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Advocacy Update: Aussie part of bus bombing

Advocacy Update: Aussie involved in Hezbollah bus bombing

7 February 2013

Last July, six people, including five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed, and over 30 others wounded in a bomb attack on a bus carrying Israelis from the airport to their hotel in Burgas, Bulgaria.

At the time, Israeli leaders immediately pointed the finger at Hezbollah, particularly given that fact that just a week or so earlier a Swedish national of Lebanese origin was detained in Cyprus on suspicion of tracking the movements of Israeli tourists. Officials from Cyprus believed that there were similarities between the behaviour of the suspect, and the terrorist attack in Bulgaria. Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that he had “rock-solid” intelligence that Hezbollah, back by Iran, was responsible. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also declared that “Hezbollah terrorists undertook this attack, aided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards”.

Very little has been reported on the issue until this week, when Bulgarian investigators revealed that an Australian and a Canadian were involved in the attack. Both are believed to be involved with Hezbollah and have been living in Lebanon since 2006. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov stated “For six months we haven’t said anything, but now we have very strong evidence that those who planned and executed the bombing are from the military wing of Hezbollah”. While countries such as the United States and Australia have Hezbollah listed as a terrorist organisation, at this stage, the European Commission does not. While the political wing of Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, Lebanese officials are quick to try to differentiate the political wing from the military wing. But as PM Netanyahu stated about the findings:

By The WayThe Israeli television series “Prisoners of War” has been airing on SBS ONE on Saturday nights for past three weeks. This is a compelling series about the return of two Israeli soldiers after 17 years of captivity in Lebanon and it is already winning the acclaim of critics and the hearts of many Australian viewers.

The series (which first aired in Israel almost three years ago) won nine Israeli Academy of Film and Television Awards and is billed by SBS as navigating “from delicate political themes to poignant domestic drama, under the direction of acclaimed writer Gideon Raff” (see more).

HatufimRaff, who is also an Executive Producer on the American series “Homeland” (which was based on the Israeli format), created the series to explore a contradiction between the way Israeli society fights to bring home its prisoners of war, “then, once they’re back, we don’t want to hear about them anymore. We don’t want to hear that coming back home is just the beginning of the journey and, that for some of them, it’s even harsher than being captive. We don’t want to hear about secret investigations against them or if they’re endangering Israeli security if they’ve been turned. Also, the prisoners of war themselves carry such a heavy burden and guilt on their shoulders that they don’t want to be exposed” (see more).

This is the premise behind this incredibly well scripted and brilliantly acted programme is one that, to my mind at least, contrasts remarkably with both the Hollywood pizzazz of “Homeland” and the blatant historical distortion of fact of the BBC propaganda series “The Promise” which was shown on SBS a little over a year ago. It also contrasts with some of the media hype surrounding real “prisoners of war”, like Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza by Hamas for five years until his release in late 2011, and of the less fortunate Ehud Goldwasser z”l and Eldad Regev z”l whose capture in an incursion and attack inside Israel by Hezbollah sparked the Second Lebanon War.

“Prisoners of War” succeeds for all of the right reasons and its screening is a welcome development after “The Promise”, with its stilted acting and a script which mangled historical facts in a thinly veiled attempt to delegitimise the Jewish State and its creation in 1948, and to dehumanise its people in their present day struggles. The latter was certainly a different programme but it lacked completely in credibility to those who understand the factual nuances surrounding the conflict between Israel and its neighbours and more particularly, the role of the British prior to the War of Independence.

“Hezbollah was directly responsible for the atrocity. There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organisation with one leadership. This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents… All this is happening in parallel to the deadly support given by Hezbollah and Iran to the murderous Assad regime in Syria. The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against a member country of the EU. We hope that the Europeans draw the necessary conclusions as to the true character of Hezbollah”.

At this stage though, it does not look like an attack on European soil by Hezbollah will lead to the EU designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Please read this article by International Human Rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky on why now is the time for the EU to take the necessary steps to curtail Hezbollah.

There are other issues as well. In an article on the front page of today’s Australia, entitled ‘Aussie bombmaker in Hezbollah attack’ a valid point is made about the use of “home-grown terrorists” – that is Westerners that can ‘cross borders and carry out attacks more easily than those using Middle Eastern or South Asian passports’. In another more worrying revelation, the Australian newspaper interviewed a 30-year-old Lebanese man in Sydney yesterday who declared, “this is the first thing people must understand: Hezbollah is not an organisation, it is not a thing. It is a way of life, a values system. The farmer is Hezbollah, the doctor is Hezbollah, I am Hezbollah… there will be more resistance and then more resistance, and that is Hezbollah”.

While Hezbollah has not officially commented either way, Fairfax online is reporting Hezbollah’s claims that this is just a smear campaign by Israel (presumably to tarnish Hezbollah’s otherwise blemish-free name). Deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said Israel was directing “allegations and incitements and accusations against Hezbollah… Israel is leading an international campaign to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah”. What he said next seemed to contradict those points he had just made by declaring “all these accusations against Hezbollah will have no effect, and do not change the facts… We will not submit to these pressures and we will not change our priorities. Our compass will remain directed towards Israel”. You can all make your own assumptions as to what that might mean.

It is not surprising that Hezbollah would deny involvement in an attack on European soil, and less surprising that they would attempt to turn the tables on Israel and create a convoluted conspiracy theory. We have come to expect this sort of thing, but we do not expect it to come from journalists, as was the case with a tweet two days ago from Financial Time’s Middle East and North African correspondent Borzou Daragahi who tweeted “I don’t doubt Hezbollah/Iran could be behind Bulgaria bombing, but also think Israel could pay Sofia to say anything”. The “sincere apology” two days later came off less sincere and more as an attempt to appease his employers, who no doubt received many complaints, including this one from Honest Reporting.

While the attention is on Hezbollah, and their backing from Iran, it is important that the media and indeed the international community in general wakes up to the serious threat that Iran poses on the security not just in the region but to the world. Their fingerprints in Syria, in the Gaza Strip and on attacks against civilians in Thailand, Kenya, India and Cyprus (to name just a few) should be proof enough that the threat of Iran is not just regional.

Meanwhile, as leaders met in Egypt for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on the sidelines with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, where he thanked him for his support of the Palestinian bid for upgraded status at the UN back in September. On the same day Ahmadinejad declared that Iran is “ready to annihilate Israel if it attacks one of the Islamic countries” and that “the Iranian people are ready to ride on to Israel to destroy it. The Zionists hope to attack Iran but they’re afraid of the consequences. Our forces can deter any aggressor and make them pay”. As a country claiming to build up nuclear capabilities for “defence purposes” one must worry what would happen if the wrong weapons were to fall into the wrong hands of any Iranian proxies around the world.