No exemptions!

Iran steps up attacks on ‘soft’ Israeli targets abroad.

Bulgarian bus 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Bulgarian bus 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
For those wondering if Israel is going to get tangled up in a war with Iran over its renegade nuclear program, the recent terror attack on an Israeli tour group visiting Bulgaria indicates that a lowlevel conflict is already underway.
Wave of attacks In mid-July, a suspicious-looking man with long hair, carrying forged US identity papers, was caught on closed circuit cameras carrying a huge backpack inside an airport in the Bulgarian resort city of Burgas, on the shores of the Black Sea. Moments later he was seen boarding a bus filled with Israelis on a holiday tour, before detonating a massive bomb hidden in the backpack.
Five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed in the explosion, while three dozen other Israelis were seriously wounded in the powerful blast, which gutted the tour bus.
A previously unknown faction called “Base of Jihad” claimed responsibility for the attack on a Lebanese website, but according to Israeli, US and Bulgarian officials all the evidence points towards terror cells affiliated with Hezbollah, and by extension Iran.
“Yesterday’s attack in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu charged the next day. Israeli officials indeed claim to have concrete evidence linking the Lebanese terror militia to the atrocity, including records of an abnormal number of phone calls from Beirut to Bulgaria in the weeks preceding the attack.
One Israeli official said a 24-year-old Swedish passport holder of Lebanese descent, arrested on July 7 in Cyprus after tracking the movement of Israeli tourists on the island, has admitted to being a Hezbollah operative. His modus operandi was apparently identical to that used by the terrorist in Burgas.
A senior Israeli security official added that the Burgas attack was part of a long wave of terrorism that began in 2011 and has included at least 20 attacks or attempted attacks in 18 months by Iran and Hezbollah on five continents, including attacks this year in Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Kenya, Thailand and now Bulgaria.
Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese nationals have been arrested and interrogated in a number of countries, some before being able to carry out attacks or after their plans went awry.
The Israeli security official said that what distinguished the current rash of terrorism was that it was “a wave,” and not just individual attacks. He said they were meant by Iran as a means of deterrence against any military action against it, and an effort to show the world what it was capable of doing.
Netanyahu termed it a “global terror campaign,” adding that the “time has come” for the world to say clearly that Iran was behind it.
“Iran is the No. 1 exporter of terror in the world,” he charged, linking the Burgas attack to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. “It is forbidden for the most dangerous country in the world to have the most dangerous weapons in the world.”
Israel is working at the United Nations to clearly establish the link between Tehran and the string of recent attacks.
Jerusalem is also lobbying in Europe to add both Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on to the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations. According to diplomatic officials, the fact that the Burgas attack took place in an EU country, and that there was also an attempted attack in Cyprus – which holds the rotating EU presidency – may provide an impetus for finally getting these organizations on the EU’s blacklist.
Where’s the immunity? The recent string of attacks on Israeli citizens and diplomatic missions abroad comes after Iran accused Israel of assassinating several leading scientists working for Iran’s nuclear program, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards. In fact, the recent attack in New Delhi was a sort of copycat attack of several hits on Iranian scientists, as an operative on a motor scooter drove by an Israeli diplomatic vehicle and quickly attached a magnetic bomb before fleeing – injuring a senior envoy’s wife.
Even before those accusations, Iran and Hezbollah had vowed to exact revenge against Israel for a bomb blast in Damascus in February 2008 which killed top terrorist operative Imad Mugniyeh, the primary link between the Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese Shi’ite militia.
While Iran has presented no reliable evidence Israel was involved in the deaths of Mugniyeh and the nuclear scientists, these were figures directly engaged in Iranian military enterprises that even the United Nations has sanctioned for pursuing nuclear arms and exporting terror. Meanwhile, Tehran’s supposed “revenge attacks” have been aimed at innocent Israeli civilians traveling abroad – an easy “soft target” for terrorists – as well as at Israeli envoys and foreign missions that should otherwise enjoy protection under the time-honored principle of diplomatic immunity.
In fact, there is a long history of attacks on Israel’s diplomatic corps and embassies abroad, and one legal scholar in Jerusalem says it is time to demand that the Jewish state’s diplomatic immunity be restored.
Justus Reid Weiner, a Hebrew University lecturer and scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, recently completed a study of all the assaults against Israeli diplomats and embassies abroad in modern times.
Weiner’s report lists some 92 major instances since 1967 of violence and terror attacks against Israeli diplomatic missions and representatives, or against Israelis in foreign lands who should have enjoyed immunity from attack.
“Most people are unaware of the degree to which Israeli diplomats are compelled to organize their lives around the virtually omnipresent security threats that face them,” Weiner notes in his study. “These include threats from a wide variety of terrorist groups and states... Anyone who has visited an Israeli embassy notices the fortress-like security conditions under which the diplomats work.”
Weiner first lays out the origins and scope of the concept of diplomatic immunity, explaining that “[f]or centuries, even millennia, nations have engaged with one another via the diplomat – a person who served as a protected representative during negotiations relevant to the interests of the host state… Thus, [for example] the emissary was permitted safe passage in order to negotiate the terms of truces or other agreements.”
“The principle of diplomatic immunity extends at least as far back as the Greek city states,” his study continues. “It was respected, to varying degrees, by the entities of ancient India, Pharaonic Egypt, Carthage, the Roman Empire, Byzantium, and other European states during the Renaissance.”
Weiner writes that diplomatic immunity was then expanded and updated by the Congress of Westphalia in 1643. Detailed rules later developed in relation to the civil and criminal immunity of ambassadors, their staff, and family members. These were eventually codified by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which was updated in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which Weiner describes as possibly “the most successful instrument drafted under the UN framework.”
“The Vienna Convention formulates a complete framework for the establishment, maintenance, and termination of diplomatic relations on the basis of consent between independent sovereign states. Article 29 provides inviolability for the person of diplomats and Article 31 establishes their immunity from civil and criminal jurisdiction. Almost all states are now parties,” Weiner concludes.
Deliberate targeting of Israel Unfortunately, history has shown that the concept of diplomatic immunity has not always been respected, and there are many examples of foreign representatives being attacked in their host countries, one of the most famous examples being the 1979 invasion of the US embassy in Tehran during the Islamic revolution in Iran.
All nations demand respect for their diplomatic missions, which are considered extra-territorial properties of the represented state, and they roundly condemn any attacks on their diplomats and embassies. For instance, the United Kingdom did so when its Embassy in Iran was ransacked last November by protestors angered over new British sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the incident as “outrageous and indefensible. The failure of the Iranian government to defend British staff and property was a disgrace.”
It also occurred last February when the Russian embassy in Tripoli, Libya was attacked by a horde of Arab protesters who stormed the building and burned the Russian flag in protest of Moscow’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime for murdering its own citizens. “This is a major violation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, and stems from an incorrect interpretation of Russia’s stance on Syria,” a Kremlin response read. “Moscow is deeply concerned with the unsanctioned protests in Tripoli that led to the violation of the Russian Ambassador’s immunity.”
And yet no nation has had to endure as many attacks on its diplomatic personnel and facilities, proportionally or otherwise, than Israel.
According to Weiner’s research, these attacks especially picked up in the wake of the Six Day War in June 1967, when Israel began expanding its diplomatic presence worldwide at the same time Palestinian global terrorism reached its zenith. Over the ensuing decades, nearly every Israeli mission in foreign capitals and major cities has been targeted.
The list includes assassinations, bombings, attempted bombings, drive-by shootings, kidnapping attempts, grenade attacks and other assaults in Amman, Amsterdam, Ankara, Asuncion, Athens, Baku, Bangkok, Berlin, Bogota, Bonn, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Canberra, Caracas, Colombo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Guatemala City, Istanbul, Kiev, Lima, Lisbon, London, Malta, Manchester, Manila, Mexico City, Montevideo, Montreal, Munich, Nicosia, Nouakchott, Ottawa, Paris, Quito, Rome, San Salvador, Schoenau castle (Austria), Singapore, Sydney, Tashkent, Tehran, Tokyo, Vienna, Washington, DC, and Zurich.
Since the 1972 Olympic attack in Munich, which led to the death of 11 Israeli athletes, some 300 people have been killed in strikes against Israeli and Jewish targets abroad. Among these attacks are the murder of Israel’s consul to Turkey, Efraim Elrom, who was assassinated in 1971; the slaying of Israel’s commercial attaché to Brussels, Yosef Halachi, in 1980; and the 1988 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Japan.
And of course, the most lethal such attack was the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which resulted in the death of 28 people.
The 1982 assassination attempt on Israeli ambassador to the UK Shlomo Argov, carried out by the Abu Nidal faction, was also significant as it triggered Israel’s decision to invade southern Lebanon to deal with the PLO forces entrenched there.
The new threat In more recent years, most attacks on Israeli foreign missions have been carried out by global jihadists linked to al-Qaida or by terror cells sponsored by the Iran- Hezbollah-Hamas axis.
For instance, an armed assault on the Israeli embassy in the capital of Mauritania in 2008 was carried out by members of AQIM, a radical Islamist militia affiliated with al-Qaida, which is currently involved in looting northern Mali and imposing sharia law there.
In 2009, two members of Hezbollah were arrested for plotting attacks against the Israeli embassy in the capital of Azerbaijan.
In May 2011, the Israeli Consul General to Istanbul, Moshe Kamhi, was the apparent target of a bomb that exploded in one of Istanbul’s most upscale neighborhoods, killing eight people.
Last September, the Israeli embassy in Cairo was ransacked by a mob of protesters who stormed the complex after IDF troops killed several Egyptian soldiers in a mistaken firefight while in hot pursuit of terrorists who had rocketed an Israeli bus near Eilat. Egyptian authorities stopped the mob and rescued the Israeli embassy staff only after US President Barack Obama intervened.
So far, 2012 is proving to be another year for keen vigilance by Israel’s diplomatic corps and security services.
The year started with the arrest of two citizens from Azerbaijan who had advanced plans aimed to harm Israeli citizens working at a Jewish school in Baku.
Then came the “sticky bomb” attack on the Israeli diplomatic car in New Delhi. The same day, a similar bomb was found on an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in Tblisi, Georgia.
The following month, three Iranian nationals were arrested in Thailand after several bombs accidentally exploded in their hideout which were intended to be used against Israeli diplomats stationed in the country.
The end of June saw two Iranians arrested in Nairobi, Kenya for trying to smuggle in 38 pounds of explosives via Mombasa to use in attacks on the British and Israeli embassies.
And in July, there was the Burgas bus bombing and the arrest of a Swedish citizen of Lebanese decent in Cyprus caught casing Israeli tourists there.
While many of these attacks have been averted through effective intelligence work and others have not even been made public yet, it is clear Iran is activating terror cells in numerous countries in hopes of bleeding Israel and deterring preemptive air strikes on its own nuclear program. No doubt, more sleeper cells are lurking and Israel has no choice but to keep up its guard and not rely on Tehran to respect the principle of diplomatic immunity.