The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Dr. Oshrit Birvadker: The Iranians wanted to not only attack Israel but also the US and India itself.

By UDI SHAHAM, The Jerusalem Post, 31.01.2021

The explosion near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi on Friday reminded us that attacks could also happen far away from home.

In the last two months, following the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the entire Israeli security establishment has been on alert.

The military is bracing for a possible attack from Tehran’s proxies, such as the Houthis in Yemen or Shi’ite militias in Iraq, a senior IDF official told The Jerusalem Post in early January.

This explosion is not the first one against Israeli targets in India: On February 13, 2012, two bombs were planted on Israeli diplomatic cars in New Delhi and Tbilisi, Georgia, targeting Israeli diplomats.

The bomb in Tbilisi failed to detonate and was defused by Georgian police. But the one in New Delhi exploded, wounding an embassy staffer. Israel later accused Iran of perpetrating the attacks.

So why was India chosen as a venue for attacks against Israel?

According to Dr. Oshrit Birvadker, a Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security expert in Indian foreign affairs and defense policy, there are two main reasons.

The first is that India, like many other Asian countries, is a target that many terrorist groups eye to infiltrate, she told the Post on Sunday.

“We see the entire continent of Asia as a general venue of terrorist activity,” Birvadker said. “We saw a series of travel warnings to various Asian countries, like Thailand, and in places like these, we all saw terrorist activities in the past.”

“In those countries, it is believed to be easier to carry out an attack and then go under the radar and escape from law-enforcement officials,” she said.

Because Israeli-Indian diplomatic relations are relatively young, only 29 years, there is less of a security-related Israeli presence in India, hence making targets more vulnerable, Birvadker stressed.

The second reason, which might reflect a more complex image, is rooted in the message that the Iranians, who are believed to be behind the attack, wanted to not only attack Israel but also the US and India itself, she said.

Birvadker believes there was no intention to actually cause harm in this explosion, but just to say: “We’re here.”

“The message to Israel is obvious,” she said. “In information revealed after the attack, the name of [ Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem] Soleimani was mentioned. Israel expressed its support of the US after the assassination of Soleimani, so all Israeli diplomatic missions abroad are on alert for possible retaliation.”

However, India is at a turning point in how it regards the Islamic Republic, Birvadker said. On the one hand, it was for years one of the biggest customers of Iranian oil. It recently conducted major infrastructure development, including a gas field and a new port in Iran. On the other hand, in recent years, India has become closer and closer to the US and Israel and had to cut a major portion of its business with Tehran due to the international sanctions imposed on it.

“India, which has historic cultural and economic ties with Iran, tries to balance itself between Tehran and Israel and the US,” Birvadker said. “Since the ties were established 29 years ago, we see how the Indian Foreign Ministry walks carefully on this thin line.”

“But as the sanctions intensified, it leaned more and more toward the American side because [India] needed it in its regional struggles, such as the competition with China,” she said.

This explosion indicates that “Iran has two joint targets: the Israeli one, warning it about a possible bigger avenging of Soleimani and Fakhrizadeh, and the Indian one, in which it tried to sway the government in New Delhi into easing the restrictions,” Birvadker said.

“It wants India’s help, as a local, powerful country, to help them get out of the economic catastrophe it has gotten into due to the sanctions,” she said. “Tehran wants India to rethink its approach as the US administration is changing.”

It is no coincidence that the explosion took place on the day Israel and India celebrated 29 years of formal diplomatic relations, Birvadker said.

“Iran understands the significance of the India-Israel-US triangle and is acting to damage it,” she said.