Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday blamed Iran for orchestrating an assassination attempt on the wife of an Israeli defense official working out of the embassy in New Delhi. If true, the attack could upset Iran’s relations with one of the few friends it has left.
Despite Western pressure and sanctions on Iran, India has adopted a familiar policy of nonalignment. The Islamic country continues to sell petroleum to Indian firms despite Western and Japanese oil embargoes. India is also more sympathetic of Iran’s uranium enrichment program because it isn’t party to nonproliferation agreements itself and developed a nuclear weapon despite international objections.
India and Iran both have an interest in seeing Hamid Karzai’s civilian government survive in Afghanistan after the United States and their NATO allies withdraw from the country in 2014. Neither wants to see Sunni Muslim fanatics return to power and Pakistan regain “strategic depth” there. Tehran has therefore allowed India to use its port facilities at Chah Bahar to move goods into Afghanistan because Islamabad doesn’t allow its neighbor to transit its territory.
For Iran to risk losing India’s support by staging an assassination attempt on the spouse of an Israeli diplomat in the capital shows just how desperate it may be about deterring Israel from attacking its nuclear sites.
According to the American defense secretary, Leon Panetta, the Israeli government is considering to initiate airstrikes against Iran before June of this year when it believes that the country will have enriched sufficient weapons grade uranium to be able to build a bomb in facilities that are heavily sheltered from attack. Israel may be raising the possibility of attack only to persuade Western powers to further isolate Iran but tension is mounting nonetheless.
As India seeks to deepen trade relations with Israel and the United States, it will be hard pressed to maintain neutrality in the conflict. The attack in the streets of New Delhi this week will only put further pressure on the country to sever its ties with the Iranian regime.
Indeed, India may not need a nudge from the West if Israel’s allegations are proven to be true. Having suffered major terrorist attacks by Islamic militants throughout its history, India will not respond mildly if Monday’s attack is traced to Iran or its proxy Hezbollah which operates out of Lebanon and has staged attacks worldwide. It would likely continue to buy Iranian oil but be less inclined to shield the country from international sanctions of it doesn’t serve its interests.