Behind the Bulgaria Suicide Bombing: Could It Be Iran? Or Hizballah or Both?

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Impact Press Group / AP

A damaged bus is transported out of Burgas airport, Bulgaria, Thursday, July 19, 2012 a day after a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers.

UPDATE: U.S. officials say the bomber has been identified as a member of a Hizballah cell.

In the absence of firm evidence, the strongest argument for Iranian involvement in the bombing of a busload of Israeli tourists at a Bulgarian airport is this:  The blast came 18 years to the day after the car bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, an attack Argentine authorities traced to Iran and Hizballah, the proxy force it established in Lebanon.

Arguing against Iranian involvement: The Bulgaria bombing actually occurred.

Despite its notorious reputation as a state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not been much in the terror business for more than a decade. And its recent efforts to return to operational form have been less than impressive.  The world was incredulous that a terror mastermind of Tehran’s renown could be traced by a bank transfer to the effort of a Corpus Christi car salesman to enlist a Mexican drug gang to bomb the Saudi ambassador at a Washington restaurant.  Since then, Iranian agents have been tracked and arrested plotting in Georgia, Azerbaijan, India, Cyprus, Kenya and Thailand, where things did not go well at all.  There, a Thai prostitute’s cell phone would produce a photo of the plotters posing with girls in their arms and water pipes at their sides a week before the bomb they were making blew the roof off their Bangkok apartment.  One of the suspects lost a leg when the explosives he was carrying fell at his feet and exploded, not far from where he’d chucked another charge at a taxi after the driver refused to pick him up.

(PHOTOS: Alleged Suicide Bomber in Bulgaria Blows Up Bus)

“All signs point towards Iran,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two hours after Wednesday’s attack, though those signs remain entirely circumstantial, and the circumstances girdle the globe. Consider, for instance, that the bomb that exploded in the Iranians’ Bangkok flat was the “sticky” kind, attached to a magnet that Thai officials said the conspirators planned to affix to the passing car of an Israeli diplomat.  That’s what Iranian agents managed to do a day earlier in New Delhi, injuring the wife of a defense attaché as she went to pick up her kids at school.  Significantly, sticky is the kind of bombs that Israeli agents have used in Tehran, where at least three Iranian nuclear specialists have been killed in covert operations that Western intelligence sources have told TIME are, in fact, conducted by the Mossad.

Still, like the anniversary of the Buenos Aires attack, which killed 85 people, what actually links Iran to the Bulgaria bombing is supposition.  “It’s very hard to say. Right now we have no clues, no information,” a senior Israeli intelligence official tells TIME. “By process of elimination, we exclude Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They aren’t capable of such an operation so far away [from the Palestinian territories].  There’s also Al Qaeda, but they’re preoccupied with other arenas at the moment. Low chance.

“So it leaves us with the probability of Hizballah alone, or Iran alone, or a joint operation. Which makes sense.”

Hizballah and Iran worked together in Buenos Aires, according to Argentine authorities. They also combined two years later on the last spectacular attack linked to Tehran:  The 1996 suicide truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19.  Though not technically terror because the target was military, the attack was in line with Iranian doctrine on “asymmetrical warfare.”   Despite its oil wealth and sovereignty, the Islamic Republic has cast itself as David against Goliath since a 13-year-old boy named Hossein Famideh stopped an Iraqi tank by rolling under it and detonating a belt of grenades, stopping an enemy advance early in the Iran-Iraq war. The boy is celebrated in murals across Iran, including one overlooking official Friday Prayers at Tehran University, and counted by some as the first modern suicide bomber.

Asymmetrical warfare is promoted most publicly by Hasan Abbasi, a former  Revolutionary Guards chief who now runs a think tank (he’s on Facebook!).  The approach is promoted across the spectrum, from cyber warfare (a web search finds Abbasi seated prominently at the second Cyber Hizballah conference) to naval doctrine.  It’s why the Revolutionary Guards invested heavily  not in battle ships, but in small speed boats, which swarm and harass the mammoth U.S. vessels patrolling the Strait of Hormuz — and not without success. Earlier this week, American gunners on a Navy supply ship near the strait killed what turned out to be an Indian fisherman approaching so fast they feared he was a suicide bomber. As the head of the Guards’ naval forces put it five years ago, urging militia forces to emulate Famideh: “Even small operations can produce huge effects in the strategic strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.”

One element of the Bulgaria case that gives analysts pause is the news that it appears to have been carried out by a suicide bomber, a young, long-haired seemingly Caucasian man seen loitering by the buses awaiting the arrival of the Israeli tourists, then climbing aboard after them dressed in Bermuda shorts. According to Bulgarian officials, he carried a fake Michigan drivers license. Martyrdom operations on civilian targets are simply far more common among Sunni extremists, and both Hizballah and Iran are Shi’a.

“I’m a bit puzzled; this is not normally the way they do it,” says Benedetta Berti, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.[UPDATE: It’s unclear whether the bomber meant to die.  The backpack containing the explosive charge may have detonated prematurely as he tried to place it in the luggage space beneath the bus.]  On the other hand, Berti tells TIME, Hizballah and Iran may well have opted to try something new after racking up such a long string of failures in the last year or so.  After repeatedly missing “hard targets” such as Israeli diplomats, the temptation to do something, somewhere, may have carried the day.  “In my time you were always left to your own devices,” a onetime foreign operative for the Iranian security services tells TIME. “These [screw]-ups that you mention might be a generational thing–new guys too young to have been blooded in the war and other activities of the time, thus lacking a whole range of instincts and capabilities that you only get when you have real skin in the game.”

Both Iran and Hizballah have skin in one game: the rapidly deteriorating situation of the Syrian regime headed by Bashar Assad.  Under the Assads, Syria has been absolutely vital as the go-between linking Iran and the militia it created in Lebanon,  which borders Syria.  Add Hizballah’s vow to, at some point, avenge the 2008 assassination by the Mossad of its terror mastermind, Imad Mugniyah, and it’s not hard to make the case that Iran and Hizballah deserve to be suspected first for the seven deaths in Burgas.  But it won’t win them much respect.

“As things go very wrong in Syria, you do want to project power,” Berti says. “And if you’re also failing to hit the embassy in Uzbekistan, it kind of takes away from your clout – especially after the “Divine Victory” of 2006 [Hizballah’s perceived stalemate against Israel in the Second Lebanon War].   But you can’t really restore it by attacking tourists at a resort in Eastern Europe.”

– With reporting by Aaron J. Klein/Tel Aviv

33 comments
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Go Vikes
Go Vikes

Iran certainly did it: Obama needs to start a war desperately, to get the 'sentimental vote' for his re-election.  Nice timing.

mikeasaf
mikeasaf

Simply disgusting to read some of the comments here. Compare Israeli actions with this terrorist attack?really? If Israel wanted Arabs dead' they would just kill, they certainly have the means. The difference between Arab terror and Israeli actions, is that Israel never targets civilians on purpose, if a Palestinian civilian dies, it is probably because he had Qassam rocket in his back yard. Arab terrorist on the other hand simply love watching Jewish blood spilled. That is the difference between the two cultures. One side protects itself, the other sees innocent civilians as legitimate targets' and could only wish for more casualties. Israelis regret the deaths of innocents, Arabs celebrate it.

concernedinhabitantofearth
concernedinhabitantofearth

I just dont understand who gives TIME the right to accuse or even say "Could it be Iran or Hazbullah" This is the professionalism shown by media.? tsk tsk tsk.. 

Payman Abdali
Payman Abdali

Nothing has been proven yet.  Convicting anyone without due process and complete research is as hideous as the crime itself.  Killing innocent people is not the way to resolve any conflict.  Israeli's killing Palestinians or terrorists killing Israelis are both wrong.

akahen
akahen

I read the responses and i could not stop laughing. 

One person argued that Suicide attack is only done by Sunnis!!! WHAAAAATTTTT!!!!

I am an Iranian who went to school in Iran.  I can assure you that is absolutely B.S.  Everything we learned was about killing yourself for a cause as kids.  To add to that stupidity, Iran used suicide bombers against Saddam when people jump on landminds (a form of suicde bomber).  To add, Hezbollah has been using suicide bombers for a while now. 

Yes, it is Iran because they are trying to look competent in front of their citizens to show that they are playing with big brothers.  This is not the first time Iran has targeted Israelis abroad either.  They murdered many Jews in Argentina.  To mark their crime (just like many murderes) they conducted this attack on the anniversary of the attacks in Argentina.  YES IRAN DID IT AND HEZBOLLAH SUPPORTED IT. 

Agustinus Donny
Agustinus Donny

 Well, you're not Iranian, coz Iran does not kill Iranian Jews. cmiiw there are 3 synagogues in Tehran, and only four Jew hospitals in the world, on of them in Iran

Mysterious_81
Mysterious_81

All is political propaganda!U guys really think Iran is that stupid,amid high tensed situation about its controversial nuclear program,it'd likely to give Israel amp; the west  an excuse for attack?

Mo Oturakci
Mo Oturakci

Could It Be Iran? Or Hizballah or Both?  How about none of the above.  Turns out Karl Vick jumped the gun on this one as reports have implicated a Saudi-trained Finnish citizen.

bakhmone
bakhmone

"Martyrdom operations on civilian targets are simply far more common among Sunni extremists, and both Hizballah and Iran are Shi’a.

“I’m a bit puzzled; this is not normally the way they do it,” says Benedetta Berti, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. On the other hand, Berti tells TIME, Hizballah and Iran may well have opted to try something new after racking up such a long string of failures in the last year or so".

Dear Benedetta Berti, we are

fascinated by the power of your observation amp; most cynical of the way you

tend to go about rationalizing the concluding of your argument: When one theory

wouldn't seem as convincing [Enough] to the audience; the other [Must] be the

[alternative]. Is that it? How about assuming this line of argument that, since

you are a Jewish-Zionist and racially posses little or no human affinity

towards non-kind (particularly those who reject the very tenet of your

entirety) other than your own, as in the Talmud: Then, it is logical to assume,

the Shi'it-Iranian/Hizbullah operatives (since they are so desperate) must be

the perpetrators of this crime. Dear Benedetta, unlike you Jewish-Zionists, the

Iranians or the Lebanese-Shi'ites for that matter, are morally, culturally and

religiously taught to believe harming the defenseless, even those of the enemy,

is fundamentally inhuman and wrong. Unlike you the offspring of

satanic-Zionism, the Iranians had amp; will not shower women amp; children of

the opposing force with [white phosphorus] bombs-Gaza-2009, or dropping tens of thousands

of little cluster-bombs just hours before the seize-fires with [ Syria-1967/71,

Lebanon-1982/2006] are due to take effect; knowing full well, those little

bomb-lets would maim amp; kill many more innocent people in years to come.

Just as the same way the Iranians would never engineer the slaughtering of

millions of Shi'its to present the conscience of international

community with ever-lasting guilt-factor; backed-up with unabated international

blackmail and threats against those who do not go along. That is the satanic

nature of you Jewish Zionists in today's world. Do not, do not even dare to

accuse the Iranians with terrorism: You are the birth amp; conveyor-belts of

international terrorism; anywhere today. 

Shein Ariely
Shein Ariely

Jihad bells,jihad bells

Jihad over all

Oh what a fun the infidels

To met their god Jihadist send

Jihad bells, Jihad bells

Terror everywhere

Oh-we made all blinds

From Bombay to L.A.

Jihad bells, Jihad bells

Jihad over all

All the Budists, Crsitians, Jews and Hindu

Their time will come should know

Jihad bells, Jihad bells

Jihad over all

---

Watch " Marry Christmas from  Bethlehem"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

**********

Everyone has the right to defend himself against terror except Israel.

Obama excluded Israel from the international antiterrorist conference.

(Persecuting, chasing and killing Jews is a 2000 years norm, that for they should not in included in anti terror protection)

 Watch "ONLY ISRAEL"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 Iran and Hisbollah have likely nothing to do with it.

 It is reported that this boy was caught sneaking into Afghanistan and spent a few years in Gitmo; it is far likely that he was more of a friend of Pakistan than Hisbollah guy.

 I woudn't be surprised if this is Pakistan setting up Iran, as relationships between the two countries are hardly good.

Kaipa Srinivasa Reddy
Kaipa Srinivasa Reddy

There is no rationale for killing of innocent civilians. But, the USA and Israel also need to think about their strident anti-Iran rhetoric. Iran is years away from developing nuclear weapons. And, it is firmly believed in majority of the Asian countries that Iran will use its Nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. 

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Quite the opposite,  Iranian anti-Israel rhetoric.  Iran is already at war with Israel, via proxis, Muslim terrorist groups Hezbolla in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.  Iran is ruled by Muslim medieval clerics, they are obsessed wit Israel, teir religion was invented by an Arab obsessed wit te Jews.  The Arabs forced te Persians to convert to this new reliion.  All "prophets" in Islam are:  

  Arabs like Mohammed imself?

  Inuits

  Aztec

  Aborigenes?

  No, they are all from one very small people, today less than 0,2% of the world population, all Jews.  The moment the Iranians would go back to their original religion the problem (obsession with Jews) would go away.

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 Israel's proxy USA has been at war with half of the Middle East. Israel led a proxy war with Iran via Saddam Hussein, with much higher casualties than any acts of terror on Israeli's soil, and chemical weapons used against civilians.

akahen
akahen

Loud Rambler:

This is absolutely and factually wrong.  It is been widely believed that Israel supported Iran during the Iran/Iraq War. 

Please check your facts.  Even in Iran, there are government actors who has confessed about the fact that they worked with Zionists to defeat Saddam.  Israel even bombed the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor in 1982 (the height of war between Iran/Iraq).

Check your facts my man! Check your facts before you start Rambling!

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Very funny.  The funniest part:  Muslim Arab bloody dictator, one of Israels worse foes, fihtin for Israel.  Very funny.

  Yes, Muslim Arab bloody dictator Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against  

 his own people and also fired a lot of rockets on Israel when attacked by NATO.

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 We need some better proof that it was actually Iran behind it.

 It looks like a textbook set up used as an excuse to start the actual war one side wanted to do for quite a while.

gonz76
gonz76

 DEATH TO ALL ARAB TERRORIST DOGS

ANY EYE FOR ANY EYE !!!

THEY KILL 5 KIDS YOU KILL 5000 OF THESE TERRORIST PIGS

ONE DAY THEY WILL WAKE U P AND REALIZE WE ARE ABOUT TO BECOME EXTINCT END GAME

WIPE  ALL TERRORIST COWARDS OFF THE FACE OF THIS EARTH

cdelz
cdelz

hey, if Israel wants to kill Arabs throughout the world, why can't Arabs kill Israelis?

akahen
akahen

Wow!

You really cannot tell the difference can you?! Israel targets militants who are targeting its citizens.  On other hand, these terrorist targeted civilians and murdered them.  That's the diff!!!!!

Melissa Kerr
Melissa Kerr

While I don't agree with many of Israel's policies towards the Palestinian people, it's never okay to kill innocent people. 

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

    Israel's policies towards the Arabs in Palestine:  In

the 20 of Palestine called Israel Arabs have full rights and don't live in fear, unlike

the Arabs and minorities in

the rest of Palestine (Jordan, Gaza and te most of Judea and Samaria given to Muslim Arab terrorist Arafat), the Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships and medieval kingdoms, most of them judenrein.

Agustinus Donny
Agustinus Donny

why do Caucasian people support legal wars like war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which civilian casualties are numerous, but denounced the suicide bombing, whose victims are very few? You invaded these countries and shows no sense of guilt. (I am minority Catholic from Indonesia who reject Caucasian imperialism)

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Israel is not killing Arabs throughout the world.  Arabs are killing Arabs in the Muslim Arab world, in their endless civil wars.  They even kill their own daughters and sisters for honour, those savages.

HWebster
HWebster

Disgusting anti-Semite:

 

Could you indicate ONE INSTANCE of bombing of a civilian bus, airline, school, office building, etc. by Israel?

 

There were THOUSANDS of such bombings by Arabs throughout the world.

 

Suicide bombing -- From buses in Jerusalem, trains in London, Paris and Madrid, airlines over Europe and the U.S.A. to the WTC in New York -- this is the specialty of Arabs and other Muslims!

Guest
Guest

You know you can be a non-Jew living in Israel, there is a difference, although the quality of life is pretty poor. Eli Yishai recently stated that "Israel is for the white man" when referring to South Sudanese refugees flocking to the state.

The thing is, Israel is an embarrassment to the Jewish faith and everything we stand for.

cdelz
cdelz

HWebster,

You really are a numbskull – how about Gaza and the West Bank - or do you not consider these people civilians? I'll bet Israel has participated in

bombings throughout the mid-east, as they have the most to benefit from an unstable region. The more unstable, the less likely a co-ordinated attack against them and they can go begging for more money and arms.

gonz76
gonz76

 DEATH TO ALL TERRORIST MUSLIM DOGS

THEY KILL 5 CHILDREN YOU KILL 5 GENERATIONS OF THOSE HATE SPREADING BASTARDS THEY WANT TO DO FOR GOD LETS HELP THEM OUT

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  

Gaza is judenrein and being used by a Muslim terrorist group as a launchpad for Iranian missiles.  They fire rockets on Israels civilians while hidding behind their own.  Civil war in judenrein 

Gaza too, Hamas killing Fatah and vice versa.  The same about the most of Judea and Samaria, judenrein and  under the PA administration.  Not different from the rest of the Muslim Arab world, like Somalia, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, etc. where Muslim Arabs are killing each other.  They also killed recently 300,000 black Christians in Darfur, Sudan.

Fakhar Shahzad
Fakhar Shahzad

 you people dont kill innocent people  by suicide  bombings i agree but u kill by drones  by leaving world starved,by selling arms to countries n  by attacking flottila,

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Drones kill Muslim terrorists.

  About the flotilla:  The day the IDF killed those 9 very violent "peace activists" from the "religion of peace", Turkey probably killed 900 Kurds, who, unlike the Arabs (invaders from Arabia), 22 countries, 1 in Palestine, Jordan, have no country of their own.

HWebster
HWebster

>>>> “All signs point towards Iran,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said… though those signs remain entirely circumstantial,…

 

According to TIME:

 

1. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shared all available intelligence information with Karl Vick, as he always does.

 

2. Karl Vick, the prominent intelligence authority, has thoroughly examined that intelligence information and found it to be “entirely circumstantial”.

 

Once again, Karl Vick demonstrated his outrageous arrogance.