JERUSALEM — Tensions between Israel and Iran rose sharply yesterday when bombers struck at Israeli Embassy personnel in the capitals of India and Georgia. Israel accused the Tehran government of being behind the attacks, which Iran denied.
The wife of an Israeli defense envoy to New Delhi was injured, along with several other people when her car was damaged by an explosive device placed on it by a motorcyclist at a red light. In Tblisi, the Georgian capital, a similar device was discovered on the car of a staff member of the Israeli Embassy but was defused by police.
Both resembled attacks that have killed five of Iran’s nuclear scientists in recent years, most recently last month. Iran has attributed the assassinations to Israeli agents and vowed to take revenge. The scientists’ assassinations - along with sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program through cyberwarfare and faulty parts - are aimed at delaying what the West believes is Iran’s drive to build a nuclear weapon.
If carried out by Iran, the attacks would be another indication that the leadership in Tehran is willing to reach beyond its borders against its enemies and expand its attacks to civilians. The United States has charged that Iran was behind a plot to assassinate a Saudi ambassador on US soil, and Israel has said that Iran has planned to attack its citizens in various countries, but that those plots were stopped.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, contended that yesterday’s attacks fit that pattern.
“In recent months we have witnessed several attempts to attack Israeli citizens and Jews in several countries, including Azerbaijan, Thailand, and others,’’ he said. “In each instance, we succeeded in foiling the attacks in cooperation with local authorities. Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, were behind all of these attempted attacks.’’
Iran’s Foreign Ministry rejected Israel’s accusations yesterday. A spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said, “Israel has bombed its embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi to tarnish Iran’s friendly ties with the host countries,’’ adding, “Israel perpetrated the terrorist actions to launch psychological warfare against Iran.’’
Iran has defended its nuclear program as peaceful and has defiantly pursued uranium enrichment through years of international pressure and sanctions. Israel’s increasingly urgent warnings on the need to halt Iran’s nuclear progress, before it gets much closer to being able to build a bomb, have prompted concerns that Israel might unilaterally mount a military strike - and have added to the implacable enmity between the two.
General Masoud Jazayeri, a spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, said recently that “the enemies of the Iranian nation - especially the United States, Britain, and the Zionist regime - have to be held responsible for their activities.’’
Iranian leaders have called Israel a tumor that must be removed, and Iran arms and finances Hezbollah and Hamas, which are founded on the principle that Israel has no right to exist.
Israeli officials said yesterday that there was enough evidence from the scenes in Georgia and India to say that the bombs were the work of Iranian agents. “Iran’s fingerprints are all over this,’’ one official said after emerging from high-level meetings in Jerusalem, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In a press conference last night, Delhi’s police commissioner, B.K. Gupta, said a witness “saw a person on a motorcycle sticking some kind of device on the back of the car.’’ As the motorcycle moved away, “a mild blast took place in the back of the car,’’ he said.
The injured woman was Tal Yehoshua Koren, who is married to an Israeli defense official at the embassy and works there. She was on her way to pick up her children at the US Embassy school. The car’s driver, Manoj Sharma, was wounded, as were two occupants of a nearby car.
Yehoshua Koren underwent spinal surgery, said Dr. Deep Makkar of Primus Super Specialty Hospital, in New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave. Shrapnel “penetrated her spine and her liver,’’ Makkar said, adding that she could face neurological injuries.
The other three victims were admitted to a hospital with minor injuries.
“India very strongly condemns such an unfortunate incident,’’ said S.M. Krishna, India’s minister of external affairs, who also called Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister. “It will be fully investigated, and the culprit will be brought to justice.’’
India has resisted US and European pressure to curtail trade with Iran because it relies heavily on Iranian oil.
Israeli diplomats have been on high alert since Pakistan-based militants attacked in the city of Mumbai in 2008, hitting luxury hotels, a railway station, and killing six people in the Chabad Jewish community center there.
Israeli analysts said yesterday’s attacks were insignificant enough that the Israeli government would not feel driven to counterattack.