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19 Feb, 2012

Bangkok attack: Iranians warn of another web of lies, and ask who’s really responsible?

Originally Published: 19 February 2012

Although the anti-Iran campaign is in full swing, major holes are emerging in the story spun so far. Although facing media criticism, the Indian and Thai governments’ cautious handling of the matter is putting counter-pressure on the U.S. and Israeli governments to prove that they are not behind what appear to be “false-flag” operations.

Just as the U.S. and Israeli governments are anxious to prove that Iran is behind the attacks, the Iranians are anxious to prove the opposite.

So far, the Iranians are losing the battle for hearts-and-minds being waged by the well-trained and well-prepared Israeli-U.S. spin machine. But they compliment both the Thai and Indian governments for “refusing to fall into the trap” of joining the anti-Iran campaign and instead wait for the full facts to be established.

Although clearly convicted in the court of public opinion, the Iranians believe that a court of law, where real justice is done, may yield a different outcome.

Last Friday evening, the Iranian embassy organised a get-together with some key businessmen, academics and journalists, including this columnist, to provide a more comprehensive briefing beyond the 10-second sound-bites and truncated headlines.

The briefing allowed the embassy officials to address wider concerns, such as those raised by Mr. Anirut Samutkochorn, chairman of the Thai-Iran Business Council. He says the fallout could be hugely damaging to the multi-million dollar rice export and tourism businesses between Thailand and Iran, with the benefits of both shifting to other ASEAN countries.

The Iranians say they are well aware of that, which is precisely why their government would not have attempted anything so stupid as an assassination attempt against Israeli diplomats in Bangkok, and certainly not in other critical capitals as New Delhi.

At the moment, the Iranian diplomats explained, Thai authorities have provided them with copies of what appear to be the Iranian passports of the suspects, along with their visa application details at the Thai embassy in Teheran, and their Iranian ID cards.

Outlining the proper step-by-step due process of such investigations, the Iranians said, they will seek to establish the documents’ authenticity. If they prove to be forgeries, the suspects’ true identities and nationalities will have to be ascertained. If the papers prove to be authentic, the Iranian authorities will check the suspects’ background – especially to see if they are anti-government Iranians working for a “foreign power.”

Said Ambassador Majid Bizmark, “Don’t forget, even our nuclear scientists are being assassinated by Iranians working for such foreign powers.” He says that unless the suspects’ nationality is verified, even seeking consular access is not possible.

In addition to the fact that five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in Iran, allegedly by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, there is an indirect reminder of the February 2010 assassination of a Palestinian leader in Dubai, also blamed on Mossad. The Dubai hit-squad members all carried different foreign passports, which later drew diplomatic protests against Israel from a number of the governments.

While the Israelis and Americans cite the kind of explosives and tactics used as proof of a “linkage” between the Bangkok and New Delhi attacks, the Iranians allege that a closer examination of the bigger picture – such as motivation, benefits, timing and the reactions would indicate a stronger linkage to the U.S. and Israel.

The Iranian envoy is surprised why the media docilely accepts the claims of the U.S. and Israeli diplomats as fact.

The most important of the Iranian arguments is that these so-called attacks fit in perfectly with the anti-Iran hype being cranked up by the U.S. and Israel to justify sanctions, and a possible military attack, on Iran.

The Iranians say this undeniable global spin campaign provides proof of both motivation and benefit. “(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu began his accusations (against Iran) within hours of the attacks. How did he know, even before any investigations had begun?”

The ambassador also noted the media reports about the incompetence of the alleged attackers. “They were walking around with Iranian money in their pockets and being photographed with women in the bars of Pattaya?” he asked incredulously. “This makes no sense.”

He said the Iranians want to avoid a military attack, not invite one, but these so-called terrorist attacks have only contributed towards building anti-Iran public opinion. Why the attackers chose New Delhi and Bangkok is in itself worth a lot of questions — the Iranians have no reason to disrupt long-standing business, diplomatic and trade relations with both Thailand and India.

The ambassador said Indian and Thai authorities are aware of the broader motivational factors, and hence their desire to avoid a knee-jerk reaction. He said investigations must take all angles into account, and that the Iranian government will extend full cooperation. It has also issued an unequivocal condemnation of the attacks.

Commenting on the Iranians’ view, a retired Bangkok-based ambassador familiar with both diplomatic and intelligence intrigues told this columnist that the Iranian counter-claims cannot be ruled out.

He offered another critical supporting insight: The attacks all took place on the first day of Chinese Vice President Li Jinping’s arrival in the U.S. for a four-day official visit, and would have certainly figured in the U.S.-Chinese talks. Bringing both China and India on board in their anti-Iran campaign is a critical part of the Israeli/U.S. objective, he said.

The Chinese are adamant that forcing regime change in Islamic countries through sanctions and attacks must end, which is why they vetoed the UN Security Council action against Syria. The Chinese also know that if there is a regime change in Syria, regime change in Iran will be the next target.

At the Iranian embassy briefing, Mr. Anirut of the Thai-Iran Business Council also expressed concern about the commercial impact. He said rice exports from Thailand to Iran are down significantly. He said he had been told that the U.S. embassy pressured the PTT to stop selling fuel to Iran Air and Mahan Air and threatened retaliatory action if it didn’t.

Now, he feels that this allegedly botched “terrorist attack” will give the U.S. another excuse to ratchet up support for more unilateral anti-Iran sanctions.

At the same time, the Israeli security apparatus has rushed to offer “advice” to the Thais and will no doubt be looking at rich security contracts that will generate both a fat bottom-line for Israeli companies as well as feed valuable travel-movements information to Western intelligence agencies.

The Iranian message to the Thai press and public is clear: Look beyond the spin and ask equally tough questions to the Israeli and U.S. governments. Both perception and reality may then take on a different dimension.