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After killings of Iran nuclear scientists, Israeli diplomats targeted

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials blamed Iran on Monday for nearly simultaneous attempts to bomb Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia in what some analysts suggested may be Iranian retaliation for a series of attacks on its nuclear program that have been widely blamed on Israel.

In New Delhi, the explosion wounded four people, including the wife of the Israeli Embassy's defense attache. In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, the device was discovered on a vehicle parked at the Israeli Embassy and disarmed harmlessly.

"Today we witnessed two attempts of terrorism against innocent civilians," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "Iran is behind these attacks, and it is the largest terror exporter in the world."

Netanyahu said Israeli diplomats also had been the targets of recent attacks in Azerbaijan and Thailand. He blamed Iran and "its protege, Hezbollah," the Shiite Muslim militia that's Lebanon's dominant political group.

Iran denied responsibility, saying the Israeli accusations were part of a "psychological war" against it, according to the country's official IRNA news agency. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was "still evaluating what happened" and hadn't determined who was responsible.

Analysts said it wouldn't be surprising if Iran were behind the attempts. "When it comes to Iranian acts of terror against the Israelis, this is not new," Dennis Ross, the former Obama administration envoy to the Middle East, told McClatchy in Washington. "We knew this when I was negotiating."

Tensions between Israel and Iran have been growing for the past year amid reports that Israel is considering launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel and the United States have accused Iran of using its nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies. In a report issued in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, said Iran had been working at one time to develop a nuclear warhead but that IAEA inspectors had been unable to determine whether that program still existed.

Iran has accused Israel of being behind the assassinations of four nuclear scientists, as well as the sabotage of military installations and nuclear sites over the past several years. Israeli officials have declined to confirm involvement in the attacks, but they've also declined to condemn them.

Witnesses said the attacks Monday were carried out with magnetic bombs attached to the cars, the same type of device that's been used against Iran's nuclear scientists.

"There have been all kinds of mysterious things happening in Iran, and it could be an Iranian counterattack," said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and a former top aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He noted that the attempts came a day after the anniversary of the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah official.

"It's no secret that Iran uses Hezbollah globally, and Hezbollah has the capacity to carry out attacks around the globe."

Last month, the head of Israel's military, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that Hezbollah was trying to attack Israel where it was vulnerable.

"During this period of time, when our enemies in the north avoid carrying out attacks, fearing a harsh response, we are witnesses to the ongoing attempts by Hezbollah and other hostile entities to execute vicious terror attacks at locations far away from the state of Israel," Gantz said. "I suggest that no one test our resolve."

Israeli news reports said Gantz and Netanyahu vowed retaliation for the attacks. Lebanese media reported that Israeli air force jets were circling over southern Lebanon, though Israeli officials didn't confirm that.

Iran's ambassador to India rejected Netanyahu's claim that Iran was behind the attacks as "lies."

"We condemn any terrorist attack and strongly reject unrealistic charges by an official of the Zionist regime," Mahdi Nabizadeh said, according to IRNA.

As of Monday night, no group had stepped forward to claim responsibility.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna vowed that his country would work with Israel to bring the assailants to justice.

"I have just spoken to the Israeli foreign minister," he said. "I assured him that the law of the land will take its course."

Iran enjoys a close relationship with India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has refused to enact sanctions or halt trade with Iran over the nuclear issue. India relies on Iranian oil imports, and in exchange invests in Iranian infrastructure projects.

Israeli diplomats in India have been on constant alert since 2008, when militants attacked luxury hotels and a Chabad Jewish community center in Mumbai.

According to news reports from India, the wife of the Israeli defense attache was riding in an embassy minivan toward the American Embassy School to pick up her children when a motorcyclist approached and attached the bomb to the vehicle.

The minivan proceeded a short distance before the device detonated, blowing off the door and setting the van on fire. The woman was struck by shrapnel, as were the van's driver and two passengers in nearby cars.

In Tbilisi, according to news reports, an Israeli Embassy driver noticed a package had been attached to the underside of his car and called police, who discovered a grenade in the package.

Four Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in the last two years, the most recent on Jan. 11, when two assailants in Tehran attached a bomb to the car of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemistry expert and senior official at Iran's Natanz uranium-enrichment facility.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this article from Washington.)


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