Dr Ely Karmon is a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. Dr Karmon paid a visit to Bulgaria with regards for the conference of the International Institute for Security Cooperation, where he was also received as a member of the Board of the institute. Dr Karmon gave an interview for Focus News Agency, talking about the terrorist attack in the Bulgarian airport of Sarafovo, near Burgas, on July 18 2012, and about topics related to international terrorism.
Focus: You are here for the International Institute for Security Cooperation conference. What did you discuss there?
Dr Ely Karmon: First of all, I am a new member of the board of this institute. We have already been in contact for 6-8 months, in order to co-opt an Israeli expert on terrorism, and to develop bilateral relations – with me personally, but also with the institute I represent, which is the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel. All of a sudden, there was the July terrorist attack in Burgas, and on this background the institute decided to organise an urgent meeting of the board, on one hand, and also a conference with the Atlantic Club in Bulgaria. So I came here for the two events. I was received officially as a member of the board of the IISC, and in the same time I spoke at the conference and made a general evaluation about the terrorist threat.
Focus: You mentioned the attack in Burgas. How do you this attack will affect the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Israel in the future?
Dr Ely Karmon: The relations between the two countries have been very close for a long period of time. I can say even that the relations between the two peoples go a way back in time, and I can tell you that in Israel many Israelis, who know the bitter history of WWII – they know very well how the Bulgarian people and their leadership behaved and that they helped Jews to not be driven to the concentration camps. This is a very sensitive and important issue for Jewish people. According to my knowledge, the bilateral relations, both political and economic, were very good before the attack, but clearly now there is an attempt to improve the relations in the spheres of security and terrorist threat, and just before I left for Bulgaria, your Prime Minister was in Israel, with several ministers. I saw that an agreement was signed for the security of the transportation system, according to which Israel will provide support, training, and technologies in order Bulgaria to improve the security of its transport. I am sorry to say this, but welcome to the club of countries attacked by terrorists. If you look at the list of countries, and analyse the news in the newspapers, you will see that at least twenty attacks have been organised in ten-twelve countries, since the beginning of the year. This is a global threat.
Focus: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said, during his meeting with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov, that he was sure that Hezbollah was behind the terrorist attack in Burgas. PM Borisov, however, stated that Bulgaria did not have concrete evidence linking Hezbollah to the attack.
Dr Ely Karmon: First of all, we know that Israel has provided to several governments, not only Bulgaria, for instance to Cyprus, to Thailand, information, which led to the arrest of people before the attacks. There was an arrest in Thailand in January, and in Cyprus – in July. By the way, we remember that in January there was already an attempt in Bulgaria, which was foiled. You did not hear much about it, because it was kept between the intelligence services. We do not know what exactly happened there. In the case of Thailand, Israel gave the Thai authorities information in December, and the authorities arrested one Lebanese citizen in January, but Israel said that it was not the end. The Thai authorities, however, decided for economic reason, to not influence the tourism, and said “No, there is no more alert.” In February, five Iranians were arrested in Thailand. Thailand, however, did not file a formal protest to the Iranian government. So you understand that there are a lot of political considerations. By the way, this happens to all countries, including India, as also an Indian citizen was arrested, who led to the same terrorist cell – he used the same method of attack to the one in Bangkok. The Indian authorities also did not file a formal protest.
We do not know what exactly goes between the Israeli and Bulgarian intelligence and security services. I suppose that there is more information, which has not yet been published for security and operational reasons. Many countries prefer not to consider Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, besides USA, Canada, and the Netherlands, I think, and the UK. Most of the countries say that Hezbollah is a political movement. It is a political movement, but it using terrorism as a very legitimate weapon. Again, when our PM says that we know, I am quite convinced that we know that Iran and Hezbollah, together, are behind the terrorist attack. Because when you look at all these campaigns, since January – you read the names of the people arrested, you read the connections, you see the clandestine activities, and you see the explosives. In Kenya they found 15 kilos of high explosives and 100 kilos are still missing. The same in Thailand, in the first case they found 4 tones of material for preparing explosives. How did these 4 tones arrive there, how much time did it take? And in Cyprus, the guy that was arrested, he did exactly what the terrorist in Burgas was doing – he was looking for information on tourist buses and airports for Israeli tourists. So they had some luck and the information was good, so he was arrested. With the case in Burgas, probably there was not sufficient information available. And the security at the Burgas Airport was a bit lax. The problem is that Iran and its proxy – Hezbollah, they do not take into consideration any national interest, because your national interest was harmed, as the number of tourists is lower, people are afraid to travel. I know that probably many Israelis are now afraid to travel to Bulgaria, but not only Israelis. The same thing happened in Cyprus and in Turkey. And there is no real political price. Only Canada decided to, finally, take serious measures, because they understand that Iran and Hezbollah are playing on this weakness of other states.
Focus: Last question. Do you think that the attack in Burgas gives us any reason to believe that the Islamic fundamentalism on the Balkans is becoming stronger?
Dr Ely Karmon: I do not know, perhaps the intelligence services know better. Nonetheless, much of the Hezbollah and Iranian activity, like in West Africa and some parts of South America, is based on local Lebanese Shi’ite communities, where they have an infrastructure for recruiting people. In some places like in South-East Asia, like in Singapore and Indonesia, they use the local Sunnis. And even in France in 1980s, they recruited the Sunnis to fight for them. In India, for instance, the guy, who was facilitating was an Indian but a Shia Indian. He was working as a broadcaster in Iran. We know that on the Balkans there was an Iranian influence during the war in Bosnia – they sent people there. After the war they were not expelled, but their influence was waning. We do not know whether they have some infrastructure for recruiting on the Balkans. I am quite sure that they have something here, but we do not know any facts. And including here in Bulgaria. We do not know how the investigation will finish, as it has not been concluded yet. But it is possible that they have infrastructure either in Bulgaria, because you need local support, you need local people, or the support comes from Bosnia or Turkey. Something must exist that helps them operationally.