Once upon a time, it seemed that all Iran and Hezbollah needed to do was press a
button and poof – up went an Israeli target.
This is exactly what
happened in 1992, when just a month after Israel killed Hezbollah chief Abbas
al-Musawi, the Lebanese terrorist group – with Iranian help – succeeded in
bombing the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Two years later, in the same
city, the Iranian- Hezbollah partnership bombed the AMIA Jewish community
“If I were Iran, I would be frustrated,” a senior defense
official said this week. “They are trying and trying but not
This doesn’t mean though that they won’t. While the Iranians
seem to have been plagued this week by a string of failures, Israel has also run
into a spate of good luck.
The plot in Bangkok, for example, was
uncovered due to a “work accident” which occurred as the Iranian cell was
assembling bombs it planned to use to target Israeli diplomats. Had it not been
for the work accident, it is possible that the plot would have
The attack in Georgia was foiled when the driver of the
embassy car noticed something banging against the street as he was driving, and
even the bombing in New Delhi, which injured a diplomat’s wife, did not fully
Before this week, similar plots in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Egypt,
Bulgaria and Thailand were also foiled.
The question is why? The answer
is slightly more complicated. One explanation which came up in intelligence
assessments in Israel this week is that operationally Hezbollah is having a
This could be the result, as some officials said, of the
loss in 2008 of Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s terrorist mastermind and commander
of its operations overseas.
Described by former Mossad chief Danny Yatom
as having a “satanic and creative mind,” Mughniyeh was instrumental in the two
bombings in Buenos Aires in the 1990s as well as in a string of other terrorist
attacks overseas in the years up until his death in a meticulously planned car
bombing in Damascus four years ago.
Israeli intelligence believes that
despite the years that have passed, Mughniyeh’s place as commander of
Hezbollah’s military forces and overseas operations – run by Hezbollah Unit 1800
– has yet to be completely filled. Instead, the roles have been separated and
given to a mixture of Iranians and Lebanese positioned high up in the group’s
At the same time, Israel has dramatically improved the
security of its missions overseas and possibly even more important has used the
years since Mughniyeh’s demise to bolster cooperation with foreign intelligence
In October 2010, for example, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan paid
a visit to Sofia for talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. A
picture from the meeting was distributed to the press but nothing was said about
what was discussed.
Last month, though, a possible result of that meeting
was demonstrated when Bulgarian authorities foiled a plot to attack an
Israeli-chartered tourist bus. It is possible that they were acting on Israeli
A similar scenario took place in Bangkok last month when an
earlier effort by Hezbollah to bomb Israeli targets there was
According to Thai defense officials, Israel had tipped them off
– once in late December and again in early January – about Hezbollah operative
Hussein Atris’s movements and with exact details of when and where the attack he
was planning would take place. When Atris was arrested he led Thai security
agents to a warehouse filled with bombmaking materials.
though is why is Tehran taking such risks, particularly now when it is under the
world’s spotlight and is facing increased economic sanctions and growing
diplomatic isolation. It seems that it would make more sense for Iran put a lid
on things, to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.
Even in New
Delhi, where this week’s attack was a partial success, Israel’s ties with India
are extremely strong and there are growing calls for the government there to cut off its
dependency on Iranian oil to aid Western efforts to undermine the Islamic
regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Just days before the attack, Mossad
chief Tamir Pardo reportedly visited India. While the Indian press portrayed his
visit as proof that Israel did not know about the planned bombing, the opposite
is possible and his trip might have been meant to coordinate what would happen
after such an attack took place.
The fact that the Iranians are doing the
exact opposite is a cause of major concern in Jerusalem. This might mean that as
the pressure mounts, instead of the regime becoming more moderate it is becoming
more radical. This does not mean that the sanctions effort is
It simply means that the process could be slightly
This radicalization was apparent in October when the US
Justice Department announced it had thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States with the assistance of a Mexican
The wave of unsuccessful bomb attacks in India, Georgia and
Thailand might be indicative of a regime that is panicking and is shooting in
every possible direction, even in the dark.
While that might be the case,
the Iranians could also be trying to show the world that a price will be paid
for an escalation in efforts to stop its nuclear program. In the past two months
alone plots have been uncovered in Europe, Asia and the former Soviet
While they were not successful, the possibility that this
infrastructure could be activated in the aftermath of a military strike against
Iran’s nuclear facilities should worry both Israel and the US.
desperation was apparent again on Wednesday when it revealed what it termed
“breakthroughs” in its nuclear program but which were really modest advances
that were expected and already known in the West.
loading of independently manufactured fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor
was a sign of how Iran is continuing to move forward with its program, even if
the steps are sometimes small and predictable.
Iran’s strategy of
so-called “nuclear hedging” remains as it has been for the past few years – to
straddle the threshold and keep up its enrichment of uranium so that when it
makes the decision to build the bomb it will take the shortest amount of time
Western intelligence agencies predict it would take anywhere
from nine to 12 months for Iran to build a bomb. The Iranians are, however,
trying to shorten the process to around half a year.
the bomb plots were uncovered this week, the story that had topped the headlines
for the previous month – if and when Israel will attack Iran – was pushed
Even US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta played down remarks
attributed to him by The Washington Post earlier this month saying that Israel
would attack sometime between April and June. Speaking before the Senate,
Panetta said that Israel had yet to decide whether it will attack.
seems to be a more accurate description of the standoff between Israel and Iran.
While Israel is serious about the use of military force it is also quite amazed
at the way the world has, for the first time, enlisted in the economic crackdown
on Iran and believes that there might be a chance for it to work. For that to
happen, though, Israel will need to give the process time.
On the other
hand, there is Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s idea of the “immunity zone,” a
phrase he coined to describe Iran’s dispersal of capabilities and fortification
of facilities to the point that a strike by Israel might no longer be possible.
The problem is that not everyone who deals with Iran agrees with the
The first sign of this was when Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe
Ya’alon said at the Herzliya Conference this month that anything built by man
can be destroyed by man. Next was an article in The New York Times which quoted
senior administration officials as calling Barak’s phrase an “ill defined term”
and saying that it reflected a narrow Israeli take on Iran’s nuclear
The bigger problem is that Barak is an enigma. When he invents
such a term is it being done 1) sincerely since it reflects reality 2) to speed
up a strike by Israel – possibly for political purposes so he can be
re-appointed defense minister after the (hopefully successful) strike and
ensuing war, or 3) to provoke the US to take tougher action against Iran? Like a
lot about Barak, the answer to this question is not available.