Diplomacy: Attack may not alter India-Iran ties
LAST UPDATED: 02/17/2012 17:37
If the Indians conclude Tehran was behind attack, it could be a game changer. But that is a huge "if."
Exploded car at Israeli New Delhi embassy Photo: REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma
Within a few hours of Monday’s twin attacks against Israeli diplomatic targets
in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said with full
confidence that Iran was behind the attacks.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman echoed his comments shortly thereafter,
and Liberman hinted that Israel would take some kind of action in
Most Israelis took as a given Iran’s hand in the attacks –
either directly or through its Hezbollah proxy – including the one in India that
injured Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the wife of an Israeli diplomat.
for the certainty: because the attacks took place a day after the fourth
anniversary of the killing of Hezbollah’s shadowy commander Imad Mughniyah;
because Iran had vowed to avenge the assassinations of a number of leading
nuclear scientists; and because the explosive device used against
Yehoshua-Koren’s car was similar to the magnetic explosive devices – “sticky
bombs” – that were used against some of the Iranian scientists.
those who may have had some lingering doubts about Iran’s involvement, the
arrest the next day in Thailand of two men carrying Iranian passports for the
botched attack there probably put those misgivings to rest.
however, things were not so cut-and-dried.
Though intelligence sources
were anonymously quoted in various papers there as pointing a finger toward
Iran, government spokesmen on the record – from the foreign minister on down –
were very careful not to cast blame.
A day after the attack, the Press
Trust of India quoted Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh as saying “we have no
evidence to name any country. It’s premature to taken any country’s
Call it a case of governmental cognitive
Placing the blame squarely on Iran would have huge strategic
ramifications for India, which so far is sitting on the fence regarding Iran –
voting against it in various international forums, but doing a robust business
with it and importing nearly 12 percent of its oil from that country.
the whole,” said Sudeep Paul, a leading columnist and assistant editor of The
Indian Express newspaper’s opinion section, Monday’s attack could be a “game
changer.” Not only was it the first time a diplomat was attacked in India, he
said, but it also took place just a couple of hundred meters away from the prime
minister’s residence, in one of the most closely-guarded districts in the
Paul said that if it is proven that Iran was indeed behind the
attack, that would mean “the Middle East conflict has come to India, and that we
are now a playground where this conflict is played out.” The attack, he said,
could be the trigger that finally forces India to take sides regarding Iran, an
issue he characterized as a “diplomatic tightrope” for India.
knows about India’s huge oil interest in Iran, but it also has common strategic
interests with Tehran in Afghanistan that are less obvious. India is very
concerned about what is happening in its nearby neighbor to the north, and about
Pakistani influence there. As a result, the Indians have cooperated with Iran on
certain projects there to reduce Pakistan’s sway and weaken the
Indeed, how India views Iran must be seen through the prism
through which it views the entire world: Pakistan. While Iran under the shah
supported Pakistan, Iran under the ayatollahs does not – something appreciated
in New Delhi and something India does not want to see changed.
Yet on the
other hand, India’s relationship with Israel is also very important to New
Delhi, since Israel is India’s second largest, if not largest, defense partner.
An editorial in The Indian Express Wednesday called Israel a “vital ally” of
India, “making enormous contributions to India’s defense.” Up until now, Paul
said, India has had a nuanced policy toward both Iran and Israel, not wanting to
take sides, performing a balancing act of not agreeing to sanctions against
Iran, but consistently voting against its nuclear program in the International
Atomic Energy Agency.
BUT HARSH reality – in the form of Monday’s attack
– may force India to decide where its allegiances lie.
“There are three
basic conflicts in the Middle East, all centered around Iran,” Paul said, citing
a recent opinion piece in his paper written by noted Indian foreign policy
analyst Raja Mohan. “Iran and the west, Iran and Israel and Iran and Saudi
Arabia. And India, even if it does not want, will soon be dragged into
Apart from Israel and the US pressing India to take a firmer stance
against Iran, pressure is also coming from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf
countries, which Paul said have been pressing India “for a long time to join
against Iran.” And, indeed, there are huge Indian interests there as well,
including oil and some 6 million Indian workers in the Arab world.
India would like to keep doing its robust business with Iran, with reservations
about the nuclear program, the reality brought home by Monday’s attack may make
But in order for that reality to change, in order for
the Indians to finally take a clear side on the Iranian issue, it will need
concrete evidence that Iran was behind the New Delhi bombing. Otherwise, it will
not want to complicate its ties with Iran.
Israeli diplomatic officials
said that Israel’s top three leaders – Netanyahu, Barak and Liberman – would not
have blamed Iran had they not had concrete evidence of its involvement. But
there are voices inside India, originating mainly from the country’s large
Muslim community, asking how Israel could have found such concrete proof just
hours after the attack. These voices also asked why that evidence has not been
Another argument raised inside India against the claim
that Iran was involved is the that it would simply make no sense – in fact, it
would be insane – for Iran to carry out an attack inside India and risk its ties
with one of the few friends and steady customers it has left in the
But this version of an insanity plea does not work here, said
Patrick Clawson, director of research and head of the Iran Security Initiative
at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, since Iranian involvement in
the attack fits in with other Iranian actions over the last few months that
simply “don’t make sense.” Sacking the British embassy in Tehran, as the
Iranians did in November, or organizing a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in
the US, as American officials uncovered in October, also didn’t make sense in
that both incidents seemed counterintuitive to Iran’s interest. Nevertheless,
Clawson said, it all happened.
The New Delhi attack “fits into a pattern
of really stupid things they have been doing for the last nine months,” he
Clawson said that if the Indians come to the conclusion at the
end of the day that the Iranians were responsible for the attack, the Indian
security apparatus “will be furious, just furious.”
“The Indians have a
lot of terror problems already with the Pakistanis,” he said. “They will ask why
the Iranians are sponsoring a terrorist bomb within spitting distance of the
prime minister’s residence. They will ask what they are doing setting up a
terrorist cell that can operate inside India. They have enough problems already,
and don’t need this.”
The consequences of the anger the may result could
go in many different directions. It could be relegated to an angry meeting with
Iran’s envoy in New Delhi or it could take on more severe forms.
is an important, respected voice in the IAEA and other international forums, and
if the Indians conclude that the Iranians are not being helpful, and that it may
be useful to isolate Iran, they could put Iran in a difficult situation,” he
Clawson said the Indian banking system has been “"going through
the hoops trying to figure out ways to make payments to the Iranians as a result
of sanctions against that country’s banks. And if India sees that this is how
they are getting paid back, they might just conclude it is not worth the
Monday’s blast in New Delhi may force India to reassess its
entire Iranian policy if the government concludes that the Iranians were behind
But reaching that conclusion – already taken for granted in
Israel – is a huge “if” in India.