Iranian rationale behind the New Delhi terrorist attack

The blast caused no injury, no damage to the building and only damage to windshields of several cars parked in the vicinity.

People examine a damaged Israeli embassy car after an explosion in New Delhi in 2012. (photo credit: REUTERS/PARIVARTAN SHARMA)
People examine a damaged Israeli embassy car after an explosion in New Delhi in 2012.
The blast caused on January 29, 2021 by a “very low-intensity improvised device” outside the Israeli Embassy building in New Delhi is considered by Israeli and Indian authorities a terrorist attack, probably by Iran.
The blast caused no injury, no damage to the building and only damage to windshields of several cars parked in the vicinity.
A handwritten note, in English, found at the blast site - a key lead into the probe - is addressed to Israel Ambassador Ron Malka and warns Israel of revenge for the killing last year of Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Delhi Police sources revealed that in the letter, the explosion has been referred to as a 'trailer': "We can end your life, anytime, anywhere, Iranian martyr..." the letter reads.
According to this letter, posted by Israeli Channel 13 news, while the attackers want to destroy Malka, they “don’t want [to] flow the blood of innocent people around you.” Declaring that all “participants and partners” of Israeli “terrorist ideology will be no more in existence” the letter warned: “now get ready for a big and better revenge for our heroes.”
CCTV footage of the blast site has revealed that a cab had dropped two persons near the embassy, and it is yet to be ascertained whether these persons have any role in the explosion.  The Police have contacted the cab driver, enquired about the two persons and are sketching pictures of them based on input gathered from the driver.
Delhi police have asked for details through the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) about all Iranians, including those settled overseas, who have come to the capital during the last month. So far, details of those who stayed in hotels are being gathered. The investigation is focusing also on Indian students who studied in Iran and are now suspected of operating in India under Iranian orders.
Another key lead that investigators are looking into relates to Jaish-ul-Hind, an unknown group which claimed responsibility for the blast on Telegram, more than an hour before the explosion occurred. TV reports said that central probe agencies have recovered a chat on social media wherein the terror outfit can be seen taking pride over the attack.
What can we learn from this primitive, botched terrorist attack?
Considering this incident as an Iranian operation, the modus operandi suggests the main goal was political/psychological: to inspire permanent fear of more serious revenge attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.
The operation was probably staged by a local, dispensable group of supporters with minimal knowledge of its real goals.
Otherwise it is difficult to understand why two people using a public taxi were involved in a simple operation, where they could easily be identified by the driver, who gave their identikit to the police.
This also permits deniability in case the local perpetrators will be caught.
The timing, from the Iranian point of view – at the beginning of the sensitive process of negotiations on the nuclear deal with the Biden administration – does not politically permit a major terror attack with explosive consequences.
Why India?
The echo of such a terrorist event, in one of the rising global powers, clearly has the potential to reverberate internationally.
Moreover, India is home to some 195 million Muslims, including a large Shia minority of possibly 40-50 million, the second largest Shia population after Iran.
The timing is possibly connected with the anniversary of diplomatic ties between India and Israel being initiated 29 years ago. The Hindustan Times has stressed in this context that the two countries share very close ties and have agreements in several fields, including defense, science, technology etc. – practically a strategic alliance.
Based on past experience, it is possible that Iranian leaders think they can rely on a lax investigation by the Indian authorities.
The successful February 2012 attack
Indeed, on February 13, 2012, an Israeli diplomatic vehicle was bombed in Delhi, seriously wounding the wife of the Israeli defense attaché and three other people, when a motorcycle rider attached a magnetic explosive device to her car and sped away.
This writer was in New Delhi the day of the attack as a participant at the main Indian conference on defense issues and was asked to comment regarding the event on a local TV station.
The show presented the attack as an Iranian operation, based on information about previous attacks in Azerbaijan and Bangkok in January and a foiled one in Georgia, the same day as the New Delhi attack, with the same modus operandi: a magnetic explosive device attached to an Israeli diplomatic car.
Two Indian pundits – a former senior diplomat, and a renowned professor, interviewed on the same program – categorically rejected this evaluation and did not accept the idea that a friendly state and strategic ally such as Iran would decide to hurt Indian sovereignty by such a brazen attack on its soil.
Three weeks later, on March 6, New Delhi Police arrested Indian journalist Syed Mohammed Ahmad Kazmi for allegedly facilitating the February 13 bombing of the Israeli Embassy car. Kazmi, a Shi'ite, was employed by the Iranian news agency IRNA and Iranian radio, besides being a regular columnist for some widely-read Urdu newspapers in India.
The Indian police have identified three Iranians implicated in the New Delhi bombing as Houshan Afshari Irani, Seyed Ali Mahdiansadr and Mohammadreza Abolghasemi. The police said that Kazmi was paid $5,500 and provided assistance to Irani.
An Indian court issued arrest warrants for the three Iranians in connection with the attack. Irani, who had visited Delhi twice and left for Malaysia shortly after the Delhi attack, was in contact with Masoud Sedaghatzadeh, one of the Iranian suspects in the January Bangkok bomb plot.
The Delhi police had concluded that the attack was the work of the IRGC. Kazmi had been in contact with its members for nearly 10 years. The Delhi police commissioner at the time, B K Gupta, had disclosed that Kazmi had also confessed to having helped Irani conduct research regarding the Israeli embassy.
Civil society representatives came together under the aegis of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony And Democracy) to condemn Kazmi’s arrest. Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD alleged that the freelance journalist was also being targeted because he was a Muslim.
Alleging that the arrest was made under pressure from Israel and the United States to name and implicate Iran in the case, Manisha Sethi, president of the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association, said strange stories were being planted in the media and demanded Kazmi's immediate release on bail. More than 100 people gathered in New Delhi for a protest rally and demanded that the police release Kazmi.
Kazmi was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court of India in October 2012 but restrained from going abroad. As of today, he continues to host a show on his YouTube channel, Media Star World, where he discusses West Asia and the region’s issues.
India has sought official information about Irani, Mahdiansadr, Abolghasemi and Sedaghatzadeh. Interpol lookout notices have been issued for the first three; Sedaghatzadeh has been detained by the Malaysian police.
Iran denied it would do such a thing in India especially when New Delhi is making strenuous efforts, despite disapproval by the US and some European countries, to develop new methods to pay for Iranian oil. “It is not in the character of Iranian policy to do this. If it is so, why select India? Iran could have selected some other country.”
The attacks in India occurred when it had just replaced China as Iran's largest crude oil importer. The imports had increased to 550,000 barrels per day in January 2012. The question of why Iran would do this to its biggest customer arose after the attacks.
Indeed, several weeks later, a large Indian delegation visited Tehran to ask for more oil imports and India invited three Iranian banks to open their branches to conduct direct trade.
In April 2012, Tehran had informed the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that “both sides are interested in collaboration'' but information about the three suspected Iranians involved in the terrorist attack could not be provided immediately because Iran had gone into its Navroz (New Year) celebrations.
It seems that all of the diplomatic efforts, as well as the visit of the Indian Police to Tehran to obtain from the Iranian government information about the suspected perpetrators of the February 13 attack, have not achieved any positive results until today.
Will things change?
A top comment by Vidyanand Shetty on The Times of India of January 30 resumes the discussion: “Iran can't use India for its dirty games. They escaped punishment in 2012 as they had a friendly gov't. Now things have changed, [with] this is act of terrorism against India and not against Israel. [The] Indian government should issue a strong statement: anyone using Indian soil will be punished.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the recent terror attack near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi and pledged to punish the perpetrators. Hopefully, the Indian government will finally call Iran to order.