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Following U.S news media coverage of the Burgas, Bulgaria bombing, one would conclude that the Hezbollah provenance of the attack can be determined from recent alleged Hezbollah terrorist plotting against Israelis in Cyprus and elsewhere. The New York Times quotes anonymous U.S. officials as saying the Burgas attack bears “all the hallmarks” of “the Hezbollah plots, including the arrest in Cyprus earlier this month of a suspected operative on the suspicion of scheming to kill Israeli tourists.”
So an arrest of a “suspected” Hezbollah operative who is “suspected” of a plan to kill Israeli tourists is the equivalent of an actual terrorist attack that has killed Israeli tourists? Bibi Netanyahu talked about the case on Fox News Sunday as though the Lebanese man arrested in Cyprus had done everything that was done in Burgas except actually detonate the bomb. So has the Israeli press.
But as I reported earlier this week, the Cyprus case is far murkier than Netanyahu and those U.S. officials have been suggesting. A senior Cypriot official told Reuters, “It is not clear what, or whether, there was a target in Cyprus.” Furthermore, the Cypriot investigators believe the Lebanese they suspected of planning to harm Israeli tourists was acting alone, which doesn’t make it sound like a Hezbollah operation at all. And perhaps most significant of all, there has no sign of a bomb or even of materials with which to make a bomb in conjunction with the Lebanese detainee. The Cypriot government has not yet decided whether there is enough evidence to prosecute the man on any violation of Cypriot laws.
The need for skepticism surrounding the Cyprus arrest applies even more strongly to the arrest in Bangkok in mid-January of another Lebanese with a Swedish passport who was suspected of being a Hezbollah operative. The arrest came after what was described by the Thai Deputy Prime Minister as “weeks of coordination with Israel.” The Israelis convinced the Thai police chief of their speculative allegation that the man was planning a massive terrorist attack along the lines of the 2008 Mumbai massacre that would include the Israeli Embassy, synagogues, tour companies and kosher restaurants.
The Lebanese who was arrested was charged with possession of ammonium nitrate and urea fertilizer, which are potential bomb-making materials, but none of the other necessary components for bomb-making, such as fuses and timing devices were ever found. And the former police chief, who is now the Secretary General of the Thai National Security Council expressed doubt that the man was actually a terrorist.
Given the fact that the Israelis were then planning the assassination of an Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in early to mid-January, the Israeli tale of a massive terrorist threat coming in mid-January, which first passed on to Thai authorities on December 22, was extremely convenient in terms of distracting attention from the inevitable negative press accompanying the Israeli terrorist action.
While the Obama administration has pointed to these murky allegations in Cyprus and Bangkok as relevant to Burgas, it has exhibited no apparent interest in the historical record of actual suicide bombings against Israeli tourists.
The reason, apparently, is that, all of the terrorist attacks that fit that description have been claimed by al Qaeda or an affiliate.
The first suicide bombing against Israeli tourists was an al Qaeda attack in Mombasa, Kenya in November 2002. That operation involved an effort to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet as it took off from Mombasa’s airport, using shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, and then the triple suicide car bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa. The missile missed the aircraft, but the suicide bombing killed killing three Israeli tourists and 10 Kenyans.
The small number of Israeli deaths did accurately reflect al Qaeda’s intentions. In claiming responsibility for the Mombasa attacks, Al Qaeda proclaimed that it was targeting “The Christian-Jewish alliance” and promised future and more lethal attacks on Jews around the world.
In October 2004 three suicide bombers detonated a truck bomb and car bombs at the Hilton Hotel in Taba and two other Red Sea resorts which were favorites of Israeli tourists in Egypt, and most of 34 dead were Israeli tourists. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, took responsibility for the attack. The organization said the attacks were intended to “purify the land of Taba from the dirt and corruption of the grandchildren of monkeys and pigs.”
In July 2005, three more terrorist attacks by suicide bombs killed at least 88 people at a shopping area and hotel packed with tourists, including Israelis, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheik. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades again claimed responsibility for what it called an attack “on the Crusaders, Zionists and the renegade Egyptian regime.”
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades organization was designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on May 24. Strangely, the designation ignored the history of the organization in suicide attacks on Israeli tourists in Egypt and said it was established only in 2009. But it did point out that the organization has bases in Lebanon which have launched rocket attacks on population centers in northern Israel.
Even if the U.S. national security state does not wish to acknowledge that the Burgas bombing fits the profile of an al Qaeda terrorist operation rather than Hezbollah, there is no excuse for the U.S. news media failure to report that inconvenient truth.
GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006. Porter received the UK-based Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.