Bulgaria has recently accused Hezbollah to be behind the Burgas blast that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a bus driver last July. The Bulgarian foreign minister Mr. Tsvetan Tsvetanov stated in a press conference that: “ A reasonable assumption, I repeat a reasonable assumption, can be made that the two of them were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah.”
The assumption mainly relies on what the New York Times describes as “old-fashioned detective work” in tracing the printer that produced two forged Michigan driver licences to Lebanon, after receiving a tip from a “secret source.” Lately, the use of “secret” sources and witnesses has also become a trend in investigations initiated by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) mainly dealing with PM Rafiq Hariri’s assassination.
Israel which accused Iran and Hezbollah since day one of the bombing participated in the investigation, alongside the United States. Unlike the European Union, these two aforementioned countries consider Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and actively seek to destroy it ever since its inception.
The two suspects are believed to be members of Hezbollah’s military wing. Alongside their Lebanese nationality, one is suspected to be Canadian and the other Australian. No further details are released about their names, the nature of evidence collected, or the techniques used to place those suspects in the scene of the crime. While some European officials described the evidence as strong, the Bulgarian opposition accused the government of giving in to external pressures.
Awaiting those crucial details to decide if the “assumption” can evolve into a solid accusation, a preliminary analysis is presented below that assesses the plausibility and implications of Hezbollah’s involvement in the bombing and what this means to the Lebanese Shiite community in Canada.
The war between Hezbollah and Israel is both open and covert. Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon tried to crush Hezbollah with no apparent success. However, the Israeli secret services have pulled a successful operation to assassinate Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s military commander, in Damascus back in 2008. The Party of God has sworn revenge ever since. With Israel moving the rules of engagement outside of the natural battlefield (i.e. Lebanon and Israel) Hezbollah announced that it accepts the challenge to go to “open war.” Israel’s embassies, institutions overseas and secret services were put on high alert ever since, especially around the date February 14th, the date when Mughniyeh was assassinated. Can Burgas be Hezbollah’s revenge?
Attacking tourists does not seem to fall under the organization’s Modus Operandi. Historically speaking, Hezbollah’s secret operations have revolved around targeting the Israeli military. In 2000, the group kidnapped a reserve colonel, Elhanan Tannembaum, and in a separate operation, three Israeli soldiers who died during the attack were kidnapped at the Lebanese-Israeli border. In 2006, the same happened when Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli convoy on the border seizing two soldiers- the incident that started the 2006 war. The Israelis were later on exchanged with Lebanese prisoners in Israel.
The tactic used in the Burgas bombing is identical to that used by Islamic Extremist close to Al-Qaeda, especially in Egypt. One of the latest attacks being the Dahab bombings in 2006 where three bomb attacks went off in Dahab, a resort city in the Sinai Peninsula. Taking this into consideration, the premature Israeli accusation of the Party of God seems politically instigated, rather than an evidence-based one.
Moreover, in all the incidents mentioned above Hezbollah claimed responsibility. The track record of the party suggests that this is a common tactic used to boost its credibility in Lebanon and the Muslim world, but most importantly in Israel. This tactic proved very efficient in the psychological warfare with Israel. In a poll conducted by a leading Israeli newspaper in 2007, Nasrallah’s credibility surpassed that of Olmert, the Israeli PM during the 2006 war, which makes comprehensible the decision of the Israeli military and government to ban Israeli TV from broadcasting live Nasrallah’s speeches.
In the political and International context choosing a target in Europe is also questionable. Unlike Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah considers itself a religious and national party. As such, it has a clear hierarchy and established educational, economic, and social institutions, a representation in the Lebanese parliament and government, and a proven understanding of the country’s foreign policy and International relations in general. The Party of God have benefited effectively from the late PM Hariri’s web of International connections, the Syrian and Iranian presence in the United Nations, and on some occasions the Russian and Chinese presence in the security council. As such, it would not be wise to assume that Hezbollah does not value the European resistance to the Americans and Israelis to put it on the EU terrorist list. Carrying out attacks on European soil will surely expedite this process.
A Lebanese-Canadian Terrorist?
In Canada, and in what has turned into a habit to duplicate Israeli foreign policy, the Bulgarian “assumption” was transmogrified by the conservative government into a verdict against the Lebanese group. The presence of a Lebanese-Canadian suspect in the plot came as an awaited blessing for Stephen Harper’s government. The religiously and ideologically motivated hostility of the Canadian conservative PM to all anti-Israeli groups is not a secret. The government’s pro-Israeli stance on the Middle East has had detrimental effects on Canadian foreign policy.
The Lebanese Shiite community has been under close watch ever since the Canadian government listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2002. Although the community sympathizes mostly with Hezbollah and disagrees with the Canadian government’s policies, no concrete case of financial or military support has been proven so far.
This latest development also comes in a conjunction with the involvement of Canadian citizens in the latest Algeria hostage crisis. Voices in Canada began to rise demanding tighter control on the immigration selection process. Although, the possible involvement of a Lebanese-Canadian alongside Hezbollah in the Burgas plot would be considered an uncommon incident, the Lebanese Shiite community in Canada has to brace itself for an upcoming storm of criticism, accusations, and surveillance.
Reminder: This article has been written to try and explain an “Assumption.”