Ambassador of Israel considers aftermath of Burgas terrorist attack
interview and photography by Anthony Georgieff
As I park outside the Israeli residence on the outskirts of Sofia in the sweltering heat a few days after what will probably go down in history as one of the most serious international terrorist attacks in Bulgaria, I cannot help but think of those awful pictures of the burntout bus in front of Burgas Airport. To Israelis, I know, this is the archetypal image of sheer terror, the end of civilisation and the beginning of barbaric fear. Because so many Israelis have died in such buses and because it has been in the news on so many occasions, to an Israeli mind it is an image that compares to what footage of the burning towers of the World Trade Centre does to an American.
I enter the heavily fortified residence and Shaul Kamisa Raz, the Israeli ambassador to Bulgaria, greets me with a weak smile. The man who didn't sleep for the past three nights as he was at the scene of the attack in Burgas, coordinating local and Israeli efforts to help the survivors of the 18 July terrorist attack, seems oddly calm. He starts our chat exactly as a diplomat is supposed to do: with a big word of thanks to the Bulgarian government for their help in Burgas. But his profuse expressions of gratitude to Boyko Borisov and Tsvetan Tsvetanov, to all the doctors and nurses in Burgas and Sofia who helped the survivors, to all the airport staff who brought in food and blankets to those stranded at Burgas Airport cannot take my mind off the image of that burntout bus and the larger question it brings: could the tragedy have been prevented?
There are two ways to prevent terrorist attacks. One is to have very precise information about the place and timing of a planned attack. The other is to ensure that the place where a possible terrorist attack may occur has all the technical equipment and properly trained security services to detect and prevent it. Unfortunately, the best way to get the right expertise in counterterrorism is through previous experience.
None of these were in place in Burgas on 18 July. There was no precise and specific forewarning, and Bulgaria did not have the experience to handle a terrorist attack of such dimensions.
Bulgaria is an open country that welcomes visitors and tourists from all over the world, and makes an effort to increase their numbers. However, its services have no experience in countering acts of international terrorism. There is no doubt that the Bulgarian security services will now have to rethink their policies in relation to the new situation.
Who is responsible for the security of Israeli visitors abroad ‒ the Israeli or the local services?
The chief responsibility is with the services of the host country. Israel has an indirect responsibility. Obviously, if the Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau, which operates under the Office of the Prime Minister, has reliable information about an impending attack either in or outside of Israel, Israeli travellers will be warned through the media to exercise extra caution or to abstain from travel at all. This is what has happened in Thailand, in Turkey, in Sinai. The individual travellers then make up their mind whether to take the risk of travelling or not.
The Israeli services work in cooperation with many countries to share intelligence and information to thwart potential terrorism hazards.
Has such cooperation been effective with Bulgaria?
Cooperation between the Israeli and the Bulgarian security and intelligence services has been good and multifaceted.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers