Saturday, February 18, 2012

Israel, not Iran, has more to gain

Israel, not Iran, has more to gain from blast

Seema Mustafa | Friday, February 17, 2012

Bad journalism was on display as Indian news channels scrambled to beat each other in covering the alleged attack on an Israeli diplomat’s wife in New Delhi. Israel predictably hit the ground running, insisting that Iran was responsible for the alleged attack in which the woman was travelling even before the flames had been doused. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set the political ball rolling as he declared within minutes of the incident that Iran had launched a terror attack on Israel.

Predictable, because Israel seems to be on a one-point mission to isolate Iran so that it can attack the country for a variety of trumped up reasons. The US might be paying the price for invading Iraq, at home and internationally, but from the Israeli strategic point this has constituted a victory at all levels. A hostile state has been turned into a terror hellhole, a well-known anti-Israel leader has been exterminated, and the political forces in Tel Aviv are reaping the benefit. Iran and Syria are next on Israel’s list and currently its diplomacy is focusing on getting the world to support military action against the two regimes.

It was thus very unfortunate that the Indian media decided to accept Israel’s allegations as the gospel without any regard for the facts, or the consequences. The investigations had not even begun when the media launched into discussions of an Israel vs Iran war being fought on Indian soil. The Iranian denial was drowned in the din and one suspects an over-eagerness to please the corporate and allied interests. By the second day, sections of the print media joined the bandwagon, with not a single story questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s claims.

Fortunately, despite the tremendous pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv, India has continued to resist the temptation to support Israel, and cut off links with Iran. It is no secret that the US made its displeasure of India’s renewed friendship with Iran very clear during foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai’s visit to Washington.

But New Delhi seems to be holding out, although given prime minister Manmohan Singh’s proximity to the US, one cannot say at this stage for how long.

Fortunately, there is a division in the strategic elite establishment that crowds government corridors. Iran is quite a favourite with the Indian people, as well as sections of the establishment. Given the dip in growth statistics, it is apparent even to those in government that the need to mop up energy resources is urgent. India cannot afford to dismiss Iran as it had earlier. Against this backdrop, the timing of the attack could not have been better for Israel, not Iran.

After a hiatus, India had started to mend relations with Iran. This was clearly a source of worry for Israel and the US. Thus, the questions that need to be answered are: why would Iran at this stage risk its growing friendship with India by launching a terror attack against Israel? That too on Indian soil? Against a lowly Israeli official?

Sleuths across the world establish the motive first while investigating a crime. In this case, Israel has a motive, in that it wants relations between India and Iran to sour and break. Iran does not have a motive as its efforts currently are to strengthen relations as it needs India’s friendship in countering the Israeli offensive.

Investigators also like to study the modus operandi. The sticky bomb that was supposedly used to blow up the Israeli diplomatic vehicle has till now been used only by Israel in its targeted assassinations across the world. The magnetic bomb was used by Mossad operatives to kill Iranian nuclear scientists in recent months. It is well known that Mossad specialises in such operations, and crosses borders to reach and exterminate targets. Iran has not adopted such a modus operandi yet, and has really been more of a victim on this front than an aggressor. But now the Israelis would have the world believe that their weapons and their methods are being used by targeted nations.

India did err by voting against Iran at a crucial juncture at the IAEA on the nuclear issue. It also dropped out of the energy-rich Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, under US pressure. Many experts criticised this move, and it has taken some time for the UPA government to realise that Iran is essential for energy, which is essential for growth, which is essential for the ruling Congress before the next general elections.

India will make a major strategic mistake if it shifts position against Iran under pressure. It might be recalled that after abstaining from a vote at the UNSC against Syria, it has now sided with the US against Syria, costing it much goodwill in the neighbourhood. Foreign policy under the UPA government has taken the shape of a see-saw that bends on the one or the other side under pressure. This has weakened India’s position in the developing world, as non-western governments are no longer sure of its policy at any given point in time. The government has often moved back from categorical assertions, defying comprehension.

One can only wait and see how the current crisis plays out. Meanwhile, one can only hope that the Indian media strikes a more independent note, and instead of reporting opinion, sticks to the facts.

The writer is a senior New Delhi-based columnist


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