Several warnings of possible attacks on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria did not prevent the bombing in Burgas on Wednesday. The criticism of Bulgarian security forces has now become much louder.
Wednesday's bombing of the bus containing Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian coastal town of Burgas, in which at least seven people were killed, should not come as a surprise. There have been several indications in recent months that such an attack would occur.
In January, Israeli security forces warned their Bulgarian counterparts of the possibility of Islamist terrorist operations against Israeli tourists. "In the last few years, we have received about 15 indications and foiled several attacks," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov confirmed.
Warnings from Israel
There have been many bilateral talks between Bulgaria and Israel on the issue. In January, Bulgaria's official press agency BTA quoted Israeli sources saying that a terrorist attack on Israeli tourists had recently been thwarted. A suitcase containing explosives had been discovered aboard a bus full of Israeli citizens travelling to a winter holiday in Bulgaria.
The Israeli warning was then repeated at the start of the summer season. Indeed, only last month a Mossad representative expressly flagged up the danger to Bulgarian authorities.
Bulgariais a popular holiday destination among Israelis, and the number of Israeli tourists rose by ten percent this year. With Turkish-Israeli relations increasingly strained, more and more Israelis are preferring Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. Bulgarian resorts are also seen as a gambler's paradise for many Israelis, and travel agents claim that the country has become a huge party destination for young Israelis - indeed many young people were on board the bus hit on Wednesday.
Bulgarian authorities slammed
But Bulgarian security precautions have come increasingly in the firing line. Former Deputy Prime Minister Dimitar Ludzhev, who used to be responsible for national security, believes that Bulgaria is simply not prepared for such attacks. "We have not done enough to ensure the safety of Israeli tourists," he said. "Up until this year, only Israeli airlines flew to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, and there were always Israeli security personnel who literally escorted passengers from the planes to their hotel. But in this case, it was a Bulgarian airline, Air Via, and there were no security measures at all. It is a sign of the deficiency of the Bulgarian security forces."
"Where were the Bulgarian security services, which are always supposed to accompany Israelis?" asks Bulgaria-based Middle East expert Mohamed Halaf. Even Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has expressed his concerns about the authorities' capacities in the past.
Borisov and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov reject the criticism. "This attack could have happened anywhere," said Borisov. "But it happened in Bulgaria."
Prime suspect: Hezbollah
Bulgarian Middle East expert Vladimir Chukov suspects the Islamic Hezbollah militia of being behind the attack, and diplomatic sources in Sofia indicate that Bulgarian authorities agree with him.
Some analysts have speculated that the attack is connected to the meeting of Syrian opposition forces two months ago, but Israeli terrorism analyst Boaz Ganor thinks either Hezbollah or Iran are responsible. A Hezbollah fighter was arrested in Cyprus a few days ago suspected of planning a similar attack. "That may have been a parallel operation, and probably not the last," said Ganor. "It looks like Hezbollah, Iran, or a joint operation between the two."
Solomon Passy, former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and national security specialist, is convinced that Bulgaria is now dependent on the support of NATO and the European Union. Bulgaria's European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva has also called for intensive cooperation with the EU and Europol to investigate Wednesday's attack.
Author: Alexander Andreev / bk
Editor: Andreas Illmer