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Self-interest must guide our actions

Iran has created assets in India for its covert operations. It's time New Delhi sends a hard diplomatic message to Tehran. Shishir Gupta writes.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2012 01:41 IST
Shishir Gupta

The signature on the February 13 bomb attack on the Israeli embassy staffer in New Delhi was unmistakably Iranian and the handiwork of its secretive Al Quds force with a high degree of deniability built into it. The bomber, who stuck the remotely detonated improvised explosive device onto an Israeli embassy vehicle, was in all probability a local. But the entire operation was controlled from outside the country. This attack was part of the coordinated bombings by Iranians against Zionist targets in Tbilisi in Georgia and Bangkok in Thailand.


While the Tbilisi bomb was made of C-4 plastic explosive with an external antenna, the Delhi bomb prima facie contained inorganic radicals and alumina powder, explaining the incendiary nature of the device. Even though the attack was part of the extended covert war played out by Israeli and Iranian intelligence agencies since 2008 — with the former out to covertly eliminate scientists helping Tehran's nuclear programme — New Delhi should be seething in anger as India has become the new battleground in this war. The attack demonstrates that Iran, like Pakistan, has created assets in India for its covert operations.

The incident indicates that Iran believes that India is part of the western effort to defang its nuclear capabilities and in many ways a betrayal of New Delhi's trust, as the UPA government has exercised considerable strategic autonomy when it has come to Tehran. Post-sanctions, Indian oil imports from Iran have fallen from 21.8 million tonnes in 2008-09 to 17.5 million tonnes in 2011-12. The oil component of imports from Iran has fallen from 16.5% to 10.5% of the total trade with Tehran. But New Delhi is averse to putting all its eggs in one basket and becoming totally dependent on Saudi Arabia for its energy requirements. Despite serious US pressure, India is discovering innovative financial methods to continue with Iranian oil imports as it requires this for its energy security needs. Yet Tehran decided to export ‘revolutionaries' to India and detonate a bomb in its territory.

While both Tel Aviv and Washington are using the bomb attack to pump up India to take action against Iran, New Delhi's action should be dictated by its own interests. After all, the US is still to declare the Haqqani network as a terrorist outfit despite attacks on American targets in Afghanistan and the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Similar US inaction has been noticed against Pakistan's ISI despite its proven involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack and the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. This was pointed out to ranking American lawmakers by Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai in Washington this month.

The fact is that the Barack Obama administration is seeking approval for $2.4 billion in aid to Pakistan this year and is making all efforts to revive engagement with Islamabad, the latter being the original source of nuclear proliferation to Tehran. With US dependence on West Asian oil expected to come down to 6% by 2016 and to 0% in 2020, there is no guarantee that Americans and other western powers will not shed their present hostility and engage Iran at a later stage.

However, this is not to advocate that India defies sanctions against Tehran or condones Iranian behaviour towards India as amply demonstrated by the bomb attack. Even though the chances are that New Delhi may not get direct evidence of the Iranian role behind the bombing, Raisina Hill has read the call signs and they point towards Tehran.

After the attack, New Delhi has cancelled intelligence-sharing talks with Iran. But this is not all. Rather than shouting from the rooftops, Indian security agencies and the Delhi Police must meticulously investigate the attack and bring the culprits to book. A hard message must be sent to Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah through established interlocutors that New Delhi will not tolerate attacks on its soil and efforts should be made to take out their assets among the student community.

Indian diplomatic efforts should be targeted at Iran to explain that New Delhi has been publicly opposed nuclear weapons in West Asia and is not part of any Zionist conspiracy to dismantle Tehran's nuclear capabilities. Just as India buys oil from Tehran, it purchases defence equipment from Israel. So while the UPA government should refuse to swallow the Israeli bait that the Iranian terror attack was targeted at India, the time has come to give a hard diplomatic message to Iran. If security agencies uncover any involvement of Iran in the February 13 attack, then its diplomats should be discreetly expelled or declared persona non grata. India cannot afford one more such attack on its soil.