Commentary Magazine


Topic: Burgas terror attack

Hezbollah’s European Appeasers

Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

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Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

It should be noted that the Bulgarian switch is not the result of the emergence of new evidence about the attack or even a change of heart by Hezbollah, whose terrorist cadres are now fighting in Syria to try and save the faltering Bashar Assad regime, another Iranian ally. There is no more doubt today that Burgas was the work of Hezbollah than there was in the days after the attack when the identities of the terrorists were revealed. It is simply the result of a political party coming to power that is hostile to the United States and friendlier to Russia and therefore determined to undermine any effort to forge a united European response to Middle East-based Islamist terror.

It is to be hoped that Britain, aided by the diplomatic efforts of France and Germany, will ultimately prevail in the European Commission and Hezbollah will be listed as a terror group by the EU. But the Bulgarian announcement is a discouraging reminder of the fact that international unity on terrorism is illusory. The willingness of some Europeans, whether acting out of sympathy for the Islamists or antipathy for Israel and the Untied States, to treat Hezbollah terrorists as somehow belonging to a different, less awful category of criminal than those who might primarily target other Westerners is a victory for the Islamists as well as a crucial defeat for the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

After years of trying to appease Russia, the administration has discovered that all of the talk of rebooting relations from both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry achieved nothing. Moscow is actively seeking to thwart the West on the question of the survival of the Assad regime and also willing to have its friends elsewhere in Europe stick up for Hezbollah.

The effort to appease Hezbollah is not only a sign of Russian influence but also a signal to Iran that many in Europe are untroubled by its terrorist campaign against Israel. That alone is worrisome. But, as history teaches us, the costs of appeasement are far-reaching. Those who are untroubled by Hezbollah’s murders of Jews in Bulgaria or Cyprus may soon find that the vipers they seek to ignore will one day bite them too.

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Hagel’s Hezbollah Problem

As others have made clear, Chuck Hagel’s problems extend beyond his controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby.” Several of his stated positions–and not just his opposition to Iran sanctions–could have practical consequences for U.S. interests. A prime example is the European Union’s indication that it may finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, depending on the outcome of the Burgas bus bombing investigation. The U.S. has lobbied the reluctant EU on this for years, since the move would cut off much of the terror group’s funding:

European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.

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As others have made clear, Chuck Hagel’s problems extend beyond his controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby.” Several of his stated positions–and not just his opposition to Iran sanctions–could have practical consequences for U.S. interests. A prime example is the European Union’s indication that it may finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, depending on the outcome of the Burgas bus bombing investigation. The U.S. has lobbied the reluctant EU on this for years, since the move would cut off much of the terror group’s funding:

European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.

It’s a promising sign from the EU, but the U.S. will still need to continue the pressure. While serving as ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel drew notice in 2006 for refusing to sign onto a letter calling on the EU to designate Hezbollah–a letter that was signed by 88 Senators. The decision was striking, considering his prominent role in the committee. It also gave cover to an Iranian-allied terrorist organization, in direct contradiction with U.S. interests. What signal would his potential appointment send to the EU about the U.S.’s seriousness on cracking down on Hezbollah?

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Why is WH Meeting With Iran Apologists?

White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

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White House officials held a day-long meeting yesterday with the National Iranian American Council, a group that advocates for policies supported by the Iranian regime, including opposition to sanctions and acceptance of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Officials in attendance included Valerie Jarrett and Treasury Department Secretary for Financial Institutions Cyrus Amir-Mokri, according to a posting on NIAC’s website:

In a demonstration of the Obama administration’s eagerness to build and sustain relations with the Iranian-American community, top officials yesterday hosted the first ever Iranian-American Community Leader’s Roundtable at the White House.

The day-long roundtable was attended by National Iranian American Council staff, as well as individual community leaders and representatives of national organizations, including Iranian Alliances Across Borders and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. …

The officials on hand were eager to listen to the interests and concerns of the Iranian-American community and to determine ways to better serve and inform the Iranian-American community about important policies and programs.  All of the officials made clear that there would be a sustained effort to engage with Iranian Americans going forward.  “This is not good-bye,” many of the officials repeated, “this is hello.”

The fact that this meeting took place the day after five Israeli tourists were killed in what is believed to be an Iranian suicide attack in Bulgaria is a slap in the face to the pro-Israel community.

On Wednesday, NIAC’s leader Trita Parsi suggested that Israel intentionally provoked the suicide bombing so it would have justification to attack Iran’s nuclear program:

U.S. officials have privately expressed concern that one of the purposes of Israeli attacks in Iran has been to generate an Iranian response that could serve as a casus belli for Israel. That way, Israel could target Iran’s nuclear facilities without paying the heavy political cost of starting a preventive war.

It was partly for this reason that the U.S. immediately and forcefully condemned the latest assassination of an Iranian scientist and denied any U.S. involvement. Simultaneously, other major powers pressed Iran not to retaliate, arguing that Israel would use any retaliation to expand the war.

The next day, Parsi’s organization went to the White House and met with high-ranking officials who were reportedly “eager to listen” to their “interests and concerns.” NIAC’s interests and concerns include advocating for pro-regime policies, opposing serious efforts to halt Iran’s enrichment program, and — apparently — blaming Israel for inciting Iranian terrorist attacks. The administration appeared to have distanced itself from NIAC in 2009, after the Washington Times reported that the group was setting up meetings between Iran’s UN ambassador and members of Congress — a potential violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. If the White House is now back to courting NIAC that raises serious concerns.

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Despite Attack, Hezbollah Is Vulnerable

Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.

At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:

In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.

He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”

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Hezbollah’s alleged role in carrying out the Burgas bombing shows how dangerous the organization remains. Not for nothing did the former American defense official Rich Armitage once call it the “A-Team” of terrorism. It is not as professional as it was in the days when terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah (who was killed in 2008, almost certainly by the Mossad) was running its international operations; in fact it can be downright amateurish at times as seen in its plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It is certainly not as good as it once was about covering its tracks, assuming that it was behind the Burgas bombing, given that the Israeli and U.S. governments immediately traced the operation to it. But the Bulgaria operation shows that Hezbollah (along with its prime backer, Iran) maintains the desire and capacity to kill Israelis in particular and Jews in general around the world, and that, when push comes to shove, it will employ suicide bombers to do so–a tactic it hasn’t used in many years because it didn’t need to.

At the same time that Hezbollah is baring its fangs, however, it is also displaying its vulnerability. It has wound up in a no-win situation with regard to its patron in Syria: either Hezbollah embraces Bashar al-Assad and thereby alienates the Arab world, which has turned against this Alawite ruler–or it abandons Assad and risks losing its major source of weapons if Assad remains in power. Hamas, a Sunni terrorist group, has chosen to abandon Assad. But Hezbollah is a Shi’ite organization and remains true to the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. In fact, Hezbollah is doubling down in its support for Assad–and their mutual patrons in Tehran. As the New York Times notes:

In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, offered eloquent condolences for the deaths of the three high-ranking Syrian officials killed earlier in the day. “These martyr leaders were comrades in arms in the conflict with the Israeli enemy, and we are confident that the Arab Syrian Army, which overcame the unbearable, will be able to persist and crush the hopes of the enemies,” he said.

He credited Mr. Assad and his government with the victory that Hezbollah claimed against Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon and with saving Gaza during the 2009 Israeli incursion. “The most valuable weapons we had in our possession were from Syria,” he said. “The missiles we used in the second Lebanon war were made in Syria. And it’s not only in Lebanon but in Gaza as well. Where did these missiles come from? The Saudi regime? The Egyptian regime? These missiles are from Syria.”

Give Nasrallah points for honesty about the source of his weapons–but his embrace of the Assad henchmen who are killing thousands of their largely Sunni countrymen should dispel whatever appeal Hezbollah managed to win in the Arab world as a result of its wars against Israel, most recently in 2006. When Assad falls–it now seems more a matter of “when” rather than “if”–Nasrallah is going to have a big problem on his hands dealing with whatever regime comes next in Damascus. Assad’s foes will remember the way Hezbollah embraced the hated dictator.

Seen in this context, Hezbollah’s attack in Bulgaria–and its attempt to carry out similar murder plots elsewhere–is a sign of weakness, not strength. It is desperately trying to embrace the role of Israel-fighter even if it is not willing to risk a confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces–all it can do is slaughter unarmed tourists far from Israel.

Once Assad is gone, it will be imperative for the U.S. and its allies to once again turn their attention to Hezbollah and do what they can to undermine this murderous organization which has gained a stranglehold in Lebanese politics. By its own actions, Hezbollah is leaving itself vulnerable in the future. Let us hope we can exploit that vulnerability to allow Lebanon’s fragile democracy to reassert itself.

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Ahmadinejad Brags, U.S. Rationalizes

The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

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The day after the terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, a senior U.S. official admitted to the New York Times that what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said publicly yesterday was true: Hezbollah did it at the behest of its Iranian sugar daddy. This was, according to the Times, confirmed by two other U.S. government figures who also declined to speak on the record. But if you don’t want to take the word of these anonymous Americans, all you have to do is listen to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said about it on Iranian television yesterday.

As the Times of Israel reports, when speaking of the bombing in Bulgaria, Ahmadinejad said the following:

“The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us,” he said in a speech reported by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response.”

He added: “The enemy believes it can achieve its aims in a long, persistent struggle against the Iranian people, but in the end it will not. We are working to ensure that.”

His bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists (including a pregnant woman) and a Bulgarian bus driver contradicted the indignant official denials that were issued yesterday by the Iranian government in the wake of Netanyahu’s accusations. Yet one thing said by the senior U.S. official was almost as bad as Ahmadinejad’s appalling candor. The official described the atrocity as a case of “tit for tat,” meaning that the United States merely considered the slaughter as merely retaliation for Western and/or Israeli efforts to halt Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. By rationalizing the terrorist attack in this manner, the official, who was clearly speaking on behalf of the administration (and to the newspaper which has served as the primary outlet for a series of leaks about policy and secret operations concerning Iran), demonstrated President Obama and his foreign and defense policy team don’t really understand the nature of the Iranian regime. Just as dangerously, the statement betrays a certain annoyance with Israel’s concerns about a genocidal terror-sponsor obtaining nuclear weapons.

This “tit for tat” comment will help feed the mainstream media narrative that the Jews murdered by Iran/Hezbollah had it coming, because Israel has been accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. But it ignores the fact that Iran and its loyal Lebanese Hezbollah auxiliaries have been in the business of killing Jews — and Americans — for decades whenever they had the opportunity. Does the Obama administration think Israel’s concerns about Iranian nuclear weapons inspired Iran to commission terrorists to blow up a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 18 years ago this week? Tehran makes no secret of the official embrace of vile anti-Semitism of the Islamist regime that has ruled there for 33 years. Iran has also been listed a state sponsor of terror for decades and with good reason, as it has targeted Americans as well as Israelis.

Just as bad is the way the comment reflects a certain degree of American impatience with the sense of urgency about the Iranian nuclear threat that is clearly not shared by the Obama administration. Though the president has often pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the administration waited three years to enact tough sanctions on the regime. Today, it continues to insist diplomacy is the only way to approach the problem even though the P5+1 talks it sponsored have failed. The Iranians have taken the measure of President Obama and believe he isn’t serious about stopping them but is, instead, more concerned — as are they — with averting an Israeli attack on their nuclear facilities.

Far from being a responsible actor that merely strikes out in retaliation for Israeli attacks and which can be trusted to keep its word about confining nuclear research to civilian purposes, Iran is a terrorist state, infused with Jew-hatred and determined to achieve its nuclear goal. Until the administration starts talking — and acting — as if it understands this, its Iran policy will remain a muddle of half-hearted and ineffective measures.

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Terror Gives the Lie to Iran’s Pose as Rational Actor

The terrorist attack on Israelis vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria yesterday ought to change the nature of the conversation about Iran. If, as Israel is asserting, the bombing which took the lives of five Israelis and left 33 wounded, is the work of Iran’s ally Hezbollah, then those counseling further appeasement of the Islamist regime are going to have to explain why the West should believe more feckless diplomacy will restrain Tehran and its Lebanese auxiliaries from further outrages or persuade them they should give up their effort to get a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear his country’s intelligence sees the long arm of Iran as being behind the slaughter.

There are those who will treat this incident as merely a tit-for-tat attack in which Iran was retaliating for the assassinations of its scientists and other Western and Israeli efforts to set back their nuclear program. But it should be remembered that Iran and its terrorist allies have a long record of targeting Jews. Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 85 persons were murdered. The role of Iran and Hezbollah in that atrocity has long been established, but both the Lebanese group and its Iranian sponsor have escaped international retribution for its crimes.

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The terrorist attack on Israelis vacationing in Burgas, Bulgaria yesterday ought to change the nature of the conversation about Iran. If, as Israel is asserting, the bombing which took the lives of five Israelis and left 33 wounded, is the work of Iran’s ally Hezbollah, then those counseling further appeasement of the Islamist regime are going to have to explain why the West should believe more feckless diplomacy will restrain Tehran and its Lebanese auxiliaries from further outrages or persuade them they should give up their effort to get a nuclear weapon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear his country’s intelligence sees the long arm of Iran as being behind the slaughter.

There are those who will treat this incident as merely a tit-for-tat attack in which Iran was retaliating for the assassinations of its scientists and other Western and Israeli efforts to set back their nuclear program. But it should be remembered that Iran and its terrorist allies have a long record of targeting Jews. Tuesday was the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 85 persons were murdered. The role of Iran and Hezbollah in that atrocity has long been established, but both the Lebanese group and its Iranian sponsor have escaped international retribution for its crimes.

The trouble with the discussion about the effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program is that foreign policy realists and many diplomats treat that issue as a separate matter from Tehran’s history as a state sponsor of terror when the two are intimately related. The worldview of Iran’s leadership is one that sees it locked in a long struggle with the West and Israel with terror just one tool in its arsenal. The vicious anti-Semitism at the core of the political culture of the Islamist regime makes it clear Iran needs no excuses to justify its efforts to kill Jews.

The Burgas attack ought to serve as a wake-up call for the West as it finds itself locked in meaningless dead-end nuclear negotiations with Iran. International terrorism didn’t die with Osama bin Laden. Nor can we pretend that the Iran that many imagine can be trusted to refine uranium for peaceful atomic purposes is not the same government that employs terrorist mercenaries to kill Jews all throughout the world. The idea that the same nation that slaughters Jewish civilians is a rational actor is one that cannot be sustained.

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