Malcolm X said, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that “the chickens have come home to roost,” by which he meant that the violence of American interventionist foreign policy had come back to haunt the country.
The exposure of a possible Iranian bomb-making cell in Thailand, and the coordinated attacks against Israeli targets in India and Georgia, remind us of the truth behind Malcom X’s remark. It may be no accident that the attacks occurred only days after US officials confirmed in an MSNBC report that Israel’s Mossad and the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) have been collaborating on assassinating Iranian scientists and attacking military bases.
The attacks appear to represent tit-for-tat responses to a long-term covert war against Iran by Israel, along with logistical support offered by the United States, including technical support for the development of the Stuxnet computer worm that targeted Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010.
Even the method of attack in India mimics Israel-MEK assassinations in Iran, with a motorcyclist sticking a magnetic bomb to the car of an Israeli military attaché while his wife was stuck in traffic.
Iran has denied any involvement. Though the plot in Thailand appears utterly amateurish, and there are questions as to why Iran might choose India – one of the most important importers of its oil – to attack the Israeli diplomats, the denial might be self-serving. Israel does have a well-developed military relationship with Georgia, as it does with India, and has tried to use Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the Kurdish region of Iraq to spy on Iran, and presumably exploit their territory for its covert war against Iran.
Iran’s presumed involvement is meant as an explicit warning not just to Israel, but also to the US, of what is in store if the covert war against the Islamic republic continues or if Israel attacks it militarily.
We are entering a dangerous new stage of the confrontation in which Iran feels it must respond in kind to attacks against it. When two nations begin to engage in such patterns of attacks and counterattacks, it becomes much easier for a mistake or misjudgment to lead to a disaster.
All it would take is an attempt to blow up an Israeli embassy or the killing of an official to provoke a full-scale regional war. This is precisely what happened in 1982, when terrorists attempted to assassinate Israel’s ambassador to London. Israel’s defense minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, used the attempt as a pretext to invade Lebanon.
Israel’s “outraged” response to the recent attacks and its blaming of Iran drip hypocrisy. Israel has assassinated Iranian scientists in Iran and Palestinian figures around the world going back decades, and as recently as January 2010, when it killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Israel claims that the Lebanese Hezbollah was involved in the attacks. If so, this would represent a blowback for Israel’s assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in February 2008. Hezbollah has denied involvement – which again might be self-serving – making it clear that any possible revenge attack for Maghniyeh’s death will be “spectacular,” for which Hezbollah will take full responsibility.
It is misleading for the media to report that last week’s attacks targeted Israeli “civilians.” While we oppose such attacks against both Iranians and Israelis – indeed against anyone and any nation – the recent assassination of an Iranian scientist and his driver, and the 2010 near-fatal wounding of another scientist and his wife, were no less attacks on “civilians.” Somehow Israel’s supporters miss this element of the story, though Iranians certainly have not. Israeli military and diplomatic personnel serving in foreign assignments are frontline troops in their nation’s covert war against Iran. If Israel does not want its own civilians targeted, it must not target Iranian civilians.
Israel considers itself immune from the immutable law of terror: What goes around comes around. Israelis such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak have in the past downplayed the possibility of Iranian blowback, saying that Iran would not wish to widen the war and risk the overthrow of its regime. The strikes in India and Georgia and the plot in Thailand counter such claims.
The fact is that the Iranian regime is under domestic pressure by its democratic opposition, and is threatened by Israel and the United States on a daily basis. Tough sanctions have been imposed on Iran that have hurt the lives of ordinary Iranians. Thus, the Iranian regime may feel compelled to strike back at some point. At the same time, the assassination of the Iranian scientists did not provoke a word of protest by almost anyone in the West.
Israel – and by extension the US – seem to believe that there is good terrorism (committed by them and their allies) and bad terrorism (committed by their foes). The US State Department expressed concerns only for Iran’s possible involvements in the terror campaign but did not utter a single word about Israel’s covert war against Iran. But there is only one type of terrorism, terrible for humanity. If we do not condemn terrorism universally – regardless of who has or which state commits it – then we should not be surprised when our adversaries adopt it as a strategy to counter the terrorism committed by us and our allies against them.
Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California, analyzes Iran’s political developments for the PBS Frontline/Teheran Bureau website. Richard Silverstein is a freelance journalist who specializes in Israeli national security issues and writes the Tikun Olam blog.