Iran, Israel spar on raid in Bulgaria
JERUSALEM / SOFIA
The attack in Bulgaria is the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004. EPA photoIsrael unanimously accused Iran and Lebanese group Hezbollah of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in Bulgaria, setting the stage for new tensions in the Middle East. However, Israeli officials signaled that they would not be rushing into any open conflict.
The bombing of a bus at Burgas airport on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast killed five Israeli tourists and the bus driver, and injured more than 30 others, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, in what was the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004.
The attack drew a response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “react powerfully” to what he called “Iranian terror.” The Israeli premier later repeated the accusation in a conversation with U.S. President Barak Obama, warning: “Iran is a state of global terror. It must bear the consequences of that.”
Iran dismissed as unfounded Israel’s accusations that it had played a role. The charges were “a familiar method of the Zionist regime, with a political aim, and is a sign of the weakness ... of the accusers,” the Iranian embassy in Bulgaria said in a statement. Hezbollah has not commented on the bombing.
Iranian state television said Israel’s “ridiculous” accusations were “aimed at creating an anti-Iranian atmosphere” amid rising tensions over Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons drive. “The Islamic republic, the biggest victim of terrorism, believes terrorism endangers the lives of innocents ... is inhumane and so strongly condemns it,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on television, according to Agence France-Presse.
Bulgaria has released video footage of the man it suspects carried out the attack. “The suicide bomber, wearing shorts and carrying a backpack, looked like any other tourist,” Bulgaria’s interior minister said.
Israel’s allegation, based on suspicions that Iranian and Hezbollah agents have been trying to score a lethal strike on its interests abroad for years, as well as investigations with the foreign countries involved, triggered speculation in the local media that the Netanyahu government might now hit back hard.
The Israelis have long threatened to resort to military force to curb Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, but Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounded more restrained about a response to the Bulgaria attack.
Speaking on the Israel Radio station, he said the country would “do everything possible in order to find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them,” Barak said. “The al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad networks operate globally,” he added, citing a long list of recent attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis around the world including in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya and Greek Cyprus.
President Shimon Peres said on his Facebook page that Israel would “take action in every terror nest, worldwide. It has the means to do so, and we are determined to act in this spirit.” The attack also drew strong condemnation from Turkey, France, Britain, Russia and others.
Releasing a written statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey deeply condemned the attack, adding that Turkey considered terrorism a crime against humanity that could never be excused.