PM: Hezbollah, Tehran behind Burgas bus bombing

Senior official: Israel facing wave of terror that includes more than 20 attempted attacks in 18 months.

Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Iranian terrorism will not defeat Israel, and the country will act forcefully against it, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, hours before an IDF plane landed at Ben-Gurion Airport carrying the bodies of the five Israelis killed in the Bulgaria terror attack the previous day.
The coffins, covered in Israeli flags, were met with a brief military ceremony. The funerals are scheduled for Friday.
The five victims have been identified as Kochava Shriki, 42, from Rishon Lezion; Itzik Colangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, both from Petah Tikva; and Elior Price, 26, and Maor Harush, 25, both from Acre.
In a brief statement he delivered to the nation a few hours before the plane landed, the prime minister said unequivocally that Hezbollah carried out the attack. He pledged that Israel would pursue the attackers and “extract a heavy price from those who sent them.”
He did not elaborate.
“Israel is a strong country,” Netanyahu said. “Israelis are a strong people. We will continue to fight Iranian terrorism, it will not defeat us and we will act with great force against it.”
While on Wednesday, shortly after the attack, Netanyahu issued a statement saying that “all signs” of the attack led to Iran, on Thursday he said unambiguously that Hezbollah – and by extension Iran – was behind it.
“Yesterday’s attack in Bulgaria was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran,” he said. According to government officials, Netanyahu has concrete evidence linking the Lebanese terrorist organization to the atrocity.
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One official said that a 24- year-old Swedish passport holder of Lebanese decent, 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 identical to that used by the terrorist in Burgas, Bulgaria, the official said.
One senior security official said the Burgas attack was a part of a long wave of terrorism that began in 2011 and had included at least 20 attacks and attempted attacks by Iran and Hezbollah, either acting independently or together, on five continents.
Among the thwarted attacks were attempts over the past month in Cyprus and Kenya, as well as earlier efforts in Georgia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Thailand and other countries.
Among the attacks that were carried out were the one on the wife of an Israeli diplomat in India in February, and the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan in May 2011.
Iranian citizens have been arrested in a number of countries, including in Thailand and Kenya, while Syrian and Lebanese nationals affiliated with Hezbollah have been arrested and interrogated elsewhere.
Some of those were arrested before being able to carry out attacks, and others – like those in Thailand in February – after their plans went awry.
The 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, in his statement, termed this effort a “global terror campaign.” He said the “time has come” for the world to say clearly that Iran was behind this wave of terrorism.
“Iran is the No. 1 exporter of terror in the world,” he said, linking this attack to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. “It is forbidden for a terror state to have nuclear weapons. It is forbidden for the most dangerous country in the world to have the most dangerous weapons in the world.”
Tehran denied any involvement, with its Foreign Ministry issuing a statement saying that “Iran’s position is to condemn all terrorist acts in the world.”
Not everyone was pleased with Netanyahu's willingness to point an accusing finger at Iran. Former Mossad head Danny Yatom, during a briefing with journalists organized by The Israel Project, said that it usually took time during an investigation to draw unequivocal conclusions. While it was logical to assume that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the attacks, he said it would be better to wait and say so only after concrete evidence could be gathered and shared with the world.
The arrival of the coffins on Thursday evening culminated a day of frenetic activity, during which 33 Israeli tourists hurt in the blast were brought back to Israel earlier in the day on an IDF Hercules plane, and dispersed to hospitals around the country.
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Three other Israelis who were injured in the attack, listed in critical condition and immediately dispatched for treatment to a hospital in Sofia, were also brought back to Israel on a separate plane on Thursday. More than 60 other Israelis who were on the Air Bulgaria flight whose passengers boarded the ill-fated bus that was attacked, but who were not injured, also came home on a plane put at their disposal by the Bulgarian government.
While survivors of the attack complained about the Bulgarians handling of the situation, saying they were slow in initially responding and illequipped medically to deal with an attack of this proportion, Netanyahu praised Sofia for its help and cooperation.
“True friendship between countries is tested at moments like these, and Bulgaria is a true friend of Israel,” he said.
Bulgaria is expected, along with Israel, to turn to the United Nations Security Council in the coming days and seek a condemnation of the bombing.
The two countries are also expected to separately write letters of protest to the Security Council. Jerusalem hopes this will lead to an international diplomatic campaign against Iranian-backed terrorism.
Israel is also expected in the coming days to lobby in Europe for adding both Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations. According to diplomatic officials, the fact that Wednesday’s 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 onto the EU’s blacklist.