Tehran Strikes Back
Israel is blaming Iran for today's attack on a busload of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. According to early press reports, at least four Israelis were killed when their tour bus was blown apart by a bomb in a seaside resort. Other outlets claimed a second bus was also bombed, although that report was not immediately confirmed and it's unclear if the other bus was also carrying Israelis: From the AP:
A bus carrying Israeli youth exploded Wednesday in a Bulgarian resort, killing at least four people and wounding 27, police and hospital officials said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it "an Iranian terror attack" and promised a tough response.
The explosion took place in the Black Sea city of Burgas, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the capital, Sofia. Images shown on Israeli and Bulgarian media showed smoke billowing from the scene - a parking lot at the local airport, where the Israeli tourists had apparently just landed. Several buses and cars were on fire near the carcass of the targeted vehicle.
Bulgaria, an eastern European nation bordering Greece and Turkey, is a popular tourist destination for Israelis.
It was not yet certain what caused the blast - whether it was the result of a suicide bomber or a device remotely detonated - and no group immediately claimed responsibility.
Mr. Netanyahu wasted little time in blaming Iran, and Tehran's operatives certainly lead the suspect list. For more than two years, Israel has been conducting targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, and launching cyber-attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities. Not only have these strikes proved embarrassing, they have also created significant delays in Iran's drive for nuclear weapons. That alone provides a powerful incentive for revenge. Unable to hit Israel at home--without triggering a major regional war--Iran opted for a traditional terrorist strike, going after soft targets (Israeli tourists), in a neutral country with obvious security gaps.
Of course, Iran may get more than it bargained from the Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu is pledging a "tough response," and Israel has a variety of options to choose from, including ramped up cyber-attacks and direct measures, to military strikes against Iranian targets. Israel has repeatedly warned that the window for action against Iran is closing, and it's not inconceivable that Mr. Netanyahu could use today's strike--and similar attempts in recent months--as a pretext for a military response.
Whatever Israel decides, it is very clear that war clouds are gathering in the Middle East. Along with the Iranian problem, Tel Aviv is deeply concerned about the situation in Syria. There is the very real possibility that Damascus and Tehran may create a new conflict between Hizballah and Israel in Lebanon, in an effort to divert attention away from the Syrian civil war, and unite the populace against a common foe. Additi onally, there are rising concerns about control of Syria's large stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Israel may be forced to take military action to neutralize or secure those assets, to prevent them from falling in the hands of terrorists.
And if you need more proof of how quickly the crisis is escalating, consider this: the Obama Administration has ordered another U.S. aircraft carrier to the Middle East four months ahead of schedule, to ensure we have two carriers in the region throughout the fall. Few would accuse our current commander-in-chief of being militaristic. The early dispatch of another carrier is hardly an encouraging sign. Early bets on an "October surprise" point to the Middle East.
Since the bombing, we've learned of a rather bitter irony in this tragedy. The suspected bomber, a Swedish convert to Islam, is an alumni of the U.S. terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Mehdi Ghezali was captured during the battle at Tora Bora in 2001, and sent to Gitmo, along with other terrorists.
But Ghezali, who was born in Algeria, quickly because a cause celebre in his adopted homeland. The Swedish Prime Minister personally petitioned the U.S. for his transfer to Sweden, and we obliged. Upon Ghezali's return, the Swedish government set him free, announcing they could find no evidence he had committed any crimes. Predictably, Ghezali returned to his jihadi career, culminating in this week's attack against the Israeli tourists. As Mark Steyn observed yesterday: we can be sure that Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes will wind up on death row, or spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering 12 people in a movie theater.
But we have no such assurances about terrorists who kill innocents of all backgrounds. In fact, Ghezali is merely the latest murderer who was freed from Gitmo, and given an opportunity to kill again.