American officials on Thursday 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 and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
One senior American official said the current American intelligence assessment was that the bomber, who struck Wednesday, killing five Israelis, had been “acting under broad guidance” to hit Israeli targets when opportunities presented themselves, and that the guidance had been given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by Iran, its primary sponsor. Two other American officials confirmed that Hezbollah was behind the bombing, but declined to provide additional details.
The attacks, the official said, were in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Iran has blamed Israeli agents — an accusation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied. “This was tit for tat,” said the American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way.
A senior Israeli official said on Thursday that the Burgas attack was part of an intensive wave of terrorist attacks around the world carried out by two different organizations, the Iranian Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as well as by Hezbollah.
“They work together when necessary, and separately when not necessary,” the Israeli official told reporters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss national security issues.
While the Burgas attack fit the modus operandi of Hezbollah, the Israeli official said, it was not clear whether the bomber intended to blow himself up or had suffered what the official called a “work accident,” adding, “We will never know.”
The bomber had a fake Michigan driver’s license, but there are no indications that he had any connection to the United States, the American official said, adding that there were no details yet about the bomber like his name or nationality. He also declined to describe what specific intelligence — intercepted communications, analysis of the bomber’s body parts or other details — that led analysts to conclude that the bomber belonged to Hezbollah.
“This looks like he was hanging out for a local target, and when this popped up he jumped on it,” the official said, referring to a bus carrying Israeli tourists outside the airport in Burgas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference on Thursday in Jerusalem that the attack in Burgas was carried out by “Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran.”
And Iran's president seems to admit it.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gloated publicly on Thursday over the deaths of Israelis in a terror bombing in Bulgaria, and hinted that Iran was responsible for the attack.(h/t Yoel)
Speaking hours after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly blamed the bombing Wednesday at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport on “Hezbollah, directed by Iran,” Ahmadinejad described the attack as “a response” to Israeli “blows against Iran.”
“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”
He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.
Ahmadinejad’s speech was interpreted in Israel as asserting that the Burgas bombing was a revenge attack for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Iran has repeatedly blamed Israel.
His remarks contrasted with a condemnation of the Burgas bombing by the Iranian Foreign Ministry earlier Thursday.
UPDATE: The speech was mistranslated, according to the BBC:
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not gloating over the Burgas bombing in a speech Thursday in which he spoke of Iran’s enemies getting hit back with greater harm than they cause, the BBC’s Persian Service correspondent in New York said Sunday.Israel's Channel 2, according to this report, apparently mixed up the tense he was using in their translation of the speech.
Bahman Kalbasi, a native Persian speaker who follows Ahmadinejad’s speeches closely, said any Persian speaker would confirm that the Iranian president “was in no way referring” to the previous day’s attack in Bulgaria in which five Israelis and a Bulgarian was killed, and which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly blamed on Hezbollah and Iran just hours earlier.
Kalbasi said the key sentence was in the future tense, rather than the past — “And if anytime they harm us, we will harm them back. And usually the harm we cause is greater than the harm they cause” — and that Ahmadinejad has said “things like this” many times before.
However, while the description of the speech on the Iranian presidential website uses future tense, the official translation of the speech on the Iran presidential website uses present tense:
President Ahmadinejad said: “The enemy deals a blow to the Iranian nations step by step; but, in return, it receives a stronger, heavier blow."It is not obvious that Ahmadinejad is talking about Burgas, but the fact that he made this speech the day after the bombing makes that interpretation a reasonable - if arguable - one. "Gloating" may be too strong a word - "strongly hinting" might be more accurate - but given that before Bugras there had been no major successful Iranian attacks against Israeli targets since the wave of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists (and Stuxnet,) I'm not sure how else to interpret the speech.
(h/t Hasbara Buster, Yoel)