Bulgaria is a target, but she has friends!


David Harris

August 22, 2012

More than a month has passed since the terrorist attack in Burgas that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian.

Like many others, I shall not soon forget the day.

My heart immediately went out to the Israelis, who were at the start of a much-anticipated holiday in Bulgaria. They were targeted for the simple reason they were Israelis. In the demented eyes of the perpetrators, that made them destined for death.

And my heart immediately went out to the Bulgarians. A Bulgarian citizen was killed. That was tragic enough. And Bulgaria’s openness was exploited by those intent on mayhem.

I know Bulgaria well. I have visited many times since the historic events of 1989.

I value Bulgaria’s example of tolerance and mutual respect. It was exemplified in the past by its protection of the Jewish community during the Second World War, even as it was allied to the Third Reich, and today by its pluralistic society, including Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews.

And I appreciate Bulgaria’s role in the Middle East as a friend of both Israel and many Arab nations. That makes Bulgaria an important and credible voice for the pursuit of peace and coexistence in a troubled region.

But something changed on July 18th.

Those involved in plotting the attack may have been targeting Israelis, but it was every bit as much an assault on Bulgarians.

By carrying out the deadly bombing on Bulgarian soil, putting at risk everyone in sight, the perpetrators in essence declared Bulgaria a legitimate target.

Why would they do so?

Presumably to challenge Bulgaria’s sovereign right to choose its friends.

In other words, if Bulgaria counts Israel among its friends, and extends a warm welcome to Israeli tourists, then Bulgaria becomes “fair game” in the terrorists’ minds.

A few might be tempted to say that, in such a case, drop the friendship with Israel and close the doors to Israeli tourists.

But, of course, that would be contradicting Bulgaria’s core democratic values, ceding decision-making to hate-filled outsiders, and, yes, yielding to transparent blackmail, which could be applied on other issues as well.

The road ahead will not be easy.

Apart from guarding against the possibility of more attacks, Bulgarian officials must seek to find the proverbial needle in the haystack – the identities of the terrorists behind Burgas.

That may not be an easy task for Bulgaria. Indeed, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said it could “last years,” though the experience of friendly nations, most notably the United States, United Kingdom and Israel, could help expedite the process.

And there is another looming issue.

Israel has explicitly stated that the July attack was the work of Iran and Hezbollah. “We know for certain that Iran and Hezbollah are involved,” said an Israeli official.

Washington has essentially endorsed Israel’s view. A State Department representative noted that “the attack does resemble Hezbollah’s plotting earlier this year,” referring to a previous attempt against Bulgaria.

If Iran or Hezbollah is implicated, as seems likely, then Bulgaria will be confronted with a major challenge.

Ask Argentina. It was the target of a 1994 terrorist attack against a Jewish facility that killed 85 Argentines.

Argentina had thought it was far from the Middle East, but found that was not the case. Its sovereignty had been violated, its citizens murdered.

It went to Interpol to request the issuing of “Red Notices” against five Iranians, including the current defense minister, and one Hezbollah operative accused in the 1994 attack. Buenos Aires realized this would be a long struggle to pursue justice, given the nature of the adversary.

Some will say it is premature for this discussion, as the perpetrators have not yet been identified in the Burgas attack. But these are matters that overhang any investigation.

And there is another one. If Hezbollah is found complicit, will Bulgaria turn to its European Union partners and demand that the group be placed, at long last, on the EU terrorism list? Bulgaria would be thrust into the center of a critically important debate with its 26 partners.

The Bulgaria I know will do the right thing in doggedly pursuing the investigation wherever it may lead – and standing up for what is right and just.

And Bulgaria should always be aware that it has friends who understand the high stakes involved and stand with it in full solidarity.Date: 8/23/2012 12:00:00 AM
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