Israel, Syria and Bulgaria - Tension in the AirViews on BG | July 20, 2012, Friday // 08:34| views
A picture of the bus carrying Israeli tourists exploded on the airport parking lot in Bulgaria's Burgas, killing seven. Photo by BGNES
THE image of a blackened bus, its roof blown off, its walls and floor soiled with blood, casts every adult Israeli back a decade to 2001-3, the worst years of the Palestinians' second intifada (uprising). Then, a sustained wave of suicide bombings plunged the country into crisis. Buses were the assailants' preferred targets.
Those memories came flooding back on July 18th when a suicide-bomber with fake American documents blew up an Israeli tour bus in the Bulgarian holiday resort of Burgas, killing at least five Israeli tourists, the driver and himself. Dozens were injured.
Bulgaria is a popular destination for Israeli youngsters and Israeli officials were already worried that it might be a terrorist target. Political and security ties between the two countries have grown closer in recent years, as Israel looks to build new alliances in the eastern Mediterranean region in the wake of its political and military rupture with its long-time ally Turkey.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, immediately blamed the Lebanese-based party-cum-militia Hizbullah and its Iranian backers for the attack. This was no mere surmise, said the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the following morning, but "completely clear beyond any doubt". Israeli intelligence, he said, in close co-operation with friendly countries like Bulgaria and major Western intelligence agencies, had been able to foil 99% of such terror attempts. Not all of the successes were made public.
This year alone, the list of those that were includes thwarted attacks in Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Kenya, Thailand and Turkey. Last week, a plot against Israeli tourists in Cyprus was uncovered by local authorities. A Lebanese man was arrested.
Beyond concerns over future foreign travel plans, the attack in Burgas has brought home to Israelis the tense fragility of the times and region in which they live.
Just hours before the blast, a bomb attack on Syria's national security headquarters in Damascus killed several of President Bashar Assad's closest colleagues.
The next morning, the New York Times reported that Israel and America had discussed the idea of Israeli aircraft bombing Syrian chemical weapons dumps, for fear of their falling into Hizbullah's hands in the worsening mayhem now overtaking Syria.
Speculation on the possible repercussions of such an operation immediately made the rounds, but government officials did not comment. Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, said he was carefully monitoring the situation in Syria. Mr Lieberman spoke of an "explosive and complex situation in the region". Armed Alawites (members of the religious sect to which Mr Assad belongs) and their allies were no longer just fighting for Syria's president, he said. They were fighting for their lives.
Suddenly, out of the torrid summer heat and domestic political wrangling, a sense of military tension is palpable in the air.