The wife of the Israeli Defence Attache in New Delhi, her Indian driver and two bystanders on the road were injured on February 13, 2012, when an explosive-cum-incendiary device attached to the rear of her car as it slowed down near a petrol service station about a km from the Israeli Embassy exploded. Indian External Affairs minister, Shri. SM Krishna issued a statement which became a butt of jokes on social media. What else do you expect from a statement which includes such well-worn clichés, “India very strongly condemns such incidents and it is going to be fully investigated and the culprits will be brought to justice at the earliest.”
The scene of the blast is located in a high-security area where the tightly-guarded house of the Indian Prime Minister is located. The car was engulfed in flames, but did not explode into pieces, thereby indicating that the incendiary effect was more than the explosive effect. The wife of the Defence Attache is also a diplomatic member of the staff of the Israeli Embassy. She was going to the American School to pick up their children when the explosion took place.
A motor-cycle borne terrorist neared the car as it slowed down, attached the improvised explosive device (IED) to the rear of the car and sped away before the explosion took place. The indications till now are that only one terrorist was involved. Since the blast took place almost instantaneously after the terrorist attached the IED to the rear of the vehicle, the IED would appear to have been triggered off by an instantaneous timer or a mobile phone.
The attack coincided with the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a senior leader of the Hizbollah in Damacus and the first anniversary of the death of two Iranian nuclear scientists in Teheran due to a similar explosion. Iran had blamed the Israeli intelligence for these incidents and had threatened revenge. A similar explosion due to an IED attached to the car of an employee of the Israeli Embassy in Tibilisi, capital of Georgia, was averted the same day due to the timely detection of the IED and its neutralisation before it could explode.
Such an attack would not have been possible without local support. It could not have been attempted by people flown in from another country for a day and flown out the next day, after the attack. Reconnaissance over many weeks would have been needed to establish the pattern of the employee who went to pick her child from school. The route and the timing would have thus been established. Rehearsals would also have been carried out by the terrorists.
This points to a support from local elements, who could have either been hired or provided by some other terror groups. Unearthing that support base should be the foremost priority of our security agencies. But if such an attack was carried out without any local support, it should be even more worrying for our security agencies. Because it would mean that foreign agents can come in with explosives, operate in Delhi with impunity and escape unscathed.
Israeli Prime Minister was quick to blame the attack on Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Iranian Ambassador to India has denied the charge. Delhi Police, basing its preliminary finding on an eye-witness account, suggests that a sticky bomb was used by motorcyclists on the car. Isreal claimed that these two incidents came in the wake of two other attempts a few days earlier in Bangkok and Buenos Aires. They have threatened reprisals against Iran and the Hizbollah. The Hizbollah had operated in the 1990s in Bangkok and Buenos Aires and was known to have a local support base. But it had neither operated in New Delhi in the past nor was it known to have sleeper cells in India.
Third terrorist attack on Israeli citizens in India
The Lashkar-e-Toiba’s attack on the Narriman House in Mumbai, housing an Israeli religious-cum-cultural centre, during its terrorist strikes in Mumbai on 26/11, was the first instance of a terrorist attack on Israeli targets in Indian territory outside J&K. In the early 1990s, there was one attack on Israeli tourists in Srinagar by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
Iran & Israel are accusing each other for the terrorist acts against each other thru out the world.
All past evidence was attributable to the interest of Al Qaeda and the LET, both Sunni organisations, to carry out terrorist strikes against Israeli / Jewish targets in India. There had been no evidence of Shia elements in India in carrying out attacks on Israeli nationals and interests. There is no Shia terrorist organisation in Indian territory outside J&K. Even the one in J&K has been dormant for some years.
Unless the terrorist involved is arrested and interrogated, it would be difficult to say whether he had come into India from outside to cause the blast or whether he is an Indian recruited by the Hizbollah for the attack.In the 1990s, there were instances of Shia terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, but there had not been an incident of Shia terrorism in Indian territory outside J&K in the past. In the past, there was no evidence of any plans of the Hizbollah to attack Israeli nationals and interests in India, but Al Qaeda was known to have planned to carry out an attack on the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi before 9/11, but it could not carry it out.
Shia terrorism from Iran
While there has been no Shia terrorism in Indian territory in recent years, there is Shia terrorism in Pakistani territory carried out by an organisation called Sipah Mohammad and by another organisation also called the Hizbollah in the Kurram agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Kurram has had a history of violent incidents between Sunni terrorists supported by the Taliban and Shia terrorists supported by Iran.
If it is established that Iran was behind the New Delhi attack, it would indicate that India has been chosen as a suitable territory for the Iranian reprisal attacks even at the risk of such attacks having an adverse impact on Iran’s hitherto friendly relations with India. A question of serious concern to the Indian counter-terrorism agencies would be whether it would remain a sporadic attack with no follow-up attempts or whether more attacks are likely.
Iran has been having a war of nerves with Israel over its nuclear programme and has been the suspected target of Israeli covert action for over a year now to disrupt its nuclear programme. As a result the world is likely to see a covert war with no holds barred between the two countries.
Clueless Indian agencies
The February 13 attack was well-planned and well-executed. This would have been possible only with painstaking collection of information regarding the movements and activities of Israeli diplomats and a capability for undetected clandestine activity in Indian territory for the procurement of explosive material and the fabrication of the IED.
The fact that all such preparatory activities went unnoticed and undetected by the Indian agencies would indicate that Iran probably already has a strong intelligence presence in the Indian territory in the form of intelligence officers working undercover and sleeper cells as well as in the large number of Iranians studying in India. Detecting and neutralizing the Iranian network in India is going to be a difficult task. The Iranian networks, would most probably consist of Shias - Indians as well as Iranians. The Indian Shia community has till now been peace-loving and has kept away from jihadi terrorism of Pakistani. Iran will enjoy an advantage over Pakistan due to the presence of a large number of Iranian students in different cities of India. Recuitment from their ranks would enable Iran to operate with ease from Indian territory.
While India’s foreign ministry handles the diplomatic challenge, the Home Ministry should look at this very closely and draw the right lessons. The incident happened in a high-security area, barely 500 meters away from the Prime Minister’s residence. The motorcyclists were able to get away easily. No footage or picture of them has been released so far. If it is established that Iran, through the Hizbollah, was involved in the terrorist attack of February 13, it would indicate that the Hizbollah has support elements in the India. Secondly, it would indicate the involvement of the Iranian intelligence in orchestrating terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in India. Now, the attention of Indian counter-terrorism agencies has to focus on the Hizbollah and the Shia terrorist organisations of Pakistan and their contacts in India and the Iranian intelligence.
The fact that Delhi was selected by someone to mount a strike on an Israeli diplomat should bother us the most. It is a shameful reflection of our internal security vulnerabilities and reputation. Fixing these weaknesses, which is a continuous process of a cat-and-mouse game, should be our top-most priority today. The rest can wait for the moment. INTELLIGENCE IS THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE IN PREVENTING TERROR ATTACKS. ALL SCURITY AGENCIES MUST FOCUS ON OBTAINING ACTINABLE INTELLIGENCE.INTELLIGENCE IS TOO SERIOUS A MATTER TO BE LEFT TO ONLY PROFESSIONAL INT AGENCIES.
About Brig. Hemant Mahajan
Brigadier Hemant Mahajan (YSM) joined armed forces since 1973. Started his military life as an officer with the ‘7 Maratha Light Infantry’. Brig. Mahajan has served in the most sensitive areas like Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, North Eastern states. Importantly Brig. Mahajan had an experience of serving his duty in highest and tough warzone like Kargil, handling peace situation in furious Punjab after the ‘Operational Blue Star’ and the Ayodhya region. Along with ‘Youth Seva Medal’, Brig. Mahajan is recipient of various Military awards for his excellent track record.