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Why Iran is an Unlikely Culprit

Those Attacks on Israeli Diplomats

by ARSHIN ADIB-MOGHADDAM

Let’s assume that sections of the military and security apparatus in Iran are responsible for the string of bombings in Georgia, Thailand and India. What would be the motive? The argument that Iran is retaliating for the murder of five civilian nuclear scientists in Iran is not plausible. If Iran wanted to target Israeli interests, it has other means at its disposal. It is hard to imagine that the Iranian government would send Iranian operatives to friendly countries, completely equipped with Iranian money and passports – making the case against them as obvious as possible.

If the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are as professional, highly trained and politically savvy as we have been told repeatedly by Israeli politicians themselves, if they have successfully trained and equipped the cadres of Hezbollah and other movements with paramilitary wings in the region, then why would they launch such a clumsy and self-defeating operation?

And why India, Georgia and Thailand, three countries that Iran has had cordial relations with during a period when Iran is facing increasing sanctions spearheaded by the United States? A few days ago, India agreed a rupee-based oil and gas deal with Iran and resisted US pressures to join the western boycott of the Iranian energy sector. As a net importer of 12% of Iranian oil, India’s total trade with Iran amounted to $13.67bn in 2010-2011. What would be the motive for damaging relations with one of Iran’s major trading partners and regional heavyweights?

For Iran it doesn’t make sense to risk alienating India by launching an assassination attempt in the capital of the country. Similarly, Iran has good economic and political relations with
Georgia and Thailand. Why would the leadership in Tehran risk a major crisis with these countries during this sensitive period when IAEA inspectors are moving in and out of Iran to investigate the country’s nuclear programme?

The true answer is that at this stage no one knows for sure who is behind the attacks. There have been news reports that the security agencies in India are examining the similarities between the explosion in Delhi and the Jama Masjid shooting and blast in 2010 when similar methods were used. According to these reports, the culprits could be the so-called Indian Mujahideen, which is unrelated to Iran and which is opposed to India’s relations with Israel. There are several other such groups that support the Palestinian cause and that have targeted India before.

It is politics that will prevail over the truth in this case; the Netanyahu administration will attempt to exploit the situation in order to make the case for increasing sanctions against Iran. Undoubtedly, it will attempt to derail Iranian-Indian relations, which has been a primary objective of the administration’s grand strategy to isolate Iran. For the Netanyahu administration, the culprit of these attacks has to be the Iranian government, irrespective of the truth, because it is politically expedient to represent the country as an existential threat in order to hype up the nuclear issue and to divert attention away from the Palestinian question. Certainly, on the fringes of the Israeli right wing the drumbeats for war will beat louder.

The Iranian government, on the other hand, will continue to deny any involvement in order to ward off a diplomatic fallout. Iran is not interested in any military confrontation. But at the same time Israel is a convenient bogeyman for Iran’s own right wing. Cyclical, confined confrontation with Israel is politically useful in order to foster support for the country’s policies, both domestically and in the wider Arab and Islamic world. Finally, the international community, including the Obama administration, is likely to contain the repercussions of what happened in order to give diplomacy a chance, and to cool down the hawks in Tel Aviv. We are in the middle of the realm of politics then, not the truth.

Apart from a tiny minority that is tied to the military industrial complex, no one really has a penchant for yet another disastrous war in the Islamic world. One thing is certain, however. If the current cold war between Israel and Iran is not managed diplomatically sooner rather than later, the tensions will continue to rise with potentially devastating consequences for Israelis and Iranians alike.

Policies of terror and intimidation yield wars; diplomacy and dialogue yield peace and stability. It is time that this fundamental logic of international politics is enforced in west Asia and north Africa. To that end, the case for reconciliation has to be made continuously and emphatically, especially during periods of massive rage and trepidation. We are exactly at such a decisive juncture. It is all the more imperative then that intellectual acumen and analytical sobriety prevail over the resurgent pro-war lobby.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is reader in the comparative and international politics of western Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is the author of several books including Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic and A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations

This article originally appeared in the Guardian.