Tension Rising Between Israel, Hezbollah Following Bulgaria Attack

Jerusalem blames Shiite group for Burgas attack, says Syrian chemical weapons could end up in Lebanon.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Tensions have been rising over the past few days between Israel and Hezbollah following Israel's claim that the Shiite group was behind last week's suicide bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian. It is also feared that the weakening of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime could lead to the smuggling of chemical weapons and missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah and Iran have denied responsibility for the attack on a bus carrying Israelis in the resort town of Burgas last week, in which dozens of people were also injured. A message appeared last week on a Lebanese Internet site in the name of a group called the Jihad Base, claiming responsibility for the attack. The wording of the message indicates that the group might be part of the global jihad movement, which is inspired by Al-Qaida.

However, Israel and Western intelligence believe the message could be an attempt by Hezbollah to evade responsibility for the blast. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have said over the past few days that Hezbollah carried out the attack in Bulgaria with intelligence and logistical support provided by Tehran. The American government has also joined accusations of Hezbollah involvement in the attack.

Israel's belief that Hezbollah was behind the attack stems from plans uncovered in Cyprus two weeks ago, where a Swedish citizen of Lebanese extraction was arrested in Limassol after he had collected information about the routes of buses carrying vacationing Israelis.

Various Israeli security officials have said since Wednesday's attack that similar strikes could be attempted at other destinations popular with Israeli tourists worldwide.

Israel finds it difficult to protect Israeli tourist groups wherever they may be and also lacks relevant intelligence information to do so. According to Bulgarian police, it seems that the various intelligence agencies are still largely in the dark. The investigation is being conducted jointly by Israel and the United States with assistance from some European countries. The terror cell responsible for the attack in Burgas has still not been found and it will be very hard to uncover other Hezbollah cells (assuming Hezbollah is indeed responsible ) that might already have embarked on terror attacks in other countries.

Tightened surveillance on Syria

For the past few years, Israel has established relatively effective deterrence against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in most cases it has also been able to thwart attacks planned jointly by Iran and Hezbollah in other countries. But Israel may now be facing a new situation: the risk of imminent terror attacks that are becoming increasingly difficult to stop. It seems that under such circumstances there is no small temptation to attack Hezbollah targets, in the hope that such attacks will deter the Lebanese organization.

But an Israeli military operation in Lebanon would, of course, carry a risk of snowballing into a new combat front. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is very aware of events in Syria, over which Israel has tightened its surveillance. It is believed that the killing of four top Syrian intelligence and security officials in an attack by the Syrian opposition in Damascus on Thursday has brought the end of the Assad regime closer than ever. Under such circumstances Assad might decide to send chemical weapons and missiles to Hezbollah, or Hezbollah might take control of those stockpiles.

The defense minister said Friday in an interview to Israel's three television networks that Israel was closely watching attempts to smuggle weapons, including "antiaircraft, ground-to-ground and chemical weapons," from Syria to Hezbollah. Barak said he had instructed the IDF "to prepare what is needed so we can consider action" if necessary. However, Barak also said Israel should, as far as possible, "wait for the fall of Assad's regime. We have no interest in finding ourselves involved [in events in Syria], except to prevent by force the movement of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah."

As to who was behind the attack in Burgas, Barak said Israel was still gathering information. "When the time comes and in the right way, we will act," he said. Barak said he did not think war would break out in the region this summer. "I believe and hope that there will be no war this summer, but that is all that can be said at this time," he said.

Supporters wave Hezbollah and Syrian regime flags as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses thousands of supporters by video during the sixth anniversary of Second Lebanon war.Credit: Reuters
Smoke rising after a terrorist blast at Bulgaria's Burgas airport July 18, 2012. Credit: Reuters



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