Tuesday 24 July 2012

Burgas - A Deadly Reminder

It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security that bad things have disappeared when things go a little better.  In Israel, that translates into a false sense of security that perhaps the threat of terrorism may have subsided. or may even have gone away.  Despite the many notifications that are constantly issued to Israelis warning of threats to their safety and well-being both within Israel and outside of the country, these threats often seem exaggerated.  This is particularly true when we are fortunate enough to experience extended periods during which no attacks take place.   Unfortunately, all too soon, the silence is shattered as was the case last week on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast.

The bomb that was detonated on a bus outside the terminal building in the town of Burgas in Bulgaria clearly targeted the Israeli group that had just arrived.  It is no secret that resorts on the Black Sea in Bulgaria have become increasingly popular for Israelis over the past few years.  Package deal holidays have been directed particularly towards younger Israelis, including high school and university students.  Due to political tensions, Turkey is no longer a viable option for those seeking reasonably-priced pacakage deal holidays.  Bulgaria's Black Sea coast has become one of the new hotspots to replace Turkey as a holiday destination.  It would not take sophisticated intelligence work by terror organisations and other enemies of Israel to figure this out, and to lay some sort of a trap.  Israeli intelligence is obviously tuned into this fact as well, and had met with Bulgarian security officials only one month prior to last week's attack.  The truth is that countries like Bulgaria, Thailand, Nepal and other holiday destinations favoured by the travelling Israeli public, are not sufficiently equipped themselves to provide effective security to prevent such attacks being perpetrated against the large groups of Israeli tourists.  The Mossad extends its surveillance and prevention activities to these countries in order to protect the travelling Israelis.  The security establishments of countries like Bulgaria are usually happy to cooperate with the Mossad in the interests of keeping the tourist dollars flowing into their economy, while providing the necessary protection to its tourists.  Obviously, there was some lapse in the intelligence work last week.

In the period following the Mumbai terror attack which took place nearly 4 years ago, Israelis have certainly been lulled into a false sense of security.  This is despite failed attacks having taken place in Georgia and India in the intervening period, and reports of attacks having been thwarted in Thailand, Kenya and Cyprus to name but a few of the countries.  In a way, the better the job that is done by the Mossad to intercept and prevent such attacks, the less vigilant people become.  It is ironic that vigilance only increases when the terrorists succeed in their missions, and lives are lost.

Warnings are continually being issued to the travelling Israeli public to be cautious.  The foreign ministry has advised Israelis to place their passports in covers so that they cannot be easily identified when abroad.  They have also advised tourists not to speak Hebrew loudly in public places, and have disclosed the traits that terrorists may look out for in their attempts to identify Israelis in the streets.  The foreign office is trying to encourage Israelis to lay low and be as inconspicuous as possible when travelling around the world, in order to avoid any possible attack against them.  By behaving in this way, the security services believe that lives may be saved by Israelis being more difficult to identify.

The problem is that the current generation of Jew is not shy or self-conscious about being Jewish or Israeli.  He is proud to be a Jew and an Israeli, and is happy to announce this to all that he meets when travelling abroad.  He is the type of Jew that Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky dreamt about when he lived during the period when being Jewish was a source of shame and humiliation.  It is somewhat ironic that, having achieved this wonderful pride which can be found in many Jews, the government is forced to encourage Israelis to conceal their identity.  This pride was shown so clearly when two Israeli air force planes with emergency and medical teams were dispatched to Bulgaria to assist the wounded, and to provide fitting respect to the deceased.  Many of the survivors of the attack refused to leave the airport building until the Israeli assistance arrived.  Israeli soldiers and medical teams were given a rapturous round of applause when entering the airport building to take care of survivors.  For Israelis and Jews, the IDF uniform is the ultimate symbol of safety and security, no matter where they are in the world.

The attack in Burgas is about as bad as any that one can find.  Innocent civilians were targeted without regard, as has been the case so many times in past terror attacks.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has attacked Iran as being behind this attack.  I presume that he has intelligence evidence to support this accusation, and I expect that he has some plans up his sleeves about how to avenge the attack.  It is very seldom that attacks like this are allowed to proceed without some justice being sought in the name of those who died so unnecessarily.

For the rest of us, we are forced to mourn yet more innocent victims of terror.  It also is a stark reminder of the constant danger that Israelis and Jews find themselves in around the world.  This is the reminder for us that we need to be vigilant at all times, even when things are perhaps looking up and when we have a break from attacks for any period of time.  We can ill afford to be lulled into a false sense of security.

May the memories of the deceased be for a blessing, and may their families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion.

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