An Israeli Mother Courage

Purim party with Bibi. Jerusalem, February 1999.

There are times that being a political commentator frustrates me. Today is an example. In the wake of the bombing attack in Bulgaria, which has thus far claimed the lives of 6 victims and, apparently, the bomber as well, I alternate between feelings of rage and sadness. Yet, cynics like Bibi Netanyahu feel compelled to capitalize on such tragedies in order to advance their war ambitions using the innocent victims of terror. He has no sense of decency, or remorse.

Mere hours after the horrific attack on Israeli tourists, the Israeli leader took to the airwaves to proclaim far and wide that all the evidence pointed to Iran being the perpetrator of the killings. What evidence was that? Well, he declined to state. This was before the killer had been identified, and even the manner in which the tourist bus had been made to explode was still unclear. But Netanyahu, surely knew who was behind it.

As of this article’s writing, the identity of the bomber remains unknown. The identity first reported – a Swedish-Algerian Muslim, who did time in Guantanamo – has since been denied by the Bulgarian police. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter to Bibi, who insists on advancing his political program. What matters is that he be able to seize the opportunity of the Israeli public’s anger at the events that transpired in Burgas, and use them to his advantage.

It’s clear, of course, that Iran could be involved. Bibi later amended his baseless accusation to include Hezbollah acting as “Iran’s long arm.” However, the investigation into the incident has only just begun, and it’s very far-fetched to believe the planners can be known when the perpetrator remains a mystery, and initiate a war with Iran on that basis.

Netanyahu has only said that Israeli intelligence points to Iran or Hezbollah. But there has been no mention of what leads Israel to believe this. Points made so far include: the attack occurred on the 18th anniversary of the attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center (although later investigations cast serious doubt on whether Hezbollah or Iran were involved in this); the ongoing tit for tat attacks by Iran on Israeli diplomatic targets and by Israel on Iranian scientists; and the oft-repeated threats by both Hezbollah and Iran.

There’s not much of a case there. An alternative theory of the crime isn’t hard to imagine. Consider how tempting it would be for al-Qaeda to perpetrate such an atrocity, or for a disenchanted European Muslim to be taking his anger out on Jews. Have we forgotten Toulouse already? With tensions riding high between Iran and the US-Israel alliance, this could be a way of lighting a fuse that would ignite a full-scale war.

The truth remains to be seen. To be sure, if it turns out that Iran, Hezbollah or both are responsible, it will surprise no one. The point here is to underline the eagerness with which Bibi jumped out to blame Iran. The Prime Minister’s reasons were far from being “pro-Israel,” and dangerously irresponsible.

Bibi has repeatedly used the Holocaust in the past to try to goad American citizens and politicians into supporting his ill-conceived notions of an attack on Iran. That was shameful enough for a man who tries (and, thankfully, fails) to portray himself as the leader of world Jewry. Now, the people who really are in his charge are killed and all Netanyahu can do is think of their deaths as an opportunity.

Indeed, if Israeli intelligence is so strong that they can be certain that Hezbollah carried out this attack at Iran’s behest, why was the alarm bell not raised before the bombing? After all, if the Israeli government can be sure of the responsible party in so short a time, they must have had reasonable and detailed forewarning. Of course, they didn’t. The lack of pre-existing information on such an attack is an enormous embarrassment for the security services, whose chiefs are well known to be in opposition to the Israeli Prime Minister’s desire to attack Iran.

Netanyahu’s hysteria about Iran has led ordinary Israelis to ignore not only US, but Israeli intelligence assessments that continue to maintain that Iran has not made the decision to build a nuclear weapon. This is aggravated by Israel’s increasing nervousness about the changes in neighboring countries. They are far from sanguine about an Egyptian President from the party of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they are keenly aware that the civil war in Syria not only brings turmoil, but is certain to mean Syria is much less stable and less inclined to play ball with Israel than the Assad family was. Growing unease about Lebanon and Jordan add fuel to the fire.

Thus, it is no surprise that Israelis are feeling nervous these days, despite ongoing quiet on the West Bank despite escalating Israeli dispossessions in the Jordan Valley and a tightening occupation there.  That is not to say Iran is not a cause for concern in Israel. It certainly is, especially with a sort of modern version of the “war of the spooks” underway between the two countries. But that is cause for responsible leadership, which keeps its people determined but calm.

Instead, Netanyahu continues to heighten the fears among his own people with his Iranian boogeyman. Perhaps one can understand. The once, and perhaps future, King Bibi, just saw his governing coalition diminished by Kadima’s 28 seats because he preferred to mollify the settlers rather than the single largest party in the Knesset. He has been unable and, indeed, unwilling to address the rapidly growing economic inequality in Israel and has seen Israel’s image throughout the world sink like a rock under the weight of racist attacks on African immigrants and accusations of apartheid in the West Bank.

Despite the fact that Bibi has run the most stable coalition in Israeli memory for three-plus years, he is looking like a weak leader and, if someone can coalesce a credible opposition to him, he may not win new elections, which some observers now think may come as soon as next February.

So, Bibi uses the blood of Israelis to try to become the Prime Minister who saved Israel from an “Iranian threat” that he portrays as a “second Holocaust,” but which, as a threat, is nothing of the kind, even though it is indeed still a threat. The only thing that puzzles me is why this cynical action has not united every Israeli and every Jew around the world, whatever their political views, in their disgust at the callous reaction of the Prime Minister of Israel.

Photograph courtesy of the Government Press Office (GPO). Published under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Mitchell is right. But, there is absolutely no point in speculating on who committed this atrocity. The perpetrator will eventually be identified, as will the motive and the modus operandi. Everything about this terrorist attack reminds us about the attack on Ambassador Argov that served as the pretext for Sharon’s “Peace for Galilee” war. If the attack on the tourist bus in Bulgaria was perpetrated by someone who wanted to kill Israelis, then their motive HAD to be to supply a pretext for the Israeli militarists to initiate war against Israel’s neighbors. That does not leave too many possibilities.

  2. How on earth do *any* of you know that Netanyahu does *not* know? He only has the entire arms of the Mossad, Military Intelligence, and other related agencies providing him with evidence, information, and conclusions.

    A fundamental aspect of having double agents and eavesdropping devices is to *not* let the enemy know how it is you are tapping in to his communications. Thus it would be the height of recklessness if Netanyahu revealed any details which could tip off Iran as to how those details were obtained.

    It seems to me that *because* he chooses to not act recklessly, you all are incorrectly concluding that the intelligence doesn’t exist to begin with. It seems a foolish oversight on your part.

    Additionally it would appear to me that your desire to tar and feather Netanyahu is the motivating force here and the one which drove you to make such an unwarranted leap in your analysis to begin with. If you simply stepped back and gave him the same benefit of the doubt that you might extend *any* PM (that you *should* extend any PM I should say), I doubt you’d be so quick to overlook such an obvious explanation for your accusation.

    I’m going to give you all the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re all intelligent people. So again, the only reason I can come up with as to why you’d overlook such a simple explanation as to why Netanyahu doesn’t spell out intelligence details is your own political bias.

    You may also want to consider the fact that the highly liberal Obama administration has since come out with their *own* assessment fully supporting that of PM Netanyahu. Now surely Obama of all people has no particular desire to bolster Netanyahu politically, right? So where, might I ask, is your equivalent vehement accusations against President Obama?

    It’s non-existent because likely you are all liberal yourselves and support Obama. That is fine. It’s also fine to not support Netanyahu. But then at least limit your criticisms to the rational world. That is to say, no competent leader, whether liberal or conservative, would be guilty of what you are accusing Netanyahu of doing.

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