It’s an interesting question to ask, I think, whether or not the two countries’ covert operations are on an equal moral plane. Is there a moral equivalency between blown-up buses in Bulgaria and blown-up cars in Tehran? Israeli President Shimon Peres doesn’t think so: “We don’t have an initiative of terror. We don’t do it. But self-defense is the right and the must of every people.” The Washington Post’s Editorial Board agrees, declaring, “The victims of the Bulgarian bombing were not warriors or scientists building illicit weapons of mass destruction but innocent civilians, including a pregnant woman.”
I’d argue the case against Iran is pretty clear cut. It was terrorism, plain and simple. Assuming it was a Quds Force or Hezbollah operative who blew himself up aboard the tour bus in Bulgaria, the attack was very likely retaliatory in nature. After all, Israel’s assassination campaign in Iran (for which it has not officially taken credit, naturally) has, since 2010, resulted in the deaths of four scientists involved with Iran’s controversial nuclear program. At the risk of stating the obvious, the attack was not some random event, but rather a deliberate targeting of innocent civilians, presumably to effect change in Israeli policy (i.e., strengthen Iranian deterrence so that Israel will know any future assassinations will come at a demonstrably higher cost). Definitions of terrorism abound, but I’d argue that any worth its salt would include this horrific suicide attack in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. This isn’t a very controversial view to hold, especially in the West. But what about Israeli assassinations? Are they as clear cut? Should they be termed acts of terrorism, with the same connotations as a suicide bomber blowing himself to bits aboard a bus filled with tourists?
It kind of seems that way. First of all, despite the Post’s assertions, Iranian scientists are not, as far as we know, “building illicit weapons of mass destruction.” That’s not to say they won’t someday, but as of right now, they’re not, and it’s not at all certain they will. For the Post to assume otherwise is intellectually dishonest. This isn’t some crackpot, Pollyannaish view to espouse. Well, unless you believe Israel’s military chief, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, or CIA Director David Petraeus, or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, among others, are Pollyannaish crackpots. As was the case with the Bulgarian bus bombing, civilians are the targets – an essential element of almost all definitions of terrorism. And, once again, policy change is what is being sought after here; blowing up nuclear scientists with sticky bombs isn’t an end in itself, thus lending even more credibility to the position that Israel’s assassination campaign is an instance of state sponsored terrorism.
It might be argued that when Israel, possibly through MEK proxies, murders scientists, it’s acting in self-defense to delay Iran’s necessarily nefarious nuclear ambitions. Assuming the Post’s Editorial Board doesn’t mind being consistent, I’ll borrow a quote they used in their condemnation of the Bulgarian bus bombing: “As a statement by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday said, ‘any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation.’” I'm not so sure that there aren't ends for which terrorism is justifiable, but that's a whole other post. Regardless, of whether the ends justify the means, it's still the case that the means consist of acts of terrorism. After all, what else would it be called if Iranian operatives began killing scientists in Dimona associated with Israel's nuclear weapons program? It would seem, then, that Israel has forfeited its moral high ground. Yes, it's incredibly tragic and awful when innocent lives are stripped away, as was the case in Bulgaria. But when Israeli foreign policy begins to borrow pages from the Hezbollah and Quds Force playbooks, Israeli denunciations of Iranian terrorism tend to have a hollow, hypocritical ring about them.By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist