Two bombings overseas highlighted the growing threat emanating from the Middle East.
A bus carrying mostly Israeli youth in a Bulgaria exploded near an airport Wednesday, killing at least 5 people and wounding at least 33 others, Bulgaria interior minister told local news stations. Witnesses told Israeli media that the huge blast occurred soon after someone boarded the vehicle.
A Bulgarian news agency is also reporting that two pregnant women and an 11-year-old Israeli girl are among the wounded. . . . [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu said “all signs point to Iran.”
This “is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading across the world,” Netanyahu said. “Israel will react strongly to Iran’s terror.”
The bombing occurred on the anniversary of a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, an attack that authorities there blamed on terrorists linked to Iran, and the timing suggests a similar linkage in Bulgaria.
We are reminded that, far from being chastened by sanctions, the Iranians are extending their reach and operating with impunity. And if Iran does get a nuclear bomb, could Netanyahu retaliate without setting off a nuclear war? (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been in the region, is worried about Israel striking Iran prematurely to remove the existential threat to Israel.
Then there is Iran’s closest ally Syria. The Post reports:
A bombing in Damascus on Wednesday killed at least three key members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, a devastating strike that came hours before a U.N. Security Council debate on the Syria conflict and added to mounting evidence that Assad’s security forces may be losing control of the capital. The rebel Free Syrian Army said its loyalists planted bombs inside a room where the government’s central command unit for crisis management — a special cell comprised of about a dozen of the country’s top security chiefs — was to meet to discuss efforts to crush the 16-month-old uprising.
The Post reported the administration saying that “the bombing showed Assad’s hold on power weakening and that the rebel forces were making strides militarily. They blamed the escalating violence on Assad, reiterated the administration’s position that he must relinquish power and rejected the notion that Obama would face increased international pressure to take bolder action.”
Obama talked on the phone with Vladimir Putin, who remains opposed to removing Assad by force. So much for Obama’s influence on the world stage.
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, an adviser to Mitt Romney, told me: “The Russians have said ‘the decisive battle for Syria has begun.’ I agree. Assad’s most secure facilities have now been penetrated. He can only hold on if he responds with devastating force, like using chemical weapons. If not, the whole regime could shatter quickly.”
Bolton says at this point it is critical for the U.S. “to be preparing to secure WMD materials, including through use of Special Ops forces. The chemical weapons, biological weapons and nuclear programs cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.”
Others like Cliff May, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), argue, “The U.S. needs to be involved — not with boots on the ground but in other ways — assisting our natural allies (those who are not our allies are receiving massive assistance from Iran and Russia) and positioning to play a role down the road.”
And May’s FDD colleague, Jonathan Schanzer, warns that “the very fact that suicide bombings are occurring in Syria should be of concern. A group calling itself the ‘Brigade of Islam’ claimed responsibility for the attack (along with the Free Syrian Army). Does this mean that jihadis have fully wormed their way into the FSA? This is something we will need to continue to monitor carefully.”
Unfortunately, the administration has exhibited no coherent thinking, let alone policy framework, for how to respond. Like most every other issue, the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath have been pushed aside while Obama focuses almost entirely on his reelection.
However, the world doesn’t wait for him. We risk becoming a bit player and paper tiger in the region, a certain recipe for the rise of aggressive, anti-Western forces.