By Dr. Chuck Missler
The government of Thailand took care not to point fingers after a series of blasts injured five people in Bangkok on Valentine's Day, but Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has faulted Iran with Monday's car bombing outside Israel's New Delhi embassy in India as well as a failed bombing attempt in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi the same day. While the spate of attacks were poorly executed, they follow Sunday's fourth anniversary of the assassination of Hezbollah's deputy leader, Imad Mughniyah, and appear to be linked to one another.
Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was quick to calm citizens on Tuesday after three bombs went off in Bangkok, arguing that it wasn't clear whether the explosions were the result of terrorism. The Thai police have since arrested two men with Iranian passports and are searching for a third.
Initially, a device detonated in a rented apartment—possibly on accident—about a kilometer from the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok. After the explosion, men fled the building, and one of them attempted to catch a taxi. When the taxi driver drove away from him without letting him in, the man tossed a bomb at the vehicle, causing the second explosion. As police pursued the man, he threw a bomb at them, but it ricocheted off a tree and blew the man's legs off. He and another Iranian were soon taken into custody.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok had just finished warning about possible attacks by foreign terrorists on tourist areas in the city, and from January 13 into the beginning of February, Bangkok was on alert. Ten days after the alert was lifted, these bungled bombings occurred.
"It is truly alarming that this took place in central Bangkok," Panitan Wattanayagorn, a security expert at Chulalongkorn University told TIME. "We've always had good relations with Iran. This could be either an isolated incident, part of an arms-smuggling operation, or related to a terrorism organization."
Israel believes the attacks are connected to a car bombing outside Israel's embassy in New Delhi on Monday and another case in Tbilisi in which a car bomb was found and defused before it could detonate. There may be some support for the accusation; magnetic car bombs made from C-4 explosives packed inside radios were found in the Bangkok apartment rented by the Iranian men and were similar to the explosives used in both Tbilisi and New Delhi. The magnetic bombs are easily stuck to cars, but appear to be the kind used to target individuals rather than large buildings of people. The bomb in New Delhi exploded and injured four people, including a diplomat's wife, but none of the bombings succeeded in killing anybody or doing other serious damage.
National Security Council chief Wichean Potephosree said that investigators had not yet proved a connection between the bombings. "We haven't found any links but we are still investigating," Wichean said. "We admit there was magnetic component, aiming at individuals, but the origin of the magnets still has to be investigated."
With Iranians and the anniversary of the death of a Hezbollah leader in the mix, it would appear that these attacks can be legitimately connected to Iran or Iran-backed Hezbollah, with the puzzling exception that they were poorly executed. Will Hartley, Head of the Terrorism & Insurgency Centre at the defense research organization IHS Jane's, called the attacks "amateurish" in an email, saying, "However, the attacks in India, Georgia and now Thailand have all been highly amateurish, and lack the sophistication that would normally be expected from an operation executed by either [Hezbollah or Iran]", Hartley said.
Israel recognizes the apparent hastiness and the obvious lack of skill in the attacks, and it could be easy to consider that perhaps these bombers were lone wolves seeking revenge for their own purposes rather than as part of a sinister conspiracy by Tehran to take out American and Israeli targets. Writing for the Israeli paper Haaretz, Amir Oren takes note of the unprepared nature of the attacks, but chalks it up to either premature error or an increase in pressure on Iran.
"Such haste is not typical of Tehran's previous decision-making, and it shows that the decision makers are under pressure and liable to be driven more by emotions than by cool calculation," Oren writes.
Even orders from the Iranian leadership can be poorly carried out, Oren points out, reminding readers of the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C. last October. The effort to assassinate the ambassador was also considered amateur and involved attempting to contact Mexican drug cartel assassins to do the job. It failed because the Mexican contact was an American agent under cover.
The assassination plot may not have been well developed, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that it came from within the Tehran leadership, and U.S. intelligence suspects even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of having a hand in such things. An anonymous US intelligence official noted that Khamenei has felt his country's economic difficulties and pressure over Iran's nuclear program and in his isolation has become more radical with less aversion to risk.
Whatever their source, these attacks largely failed, like the plot against Israeli school leaders in Azerbaijan two weeks ago. The would-be assassins had received weapons from Iranian agents, but were thwarted by Azeri security forces.
Whether sponsored by their government or Hezbollah or somebody else entirely, these assassination attempts by Iranians have not had much success, but rather than being discouraged, the failures may encourage future perpetrators to try a bit harder.
Israel Calls for Additional Sanctions on Iran • Voice of America
Thailand: Iranians planned to attack Israelis • FOX News
Iranian bomb suspect arrested in Malaysia • Brisbane Times
Israel Complains to UN Chief Over Iranian Terror Campaign • Arutz Sheva
Israel denies reports of thwarted attack on Ehud Barak in Singapore • The Guardian