Framing Hezbollah for the Bulgaria bombing?

Effort to incriminate Hezbollah in murderous activity against Israeli citizens abroad seems to be politically motivated.

Bulgaria bombing
The instantaneous US-Israeli "indictment of Hezbollah" constitutes part of the campaign to pressure the European Union to categorise the organisation - both its political and military components - "as a terrorist entity" [Reuters]

Last week, the website of the New York Times announced: “Bulgaria Implicates Hezbollah in July Attack on Israelis.” 

The investigation into the 2012 attack, which took place in the coastal city of Burgas and killed five Israeli tourists along with a Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber himself, is summarised in the article as follows: 

“With help from the United States and Israel, investigators here broke the case – and linked it to Hezbollah – using a tip from a secret source and some old-fashioned detective work, tracing the printer that had produced two forged [driver’s] licences back to Lebanon.” 

Given that a lot of things unrelated to Hezbollah – like falafel and Israeli-equipped militias – can also be traced to Lebanon, some may fail to perceive an immediate smoking gun. 

As for the “help” provided to the Bulgarians by the US and its junior partner, the initial stages of assistance are viewable in the New York Timesassessment the day after the bombing: 

“American officials… identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions.” 

That it took the Bulgarian administration approximately six-and-a-half months to discover a “reasonable assumption” of involvement in the crime by “members of the militant wing of Hezbollah” suggests that some countries are not endowed with the same talent for issuing spontaneous guilty verdicts, and may instead require some prodding. 

Manufacturing evidence 

Even before the forged licence-producing printer was traced to Lebanon, there was abundant proof of the Party of God’s involvement in the Burgas case. 

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter – recent recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – reported in July on the so-called evidence invoked by US and Israeli officials to pin the attack on Hezbollah, including the arrest that month in Cyprus of a Lebanese man suspected of plotting to kill Israeli tourists on the island. 

Porter dismantles this particular smoking gun, drawing attention first of all to a statement by a senior Cypriot official to Reuters that counteracts US and Israeli efforts to portray the plot as fact: “It is not clear what, or whether there was a target in Cyprus.” Porter continues: 

“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… [T]here [was] no sign of a bomb or even of materials with which to make a bomb.” 

Other alleged Hezbollah plots have also been hyped in order to justify finger-pointing in Burgas. As Porter notes, the dubious arrest in Bangkok in January 2012 of a suspected Lebanese terrorist with a Swedish passport “came after what was described by the Thai Deputy Prime Minister as ‘weeks of coordination with Israel'” and was “extremely convenient in terms of distracting attention from the inevitable negative press accompanying… Israeli terrorist action” – that is, the January assassination of Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan

 Hezbollah suspected in Bulgaria bus bombing

Indeed, given Israel’s stellar track record when it comes to extraterritorial assassination and civilian slaughter, the effort to incriminate Hezbollah in murderous activity against Israeli citizens abroad appears to be little more than an example of politically-motivated projection. 

Selective justice 

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is expected to respond to the latest onslaught of allegations over Burgas in a February 16 address. As political commentator Jean Aziz points out in Al-Monitor, the timing is appropriate: 

“Nasrallah will give a public speech in Beirut on the occasion of the assassination of three of the party’s leaders: Sheikh Ragheb Harb, whom the Israelis assassinated in his village of Jebchit in southern Lebanon on February 16, 1984, when the Israeli army occupied the area; former Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi, who was killed by an Israeli air strike on the same day and place, but in 1992, as he was participating in the eighth anniversary of Harb’s assassination; and Hezbollah military official Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in Damascus by an explosion in his car on February 13, 2008.” 

Considering Israel’s proven exemption from accountability for crimes it blatantly commits, such as the occupation of Palestinian land and the blockade of Gaza, it should come as no surprise that it is also exempt from suspicion in the investigation of another February fatality: former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, assassinated in 2005. 

Without issuing impromptu verdicts of our own, it’s nonetheless important to note Israel’s conspicuous absence from the judicial process presided over by the farcical Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), another operation targeting Hezbollah. Dr Omar Nashabe, legal expert at Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper, reported on the 2011 response from an STL official at The Hague – “No” – to his question of whether investigators “had considered the mere possibility that the Israelis may have been involved” in the Hariri assassination. 

Nashabe muses: “[P]rofessionally speaking, isn’t one supposed to avoid reaching conclusions before investigations have been completed?” 

The same question should be asked in the context of Burgas, where the instantaneous US-Israeli indictment of Hezbollah constitutes part of the campaign to pressure the European Union to categorise the organisation – both its political and military components – as a terrorist entity. 

A more qualified candidate for terrorist lists is, of course, the state that obliterated 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, in 2006, and that continues to conduct operations far more destructive to human life than anything ever attributed to the Party of God. That the US chooses to serve as Israel’s automated teller machine while criminalising Hezbollah is one more testament to the advantages of do-it-yourself justice systems. 

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogThe BafflerAl Akhbar English and many other publications.