Bangkok as Battleground?

Thai authorities say they have detained three Iranians planning to attack Israeli diplomats. Why in Bangkok?

The longstanding feud between Israel and Iran was apparently elevated to a new level this week after explosions occurred in New Delhi and Tbilisi, while another bomb plot was foiled in Bangkok. Three men have been arrested in the Thai capital and the country’s top police official, Gen. Prewpan Dhamapong, has said that they are Iranians who had planned to attack Israeli diplomats.

Iranian officials have denied such accusations. However, many believe that Tehran, which recently announced new advances in its nuclear program, dispatched its surrogates to the aforementioned cities to attack Israeli diplomats in retaliation for the assassination of several of Iran’s top atomic scientists.

Why Bangkok was the location for one of the planned attacks is an interesting question. Thailand has a significant Turkic population, and Bangkok specifically has many Iranian, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz immigrants living there.

The Thai capital is also a hub of international tourism, which can serve as prime ground for radical extremists to exploit. Just last month, a Lebanese-Swedish man with alleged connections with Hezbollah was arrested there after police found more than 4,000 kilograms of bomb making materials including urea fertilizer and ammonium nitrate. The man has denied all charges and has instead accused the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, of planting the material in his home.

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The New York Times reported this past January that American and Israeli diplomats had warned their citizens traveling to Thailand of a possible terror attack.

“American government officials said Friday that they believed that Bangkok was a major hub for the Hezbollah-controlled cocaine money-laundering network that United States law enforcement agencies have been investigating. That investigation led to the closing of a major bank in Lebanon, which was said to have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds in a scheme that the American government says benefited Hezbollah.”

The report goes on to say that some possible targets in Bangkok for terrorist attacks might be “tourist sites, synagogues and the Israeli Embassy.” Such intelligence may have been quite valuable in thwarting this alleged plot, but events of the past two months suggest a troubling phenomenon for Thailand.

The government of Yingluck Shinawatra must demonstrate its ability to prevent international terror networks from setting up shop in its country, lest Thailand find itself in the middle of a fight it has nothing to do with.