Israel blames Hezbollah and Iran for attacks on diplomats. Is it right?

Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group that has carried out attacks as far afield as Argentina before, is certainly a prime suspect in today's attacks in India and Georgia.

Baz Ratner/Reuters
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem Feb. 13. Bombers targeted staff at Israel's embassies in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people, and Netanyahu accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of involvement.

Two attempts to assassinate Israeli diplomats failed in India and Georgia today – the wife of Israel's military attaché in Delhi was slightly injured by a bomb attached to her car, while the bomb on an Israeli diplomat's car in Tbilisi was detected before any harm was done.

A coincidence – two isolated swipes at Israel – seems highly unlikely. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed both Iran and Hezbollah for the attack. That's plausible, but it's impossible to know anything for certain in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Both Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group that receives much of its financing from Iran, make sense as prime suspects. The attacks came a day after the four-year anniversary of Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah's assassination in Damascus, Syria.

Mr. Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah official, was indicted by Argentina in connection with two deadly attacks on Israeli missions there in the 1990s. He was killed by a bomb planted under the dashboard of his car. At the time of his death, Hezbollah blamed Israel for the murder, and vowed revenge, though Israeli officials said they were not involved.

Iran, too, has claimed reason to strike out at Israel. Officials in Tehran have said that a wave of assassinations against military officials and civilians working on its nuclear program was arranged by Israel and has vowed to retaliate. Israel has refused to confirm or deny its involvement in those attacks. Last week, NBC news cited an unnamed US official as saying that Israel is financing and training the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian militant group on the State Department's list of international terrorist organizations, to carry out the assassination campaign in Iran. 

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So either Iran or Hezbollah, or both, are reasonable objects of suspicion in today's attacks. But it's hardly a secret that Israel is unpopular with a range of militant groups, many of them deeply hostile to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. And no evidence has been provided to support the assertion.

The obvious backdrop to all this is the growing push for a war with Iran over its nuclear program, and you can take it to the bank that these two attacks will be used in the coming days to bolster arguments that Iran is an implacable foe that can't be reasoned with, and steps stronger than sanctions will be needed to dissuade them from their nuclear ambitions.

(Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only. The US intelligence establishment says there is no evidence of ongoing nuclear weapons-related work in Iran, a conclusion that many Israel and American politicians disagree with.)

But the truth could lie elsewhere, and it's worth keeping an open mind until evidence emerges. Israel frequently walks back early statements of blame in terror attacks. Last August, after a bloody cross-border attack from Egypt on the Israeli town of Eilat, Israel immediately blamed Hamas, the Sunni militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Retaliatory air strikes were soon carried out on Hamas members in Gaza. At the time, Israeli officials said Hamas gunmen had crossed through tunnels into Egypt's Sinai peninsula and made their way to Eilat from there.

But a month later, the Israeli Defense Forces's analysis of the events determined that all of the attackers were Egyptian natives.

In this case, Israel's early finger-pointing certainly makes sense. But it made sense to a certain extent after the Eilat attacks, too. 

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