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Fingerpointing follows attack on Israeli Embassy van

From Kevin Flower, CNN
updated 7:38 PM EST, Mon February 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman blames Israel for the bombing and another attempt
  • Israel's prime minister blames Iran for both incidents
  • The wife of an Israeli defense wing officer and her Indian driver were wounded

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The explosion Monday of a device attached to an Israeli Embassy van in New Delhi and the discovery and safe detonation of another such device found on an embassy car in Tbilisi, Georgia, led quickly to a round of fingerpointing between Israel and Iran.

Four people were wounded in the van explosion, which occurred near the Israeli mission in New Delhi, officials said.

The other bomb, found on an embassy car in Tbilisi, Georgia, was detonated in a controlled explosion with no injuries, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed both incidents on Iran, calling it "the biggest exporter of terror in the world."

Israeli Embassy car detonates in India

"The Israeli government and her security organizations are continuing to operate together with local security services against these acts of terror," Netanyahu said. "We will continue to act in a strong way, systematically and steadfastly."

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast blamed Israel, accusing it of having bombed its own embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi "to tarnish Iran's friendly ties with the host countries," Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said. "He brushed aside Israeli accusation on Iranian involvement in the bombing and said that Israel perpetrated the terrorist actions to launch psychological warfare against Iran," IRNA reported.

"Iran condemns terrorism in strongest term and Iran has been the victim of terrorism," Mehmanparast said.

Police in India identified one of the wounded there as Tal Yehoshua Coren, the wife of an Israeli Defense Ministry employee. A doctor in India told reporters she was in critical but stable condition in a hospital.

Also wounded in New Delhi was the Indian driver of the car, said Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. He said both victims were being treated and "are OK." Two others in a vehicle next to the van sustained minor injuries, according to B.K. Gupta, an Indian police official.

Akbaruddin said the car was about 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the Israeli mission at the time.

A witness told CNN there was a "huge explosion sound" and he later saw a foreign woman and the Indian driver being removed from the car.

In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks. "The United States places a high priority on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world, and we stand ready to assist with any investigation of these cowardly actions," she said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry personnel based overseas have been on alert in recent weeks to the heightened possibility of attacks at Israeli facilities by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Muslim militant group and political party.

Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah holds Israel responsible for his death and has vowed revenge.

Both Netanyahu and Michael Herzog, former chief of staff to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, noted two recent attempted attacks on Israeli citizens in Thailand and Azerbaijan. The Israeli government issued a travel advisory this year for citizens traveling to Thailand after Thai security officials arrested at least one Hezbollah-affiliated man connected with a planned attack in the country.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said this month that Iran would support any nation or group that stands up against Israel. He said Iran doesn't interfere in other nations but has aided such militant groups as Hamas and Hezbollah in conflicts with Israel in Gaza and Lebanon.

"Taken together, maybe we are witnessing an Iranian attack against Israeli representation across the world," Herzog said of Monday's incidents and the thwarted bombings in Thailand and Azerbaijan.

The modus operandi is not new. Last month, a mysterious explosion in Iran killed a man identified as a nuclear scientist -- the third such killing in the past two years in which someone placed a bomb on or under a scientist's car. A fourth survived an assassination attempt.

The United States and Israel oppose Iran's nuclear program, although numerous countries have expressed concern as well. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian energy purposes.

Iranian officials, on state-run media, blame Israel and the United States.

Clinton has denied "any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran."

While Israel generally refuses to comment on accusations and speculation, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said on his Facebook page, "I have no idea who targeted the Iranian scientist but I certainly don't shed a tear."

With no one claiming responsibility, the killings remain shrouded in mystery. Iran experts contacted last month by CNN could only speculate.

"The most likely contender among people who are following this is that the Israelis are doing it, possibly in cooperation with the Iranian mujahedeen," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Council and author of the book "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran."

"There's almost no downside for Israel," he said. The killings "take out nuclear assets and embarrass Iran" by showing that the regime can't prevent such attacks, Parsi said. And "if Iran retaliates with a violent act, then Israel can point to it as a reason to take military action against the regime."

Michael Rubin, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, agreed that Israeli involvement was the most "plausible" scenario. And Mark Hibbs, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also said the way the attacks took place "would be consistent" with the possibility of Israel acting with cooperation inside Iran.

Parsi told CNN he does not believe the killings are the work of the United States, and he said they do not match the kind of activity U.S. intelligence would carry out in a country with which there is no declared state of war.

Rubin agreed, and gave a different reason. "Frankly, I don't think the United States has the human intelligence knowledge," he said.

CNN's Sumnima Udas and Sara Sidner contributed to this report.

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