On Tuesday, Thailand officials said an Iranian was critically injured in a grenade explosion, another Iranian was arrested and a third was at large after fleeing a Bangkok home following a series of apparently accidental blasts.

Share story

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials and defense analysts are concerned that a covert war of assassinations between Israel and Iran could escalate out of control.

“Things are heating up, and there is a surge” of assassination attempts, said Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department official and now director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday blamed Iran for car bombings of Israeli diplomatic vehicles in the Indian capital of New Delhi and the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The attacks come after the deaths of several Iranian nuclear scientists, the most recent in a Jan. 11 car bombing in Tehran that Iran said Israel had orchestrated.

On Tuesday, Thailand officials said an Iranian was critically injured in a grenade explosion, another Iranian was arrested and a third was at large after fleeing a Bangkok home following a series of apparently accidental blasts.

Israeli leaders have said time is running out for sanctions to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons and have not ruled out a military strike.

The United States and its allies, meanwhile, have tightened economic restrictions on Iran while seeking to avert a military conflagration in a region that holds more than half of all global oil reserves.

The Monday attacks came one day after the fourth anniversary of the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, a leader of the military wing of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.

In New Delhi, four people, including the wife of an Israeli diplomat and her Indian driver, were injured in a blast 1,640 feet from the Israeli Embassy, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said in a text message. In Tbilisi, a bomb planted in an Israeli Embassy employee’s car in Tbilisi was discovered and defused.

U.S. intelligence officials and analysts said the incidents appear to fit a pattern of escalating violence between Israel and Iran, some of it probably carried out by Hezbollah in concert with elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In his annual threat assessment to Congress on Jan. 31, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said an alleged plot last year to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States “shows that some Iranian leaders — probably including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime. We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas.”

Another U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are classified, said there is growing concern that Khamenei, who the official said controls the Revolutionary Guard and its elite Quds Force, is becoming more isolated and radical and less risk-averse, partly in reaction to heightened Western economic pressure on his country and its nuclear program.

Four U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity cited a planned Hezbollah attack that was prevented in Thailand last month and what they said were other anti-Israeli operations that were disrupted in Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. A Swedish-Lebanese man said to be linked to Hezbollah was charged with possessing illegal substances after he was detained in connection with a plan to attack Thai tourist sites frequented by Americans and Israelis.

Levitt, the former Treasury official, compared the recent incidents with those during 1992-1994, when Hezbollah and Iran had a coincidence of interests in attacking Israeli targets similar to the situation that exists today.

That period included a 1992 bomb attack on an Israeli Embassy building in Buenos Aires and a 1994 attack on a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital, both blamed on Hezbollah.

This time, Hezbollah is seeking to avenge Mughniyeh’s 2008 death in Damascus, and Iran is responding to the killings of its nuclear scientists, having blamed Israel in both cases, Levitt said.

“The most likely possibility is that this is Iranian retaliation for assassinations of the scientists,” said Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst who now teaches at Georgetown University. “Even the method used was the same as the most recent such assassination” of the Iranian scientist.

Khamenei pledged Feb. 3 to help “any nation or group that confronts the Zionist regime.”

Indian and Georgian authorities said they were trying to determine who was behind the attacks.

The New Delhi attack was carried out by somebody who had been “well trained,” India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Tuesday. The government is not “pointing the finger” at any group as its investigation is continuing, he said.

“There is reason to believe that the target was the Israeli diplomat’s wife and, therefore, one has to proceed on the basis that it was a terrorist attack,” he said.

The Israeli injured in the blast was in stable condition, Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta said.

A fire engulfed the car moments after the blast and was responsible for most of the damage to the vehicle, he said.

“The Israeli car was targeted, there is no doubt about it,” Gupta said.

In Tbilisi, an Israeli Embassy employee discovered the bomb and reported it to police, who defused it, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said. There were no injuries, and the embassy wasn’t evacuated, he said.

In Bangkok, the series of explosions that rocked a residential neighborhood led Thai authorities to a cache of bombs in a rented house and the capture of the two men identified in media reports as Iranians.

Witnesses said they and a third, unapprehended man ran from a house in the city’s Sukhumvit neighborhood after an explosion tore off the roof of the structure. Two of the men fled immediately, witnesses said; one was detained later at the city’s main international airport.

The third man emerged shortly after the first two, seeming disoriented, with a bloodied face and ears, the witnesses said. As he tried to leave the area, he threw two grenades, one at a taxi and one at approaching police officers. The blast from the second struck him, however, blowing off his legs and injuring several Thais.

“With regard to this bombing, the incidents in Delhi, incidents in Georgia,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “while we will await the results of the investigations, these events do come on the heels of other disrupted attacks targeted at Israel and Western interests, including an Iranian-sponsored attack in Baku, Azerbaijan and a Hezbollah-linked attack in Bangkok, Thailand, before this.”

“We seem to have an uptick in this kind of violence,” Nuland said. “We’re concerned about it. Some of these have been linked to Iran. Again, we are just concerned that these come on the heels of other incidents that clearly had links back to Iran.”

Information from The New York Times is included in this report.