Attack of doubt

February 15th, 2012

Iran is on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon, says Israel. Because Israel is currently making so much noise about this, newspaper writers are wondering whether Israel is about to attack Iran.

Robert Fisk of the UK Independent, who has reported from West Asia for many years and has seen it all — more than once — has reminded readers that Israeli leaders have been saying the same thing about Iran’s nuclear programme since 1992.

Israel has attacked suspected nuclear facilities in nearby countries at least twice before: once in 1981 when it bombed a reactor in Iraq, and once again in 2007 in Syria.

This round of Israel’s anti-Iran campaign seems already to have begun — and not just via PR. At least three Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated recently by car bombs said to be very like the one that wounded the Israeli defence attache’s wife in Delhi on Monday. The Western media take it pretty much for granted that these killings were the work of Israel’s intelligence agency, called Mossad.

If this is so, it is possible that the Delhi attack might be part of Iran’s retaliation. (Though how silly of Iran to do anything to annoy one of its few big-country friends.) This is what the Israeli government was very quick to say on Monday, that Iran did this, even before any firm information was available about the attack itself. It has stuck to this line.

Two hectic days later, the news is still not exactly firm. Who knows what the intelligence agencies have learned, but as far as the news media are concerned the facts appear to be slippery.

Was there a motorcyclist after all, who drove past and stuck the bomb to the back of the embassy car? One eyewitness, driving behind, says he saw him and that his bike was red, and that he wore a helmet. But this biker is nowhere to be seen, say most of today’s papers, in the footage from 30, or 16, or 18 (variously reported) CCTVs in the area. The footage shows the embassy car, for sure, but no bike or biker.

One paper reports that “enhanced” video from a camera outside a local billionaire’s home has caught the man and that he wore a backpack. Intriguingly the same report suggests that high-resolution satellite imagery of that moment shows (I’m not making this up) that the bike was a Bajaj Pulsar.

The Israeli woman who was injured says she turned around and saw a motorcyclist actually throw something at her car, which then exploded.

The police commissioner says the biker either bumped into or pushed aside the red plastic bollards that divide the lanes, and sped away in a different direction, and that he must have been well trained. The police also say that the biker’s licence plate was “blank”.

However, two men in the car directly behind the embassy car at the traffic light, who were themselves lightly injured in the blast, say they saw no motorcyclist anywhere around.

Mysterious!

Then, the embassy car’s driver says that after the blast he opened the rear door and pulled out his employer’s wife, and that there were no bystanders around. He cajoled an autowala to take them back to the embassy gate. However, early photos of the event by a passing journalist (here and here), and Twitter posts by him, suggest that the Israeli woman was flung a good distance from the car, where she was in fact helped up by bystanders — he has photographs. Another paper reports that both driver and woman were pulled from the car by bystanders.

These are just the most obvious questions, to a newspaper reader. There are lesser ones, such as how long the embassy car spent in Khan Market while the victim and her husband were lunching. Was it half an hour, as the driver says, or one hour, as the police version goes? I don’t mean to question the official version of events, such as it is, only to point out how diverse are the reports on such crucial issues as what happened immediately before and immediately after the blast, that eyewitnesses accounts are a curious mix of reliable and unreliable, and that even technology is at most a mixed blessing in the search for answers.

Answers, not truth, because Israel was so quick to identify the source of the hit as Iran. It is the answer that suits Israel right now. It may well be the right answer, but what if it isn’t?

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