WASHINGTON If Iran or its proxies were responsible for the attack on an Israeli diplomat in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Monday, it will be another indication that the Iranian leadership is willing to take desperate risks in striking back against its enemies.
Last year, many analysts refused to believe at first that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps would have tried to sponsor a bombing in a Washington restaurant to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, using a Mexican drug gang. Yet the evidence was convincing.
Now Tehran is accused of launching an equally audacious operation: attempting to kill an Israeli diplomat in the capital of a country that is one of the few remaining purchasers of its oil and that has been resisting Western pressure for sanctions.
According to news service reports, a man on a motorcycle stuck a bomb on the van of the wife of an Israeli military attache as she drove to pick up her children from school. Israeli reports said she was moderately injured by shrapnel, and several Indians in her van also suffered injuries.
Remarkably, the attack took place within a few hundred meters of the offices of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who just last week was resisting pressure from the United States to cut back on Indian purchases of Iranian oil. As Europe had applied an embargo on oil purchases, and even China has cut back, India has recently become Iran's largest customer. It has even reportedly worked out barter arrangements to pay for continuing oil deliveries so that its banks are not exposed to U.S. sanctions.
Having suffered repeated major terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in recent years, India takes terrorism very seriously. It is unlikely to respond mildly if Monday's attack can be traced to Iran or to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that serves as Iran's proxy in countries around the world.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly accused Iran of responsibility for the attack, along with another failed bombing in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Netanyahu said Israel had prevented attacks recently in Azerbaijan and Thailand, adding, "In all those cases, the elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah."
The superficial evidence certainly backs up that claim. The method of attaching a sticky bomb to a car is the same as has been used to attack Iranian scientists in Tehran operations Iran has blamed on Israel. Iranian leaders have repeatedly vowed to respond to what they see as a covert war being waged by Israel and the United States against their nuclear program, one that has included assassinations, cyberwarfare and mysterious explosions at military bases and industrial plants.
The bomb in New Delhi will escalate tensions at a time when Israel is said to be considering a full-scale military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. But it could also endanger a vital economic lifeline for Tehran. That Iran would risk a strike in such a sensitive place suggests that its leaders are panicked.