( Written at the request of “The Times of India”---http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Turning-a-conflict-zone/articleshow/11903038.cms )
One has to take seriously the Israeli suspicion that Iran and the Hizbollah terrorist organization supported by it probably had a hand in the terrorist attack with a magnetized improvised explosive device (IED) on an Israeli diplomatic vehicle at New Delhi on February 13. However, it is going to be difficult to establish the veracity of the Israeli suspicion unless the terrorist responsible for the attack or any of his accomplices is arrested and interrogated.There is so far no smoking gun pointing in any definitive direction.
The Israeli suspicion is strengthened by the fact that there was a similar attempt---but unsuccessful--- in Tibilisi in Georgia the same day and other attempts in Bangkok the next day. It is not yet clear whether Israeli nationals were the targets in the Bangkok attacks. Presuming they were,the series of attempted attacks on Israeli targets in three different cities indicate a State-sponsored orchestration of the planning and execution.
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.It has the required motive and covert capability to make Israel pay a price for its actions directed against Iran.It would look upon terrorist attacks directed against Israeli nationals and interests as justified acts of reprisal to protect its nuclear programme. As a result,the world is likely to see a covert war with no holds barred between the two countries.
While Israel has been able to wage its covert warfare against Iran in Iranian territory, the effectiveness of Israeli security agencies in their territory will come in way of Iran confining its reprisal attacks to Israeli territory. It will, therefore, try to extend its attacks on Israeli targets to other countries with an Israeli presence. Countries with a weak preventive security set-up will be its battlefields of choice for hitting back at Israel.
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. In the eventuality of the Iranian hand being proved, 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.
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 under cover and sleeper cells in the Indian Shia community 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. Till now, the focus of our agencies has been on detecting and neutralizing the pro-Pakistan networks, which operated mainly through sympathisers in the Sunni community.
The Iranian networks, if they are found to be already operating in Indian territory, 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 inspiration. Even if Iran looks upon its recruitment of persons from the Indian Shia community as directed against Israel and not India, the involvement of some Shias in acts of terrorism sponsored by Iran against Israel could sow the seeds of a possible radicalisation of sections of the Shia community.Moreover, the involvement of the Shias recruited by Iran either directly or through the Hizbollah in acts of terrorism against Israel could make expertise in matters such as fabrication of IEDs available in the Shia community.This could add to the problems already faced by our agencies due to the availability of such expertise in the Sunni community.
If Iran continues to use India as a clandestine base for its anti-Israel covert actions, the difficulties faced by our counter-terrorism agencies will acquire a new dimension.There is practically no Pakistani student community in India.Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), therefore, have to depend on sympathetic members of the Indian Muslim community and Pakistanis clandestinely infiltrated into India for their acts of terrorism.
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.
If the Iranian hand is finally established, the Indian intelligence has to pay greater attention and devote greater resources for the coverage of the activities of the Iranian intelligence and its links with the Hizbollah and the Iranian student community in India.
We should make it clear to Iran that its use of Indian territory for terrorism against Israel could affect bilateral relations. Suspicion and distrust do not contaminate our relations.If Iran uses Indian territory for terrorism against Israel, such a contamination could be an unfortunate outcome.
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter @SORBONNE75 )