For Israelis, the image of a black, burned out hull of a bombed passenger bus fills the same role as a photo of the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke and fire does for Americans: it is a satanic symbol of their worst nightmares, a dreaded icon of their most fearful days, a picture of pure evil that remains etched in their minds, no matter how hard they might try to erase it.
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, despite the fact that it took place abroad, those dark days of the Second Intifada that many Israeli had hoped, against their better judgment, would never return. It was at once both a terrible personal tragedy for the casualties and their family, but also an ominous national omen that the relative respite is over, and that worse is yet to come.
It truly was only a matter of time, as most everyone realized but preferred to ignore. Israeli counter terrorism experts repeatedly warned in recent months that the threat to Israelis abroad had never been greater. After the foiled or botched terrorist attacks in Cyprus and Kenya and Turkey and Thailand and Azerbaijan, one of the efforts was bound to “succeed” and to take its mortal toll. It was the wicked fate of the innocent tourists seeking a cheap summer deal in Bulgaria that they were the ones who had to pay the ultimate price for the murderous obsessions of Israel’s worst enemies.
Some criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supposedly hasty accusation against Iran, but his mistake, if at all, was most likely one of appearances, not substance. In the past year, Israeli intelligence agencies have been swamped with reports of Iranian agents or their Hezbollah proxies roaming the globe in search of a weak spot in which they could strike. Only four days ago, such an agent was apprehended in Cyprus, in Kenya a few weeks before, and throughout the past few months in other locales where the interdictions were more decisive but did not necessarily make the headlines.
But everyone knew that the intelligence agencies and local police forces would eventually run out of fingers with which to plug the holes in the dike, and that some Israelis would be made to pay the price. With Iran obsessed with what it perceives to be appropriate retaliation for the killing of its nuclear scientists and Hezbollah hell bent on reprisal for the 2008 assassination of its hero Imad Mughniye, and both increasingly frustrated by their repeated failures, a successful attack was bound to happen and its tragic results were bound to be.
Appearing on Fox News, former American Ambassador to the UN John Bolton quickly predicted – some would say with barely disguised glee – that Israel would retaliate directly against Iran and that a “major escalation” was in the offing. Sooner or later, one suspects, Bolton will be proven right: the sky is darkening, the clouds are gathering and the bloody confrontation that most everyone fears – except for Bolton and his cohorts, perhaps – indeed seems closer than ever before. Between the bomb that decapitated Syria’s security apparatus in Damascus and the one that left dead bodies near a charred emblem in Bulgaria, it is hard to escape the notion that wheels have been set in motion and that the writing is right there on the wall, clear and terrifying, for all to see.