Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility.
Even as it blamed Iran, Israel, which has threatened military action to halt Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, also signaled that its response would not be overt.
“No option has been ruled out. But the last thing that we should do is shoot from the hip. It is better to keep our cool and use our judgment,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would “find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them.”
Israeli security analysts said the response is likely to be unseen, part of what is widely believed to be a clandestine, tit-for-tat cycle of attacks and assassinations between Israel and Iran. Because the bombing in Bulgaria, if carried out by Hezbollah, was at the “sub-state level,” Israel will probably respond in kind, said Yoram Schweitzer, who researches Iran and Hezbollah at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“The level of trying to prevent the Iranian nuclear program is a much higher and more intensive level of warfare,” Schweitzer said. “One can’t mix these two. If Israel is looking for a pretext, I’m not sure it will find it in this.”
Other analysts said that Israel, despite its threats, is unwilling to attack Iran without American backing. Asked about the possibility on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the United States believes that “the window for a peaceful resolution to this is still open and that the right approach is to continue to put pressure on Iran to live up to its international obligations and forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions.”
U.S. intelligence officials said it was “plausible” that Hezbollah carried out the attack but that analysts at the CIA and other agencies were still evaluating the intelligence surrounding the bombing and had not reached a conclusion.
“I think there’s a lot of people that assume, and have since day one, that this is Hezbollah,” said a senior U.S. official, who added that U.S. intelligence agencies had not reached such an assessment.
President Obama condemned the bombing on Thursday, saying during a campaign swing in Florida that it was “barbaric” and “ruthless.”
Bulgarian officials said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber carrying a fake Michigan driver’s license, and they said they were analyzing DNA to identify him. They released video surveillance footage showing a rangy, long-haired man in his 30s, whose baseball cap and plaid shorts helped him blend easily into the crowd at the airport in the city of Burgas. The bombing took place in the parking lot as Israelis boarded a bus that was to take them to a hotel.