By Biljana Lajmanovska
On the crossroad between the East and the West, where the biggest opposites and differences come in direct contact, the Balkans are a place where thwarting terrorist threats is sometimes difficult, experts agree. The risks are bigger in the past several years, due to the fact that many countries in the region become members of NATO and EU and contribute to the international anti-terrorist coalition.
“Terrorism does not recognise borders,” Blagoja Markovski, former spokesperson for the Chief of Staff of the Macedonian Army, told SETimes. “Terrorists have no problem crossing from one territory to another, to move and organise themselves. Although they will probably not receive wider support for their actions here, still, terrorist attacks on a micro-location level are a real threat. They create instability, insecurity and scare the population.”
A terrorist set off a bomb Wednesday (July 18th) on a bus at the Burgas airport, killing five Israeli passengers and the bus driver. The assailant, who remained unidentified, was also killed.
The tourists landed on a charter flight from Tel Aviv and were en route to the Sunny Beach Resort on the Black Sea. Israeli officials are blaming Iran and Hezbollah for the attack, but Iran has rejected the allegations. Israel plans to as the EU to put Hezbollah on its terror blacklist. The group is already on the US terror list.
“The region, fortunately, has not been exposed that much so far from the concrete terrorist attacks of the size of this one against the Israeli citizens in Bulgaria,” Mentor Vrajolli, senior researcher at the Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, told SETimes.
“Although the majority of the national security strategies of the Balkan states include threats and dangers that might come from global terrorism due to relatively stable situations, it might have happened that these dangers could have been neglected at a great extent from the security institutions in these states.”
Experts recommend the region consider raising security levels and co-ordinating security forces to prevent terrorist threats, especially in the regions frequently visited by Israeli tourists. Israeli representatives in the region also call for higher alert.
“The Iranian terror campaign, via its middle east proxy Hezbollah, targets civilians with little regard to their stated religion or ethnicity,” Ohad Avidan Kaynar, deputy counsul general of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, told SETimes. “The tragedy of … the Burgas suicide bombing has claimed the lives of five Israelis, but also that of one Turkish decent Bulgarian … Such attempts have been many in the past few months: New Delhi, Bangkok, Tbilisi, Baku, Istanbul, Nairobi, and only last week a failed attempt of an astoundingly similar nature in Cyprus.”
After the Burgas attack, officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) increased security around the Israeli embassy and other buildings that could be targets of Israel’s enemies, said Uros Pena, deputy director of the Directorate for Co-ordination of Police Bodies in BiH.
But other countries, including Macedonia and Serbia, have not increased security, although Macedonian officials say they are watching the situation in Bulgaria closely.
According to the Macedonian State Bureau of Statistics, 363 Israeli tourists visited Macedonia in May. The number has been steadily rising since 2010. The number of Israeli tourists in Macedonia increased after the two countries introduced a visa-free travel regime and a Holocaust Museum was built in Skopje.
SETimes correspondents Linda Karadaku in Pristina, Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul, Drazen Remikovic in Podgorica and Biljana Pekusic in Belgrade contributed to this report.