is responsible for the assassinations.

In the New Delhi attack, Tal Yehoshua Koren, the wife of a diplomat stationed with the Israeli Defense Ministry mission in India, was the injured woman, the news website Ynet reported.

On Tuesday, she was said to be in stable condition following surgery to remove shrapnel. The bomb reportedly was attached to the car by someone on a motorcycle and detonated remotely while she was riding.

In a telephone call with Indian reporters following Monday’s attack, Paul Hirschson, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, commended the Indian and Georgian governments for their prompt response. He also suggested that Israel’s responses to such attacks would not be confined to prevention.

“I don’t think we’re going to say we’re going to twiddle our thumbs happily at attempts on Israelis anywhere,” he said Monday.

JTA Israel correspondent Marcy Oster contributed to this report.

JTA Wire Service

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