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Delhi-Israel bomb Update: India hedges on Israel demand for UN resolution

In curious reversal of its past struggles with Pakistan, India demands more evidence before it will back censuring Iran
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Unidentified foreigners survey the scene of a bomb blast as Indian Police and forensic officers examine a damaged Israeli embassy vehicle, on February 13, 2012 in New Delhi, India. A minor bomb blast struck an Israeli diplomats vehicle today injuring two people. (Daniel Berehulak/AFP/Getty Images)

India hedges as Israel demands UN resolution on Delhi bomb India appears to be hedging its bets as Israel demands its backing for a proposed United Nations resolution condemning Iran for this week's bomb blasts in Tblisi, New Delhi and Bangkok.

Delhi police on Thursday downplayed the similarities between bombs detonated in New Delhi and Bangkok earlier this week. Although both devices were magnetic limpet bombs, the police said, the explosives used and the bomb designs were significantly different.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly asked India to help sponsor a UN Security Council resolution against Iran, condemning this week's bomb attacks, according to the Indian Express. Israel’s ambassador to India Alon Ushpiz broached the issue with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on Thursday after Tel Aviv filed a formal complaint against Iran to the United Nations Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, the paper said, adding that Israel wants this complaint to be followed up by a UNSC resolution that specifically censures Iran.

So far, though, India insists that there is no “clinching evidence” against Iran, the paper said.

“The bombs that exploded in Bangkok bear no similarity to the one used to target the Israeli diplomat’s wife on Aurangzeb Road,” the Hindustan Times quoted a senior police officer as saying. (The Indian press frequently uses unnamed police sources, because only officers with the rank of additional commissioner and above are authorized to speak with the press).

According to the officer, the Indian bomb had traces of potassium chlorate and a magnetic substance, but did not contain any shrapnel. In contrast, the information from Bangkok described bombs made from high quality plastic explosives with iron filings, nails and glass shards used as shrapnel, the paper said.

Clearly, that's not proof that the operations weren't ordered or planned by the same outfit. But the emphasis placed on the “new” information – which contradicts a rash of press reports touting the similarity between the bombs – suggests that India is looking to tread carefully in assigning blame for the attacks.

A similar report from the Times of India describes a strategy meeting between state police, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) spy agency as though it was as much about spin doctoring as it was about forensic investigation. Again citing an unnamed source, the paper said “investigators are doing a tightrope walk as both Iran and Israel are strategically important to India,” almost as though that was the primary takeaway from the high-level meeting.

The story does note, however, that the top cops have somehow ruled out the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Indian Mujahideen (despite the well known difficulty of proving a negative).

At the same time, editorials in the major Indian newspapers are, for the most part, backing India's stance of “non-alignment” in the possible proxy war under way between its two allies. The Hindustan Times, for example, called for India to “keep a low but active profile in engaging with both countries, while being vocal about the need for both its ‘friends’ to show restraint, especially when it comes to using Indian territory as a ‘soft’ theatre of war.”

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For those who missed me yesterday....

In India, the Iran-Israel bomb mystery lingers on, nearly a week after a minor explosion injured an Israeli diplomat's wife and her driver outside a market popular with expatriates in New Delhi Monday.

Nobody has claimed credit for the attack, and investigators are stumped. But apart from whodunnit, one question remains to be answered: Who stands to gain from added tensions between New Delhi and Tehran?

So far, Israel has blamed Iran, Iran has blamed Israel, and Indian intelligence has (unofficially) blamed Hezbollah. But there's another possibility.

“I won't rule out the Lashkar-e-Taiba / Al Qaeda angle,” a longtime member of India's foreign service told GlobalPost. “After all the Mumbai fellows specifically targetted Jewish individuals and establishments and [confessed terroist David Coleman] Headley had cased them also. At that time India-Iran ties were not a provocation. All this could be a fall out of Shia-Sunni conflict in which the Saudis and Pakistani groups are active protagonists.”

Interestingly, however, and perhaps for the first time in recent history, India is not pointing the finger of blame at Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Indian officials clarified that India has no evidence linking any country with the New Delhi blast, though investigators have reportedly confirmed similarities between the magnetic limpet bomb used in the Delhi attack and the explosives used in the attacks in Tblisi and Bangkok—where Thai police have apprehended several Iranian suspects.

As the Hindustan Times puts it, India is performing “a fine balancing act in maintaining its ties with the Islamic republic” despite pressure to cut off ties with Tehran. But why would Iran want to make that so difficult, especially now? Are its secret agents stupid, or incompetent, as the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg wonders? 

Certainly, the near-simultaneous attacks in Tblisi and Bangkok provide some suggestive circumstantial evidence that a terrorist group with links to Iran has targeted Israeli citizens. But India should ask itself: Provided Iran wants to hit Israel, why would it choose to do it in Delhi?

India is “one of the last major countries that's still resisting the US diktat on isolating Iran. New Delhi is one of Tehran's largest trading partners, India is an emerging power and carries a lot of weight internationally,” Johns Hopkins University professor Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, told India's Economic Times newspaper. “They are risking antagonising an ally that's extremely valuable to them if it turns out Iran had a hand in the incident.” 

In contrast, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda, or another Sunni-oriented terrorist organization seeking to retain Afghanistan as a launchpad for future operations would have every reason to throw a monkey wrench into India's relations with Iran. Moreover, such a group would also gain some mileage in propaganda and recruiting from the resulting strengthening of India's association with Israel and the U.S. Already, India has reportedly played the Afghanistan card to wrangle with the U.S. for a free pass on the Iran oil sanctions. As long as Pakistan refuses India a role in post-war Afghanistan, New Delhi's argument runs, India's road to Kabul runs through Tehran.

“India’s political and economic interests in Iran are transparent, whether in terms of energy security, access to Afganistan, countering a Taliban take over of Afghanistan backed by Pakistan, leveraging contradictions in Iran-Pakistan relations, maintaining a balanced posture on the Iran-Saudi Arabia and Shia-Sunni divide wracking West Asia etc.,” former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal wrote recently in an editorial for the Mail Today.

That means that if India's ties with Iran sour, Pakistan (or Pakistani non-state actors) will gain new leverage in negotiations over post-war Afghanistan. Islamabad may stave off unwelcome meddling in Balochistan – a region bordering Iran where Pakistan faces a simmering ethnic separatist conflict. And for recruiters with groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, India will go from defying U.S. efforts to isolate an Islamic regime to cosying up to Israel in the blink of an eye.

The benefits for the current suspects in the Delhi bombing incident– apart from revenge – are less clear.

As Heather Timmons points out for the New York Times, the attack has already put the Indian government in a “difficult spot,” as it seeks to maintain its relationships with two major trading partners. While India depends on Iran for as much as 12 percent of its oil imports, Israel is a major defense supplier, and Tel Aviv has been more sympathetic to India's problems with Pakistan-based terror groups than Washington – especially after a number of Israeli citizens were targeted in the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

On Wednesday, Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that the New Delhi bombing is unlikely to affect trade between India and Iran, according to the Times of India. But India is already under tremendous diplomatic pressure from the U.S. to honor economic sanctions designed to force Tehran to curtail its nuclear program. And at least one Indian businessman who exports to Iran told Reuters, "The attack and its political fallout have clearly vitiated the atmosphere. Traders who were already losing money due to payment defaults will be extremely wary of continuing their trade with buyers in Iran.”

Apart from careful public statements, India appears to be taking Israel's claims of Iranian involvement in the bomb plot seriously. Indian investigators are now tracing visitors from Iran and Jordan, and have already cleared eight people of any involvement, according to the Times of India. And in the first hours of the investigation, Intelligence Bureau sources told Rediff.com that they were looking into the possible involvement of Hezbollah, though they cautioned that the Lebanon-based Islamist group is not controlled by Iranian intelligence the way that India alleges Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Pakistan-based terrorist groups are controlled by Pakistan's Inter-services Intelligence agency (ISI).

But Hezbollah, too, has more reason to steer clear of India than it does to launch an attack here. And not even Mossad suspected that Israel's enemies would seek to target its citizens here, according to the Times of India.

For decades, beginning with its role in the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, India supported the Palestinians' calls for an independent state. It was only in 1992, with the rise to power of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, that India shifted its support to Israel. And while India is now one of the Israeli defense industry's largest customers, buying more than $9 billion in military hardware over the past decade, according to the Times of India, there is still residual support for the Palestinians that Hezbollah would be ill-advised to eradicate.

None of that is evidence, however. And the mystery of whodunnit appears no closer to being solved.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/iran-israel-bomb-mystery