Israel blames Iran's Quds Force for embassy bombs

JERUSALEM Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:59pm GMT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A senior Israeli official accused Iran's shadowy Quds Force on Friday of masterminding a string of attacks on Israeli diplomats abroad this week, fleshing out allegations denied by Tehran.

Monday's apparently coordinated attempts to bomb staff at Israel's embassies in New Delhi and Tbilisi killed nobody but left the wife of the defence attaché to India wounded.

Georgian police defused the bomb in Tbilisi, while Thailand said it had uncovered an Iranian squad of saboteurs who had plotted an attack on Israeli interests on Tuesday.

Iran has denied involvement but Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon named Brigadier-General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, a covert arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, as the mastermind.

"We see what is happening in India, Georgia and Thailand. It is the same pattern. The same bomb, the same lab, the same factory," Yaalon said in a newspaper interview.

"Soleimani is subordinate to the Iranian leaders and is responsible for the special force and for subversive activity against everybody," Yaalon told the Maariv daily, adding that the Iranian general had coordinated operations with Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.

The United States blamed the Quds Force last year for an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Iran rejected that as baseless.

U.S. officials have previously also charged Quds proxies with carrying out attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, while a European government source said in October that Britain was looking into possible new Quds plots.

PRESSURE

The Netanyahu government was quick to accuse Iran over the attacks, but some analysts have puzzled over why Tehran might risk what say saw as inept and rash actions -- especially on the territory of its big oil client India.

Yaalon said Iran was "under economic and political pressure," a reference to the stiffening of international sanctions meant to curb its controversial nuclear programme, and the domestic tensions that they have helped stoke.

Despite Iran denying involvement in this week's bombings, it has repeatedly vowed to avenge Israel's alleged assassinations of several of its nuclear scientists in car bombings.

While Israel has neither confirmed nor denied having a role in the covert killings, Yaalon acknowledged that the Jewish state was seen as being responsible.

"This is their answer," he said, referring to the embassy bombings. "They want to create deterrence, or to take revenge."

He said Israel feared more attacks, potentially large-scale, on its interests abroad.

A counter-terrorism adviser in Netanyahu's office warned Israelis to exercise caution while travelling, but in a briefing to the media on Friday provided no details about any geographically specific threats.

"We have generalised information that reflects mounting intentions to carry out terrorist attacks," said the adviser, who would not be named given the sensitivity of the subject.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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