Israel Update for July 2012
Continued from page 1
American FBI security agents rapidly joined their Israeli and Bulgarian counterparts in investigating the July 18 terrorist atrocity after it emerged that police had found an American drivers license (later said to be forged) from the state of Michigan on the dismembered body of the homicide attacker. Sporting long blond hair under a baseball cap and wearing sunglasses, the terrorist had earlier been recorded by security cameras wandering around the outer areas of the busy airport. He was dressed in summer shorts and sporting a backpack like any typical young Western tourist - apparently waiting for the scheduled flight from Tel Aviv to arrive. Investigators later said the perpetrator possibly had a nearby accomplice who set off the explosion by phoning a rigged mobile phone located inside the terrorist's backpack.
Security officials said the suicide bomber was "Caucasian" in appearance, confirmed by the video recordings. However subsequent examinations of his remains revealed he had been wearing a wig, with his actual hair being short and much darker. However he also had light skin and blue eyes (a British newspaper later reported Iranian agents have recruited a number of Caucasian converts to Islam to carry out such attacks in Europe). Just seconds after boarding the bus, the powerful explosive charge was set off, killing nearby Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounding over 30 other passengers, several critically. Hours after the heinous assault, American President Barack Obama phoned PM Netanyahu to express his disgust with what he termed "this barbaric attack" upon Israeli civilian tourists, offering both his condolences for the victims and their families and US government assistance "to bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack."
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov expressed outrage over the assault on his sovereign soil, calling upon Israeli tourists not to allow the massacre to deter future visits to his friendly country. However Israeli government officials quickly suspended all outgoing flights to the country, along with scheduled flights to Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, South Africa and Thailand, citing specific intelligence information that further attacks were possible in each of those countries. Some analysts said the unprecedented move was probably also quietly designed to alert vacationing Israeli reserve soldiers to come home, and possibly also to reduce the number of foreign tourists coming to Israel with a major conflict possibly pending. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev later told reporters that the Israeli Mossad security agency had not issued any advance warnings that a terrorist operation could be imminent in his country.
Iran And Hizbullah Are Responsible
Noting it was exactly 18 years to the day when Iranian backed Hizbullah agents carried out the deadliest ever terror attack upon Jews in the modern era - slaughtering 85 people when an explosives-laden van crashed into a Jewish community centre in the Argentinean city of Buenos Aires - Israeli officials quickly pointed the finger of responsibility at Hizbullah and its main sponsor, Iran. Although both Shiite entities denied they were behind the suicide assault, Israeli officials said they possessed solid evidence to the contrary. They noted that local police in India, Georgia and Thailand had irrefutably linked Iranian and Hizbullah agents to terrorist assaults in those countries last February, while other Iranian-backed terrorist plots against Israeli targets were recently uncovered in Kenya and Cyprus (a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent is being held in custody in Cyprus after he was arrested mid-month while casing sites frequented by Israeli tourists). The Prime Minister's office later revealed that no less than 20 Iranian-backed plots to attack Israelis abroad had been uncovered over the past year.
Officials also pointed to public pledges by Iranian and Hizbullah leaders to avenge the killings of a senior Hizbullah military leader in Damascus in 2008 and the subsequent deaths of several Iranian nuclear scientists. Of course, Israel might well have been behind those killings, especially in Iran, but if so, agents were targeting men who were openly working to harm, if not destroy, the Jewish State. The victims in Bulgaria were all tourists, including pregnant women and children.
Within hours of the terrorist assault, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement saying "All the signs point to Iran. Only in the past few months, we have seen Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other places." He added the attack in Bulgaria "is an Iranian terror campaign that is spreading throughout the world." More to the point, he vowed that "Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror." Knesset opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich condemned "the murderous terror attack" in Bulgaria, agreeing with Netanyahu that "There is no doubt the instability in the region is spawned by Iran, aiming especially for Israelis and Jews throughout the world." She also noted that "Israeli security forces have succeeded in preventing several attempted attacks targeted at Israeli travelers in recent months."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak focused more upon the Lebanese Hizbullah militia rather than its patron Iran as the address for a possible military reply to the deadly attack. The morning after the slaughter took place, he pointedly flew by military helicopter to inspect IDF frontline positions along the northern Golan Heights border with Syria, whose embattled regime is closely linked to both Hizbullah and Iran. He warned Israel would not allow Syrian refugees to cross the border, nor the Hizbullah militia to smuggle weapons from Syria into Lebanon. This seemed to confirm an earlier Israeli Channel 10 news report which included video of powerful SCUD missiles being transferred from Damascus to two military bases outside the capital city. The report said the missiles belonged to Hizbullah, which was said to be increasingly concerned the weapons, purchased with Iranian money, might fall under the control of anti-Assad Syrian forces led by the Muslim Brotherhood. The report added that Israeli government officials warned Hizbullah via third parties they would order military aircraft to interdict any attempt to smuggle the missiles, which can carry chemical warheads, into Lebanon.
Israeli President Shimon Peres issued an unusually blunt statement against Iran in the wake of the Bulgarian atrocity. He warned the Shiite clerical regime that Israel "has the means and the will to silence and paralyze terror organizations." The elderly statesman added that, "We were witnesses to a deadly terror attack coming out of Iran. We know there were other attempts, only this time they succeeded." In apparent response to this and similar comments from Israeli government officials, a leading Iranian cleric threatened on July 22 that Tel Aviv will be targeted if any IDF action is directed at Iran or its allies.
Although Israeli leaders are certain Iran and its Shiite Lebanese surrogate force were behind the tourist bus bombing, most Israeli security analysts said they do not expect a major IDF military operation in direct response to the attack (the deteriorating situation in Syria is another matter). Instead, they anticipate Mossad and other Israeli security agencies will step up the covert campaign to thwart further assaults upon Israelis traveling or living abroad, and also probably ramp up their undeclared surreptitious efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring or building nuclear weapons. However all note that, with the situation on the edge of a precipice in this roiling region, it would not take much more at present to spark off a fullscale conflict with Hizbullah, Syria and/or Iran. Most say the conflict raging in Syria is the wild card in the equation, enhanced by the jarring fact that the Hamas movement's patron is now in control of the Egyptian government in Cairo - all of this unimaginable just two years ago
Possible IDF Attack Looming Against Syria
During a July 20 interview on Channel 2, Defense Minister Barak revealed that he has ordered IDF planners to prepare for an attack upon Syria's huge weapons stockpiles. "Syria has advanced anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and elements of chemical weapons. I directed the IDF to prepare for a situation where we will need to consider the possibility of an attack." Some saw his jarring comments as an indirect warning to the Israeli public to get ready for an increasingly likely war in the coming days or weeks. Subsequent Israeli media reports said Syria recently test-fired chemical-tipped missiles aimed at Israel, Jordan and Turkey.
Earlier, the New York Times reported that Barak had spoken to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the possibility of a joint strike against Syria's huge chemical weapons arsenal, but Panetta thought it would only serve to further inflame the region. Israel is deeply concerned that such weapons could either be transferred to Hizbullah or fall under Sunni Muslim fundamentalist control, who could then funnel some of them to Hamas as happened with some of Libya's large weapons arsenal after Col. Gaddafi was violently overthrown, with NATO assistance, last year.
During his previously unscheduled northern tour, Barak said it was imperative for the Israeli public to not allow terror attacks like the one in Bulgaria interrupt their normal daily lives. "In my view, it's of the utmost importance that we do not lose our stamina, nor the ability to understand that we have to live." The veteran politician and former military leader added that it is "important that Israelis continue to travel in the world, continue to travel in Israel, and continue to live their normal lives despite all the pain." Speaking at the following Sunday morning weekly cabinet meeting, PM Netanyahu noted how "heartbreaking" it had been to watch television coverage of the five funerals conducted the previous Friday. This came after he phoned President Obama to express Israel's condolences over the tragic loss of life when a deranged gunman opened fire at a crowed movie theatre outside of Denver.