Just as after every terror atrocity, following the attack in Burgas, Israeli politicians were quick to trot out the usual condemnations and promises for retribution. Only one retired senior official was prepared to tell the Israeli public the truth.
Former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad is a controversial figure in government and defense circles, well known for his outspoken views, but it was left to him this morning to make the most erudite observation on Wednesday's terror attack in Bulgaria.
"We are, to a large extent, the initiators, we hit [Hezbollah operations chief] Imad Mughniye," he said in an interview Thursday morning with IDF Radio, at which point, the interviewer hastily interjected "according to foreign sources," since Israel has never acknowledged carrying out the assassination in Damascus four and a half years ago. Arad added, "Mainly, we're leading a struggle against Iran. We're not a passive side. And the other side is the defending, deterring, and attacking one."
Asides from admitting to the fact that Israel was behind the Mughniye killing, as everyone in the Middle East assumes anyway, Arad, who should know about these things, is the first senior Israeli figure to cut away the hyperbole and put the events in focus. Israel and Iran are at war, and by extension, so are Israel's allies - mainly the United States - and Iran's proxies - chiefly Hezbollah. In this war, both military men and civilians are targets, whether they are Iranian nuclear scientists or Israeli tourists. Or as Arad said: "Against all these, Iran can't stay disinterested, and it's natural that it or its proxies such as Hezbollah will try to commit such attacks and exact a price from Israel. Iranian officials have said themselves that response will, obviously come, of the kind they have been attempting already in Asia and Eastern Europe."
If indeed, as the new book by former Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman claims, it was Mossad agents themselves who carried out the killings of the scientists in Tehran, then Israel can at least claim a moral advantage by focusing on targets who were involved in developing weapons of mass destruction, and going after them in the enemy's capital - not blowing up random tourists on a cheap package tour to a Black Sea resort. But still, this is a tit-for-tat dirty war, and not just another terrorist attack. Iran needs to prove to itself and its minions that it can hit back at Israel and it hopes that such attacks, if not deter Israel, at least force it to redirect intelligence and operational resources to protection of Israelis around the world, rather than focusing them directly on Iran.
Arad was not advocating that Israel stop striking at Iranian targets, but was only trying to inject a bit of reality into the public discourse. "Israel must continue its struggle," he said, "but must take its consequences into consideration, and that's part of the dynamics. Israel must manage the struggle, reduce the risks, and be prepared intelligence-wise."
What follows from this is not a higher risk of open war with Iran, since that risk existed before the bus was blown up in Burgas and the dirty war has been going on for years anyway. If war breaks out, it will be a result of multiple geopolitical factors, all of them much wider than any single attack on civilians, as horrendous as it may be. A war will break out if the Iranians are close to crossing the nuclear threshold or try to block international oil supplies through the Strait of Hormuz. And it will not be Israel and Iran's private affair - the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia and other nations will be deeply involved.
Meanwhile, it's a safe bet that nuclear scientists, senior Iranian officers and Hezbollah and Hamas operatives will continue dying in mysterious circumstances while Israelis holidaying around the globe will have to live with the knowledge that they are potential targets – or stay at home.