Bulgaria’s Accusations Reveal Divisions on Hezbollah
SOFIA, BULGARIA — Six months after the first case of international terrorism on Bulgarian soil — in which five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver were killed — Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that there was a “reasonable assumption” that Hezbollah was responsible. His statement corroborated earlier Israeli and U.S. accusations. Within half an hour of the blast last July in the town of Burgas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hezbollah for organizing the attack. In the course of the international investigation, the U.S. government also subscribed to this assessment, and the U.S. Senate urged EU member states to recognize the Lebanese Islamist group as a terrorist organization. Tsvetanov’s statement, however cautiously worded, has provoked heated public debate in Bulgaria, where the discussion of international issues often reveals an East-West division.
Opposition leaders have accused the government of yielding to pressure from Israel and the United States to blame Hezbollah and — by extension — Iran for this act of terror, to the detriment of Bulgaria’s national security. But others see Russian influence behind such criticism, and noted that the statement of socialist opposition leader Sergey Stanishev was featured on Hezbollah's official web-site. Because of its institutional fragility and geographic location, Bulgaria is hardly the natural leader in Europe to counter Hezbollah. But the results of the Burgas bombing investigation will probably influence the positions of other European states.
At present, the U.K. and the Netherlands are the only European states that have declared Hezbollah’s military wing a terrorist organization. But the organization receives support and funds from a strong network of Muslim immigrant organizations across the continent. Some European countries may now outlaw Hezbollah’s military infrastructure, but others will insist on the accumulation of further evidence of terrorist activities by the Islamist group on European soil. Bulgaria’s hesitation in blaming Hezbollah stems in part from the transatlantic community’s own ambiguity about the process of revolutionary change in the Middle East. Both Europe and the United States were initially supportive, hoping that it would lead to democratic governance and modernization across the region. Yet democratically inclined youth protesting in places like Tahrir Square were quickly replaced by Islamist crowds supporting authoritarianism and the introduction of Islamic law.
The national resistance movement against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus was joined by al Qaeda-affiliated militant factions, creating concerns about the kind of political regime that might come to power in the aftermath of Assad’s fall. Countering Hezbollah is certainly necessary to address the threats to international security — and for Israel in particular — posed by the Tehran-Damascus axis. But Western public opinion and political decision-making often collapse into specific arguments about the national interest and security. Unity requires common interest and moral legitimacy, and its absence in public and political discourse represents a significant security challenge for the West.
We must be cautious in assessing the chaotic environment of the Middle East. But we also need a common strategic vision and efficient policy cooperation within the transatlantic community. It may all come down to a moral choice as to how to support freedom in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Ognyan Minchev is a Resident Fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Balkan Trust for Democracy.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.