The Bulgaria Terrorist Attack: News and Analysis by Haaretz Writers and Commentators

Following Wednesday’s suicide bombing targeting Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, Haaretz provides a comprehensive look at the Israeli government and international response to the tragic event.

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A suicide bomber struck an Israeli tour bus on Wednesday, July 18th 2012 in the Burgas airport in Bulgaria. Seven people were killed and 33 wounded in the bombing, which took place on the 18th anniversary of a terror attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on Iran. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov promised full cooperation in investigating the tragedy, adding that it was not only an attack on Israel but also on Bulgaria.

Wednesday's incident began at 4:45 P.M., when an Air Burgas charter flight from Israel landed at the local airport in Burgas. The passengers – 151 Israelis and three foreign nationals – then boarded buses to their hotels along the Black Sea coast. At about 5:30 P.M., a bomb went off in one of the buses, damaging two other buses that were parked nearby.

The bombing was committed by a suicide bomber, a senior official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Haaretz on Thursday. Seven people were killed, five of them Israeli tourists, one of them the Bulgarian bus driver, with authorities estimating that the seventh may have been the terrorist who perpetrated the attack. The body suspected as belonging to the terrorist had a U.S. driver's license issued in Michigan – apparently a fake.

Amos Harel notes that the Israeli government, supported by detailed intelligence, was quick to point the finger at Iran. If this is true, he writes, the man behind the attack in Burgas would be Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, who operates the Guards' overseas operations and is assisted by Hezbollah.

Chemi Shalev reports that former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton believes that Israel is poised to launch a direct attack on Iran in the wake of the tragic incident. Appearing on Fox News, Bolton said that Netanyahu's unequivocal accusation that Iran is responsible for the attack "gives every indication" that such a retaliatory attack is in offing.

Amir Oren believes Netanyahu wants to turn the Israeli intelligence failure over Bulgaria into an excuse to strike Iran. Israel’s failure to predict or foil the attack was a failure of Israeli intelligence, he writes. But now Netanyahu is attempting to turn this failure into an accomplishment. Two hours after the attack, he was saying that “all signs lead to Iran.”

Chemi Shalev writes that for Israelis, the image of a black, burned out passenger bus is a dreaded icon of their most fearful days. After an eight-year lull since the last Israeli bus was bombed in Be'er Sheva in 2004, that terrifying token reappeared yesterday in Burgas, Bulgaria, in a terrorist incident that immediately conjured those dark days of the Second Intifada.

Speaking to Army Radio, former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad criticized Israel's general strategy in dealing with the Iranian threat and added that the Bulgaria bombing was Hezbollah and Iran retaliating against Israel. Israel was the initiator when it chose to target Hezbollah's military chief Imad Mughniye in 2008, putting Iran on the defense, said Arad.

Israel is involved in both the treatment of the wounded and in the investigation of the attack. The 34 wounded were transferred from the Burgas hospital to the nearby airport, where Israel Air Force transport planes were waiting, and took off shortly after. Two Israeli planes carrying medical staff, a casualty-identification team, a police forensic team and diplomatic staff were dispatched to the country. A team of eight Israeli forensic experts was dispatched to Bulgaria as well, given the task of identifying the victims and preparing the bodies for their return to Israel.

Barak Ravid says that after the terror attack comes the diplomatic campaign. Israel and Bulgaria are working with the U.S. and other countries to draft a condemnation of the Burgas terror attack for the UN Security Council, say sources in the Foreign Ministry.

Since the attack, several condemnations have been issued, including one from U.S. President Barak Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign minister and the French foreign ministry.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said that he thought "it is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organization,” adding, "We are only in the beginning of the investigation and it is wrong to jump to conclusions," he added.

The attack in Bulgaria on Wednesday in which five Israelis were killed was carried out by Hezbollah with Iranian backing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday afternoon in a televised statement.

The suspected suicide bomber who blew up a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria is Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen and former Guantanamo detainee, Bulgarian media reported on Thursday.

Iran rejected accusations by Israeli leaders that it was responsible for a bus bombing in Bulgaria, saying it condemns all terrorism.

Anshel Pfeffer analyzes the Israeli response to the attack in Bulgaria.

Friday's Haaretz Editorial - "Time for good judgment " also dealt with the response to the attack.

U.S. officials tell the New York Times that the suicide bomber was an Hezbollah operative ordered by Iran to avenge assassinations targeting its nuclear scientists.

Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel say this is not the first time we've heard talk about 'a moment of truth' with respect to an Israeli decision to attack Iran. Eventually, however, that moment will arrive. In the meantime, Tehran is doing all it can to hurt Israel, as witnessed in Bulgaria this week.

The UN Security Council condemned in "the strongest terms" the terrorist attack.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Itzik Kolangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, two of the victims of the terror attack in Bulgaria. Kolangi and Menashe were laid to rest at the Segula cemetery in Petah Tikvah, where they lived.

An Israeli survivor (C) is transported on a wheelchair to an ambulance as she leaves a hospital in the city of Burgas, some 400km (249 miles) east of Sofia July 19, 2012, en route to Israel. Credit: Reuters



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