Yesterday’s terror attack on an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria could lead to war.
The bomb killed at least six and wounded 32 others. Israeli officials quickly accused Iran and its Lebanese terror arm, Hezbollah, of the attack.
“Only in the last two months, we have seen attempts to hurt Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other places,” noted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is an Iranian terror offensive that is spreading throughout the world,” he continued. And: “Israel will react strongly.” He promised reprisals against Hezbollah, but if it becomes clear that Iranian agents played a role in the attack, action against the Tehran regime may also be on the table.
Israeli analysts likened Iran and Hezbollah to cornered animals, so desperate has their strategic situation grown.
Iran’s ally, the Syrian government of [Bashar] Assad, is in danger of collapse. At nearly the same time as the Bulgarian attack, Syrian rebels succeeded in killing some of the leading members of the regime at Syrian army headquarters in Damascas. Three top general were killed, including Assif Shawkat, Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, the head of Syrian military intelligence.
But Israeli officials said the world had to step up the isolation of Iran. “The world has to step up crippling sanctions against Iran, and not just because of its nuclear program,” declared Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He said Israel will demand suspension of civilian airline flights in and out of Iran.
“This is a very serious attack, and for a long time we have been following the intentions of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Islamic Jihad to prosecute an attack,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Israeli officials said that they’d warned Bulgarian officials that Israel had intelligence information that Iran and Hezbollah have been trying to infiltrate agents into Bulgaria from Turkey.
Some witnesses said a suicide bomber got on the tour bus inside the pickup area at the airport of Bulgaria’s chief tourist city, Burgas (several hundred miles from Sophia, the capital), but other reports spoke of an explosion caused by a bomb hidden inside a suitcase.
“We have decided immediately to reinforce the defenses of the Israeli embassy,” said Arthur Kol, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The bombing came on the 18th anniversary of the Iranian-Hezbollah attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85.
Hezbollah and Iran have been concentrating on generally “soft” targets away from Israel for two reasons: They’re easier to hit than targets in Israel, and they make it harder for Israel to justify a direct reprisal on Iran or Hezbollah.
Israeli strategists also believe that Iran and Hezbollah are using the attacks to force Israel to lose its focus on Iran itself and/or to force Israeli tactical or political errors, undermining Israel’s drive to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
A single attack of this kind is highly unlikely to start a war on Israel’s northern border or spur a massive assault by Israel on Iran — but Israeli intelligence believes there are more Iranian-directed terror squads trying to attack Israelis.
If several attacks succeed simultaneously — as almost occurred several months ago — or if one attack results in many deaths, Israel might make a strong reprisal, say on Hezbollah’s vast armed camps in southern Lebanaon.
And that could escalate into a wider war.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is a former reporter, correspondent, and editor respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and The Jerusalem Post. An expert on Arab politics and communications, he served as Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security. He is a JPC contributor. His latest book is “Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat.”