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Bangkok terror attack - a pattern of failures?

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Yesterday there was another failed act of terrorism in Bangkok, likely to be linked to Iran and Hezbollah. Two Iranian suspects were arrested after three explosions hit Bangkok. Thai police report that the suspects were likely planning to attack individuals. Four Thai civilians were wounded after a cache of explosives ignited the Iranians' home, apparently by mistake. A later explosion blew off the leg of an Iranian who had fled. When police searched the house, the bomb squad found and defused two explosives. The bombs were reportedly "magnetic" and could be stuck on vehicles.

This latest failed terrorist attack follows attacks on Israeli embassy personnel in India and Georgia a day earlier (see previous blog post). It also follows a string of attempted terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets that have thankfully been thwarted in places including Bangkok and Baku, Azerbaijan.

Israel believes that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind the attacks and maintain they have intelligence to prove it. It is commonly thought that the attacks are in part revenge for the assassination of the Hezbollah Military Chief Imad Mugniyah four years ago, which the organisation blames on Israel.

The question many are grappling with is that if Iran and Hezbollah, generally both thought to have dangerously competent cover operation wings, are behind these terrorists attacks, why weren't they more effective?

Veteran war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai discussed the ‘operational failures' of these attacks in Ynet, he wrote:

"Intent aside, the execution was far less successful than the Mugniyah assassination four years and three days ago in Damascus. The bomb placed, discovered and defused in a Georgia Embassy employee's car was a clear operational failure; both because that bomb was placed in the wrong person's car, and because it failed to go off or was found beforehand. In both cases, the devices were supposed to be triggered either by a timer or via remote control. But even the New Delhi device, which did go off, attests to the terrorists' failure: The target was most likely the Israeli diplomat and not his wife. She luckily escaped with only minor injuries, indicating that the device was ill-placed."

Middle East commentator Jeffrey Goldberg writes in The Atlantic, that the ‘pathetic' nature of these attacks could indicate that Iran is panicking:

"...the relatively ineffectual attacks over the past two days suggest that, at the very least, Hezbollah and Iran are forcing plans into action before they are actually ready to execute. Perhaps this is because, as Jackson Diehl has suggested, Iran is panicking. Only panic explains Iran's decision -- if this was indeed a decision made in Tehran -- to attack an Israeli diplomat in the capital of the one major power, India, that has said it would continue to buy Iranian oil."

Ben-Yishai offers another possible explanation, suggesting that the attacks could be the work of amateurs that collaborate with Iran and Hezbollah:

"As for the identity of the perpetrators, they were probably not members of Hezbollah's special unit, or of Iran's Quds Force, but rather, locals belonging to the group's collaborator network.

To understand the situation in full, one must remember that only several weeks ago two major attempts to carry out terror attacks against Israeli targets were foiled - the first against Israeli tourists in Thailand and the second in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Those two attacks were orchestrated by experts and were prevented thanks to accurate intelligence. In both cases, the specialists were sent by Hezbollah and Iran: In Thailand the suspects were two Lebanese Hezbollah operatives - one of whom was caught and the other fled; and in Baku it was members of Iran's Quds Force who tried to recruit Azeris to assassinate the Israeli ambassador.

Those two attempts were preceded by at least five others over the past few years. Iran and Hezbollah eventually gave up on a flashy terror attack in favor of two simple ones, reminiscent of the kind used as payback in the underworld; simply because they could not get around the security and intelligence Israel - with the assistance foreign governments - has in place."

Hezbollah's motivation may not only be confined to revenge for Mugnuyah. Avi Issacharoff, a Palestinian and Arab Affairs correspondent for Haaretz, suggests that these attacks may also have to do with Hezbollah's standing in Lebanon.  He writes:

"Hezbollah's interest to execute an attack at this stage, despite the danger of a violent confrontation with Israel, has more to do with the organization's standing in Lebanon. While internet sites repeatedly mentioned the anniversary of Mughniyeh's assassination on Monday, it was forgotten that on Tuesday Lebanon commemorates the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Despite Nasrallah's repeated denial that Hezbollah was behind Hariri's murder, the suspicions follow him relentlessly. The Lebanese public, like that in the rest of the world, suspects that Hezbollah was behind the killing. And as if to add fuel to the fire, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who was appointed with the generous assistance of Hezbollah, announced that the International Criminal Court at The Hague intends to submit a new indictment against those involved in the Hariri murder, in addition to the four indictments against Hezbollah members. According to Mikati, this was said to him by Head Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare during his last trip to Lebanon.

It should be added that there is a general lack of clarity regarding the organization's future in Lebanon should Bashar Assad fall. The Syrian opposition no longer hides its disgust toward Hezbollah and Iran, and once Assad is toppled, the new Damascus may seek its revenge on the Shiite organization."

Meanwhile, American strategic specialist Max Boot notes that the apparent ineptitute of these attacks also has some bearing on the question of Iran's quest for Iranian nuclear weapons:

"On one level these events are comforting because they suggest that Iran and its proxies in Hezbollah are not as skillful as generally assumed. But on another level these events should be deeply discomfiting to anyone who subscribes to the notion that the Iranians are calculating Realpolitikers who act so cautiously they can even be trusted with the possession of nuclear weapons. Au contraire: The events of the last two days suggest the Iranian regime, assuming it is responsible for these attacks, is capable of acting in self-defeating, irrational but dangerous ways. In short, hardly the sort of people we should trust with a BB gun-much less nuclear weapons."

It is fortunate that many planned terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets have been thwarted and that the latest planned attacks in Thailand, India and Georgia experienced ‘operational failures'. However, the series of planned attacks indicate that Hezbollah and Iran are determined to pursue acts of terrorism across the world - highlighting that they are not only threat to Israel but to global security.

Sharyn Mittelman

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