February 17, 2012
This Week in Review: Rising Tensions in the Middle East

- Jennifer Jenkins

Bombers attacked Israeli Embassy personnel
in the capital cities of India and Georgia on Monday, injuring the wife of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi when a passing motorcyclist placed an explosive device on her car. A similar explosive in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, was defused before going off. The attacks further raised tensions between two longtime Mideast rivals, with Israel blaming Iran, an attack the latter promptly denied.

The attacks come amid increasing anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program, which has drawn condemnation from Israel and the United States, and prompted harsh new sanctions by the West. Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful, but Israel maintains that officials in Tehran are secretly pursuing the ability to make nuclear weapons. The attacks in India and Georgia were nearly identical to recent fatal attacks on five Iranian nuclear scientists, noted ABC News’s Richard Esposito, who wondered if Iran had “decided to turn Israeli tactics against Israel.”

Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, also likened Monday’s attacks to the attacks on Iranian scientists, and noted that despite the minimal damage in New Delhi and Tbilisi, the attacks could set off a conflagration in the region, further worsening the situation.

The situation did escalate on Tuesday when an explosion went off in Bangkok. Two suspects fled after a blast ripped off the roof of their house, and one was injured when he threw a bomb at a taxi when it refused to stop for him, injuring himself and losing both of his legs. Thai authorities identified four suspects as Iranian nationals and noted that the bombs resembled the explosives used in India and Georgia the day before. Again, Israel accused Tehran of being behind the attacks, a charge Iran denied.

Concern spiked again on Wednesday as Iran warned six European countries that it might pre-emptively cut off oil exports, ahead of the July date when the sanctions were to take full effect. Such a measure could further damage the shaky economies of countries like Italy, who purchase a large amount of oil from Iran. Reuters warned that limiting the fallout of the sanctions to Iran could be “mission impossible.”

The combined attacks renewed vigorous discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether they are trying – or should be allowed to try – to attain nuclear weapons. The U.S. Senate introduced a non-binding resolution to declare that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable, while others, like Juan Cole, pointed out that Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, while Israel – who has not – has built a large number of nuclear warheads that they refuse to publicly acknowledge.

new poll from Pew Research Center showed that 58% of Americans say it is more important to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, even if that means military action by the United States. The survey revealed a deep partisan divide on the issue among American voters. As the rhetoric from all sides increased, Foreign Policy reminisced about a time when Iran and America were not so divided.