Tathagata Bhattacharya is Editor, Special Editions, at Network 18. Having worked for well over 10 years with leading national and international media organisations, he is as enthused by newsbreaks and analyses as he is by single malts, Jazz and military aviation. You may come across this man listening to John Coltrane or reading Yasar Kemal on some obscure Himalayan tract though work pressure reduces the statistical probability of such a chance encounter.
I don't think Iran or Hezbollah is behind the series of attacks that have targeted Israeli citizens and establishments in the last one week. I just don't think that contention fits the pieces of the puzzle.
The attack on the Israeli Embassy vehicle carrying the Israeli Defence Attache's wife in New Delhi and the failed attacks in Georgia and Thailand happened in February, 2012. In November of this very year, US President Barack Obama, riddled by Republican criticism of his plans to cut US defence budget and to heavily tax the rich (in case he gets elected), would seek a second term at White House. Now that I have given out the starting point and the end of this conspiracy theory thread, let me turn to filling the blanks left between.
First, Iranian intelligence would never choose India as a venue to launch such attacks. It is the only significant country, barring Russia and China, to not recognise US-imposed sanctions. Its trade volume with India is significant enough for Iran. Though New Delhi has said it would not like to have another nuclear power in close geographical proximity, it has always been wary of the US practice of including Tehran (while Pakistan gets the benefit of doubt) in the list of terror states.
Doing such a thing in India would push India to adopt a more hardline stance and bring it closer to Washington. And that would compromise India's non-aligned stance in combating the rising Chinese maritime power in the Indian Ocean region. It does not suit Iran, neither does it suit Russia or China. I wonder who it suits most then.
Now let me come to the second point. Those, who track international affairs in some detail, would be aware of a meeting between Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Barack Obama that took place in Washington on January 30 of this year. What many may have missed is the Georgian President's meeting with CIA Director David H Petraeus on February 4 before he was airlifted out of Pentagon to the US naval training base of Annapolis where he had a programme to attend.
Now which visiting head of state, barring may be that of Pakistan, have met the CIA chief? Pakistan, one can understand. They are a frontline state in US operations against terror and CIA drone strikes repeatedly take their relationships to newer levels of low.
But Georgia? Apart from the 1,000 Georgian soldiers serving in ISAF forces in Afghanistan, it has no distant relation with the war on terror. "I don't rule out that to retain the [presidential] chair Saakashvili may join a military campaign against Iran, which would become a catastrophe for our country," said former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze soon after the bomb was found under the Israeli Embassy car.
Readers would also do well to learn that Georgia, with a population of just 4.7 million people, is the third largest recipient of US foreign aid.
And suddenly my mind goes back to the Russia-Georgia War of 2008. Israel supplied UAVs, night-vision equipment, anti-aircraft equipment, ammunition and electronic systems as well as advanced tactical training to Georgians. Many of around 1000 American soldiers, who were present in Georgia for a military exercise when the war broke out, stayed back, apart from 127 regular US military trainers.
Russian military had claimed to have recovered a clutch of American and Israeli identity cards and passports from captured men and vacated positions after putting an end to Georgian military adventure under five days. The Americans and Israelis have invariably denied these allegations.
Third, important Iranian nuclear scientists and military commanders connected to Tehran's nuclear programme have periodically been eliminated in bomb attacks. In the last such attack, two men on a motorbike attached a magnetic bomb to Natanz fuel enrichment plant deputy director Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan's Peugeot 405 in January this year. As compared to him, the Israeli target in New Delhi comes across as a definitive low-value one. Also, seasoned intelligence agencies seldom draw up copy-cat response plans.
Also, the Iranian people arrested by Thai police don't come across as handpicked Iranian intelligence operatives or hardened Hezbollah men.
An Israeli soldier who participated in the Israel-Hezbollah War in 2006 told the New York Times' Steven Erlanger and Richard A Oppel Jr that Hezbollah fighers were "nothing like Hamas or the Palestinians. They are trained and highly qualified. All of us were kind of surprised."
So it is kind of funny that the same armed group (whose members damaged more than 50 Merkava tanks and forced the fabled Israeli Defence Forces to withdraw without any decisive outcome) or their mentor nation could depute such men for an overseas terror attack who would lob explosives at trees to lose their own limbs in the ricochet.
But could it be that the Iranians the Thai authorities are looking for are dissenters against the Iranian regime who have been hurriedly pressed into service as the entire grand plan needs to reach fruition well before the end of the year?
One thing has happened for sure over the last one week. The global eye on terror has suddenly shifted its focus from the Salafist-Wahabi Sunni Islamist groups (that includes al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat Ud Dawa and countless more strewn across the Arab world and Pakistan) to Shia Iran. The Indian government has done well, till now, to not agree to this newly manufactured consent.
I started this post by saying Iran may not be behind these attacks. I will not end by saying who may be. But Iran's arch-enemy Israel, most probably, had nothing to do with them as well.