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Blast next to Israel Embassy

In light of the importance of the 29th anniversary of India-Israel diplomatic relations, intelligence agencies had issued an alert about a possible terrorist attack on Jews and Israelis from elements linked to the Islamic State

February 1, 2021 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Embassy of Israel
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Ambassador Dr Ron Malka - Ambassador of Israel in India

On January 29, 2021, a blast took place outside the Embassy of Israel at New Delhi in the high security zone, which happened to be the 29th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Israel. According to media reports, the device, which went off at about 5.05 pm, could have been left in a flower pot or a bottle on the pavement close to the embassy. The blast which was minor, did not injure anyone but shattered windows of three cars on the road. Special Cell of Delhi Police has registered a case and is investigating the matter. The bomb went off when President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were present a few km away at the Beating of the Retreat ceremony on the penultimate day of the Republic Day celebrations.

Following the incident, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s Foreign Minister about the blast and later tweeted “We take this very seriously” and added that he had promised “the fullest protection for the Embassy and Israeli diplomats and that the matter is under investigation and no effort will be spared to find the culprits.” On his part, Ashkenazi tweeted “The Indian FM assured me that the Indian authorities are committed to the security of all Israeli diplomatic staff and will continue to act resolutely to locate all those involved in the explosion. I thanked him and promised full cooperation and any help required from Israel.”

On January 29 evening, police took footage from two security cameras installed at one of the gates of the Embassy and opposite the building. According to a source, “Forensic experts have found broken pieces of a cold drink can and ball bearings from the spot. Prime facie it appears that explosives and ball bearings were stuffed in the can. It was planted in such a manner that the impact was felt towards the road. The ball bearings hit the cars. Police have not found any device or battery at the spot.”

According to the police, a letter in an envelope marked to “Israel Embassy Ambassador” was found at the spot of the blast, which contained a threat, and described the explosion as a “trailer”. The letter also referred to two “Iranian martyrs”, Qasem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. It may be recalled that on January 3, 2020, General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of Iran’s Quds Force was killed outside Baghdad International Airport along with some others in a US drone attack. Later on November 27, 2020, Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in a road ambush, for which Iran said an autonomous satellite-operated gun was utilised and alleged that Israel was behind the assassination.

On February 13, 2012, a bomb attack on an Israeli diplomatic car in New Delhi had injured the Israeli Defence Attaché, driver of the car and two passers-by. Same day, another attack targeted an Israeli diplomatic car in Tbilisi, Georgia but the bomb failed to explode and was defused by the Georgian police. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had blamed Iran for both these incidents.

In light of the importance of January 29 being the 29th anniversary of India-Israel diplomatic relations, intelligence agencies had issued an alert on January 23 about a possible terrorist attack on Jews and Israelis from elements linked to the Islamic State. Media has now quoted security officials in saying that the bomb was made with “locally available” low intensity explosives, whose exact nature would, however, be determined only after forensic examination. Given the importance of the day (29 years of India-Israel relations) it appears the idea was more to send a message than to cause any real damage. However, it is a properly made IED. It appears to be the handiwork of some self-styled terror group or a lone wolf. The Delhi Police Additional PRO told media that it could be a mischievous attempt to create a sensation.

Israel’s Ambassador to India said, “As far as we are concerned it was a terror attack that targeted the Israeli Embassy. Nobody is hurt, everybody is safe now........We believe it’s not a coincidence that the attack happened on January 29, the anniversary of our full diplomatic relations.” But there could be other possibilities as well. Iran and the Islamic State remain natural suspects but these should not be the only suspects. During the Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist attacks in Mumbai during November 2008, eight of the terror attacks were in South Mumbai; Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), Oberoi Trident, The Taj Mahal Hotel and Tower, Leopold Café, Cama Hospital, and Nariman House Jewish Community Centre which is also known as Chabad House.

At the Nariman House, reports had indicated presence of an Israeli Jewish family who were targeted by terrorists as per their original plan. According to radio transmissions picked up by Indian intelligence, the terrorists told their handlers in Pakistan that the lives of Jews were worth 50 times more than those of non-Jews. Rabbi Gavriel Holtsberg and his wife Rivka Holtzberg, who was six months pregnant, were murdered along with four other hostages inside the house by the terrorists, apparently on the first day itself. Injuries on some of the bodies indicated that they may have been tortured. On January 28, 2021, Pakistan set free Faisal Siddiqi accused of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl. It is quite possible that Pakistan was behind the blast close to the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, next day, given Pakistan’s hatred for Jews and knowing that the finger will likely point towards Iran. That would fit Pakistan’s double game.