Just a few hours after the terror attack in Burgas, the prime minister rushed to blame Iran. And it seems like this time, it may not be only a matter of Israeli propaganda, or Netanyahu’s permanent inclination to hold Iran responsible.
The Burgas attack was carried out in the same fashion as a similar attack thwarted by the Bulgarians (likely with intelligence help from abroad) early this year. [Bulgaria’s security services thwarted in January a planned terror attack against Israeli tourists in the capital Sofia. According to reports, the Bulgarians were able to locate suspicious suitcases that had been loaded with explosives and which the terrorists planned to blow up on a bus carrying Israelis who were on their way to a resort in the country.] In conjunction with the attack, someone mentioned the Arab who was arrested in Cyprus [Lebanese citizen who planned to blow up a plane or a bus with Israeli tourists was arrested last Friday by Cyprus police. Less than two weeks ago Kenyan authorities arrested two Iranians who planned attacks against Israeli, Saudi and American interests in the African country.], and helped prevent attacks in Azerbaijan, Thailand, and Canada. This intelligence war is constant, and at least among senior Israeli officials, there’s no question who the enemy is.
The Iranians, Israel maintains, are determined to respond to what they see as intolerable breaches of their systems, which have caused extensive damage to their nuclear program [Several computer viruses wreaked havoc on Iran's nuclear program during the last years and probably originated in the United States or Israel. The recent and massive virus Flame has been found to be infecting and stealing information from computers in Iran and Mideast countries]. The Israeli finger is pointing at the Al-Quds force [a special unit of Iran's military branch which conducts special operations outside Iran] of the Revolutionary Guard, headed by [Major General] Qassem Suleimani with possible assistance from Hezbollah’s foreign branch, but acting according to what he views as a clear Iranian interest in deterrence. Revenge for the death Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh [a senior Hezbollah leader killed in 2008 by a car bomb in Damascus. Hezbollah officials have since blamed Israel for his death, a charge the Israelis deny and stated that it suspects Mughniyeh was killed by Hezbollah rivals. Hezbollah has periodically announced its plans to avenge the death of Mughniyeh by retaliating against Israel.] is secondary, if relevant at all.
Iran should ostensibly be keeping a low profile these days. Signs indicate that the US is asking that Israel refrain from an attack on Iran in coming months, so Iran won’t benefit from acts that help Israel paint it in a negative light. But, some Israelis claim, the Iranians don’t see things that way: they are convinced that the upcoming US elections will grant them some sort of immunity, which they’d like to use to cause Israel harm in a manner that, they think, will act as a deterrent. Either way, it would be going too far to expect a noisy Israeli response, or to try to link the Burgas attack and other attempted strikes at Israel’s deterrence warnings to Hezbollah (like the recent warnings issued by Brigadier-General Hertzi Halevy, commander of the IDF Galilee Division). Israel’s response will be political, and will emphasize Iran’s attacks and attempted attacks, in order to convince anyone who still has doubts that Iran is consistently exporting terror. Ideas for revenge, collective or personal, will have to wait.
News of the attack in Burgas reached Israeli leaders while they were discussing the impact of yesterday’s major attack in Damascus, which killed figures close to Assad. The briefings emphasized that Israel is closely monitoring the situation and is most concerned by the possibility that chemical weapons could fall into irresponsible hands and be directed at Israel.
There have been senior officials who foresaw, albeit off the record, a deadly attack on Assad’s regime, and who expected the impact to be immediate. “Don’t be surprised if within a few days we see Assad using the escape route he set up for himself,” said a senior official. “These could very well be his last days in power.”
The targets of the attack and the way it was carried out attest to the fact that oppositional forces, not necessarily Al-Qaeda, but well-connected forces inside Syria, succeeded in going deep into the heart of the Assad regime. What’s especially painful to the Syrian president, from both a personal and symbolic perspective, was the killing of his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, whose relatively mundane position as deputy chief of staff doesn’t attest to his level of power or proximity to Bashar.
Carrying out the attack required at least one person who could access the room in which the officials were meeting, and who knew when they would be there. This demonstrates that even members of his close circles have lost faith that Assad will pull through. Israeli officials speculated that some generals who had been on the fence until now are likely to climb down and take an active part in the design of a post-Assad world, which yesterday seemed closer than ever.