By Julian Pecquet - 07/26/12 10:00 AM EDT
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday said he believes Iran was behind the recent attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who gets to see detailed intelligence information, told The Hill, “I believe there were certainly elements of Hezbollah [involved] and I believe it was under the direction of their masters in Iran.”
Rogers’s remarks are significant for several reasons. He is the highest-ranking U.S. official to blame Iran, and his comments go further than what the Obama administration has said publicly.
“I think the president needs to call Iran on the carpet very publicly and tell them what we know,” Rogers said. “This is his time to stand up and do something bold.”
Israeli officials immediately pointed the finger at Iran in last Wednesday’s attack, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing, “Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror.”
Throughout this year, there has been widespread speculation that Israel will launch a military strike on Iran.
The Obama administration has not fingered Iran on the deaths in Bulgaria as it continues to hold out hope that the Islamic Republic can be persuaded to peacefully end its alleged nuclear weapons program. However, anonymous U.S. officials have told media outlets that Iran or its Hezbollah allies were behind the deadly attack.
Bulgaria, meanwhile, has not yet assigned blame. Iran has denied it was involved.
On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “We don’t have any confirmation yet. We are working to assess the facts and, with our partners, to discover who was responsible. It is certainly the case that Hezbollah and Iran have been bad actors, as a general matter. But we’re not, at this point, in a position to make a statement about responsibility.”
Rogers said that in the wake of a string of recent attacks — including a foiled plot against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador inside the United States — the administration needs to rethink its approach and stop negotiations until Iran agrees to a series of conditions.
He didn’t spell out exactly what he thought those steps should be, but suggested an end to terrorist attacks is a must.
“I don’t think they should be invited to the table unless certain criteria are met,” he said. “Until that conversation happens, this is just time for Iran to stall and obfuscate.
“Their behavior has been so bad, and so aggressive, it’s time to say enough is enough. I think this lack of setting the record straight on what Iran is up to, and the threat and danger that they pose — not only for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East but their proxy-state terrorism that is alive and well and dangerous around the world — means that we’re going to get more of it.”
President Obama has called the bombing “completely outrageous” and vowed to help Israel “identify and bring to justice the perpetrators.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) agrees with Rogers.
“All of the evidence, to me, involves Iran and Hezbollah,” King told The Hill. “Iran is the enemy — that’s the bottom line. So it’s a question of how we address it.”
He added, “Generally, I think this administration has not been emphatic enough in defining the enemy for who it is,” he said. “If you want to defeat the enemy, you have to identify the enemy.”
King acknowledged, however, that there might be “foreign-policy considerations” for the administration “holding back.”
That issue came up during a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on the Iranian threat Wednesday morning.
“That’s part of our problem,” said Danielle Pletka, the vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We’re always reluctant to name names, even when we have them dead to rights.”
James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Baghdad who has been vocal about Iranian-sponsored attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq, told The Hill, “No administration likes to finger a nation-state before they have evidence. There’s several reasons for that, one of which is if the people start calling for us to take action, we certainly don’t want to ‘ready, shoot, aim.’ Secondly, it’s our general preference — a preference that has been very effectively carried out with Iran — to mobilize the international community.”
He said Israel has more leeway to speak its mind than does the United States. Still, he said, “we should push the envelope on events like this.”
He believes the evidence against Iran is clear.
“Who else would do this?” he said. “There’s nobody else anywhere in the world attacking Israeli interests, and there ha[s]n’t been for 20 years … But that’s simply a logical train [of thought]. And in courts of law, and in diplomacy, and at the U.N., etc., etc., that gets you nowhere. What you need is absolute, hard evidence.”
The House and Senate are working on Iran sanctions bills that could pass later this year.