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In Search of a Casus Belli: Will Burgas Do?

Benjamin Netanyahu was all over the Sunday talk shows, proclaiming — without any evidence –that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, that killed five Israeli tourists. The Times of Israel claimed that Iran’s president Ahmadinejad had “gloated publicly” about the attack on the Israeli tourists, and “hinted that Iran was responsible.” But this claim was shown to be nonsense. The political analyst Nima Shirazi did a close textual analysis of the speech where Ahmadinejad’s “gloating” supposedly occurred and found nothing of the sort. The Times of Israel claim was based on transforming some standard Iranian boilerplate into an admission of guilt, unsupported by the words themselves. But the claim soon picked up steam around the right-wing blogosphere; lies spread quickly, more rapidly than the refutations (the Times later corrected the story).

At this moment, it doesn’t appear that we know who was responsible for the attack at Burgas. It could be Hezbollah, and indirectly Iran — part of a tit for tat war, a retaliation perhaps for Israel’s assassination of Iranian scientists. (I have personally heard American neocons gloat about those, and Israel certainly has hinted that it carried them out.) It could be one of several other groups engaged in a shadow war with Israel– a response to the many targeted killings Israel has carried out, which of course are a response to earlier killings, which themselves are in retaliation for earlier killings, etc.

Bulgarian officials have not attributed the bombing to Hezbollah, pending an investigation of the suspected bomber’s identity and connections in Bulgaria. While some anonymous American officials have appeared to confirm the Hezbollah/Iran-did-it story, there has been no official claim. Hezbollah itself has denied committing the attack. One piece of evidence Israel has put forward for for its claim is the fact that the attack occurred on the 18th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Argentina previously attributed to Hezbollah. But why would Hezbollah would leave a signature for an attack it would subsequently deny? Iran too has formally denied involvement. On Friday, the White House asserted that American intelligence agencies had not confirmed who was responsible.

Israel’s claims of Iranian culpability, echoed through much of the American media, should be judged according to the evidence, and thus far Israel hasn’t produced any. If Israel wants to launch a war on Iran, it is free to do so. In 1982, it sought a war on the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon. In the summer of that year, Israel’s ambassador to London was shot and seriously wounded by a member of the Abu Nidal faction, a Palestinian group which rejected the PLO’s incipient efforts to seek a peaceful accommodation with Israel. Israel wanted a pretext to attack the PLO, and the attack on its ambassador served perfectly well. Three days later it launched “Operation Peace for the Galilee.” If Israel wants a pretext to attack Iran, it doesn’t really matter who killed the tourists in Burgas.

about the author

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottMcConnell9.

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