Israel is holding Iran and Hezbollah responsible for Wednesday afternoon's deadly attack on a tourist bus in the Bulgarian resort city of Burgas, in which five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver were killed. A seventh body at the scene is believed to be that of the suicide bomber. Over 30 other people were injured in the attack.
(Security camera footage featuring the suspected suicide bomber at the Burgas airport ahead of the attack)
"All signs point to Iran," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the attack, and vowed that Israel would react powerfully against Iranian terror. In a statement issued by his office, Netanyhau said: "Over the last few months we have seen Iran’s attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Exactly 18 years to the day after the horrendous attack on the Jewish Community Center in Argentina, deadly Iranian terrorism continues to strike at innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also believes that Iran is behind the attack. "The immediate executors are Hezbollah operatives, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship," Barak told Israel radio and promised that Israel would "do everything possible in order to find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them." Barak also discussed the attack with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in a telephone conversation Wednesday night.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters that Israel has reliable information indicating that Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were behind the attack. He said that Israeli intelligence clearly shows Iranian fingerprints on the attack, adding that Iran and Hezbollah have been relentless in their operations against Israel.
Iranian state television on Thursday rejected the accusations as "ridiculous" and "sensationalist."
Also Thursday, Bulgarian authorities confirmed that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. It was originally thought that a bomb had been planted on the bus and detonated remotely. A Michigan State driver's license, apparently fake, was found on the body of the suicide bomber, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.
The bomber was caught on video surveillance at the airport. "We have established there was a person who was a suicide bomber in this attack," Tsvetanov told reporters at the scene of the attack on Thursday. "He looked like anyone else - a normal person with Bermuda shorts and a backpack," he said.
The blast occurred on the 18th anniversary of a bomb attack at the headquarters of Argentina's main Jewish organization that killed 85 people. The Argentine government blamed the attack on Iran, which denied responsibility.
Hezbollah has its own scores to settle with Israel: In 2008, its commander, Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a Damascus car bomb, which it blamed on Israel, and has promised to retaliate ever since. Israel has never officially taken responsibility for the attack, but on Thursday morning, Netanyahu's former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, told Army Radio, "We hit Imad Mughniyeh, we're the aggressors. Iran is on the defensive, and they know how to defend." Arad described the Bulgaria bombing as part of a "dynamic of escalation" but counseled Israel to invest in better intelligence and security.
He said "risk management" was required and that Wednesday's bloodshed may be an "unavoidable price" of internal and international pressure building on Iran and its allies.
At the scene of Wednesday's attack, special forces managed to obtain DNA samples from the fingers of the bomber and were now checking databases in an attempt to identify him, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetanov said. Bulgarian security services had received no indications of a pending attack.
An Israel Air Force plane carrying 33 of the wounded Israelis left Burgas Thursday morning for Israel. Three people who were severely wounded in the attack have been flown to a hospital in the capital of Sofia for treatment.
Survivors of the attack recalled the harrowing details of Wednesday's terror attack. "We heard screaming all around us, we saw charred bodies, wounded everywhere. We didn't know what to do, we ran all over the place – it felt like an eternity," said one survivor. Another said that survivors of the blast left the burning bus through windows to avoid stepping on the dead bodies.