Is Iran Behind a New Delhi Attack on an Israeli Diplomat?

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Sajjad Hussain / AFP / Getty Images

Investigators inspect the scene of the car bombing near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi on Feb. 13, 2012.

“We would be talking in a different tone if it had happened 20 minutes later and her kids were in the car,” a senior Israeli intelligence official told TIME on Monday, Feb. 13, commenting on the bomb attack in New Delhi that injured an Israeli diplomat. An eyewitness claimed to have seen a man aboard a motorbike pull up alongside the car carrying Tali Koren Yeshova, 42, and attach an explosive device whose detonation injured Yeshova, her driver and two bystanders. Yeshova, who had been en route to pick up her children in the Indian capital, was hospitalized with spinal and liver injuries and is reported to be in critical but stable condition. Soon after the blast, which took place around 3 p.m., Israel blamed Iran for the attack as well as for a foiled attempt the same day to attach a hand grenade to an Israeli-embassy vehicle in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

(PHOTOS: A bomb explodes near New Delhi’s Israeli embassy)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem that “Iran stands behind the bombers.” Israeli embassies around the world have been on high alert since Sunday, Feb. 12, the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, former military commander of the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Hizballah organization.

Iranian officials denied the allegation, while Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna condemned the attack and vowed to investigate.

Israeli officials believe the latest attacks are related to a series of as many as 10 failed attempts, including one in Thailand and one in Azerbaijan in recent weeks. And they suspect Hizballah, perhaps operating through local proxies, are the perpetrators.

If Monday’s attacks were related to the Mughniyah anniversary, Israeli sources said, they highlight just how difficult it has been for Hizballah to replace a mastermind whose résumé allegedly included spectacular track bombings of U.S. and French embassies in Beirut in 1983, attacks on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Argentina in 1994 and the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which collectively claimed hundreds of lives. By comparison, Monday’s attacks appear to have been relatively unimpressive — even amateurish, in the case of the Georgian attempt.

Early in the evening, Indian television channels showed a burning car about 300 meters away from the Israeli embassy in Delhi, which is in a high-security zone in the country’s capital, with the Indian Prime Minister’s residence only 500 meters away. Later, however, the scene at the Israeli embassy on the six-lane, tree-lined Aurangzeb Road was calm. Three or four security personnel stood around making sure the rush-hour traffic moved quickly. The gates to the embassy were closed but not barricaded, and floodlights lit up the compound from the inside. The windows facing the street were illuminated, a sign of the alarm of the embassy officials inside.

David Goldfarb, spokesman for Israel’s Delhi embassy, said Yeshova’s car was close to the building on Aurangzeb Road when the explosion went off. Officials of the central forensic laboratory were seen collecting evidence at the blast site Monday evening. Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, told TIME that Indian officials are working closely with the Israelis.

India now finds itself caught in the geopolitical mire between Israel and Iran, two countries that both share friendly relations with New Delhi. The coming few weeks will be a test for Indian diplomacy as well as its security establishment. It’s unclear whether Hizballah is gaining a foothold in the country, which has suffered no terrorist attack since a blast at Delhi’s High Court last September. In a grisly 2008 assault on buildings in ritzy south Mumbai that was conducted by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, a significant Jewish center was targeted. This is the first prominent attack on a foreign-government property in India since the January 2002 attack on the American Center in Kolkata. Monday’s blast has brought the spotlight back onto the vulnerability of diplomatic missions in the country. India is not taking any chances and has strengthened its security apparatus across the country to prevent a repeat of Monday’s incident.

With reporting by Elliot Hannon / New Delhi