Azerbaijan’s national security ministry accused Iranian intelligence agents of arming and equipping the three men, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported. Haaretz suggested the plot was intended as retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has issued a travel warning for Azerbaijan.
In addition to the Baku attacks, Israeli officials alerted authorities in Thailand to a potential attack and on Jan. 13, a Lebanese man alleged to have plotted a bombing attack against Israelis and Jews was arrested.
Levitt, who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said there was a period in which Iran was reluctant to strike out against targets overseas.
Iran was implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. An Argentine prosecutor eventually accused five Iranians and the operational chief of Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbullah, Imad Mughniyah, of involvement in the attack. Interpol issued warrants for their arrests in 2007.
Iran, which has always denied involvement in the AMIA attack, was stung by the diplomatic backlash in its wake, and it is widely believed to have ordered its proxies to confine operations to the Middle East.
The trigger that renewed the threat of attacks overseas was the assassination of Mughniyah by a car bomb in Syria in 2008. Hizbullah blames Israel’s Mossad for the assassination, Levitt said.
“We will pick the time, the place, the punishment, the means and the method,” Hizbullah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said at the time.
Jewish communities in the United States and overseas have issued security alerts each year since then on the Feb. 12 anniversary of the killing.
Levitt said the intensification of Iran’s isolation as the result of sanctions targeting its suspected nuclear weapons program and the heightened U.S. military posture have likely contributed to the intelligence community’s sense that more attempts on overseas targets may be imminent.
“We’re at a point where Iran, when pushed into a corner and we’re finally doing things that have an impact on the nuclear program, the likelihood it lashes out increases,” he said.
Another factor that has spurred Iranian threats of retribution is the spate of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help,” Khamenei said Feb. 3 in a Friday sermon translated by the Associated Press. “We have no fear expressing this.”
Dubowitz said such statements merited heightened alert.
“The overall question of what other aggressive actions the Iranians are willing to take in response to our pressure means Jewish institutions in the United States need to take reasonable precautions.”