July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization was behind the bombing that killed at least five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria and vowed to track down the perpetrators.
“Yesterday’s attack was committed by Hezbollah -- the long arm of Iran,” Netanyahu told reporters in a press conference in Jerusalem today. “We will continue to pursue the attackers and exact a heavy price from those who support them.”
The suicide attack on a bus at the airport in Burgas, a popular Bulgarian vacation spot on the Black Sea, killed five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and the attacker, according to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The U.S. has urged Israel to refrain from a threatened military attack on Iran to give time for negotiations and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies to work.
“Any retaliation against Hezbollah is likely to take the form of a covert operation, which means it won’t be immediate as these things take time to set up,” said Shlomo Brom, senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. “A direct strike against a Hezbollah target in Lebanon is unlikely now because it would be a serious escalation and the government wouldn’t want to forestall any possible future action against Iran’s nuclear program.”
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast accused Israel of charging “other countries with delusionary accusations” and said Iran condemns all terrorist acts.
Israeli analysts have said that a recent campaign of attacks against Israel may be a response to the killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists that Iran’s leaders have blamed on Israel. The Bulgarian attack came on the 18th anniversary of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which Argentinian officials have accused Iran and Hezbollah of carrying out.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an e-mailed statement that Israel will use “all means” to find those behind the attack.
Israel has a history of patiently tracking down and killing terrorists who attacked Israel citizens and Jewish targets. Then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorized “Operation Wrath of God,” a more than decade long covert operation after terrorists from the Palestinian group Black September took members of Israel’s team at the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany hostage on September 5, 1972. Eleven Israelis were killed.
Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus in 2008 by a car bomb that the group blamed on Israel. Mughniyeh starting in 1983 played a leading role in the seizure of American hostages in Lebanon and the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and the American Embassy in Beirut. Israel accused him of involvement in the attack against the Jewish center in Argentina that killed more than 120 people.
Israel’s secret services warned their Bulgarian counterparts of a possible terrorist attack on Israeli tourists several weeks ago, Bulgaria on Air television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials.
The explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in a television broadcast from Burgas today. Surveillance cameras at the airport showed an unidentified man joining the tourists as they were coming out of the arrivals terminal, he said. A fake U.S. driver’s license from the state of Michigan was found among his remains, he said.
Bulgarian and Israeli secret service experts in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Central Intelligence Service are working together to establish his identity through DNA tests, Tsvetanov said.
Israel will file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council and will ask for sanctions on Iran, including a ban on travel abroad by holders of Iranian passports and a ban on Iranian airlines seeking to land at foreign airports, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.
Bulgaria stepped up security measures at all hotels on the Black Sea with Israeli tourists, synagogues and the Israeli Embassy in Sofia, as well as in airports, bus and railway stations, the Interior Ministry said.
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