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Analysis: Was Iran behind the Bangkok bombings?

Thai bomb squad officials inspect the site of an explosion in Bangkok on February 14, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Quaglia: Bangkok suspects not involved in a sophisticated, state-financed terrorist attack
  • Quaglia: Attack was amateurish operation with little advance planning for contingencies
  • Quaglia: It's possible Iran is seeking to modulate its retaliation for murder of its scientists
  • Quaglia: Iran may have leveraged "B-Team" contacts to attack Israeli diplomats

Even before the smoke had cleared from a series of bombings in the Thai capital of Bangkok Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed Iran for the incident, as well as the attacks against Israeli diplomats in Delhi and Georgia two days ago.

"The attempted terror attack in Thailand proves once again that Iran and its proxies continue to operate in the ways of terror and the latest attacks are an example of that," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed.

"In recent months, we have witnessed several attempts to attack Israeli citizens and Jews in several countries, including Azerbaijan, Thailand and others. Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, were behind all of these attempted attacks."

Was the government of Iran behind the bomb assembly operation in Bangkok?

Most likely, yes.

    Was it part of a larger global effort to target Israeli diplomats in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran?

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    Yes, again.

    But the three men allegedly responsible for the Bangkok bombings can hardly be considered professional, hard-core Hezbollah terrorists.

    The suspects were not involved in a sophisticated, state-financed terrorist attack. The bombs were poorly made and constructed. The chaotic departure from the area and the lack of operational security in entering and moving about since they entered the country indicate a relatively amateurish operation with little advance planning for contingencies.

    So, what is the Iranian connection?

    It is possible that Iran is seeking to modulate its retaliation for the murder of a number of its scientists over the past two years. For all its bluster, Iranian leaders are well aware that trigger-happy Israel is itching for a showdown over the evolving Iranian nuclear weapons program.

    Iran with an atomic weapon has been an Israeli "red-line" for several decades. And Iranian leaders, poised astride an economy reeling under yet another round of economic sanctions, can ill afford a destabilizing war with Israel (and the U.S.), particularly one they would likely lose quickly and decisively.

    Israel, Iran trade accusations

    But outsourcing terrorist attacks on Israeli targets to semi-incompetent subcontractors gives Iran neither plausible deniability nor direct control to dial-down the scope of retaliation to avoid handing the Israelis a chance to respond strategically.

    It is more probable that Iranian intelligence has leveraged "B-Team" contacts in several countries to plan and carry out attacks against Israeli diplomats. While some support or funds might be available, the Iranian government would strive to keep its distance from farm-league terrorists putting together bombs in portable radios.

    The Bangkok suspects were carrying Iranian passports -- not false documents. Their movements were crude, embarrassingly overt and ended in a debacle of incompetence and bad luck.

    Unfortunately, Thai police investigations are not likely to shed light on the Iranian connection. Senior security officials claimed the explosions were not acts of terrorism because the bombs involved could not cause "large-scale destruction." Always sensitive to tarnishing Thailand's lucrative tourism sector, Thai officials are likely to continue to downplay the implications of Tuesday's explosions and seek to move the story off the media radar.

    On January 12, after a controversial U.S. Embassy terrorist alert was issued, Thai officials arrested Atris Hussein, after finding "initial chemical materials that could produce bombs" in an area just outside Bangkok. Police said Hussein, who also holds a Swedish passport, led them to the location.

    The authorities are accusing Hussein of trying to attack spots in Bangkok that are popular with Western tourists and say he is believed to belong to Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim group active in Lebanon that the U.S. views as a terrorist organization.

    Thailand's second terrorism wake-up call rang out Tuesday afternoon in Bangkok. Whether Thai officials respond or simply hit the snooze button and continue to believe "it could never happen here," remains to be seen.