Burgas Report Blaming Hezbollah the Talk of Bulgaria
from The Jerusalem Post
by Benjamin Weinthal
Bulgaria's investigatory report placed the blame squarely on Hezbollah for the murders of five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver last July.
Since the disclosure on Tuesday by the Bulgarian interior minister, the country's media has been saturated with coverage of the findings.
In a series of interviews with The Jerusalem Post over the past few days with media experts, journalists and a top Jewish leader, a diverse picture of reactions has emerged.
Solomon Bali, president of the B'nai B'rith Carmel lodge in Sofia, said, "I was not surprised by Hezbollah" being identified as the agent behind the terrorist attack, but about the timing of the announcement.
Bali had expected the Bulgarian authorities to attribute the blame to Hezbollah at a later stage. "The truth has to be spoken," he said.
When asked about the effects on the local Jewish community, Bali said, "Yes, that brings some tensions against the Jews.
It is not nice for us to see some of the comments [on the Internet], but we will survive."
"I am amazed by the reaction in the social media against the decision of the government," he added. Some of the Internet comments said the Bulgarians blamed Hezbollah "because of the Jews and Americans," and this "brings terrorism into the country," Bali said.
Ivo Indzhev, a distinguished journalist and author, praised the report's conclusions. "Bulgaria dares to take responsibility," he wrote on his blog.
"It was time to take responsibility for our own security, even though it is potentially threatened in the future by a possible terrorist revenge," he added.
In his blog entry, Indzhev, who was vice president of the Association of European Journalists (1995 to 2000), debunks the arguments of opponents of the report. A telling example, Indzhev writes, is "the... ridiculous 'argument' that this was not typical for Hezbollah because... so says Hezbollah.
They never take the blame for terrorist operations, they didn't take responsibility in this case either, and therefore could not be blamed."
Indzhev wrote that "I have a response based on personal experience: When in October 1983 the headquarters of the US Marines and the headquarters of the French paratroopers in Beirut were blown up before my eyes, nobody doubted that Hezbollah did it. It didn't matter that the pro-Iranian group did not admit it officially but loudly celebrated the victory in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital."
He continued, "The evidence that the Americans and the French had absolutely no doubt regarding the responsibility of Hezbollah, was the fact that the former opened fire from their ship artillery, and the latter sent their Mirages [jets] against Hezbollah bases in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon."
In an analysis for the Post, Elena Zaharieva, a close observer of Bulgarian-Israeli relations in the media, noted that the BNT public broadcaster's Referendum program stacked its talk show on the subject with people who rejected the report's conclusions.
"The seven guests almost unanimously stood against the government's decision to publicize results from the investigation and voiced their disbelief about the involvement of Hezbollah," she said. "Iraqiborn journalist Muhammad Khalaf, who lives and works in Bulgaria since 1978, was the only one on the panel who defended the officially announced results from the investigation."
Khalaf said on the show that he "immediately recognized Hezbollah's hand in the attack." He was regularly interrupted every time he started to speak, Zaharieva said.
Khalaf quoted on the television show a late July report in the Lebanese newspaper Al- Nahar, in which Ibrahim Bayram (who according to Khalaf has Hezbollah connections) wrote that "Hezbollah is spreading to new territories different from the usual, such as Bulgaria," Zaharieva said.
The rest of the BNT show's panel consisted of two journalists and four security and policy experts. They argued that there had not been any convincing evidence for the involvement of Hezbollah in the terrorist attack, that Bulgaria had been pressured by Israel and the US to blame Hezbollah, and that the government had put Bulgaria in danger.
"Bulgaria has been pushed into a [Israeli] scheme, which starts with Hezbollah but ends with Iran," journalist Georgi Milkov said.
Responding to the discussion on Referendum, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said on BNT that the government would not have issued a statement linking Hezbollah to the Burgas attack if it did not have solid evidence.
"Nobody has ever exercised any pressure over Bulgaria," the minister said, adding that there had in fact been pressure not to publicize the Hezbollah link.
Mladenov expressed regret that foreign countries showed a stronger trust in Bulgarian institutions than many within the country.
Bali criticized the Sofia-based Bulgarian Center for Middle East Studies and its director Mohd Abuasi for serving as the "official representatives of Hezbollah" in Bulgaria and for stoking anti-Israel sentiments.
During the IDF's Operation Cast Lead operation to stop Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, Abuasi said in late December 2008 that Israel was creating a Holocaust in the Gaza Strip, speaking during an interview with the FOCUS news agency.
Radio Bulgaria's Dimitar Oushev's cited Abuasi's opinion a day after the terrorist attack in Burgas: "Perhaps it is due to the fact that over the last couple of years this country took several times the side of Israel in the Middle East conflict."
Bali added that the Bulgarian Center for Middle East Studies studies played a role in sending Bulgarian journalists from TV station 7 to Beirut after the Burgas attack to broadcast anti- Israel interviews via a Hezbollah- controlled television network.