Thursday, July 19, 2012

Israel Sets the Narrative on Bulgaria Attack:
Accuses Iran with No Evidence; Media Repeats Claim Dutifully

"It almost doesn't matter what proof they have or don't have, it's really a matter of perception right now and Israeli officials are accusing Iran and its government of orchestrating these attacks."

- Stephanie Gosk, MSNBC Correspondent, February 15, 2012

"A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on."

- Reverend C.H. Spurgeon, April 1, 1855
The Israeli government wasted no time mourning, memorializing or reflecting on the loss of life after bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists at an airport on the Bulgarian coast.  It was too busy going into full-on warmongering mode, immediately laying the blame for the tragic terrorist act on the government of Iran, despite a complete lack of evidence.

But in this world of propaganda, Israeli officials were out-front, setting the narrative for the Western media before any facts emerged.  Facts aren't important, just perception.  Perception is reality.

Ha'aretz reporter Amos Harel wrote yesterday afternoon:
The government didn't hesitate to point a finger on Wednesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, apparently supported by detailed intelligence, immediately blamed Iran for the terror attack on Israelis in Bulgaria that killed seven people.
Netanyahu warned of "an Iranian terror attack spreading throughout the world" and promised that "Israel will retaliate forcefully."  Remember that, whenever Iran has stated its intention to "respond" to attacks on its citizens on its own soil, it is accused of bellicosity and aggression.

Harel reported that the Israelis have "no doubt about who is behind the deadly attack in Bulgaria."  Netanyahu insisted, with no supporting information, "All the indications are that Iran is behind this deadly attack."

This claim, however, was not in line with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's own statements to the press.  Barak said the attack was "clearly...initiated probably by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or another group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Islamic groups."

So, according to the top Defense official in Israel, the bombing was carried out by someone from some group somewhere that definitely is connected to Iran or someone else.  Absolutely.  Damning evidence, huh?

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took the Netanyahu line as well: "I cannot get into all the operational details, but the identification is certain," he said on Israel Radio. "From immediately after the attack, we worked hard and now the puzzle is put together, the identity and the responsibility are completely clear."

Well that was fast.

Israeli President Shimon Peres jumped on the blame band wagon, saying, "We were witnesses to a deadly terror attack coming out of Iran...we know there were other attempts, and this time they succeeded."  He vowed retribution, stating that Israel "has the means and the will to silence and paralyse terror organisations."

In contrast with Israeli hysteria and acting like a mature adult, Nickolay Mladenov, Bulgarian foreign minister, said, "We're not pointing the finger in any direction until we know what happened and complete our investigation."

Nevertheless, the Iran allegation shot around the world at warp speed and was repeated uncritically by every major news outlet.  Many commentators also noted that the attack came on the 18th anniversary of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a terrorist attack that many have long accused Iran of carrying out, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to back up the claim.

And now, Bulgarian media is reporting that the suicide bomber responsible for the terror attack had no connection to Iran, but was former Guantanamo detainee Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen of Algerian and Finnish ancestry.  He was captured in 2002 in Pakistan and turned over to the United States on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sympathizer.

The New York Times has an extensive report detailing Bulgarian suspicions, some evidence, and torrent of statements made by Israeli officials.

As more details emerge, it will become more and more clear how despicable the immediate exploitation of this tragedy by Netanyahu and cohorts to blame Iran with no evidence whatsoever actually is.  But why grieve for those murdered and act like a responsible, somber leadership when you can warmonger and point fingers?

*****

UPDATE:

Immediately on the heels of reports that Swedish citizen Mehdi Ghezali is the lead suspect in the bombing, both Bulgarian and Swedish officials have denied such a development in the investigation.

Once again, in contrast to Netanyahu's bloviating, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said, "it is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organization." Ha'aretz reports:
"We are only in the beginning of the investigation and it is wrong to jump to conclusions," he added, saying that Bulgaria had "excellent cooperation with the Israeli security forces in matters pertaining to the investigation."

Mladenov added that the countries "will investigate until we discover who is behind the attack. At this stage all we know about the identity of the culprit is his external appearance and a copy of a counterfeit Michigan driver's license."
*****

UPDATE II:

July 20, 2012 - By far the best analysis I have seen so far on the Bulgaria bus bombing has been  written by Marsha B. Cohen on LobeLog.  It is a must-read column that provides a wealth of contextual information largely, if not completely, absent from any mainstream coverage of the terror attack.

Read it, reflect on it, pass it along, and remember it when we start to find out what really happened Wednesday.

*****

UPDATE III:

July 20, 2012 - Like something straight out of the Showtime series "Homeland," a bizarre report in the Daily Mail late last month warned:
A trained terrorist from Norway is awaiting orders to carry out an attack on the West, officials from three European security agencies have revealed.

The man is believed to have received terrorist training from Al Qaeda's offshoot in Yemen and is ready to strike.

Western intelligence officials have long feared such a scenario - a convert to Islam who is trained in terrorist methods and can blend in easily in Europe and the U.S., traveling without visa restrictions.

Officials from three European security agencies confirmed the man is 'operational,' meaning he has completed his training and is about to receive a target.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. They declined to name the man, who has not been accused of a crime.

'We believe he is operational and he is probably about to get his target,' one security official said. 'And that target is probably in the West.'
The report, which only cites unnamed sources, describes the potential terrorist as "a man in his 30s with no immigrant background" who, "[a]fter converting to Islam in 2008, [] quickly became radicalized and traveled to Yemen to receive terror training."

Of course, this is proof of absolutely nothing, yet it is one more indication that the immediate rush to judgment and assumption that only Hezbollah and/or Iran could have possibly been responsible for the tragedy in Bulgaria is absurd.

Furthermore, as Glenn Greenwald points out, the New York Times has already determined that Israeli and anonymous American accusations are enough to identify, confirm and corroborate that Hezbollah (doing the bidding of Iran) is behind the bombing, despite presenting no actual evidence. Meanwhile, The Washington Post responsibly noted, "Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility."

To its credit, the White House itself has yet to point fingers in public (whether it has authorized the anonymous leaks to the press to propagate the Israeli narrative is of course up for debate). Aboard Air Force One this morning, Obama spokesman Jay Carney told the press, "As for those reports, I can tell you that we don't have any confirmation yet. We are working to assess the facts and, with our partners, to discover who was responsible." While sure included a boilerplate statement that "Hezbollah and Iran have been bad actors, as a general matter," Carney added, "But we're not, at this point, in a position to make a statement about responsibility." [One is left to wonder if Carney and his boss believe Israel and its Mossad to be "good actors, as a general matter."]

When asked whether there was any evidence that Hezbollah or Iran were responsible for the attack, Stefan Tafrov, Bulgarian representative to the United Nations, responded, "As of today, we don't know. We simply haven't identified the responsible country or organization or entity. We can't exclude anything, but we haven't identified the force, the organization behind this attack."

The NYPD has also jumped into the Blame Game with particular aplomb, releasing a report that claims "Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies have been involved so far this year in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world."

The report, based on what Reuters has revealed, is a mere two-pages long and contains no actual investigative information beyond what is readily available in press reports on various, alleged plots thwarted or carried out in the past seven months.  Apparently (perhaps unsurprisingly), the NYPD gets its top-notch analysis straight from the mouth of blustery Israeli leaders.

Despite all this, CNN reports that "Israel's U.S. Embassy said Wednesday that it had no proof that Iran was the instigator of the attack."

(h/t James Spencer)

*****

UPDATE IV:

July 21, 2012 - The New York Times has taken steps to walk back its earlier report citing an unnamed U.S. official who blamed Hezbollah for bombing. A new article, which details the steps Bulgarian, Israeli, and international investigators have taken to identify the alleged bomber, states:
American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity identified the suicide bomber as a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria.

But American officials stopped short of making the accusation in public, and Israel has yet to furnish proof of its assertions, which could help make the case for a pre-emptive strike to disable Iranian nuclear capabilities.

"The attack does bear some of the hallmarks of Hezbollah, but we're not in a position to make any final determination on who was responsible," a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, told reporters.
Also, the constant refrain that this bombing bears "hallmarks" or "fingerprints" of Hezbollah (and/or Iran) don't actually make sense considering suicide bombing isn't really the MO of either.

Undeterred from making baseless claims, Ehud Barak stated, "It is clear that Hezbollah is behind the attack as part of the series of events that we have seen over the past few weeks and months," adding, "At the same time we do not know who the bomber is but we can tell that he looks European."

For what it's worth, a previously unknown group, "Base of Jihad," has allegedly claimed responsibility for the bombing while both Hezbollah and Iran have strongly denied having any to do with the bombing.

*****

UPDATE V:

July 21, 2012 - It seems that no act of non-sensational, alarmist, accusatory journalism goes unpunished at The Washington Post. Whereas reporter Karin Brulliard was clear to state on Thursday that "Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility," the paper's editors don't waste their time with such trifles as facts.

Demonstrating its shameful disregard for evidence, or even the pretense of not being a propaganda outfit, The Washington Post's editorial board - led by the hawkish establishmentarian Fred Hiatt and career warmonger Jackson Diehl - has published a truly despicable piece entitled, "Holding Iran accountable for terrorist attacks," which opens this way:
The bombing of a bus in Bulgaria filled with Israeli tourists on Wednesday underlines the grim fact that Iran is waging a war of terrorism. Using the territory of countries across the world, working sometimes through proxies like Lebanon's Hezbollah and sometimes with its own forces, Tehran has been intentionally targeting not just diplomats of enemies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia but also civilians.
There are literally no "facts" to back up the Post's lurid claims. All references to other recent bomb plots are mere speculation and referencing the ridiculous Tex-Mex-Saudi-Iran-DC Delusional-Biploar-Used-Car-Salesman assassination plot should be enough to sufficiently destroy the credibility of this particular argument. The editors never mention Iran as a victim of terrorism (widely acknowledged to be the work of Israel and its hired, trained, and armed goons) and engage in a choice bit of libel when describing murdered Iranians working on a civilian energy program as "scientists building illicit weapons of mass destruction." That's appalling.

The oped naturally takes Netanyahu's word as Gospel and never even attempts to establish a baseline regard for the truth. The writers state that there exists "abundant" and "strong evidence linking Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the attacks," but never gives any, nor do they link to an article or piece of information that might corroborate such an allegation.

This is pure garbage published in the pages of one of the most influential newspapers in the country.

*****

UPDATE VI:

July 22, 2012 - Today, speaking on Fox News to Chris Wallace, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unequivocal in his unremitting insistence that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas bus bombing. This time around, he made it perfectly clear that his accusations are based solely upon assumptions rather than evidence. Here's what he told Wallace when asked if Israel has "established clear links between that bomber and Hezbollah and Iran":
That is certainly Hezbollah, yes. We do know who it is. I mean, the whole world can see who it is. We do know that it's Hezbollah. We would have known that, you have known, or been able to surmise that...Here, I'm not surmising. I am giving you something that I know as the prime minister of Israel, because I know, based on absolutely rock solid intelligence, this is Hezbollah and this is something that Iran knows about very, very well...

...we know with absolutely certainty, absolutely certainty and not a thread of doubt that this was a Hezbollah operation.
Netanyahu was also interviewed on CBS's "Face The Nation," where he declared, "We have unquestionable, full substantiated intelligence that this was done by Hezbollah and backed by Iran."

Strong words. When the bomber's identity is finally established and responsibility for the murders confirmed, how will they stand up?

Or, has Netanyahu's blustery allegations already made an impartial investigation - and objective examination of the facts and attribution of culpability - impossible with his widely-publicized claims?

*****

UPDATE VII:

December 4, 2012 - According to the Bulgarian English-language news outlet Novinite, while the investigation over who carried out the terrorist bombing in Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver has progressed, both Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and U.S. President Barack Obama agree that "the case required more work to make sure that the evidence would hold up in court."

The report quoted Borisov as saying, "President Obama promised that the US special services will start working more intensively to help us obtain more solid evidence against the organizer and perpetrator of the attack in Sarafovo. Both he and I know who it was, but Obama agreed with me that the court needs solid evidence."

Novinite noted, "At this stage, Bulgaria has not voiced official support for Israel's version about the terror attack in Burgas, which is also backed by the US and the UK."

Despite this clear lack of "solid evidence," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been peddling the allegation that Iran is responsible for the attack as if it were plain, undeniable fact.  Just a few days ago, in a speech at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, a hawkish establishment Washington think tank (founded by the fiercely anti-IranZionist ideologue Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban), Clinton declared, "[W]e know very well the Iranian regime already exports terrorism, not only to Israel's doorstep, but across the world. If we had a map I could put up there, I could show you what we track and plot on that map – the evidence of terrorism – mostly, thankfully, plots foiled or unsuccessful."

She continued, specifically referencing the Burgas bombing and attributing Iranian culpability: "Unfortunately, as in Bulgaria, some that succeeded. But those plots, those activities of Iran directly and through their agents, stretches from Mexico to Thailand."

*****

UPDATE VIII:

January 3, 2013 - Some more from the Bulgarian press:
Bulgarian police authorities have learned the real identity of one of the accomplices of the Burgas bus bomber, according to a local media report.
Police are currently looking for the suspect, whose name is yet to be revealed. 
The alleged accomplice acted in concert with the bomber, known under the alias Jacque Felipe Martin, as well as another accomplice, known under the alias Ralph William Rico.
The true identities of Martin and Rico have not been discovered yet.
*****

UPDATE IX:

February 7, 2013 - In what the press reported on February 6 as "the first major revelation in the case aired by Bulgarian investigators since the bombing killed five Israelis, their Bulgarian driver and the suspected bomber," Bulgaria's Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced that two of the suspects implicated in the attack are "believed to have been part of 'the militant wing of Hezbollah.'"

After Israel reveled in the news and both Hezbollah and Iran denied the allegation, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov claimed political pressure had not influenced or compromised the investigation. "If Bulgaria did not have enough arguments to announce yesterday that the traces in this attack lead to Hezbollah's military wing, we would not have done it," he told a Bulgarian television station.

Some weren't convinced. The Global Post reported that Bulgarian analysts "accused the government of not having enough proof to level what may turn out to a dangerous accusation, and of kowtowing to Washington and Israel."
"We have joined the camp of US and Israel... allowing to be drawn into the big game where Hezbollah has to be eliminated as it supports the regime in Syria," international security expert Simeon Nikolov said.

"Do our leaders realise the responsibility they take in announcing results, which are not categorically backed by evidence?" the expert added on BNT television, slamming what he saw as "a strategic mistake" by the government.

"What is this 'justified assumption'? We entered a game, which is not ours without having any categorical proof to show," Yovo Nikolov from Capital weekly newspaper added.
Furthermore, Tihomir Bezlov from the Centre for the Study of Democracy, a Sofia think-tank, told the AFP that Bulgaria inevitably "relied heavily on resources from foreign security services."

It took less than a day for investigative journalist Gareth Porter to shed even more light on the nature of the Bulgarian announcement.

While many news sources, in their rendering of the story, "implied that the Bulgarian investigators had uncovered direct evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Burgas bombing," Porter tracks down statements made by Bulgarian and Europol officials that are far less conclusive.

Minister Tsvetanov told a session of Bulgaria's Consultative Council on National Security, "A reasonable assumption, I repeat a reasonable assumption, can be made that the two of them were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," and later told the Sofia News Agency that the investigation had led to the "well-founded assumption" that Hezbollah was responsible. Minister Mladenov defended the claim, saying there was "good reason" to suspect Hezbollah.

While "investigators found no links to Iran," Europol Director Rob Wainright told the Associated Press that believed "Bulgarian authorities are making quite a strong assumption that this is the work of Hezbollah."

No official indicated that there was any hard evidence whatsoever to link Hezbollah to the Burgas attack. The allegations appear to hinge on "clumsily forged" drivers licenses that were printed in Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government had a major role in Bulgaria's investigation of the bombing.

Europol's Wainright even hedged in his comments to the press: "Even if it's not Hezbollah," he said, "it has still obviously been carried out by an organization with some capability in the world, so the threat remains."

*****

UPDATE X:

February 18, 2013 - The intrepid Gareth Porter has more on the ever-weakening Bulgarian case for Hezbollah complicity in the Burgas attack. He reports today:
The chief prosecutor in charge of the Bulgarian investigation revealed in an interview published in early January that the evidence available was too scarce to name any party as responsible, and that investigators had found a key piece of evidence that appeared to contradict it.
An article in a Bulgarian weekly in mid-January confirmed that the investigation had turned up no information on a Hezbollah role, and further reported that one of the suspects had been linked by a friendly intelligence service to Al-Qaeda.
Beyond this, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has admitted that the allegation of Hezbollah's responsibility is merely a "grounded hypothesis."

Porter also reveals that the Bulgarian "decision to call the conclusion an 'assumption' or even the weaker 'hypothesis' about Hezbollah was obviously a compromise between the preference of the investigators themselves and the demands of the United States and Israel," and not based on any actual evidence.

*****

UPDATE XI:

February 20, 2013 - Gareth Porter has compiled his latest research into the evidence-free claims made by Bulgarian authorities at the behest of the United States and Israel regarding Hezbollah's culpability for last year's bus bombing into a single stellar piece now published on Al Jazeera English.

Porter explains how the Bulgarian government was strong-armed into making the announcement earlier this month after scant proof was found to back up Israeli and American claims. The timing too is important, considering the recent pressure exerted on the European Union to classify Hezbollah as a "terrorist organization," a move it has long resisted.

Porter concludes:
The US and Israel thus continue a pattern of ignoring the actual evidence in high profile terrorism cases in order to advance their political interests in relation to Iran and Hezbollah. That pattern was established nearly two decades ago with the US-Israeli pressure on Argentina to finger Iran in the 1994 AMIA bombing despite the absence of any evidence for such an accusation.

Some EU officials have indicated that they will demand actual evidence before listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. If so, it will be the first challenge to US-Israeli insistence on blaming their main regional adversaries for terrorist actions, even when the evidence points elsewhere.
*****

UPDATE XII:

March 29, 2013 - In a statement revealing just how tenuous and potentially unsubstantiated allegations of Hezbollah culpability in last year's Burgas bombing that tragically took the lives of five Israeli tourists and a bus driver, Marin Raykov - Bulgaria's appointed interim Prime Minister - said today that Bulgaria would not push for the European Union to officially label Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The Associated Press reports Raykov as saying that the Bulgarian government "will not initiate an EU procedure for blacklisting persons and organizations" in remarks made "during a farewell ceremony for the Lebanese ambassador, who pledged Lebanon’s full support for the investigation."

While Bulgarian officials said in February that Hezbollah's responsibility for the attack was based on a "grounded hypothesis" and "well-founded assumption," it is clear the investigation has been anything but conclusive and appears to be ongoing. Bulgaria still "says it will hand to its partners all evidence collected during the investigation into the attack."

*****

1 comment:

Shady_Grady said...

It is ever so important to try to find out what's going on first before making statements. It's also usually a pretty good idea not to believe very much of what Netanyahu says about anything.