Analysis: Connecting the dots from Bulgaria to Syria

The attack on Israelis in Bulgaria has hallmarks of the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah, but some differences as well.

Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Eighteen years after blowing up the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires – an attack that killed 85 people – Hezbollah appears to have struck again, this time in Bulgaria.
While it is difficult to disconnect the two attacks due to the amazing timing, there are some differences, most importantly the chosen target.
In 1994 in Argentina, a van with hundreds of kilograms of explosives rammed into the AMIA center, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. Wednesday’s attack appears to have been caused by a bomb planted on the bus.
While the attack is severe, it is not on the scale of what happened in 1994.
The fact that the assault is of a smaller scale demonstrates the difficulty Hezbollah faces today in carrying out large-scale attacks against Israel.
This is due to the world’s efforts to crack down on Iran and its terror proxies over the years in addition to Israeli efforts to bolster its intelligence and defense ties with countries that it feared were not taking the threat seriously.
An example of this was in 2010, when then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan visited Sofia and met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The Bulgarians then released a rare photo of the two meeting.
The question now is what Israel will do.
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While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed a “powerful response” to Wednesday’s attack, Israel will first need to obtain concrete evidence against the perpetrators and the plotters.
In general, Hezbollah is understood to prefer an attack overseas – against an embassy, an airplane or a consulate – rather than one along the northern border, since this would allow it a level of deniability. On Wednesday evening, shortly after the attack, it issued a statement denying it was involved.
Either way, there are officials within the defense establishment who believe that such an attack needs to be met by a fierce response.
A few months ago, for example, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz warned Hezbollah not to test Israel’s resolve by perpetrating a terror attack against an Israeli target overseas. If Israel does not respond, it could be perceived as a paper tiger.
Other officials believe Israel should not go to war over just any attack, and the country’s reaction would need to depend on the chosen target and of course the outcome, i.e. the number of casualties.
Basically, is the number of Israelis killed in Bulgaria enough to justify a response that could lead to a war?
This is how the attack in Bulgaria connects to another bombing that happened earlier in the day in Damascus and wiped out some of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most-senior advisors, including his defense minister and more importantly – his brother-in-law, the deputy defense minister.
The situation in Syria – described by one defense official as a massive earthquake – is extremely unstable right now and Israel’s primary concern is the possibility that Hezbollah or another rogue actor will try to get its hands on Assad’s chemical weapons.
If this happens, Israel might attack, a move that could easily and fairly quickly develop into a full-scale war and suck in Hezbollah as well.
In addition, while the attack in Bulgaria is severe, it might not be enough to require an immediate response. Instead, the government will likely take time to calculate its moves before striking back.
But, above all, it will first work to create an intelligence dossier to prove to the world that Iran really was behind the bombing.