Earlier this week Antonio “Jaime” Stiusso, the head of operations of SI (formerly SIDE), Argentina’s security service, returned home from a year of self-imposed exile. He came home to testify before a committee investigating last year’s death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
On Monday, Stiusso testified for 15 hours behind closed doors, but leaks of what he said are causing a commotion in Argentinean politics and abroad.
His testimony is the story of international politics, conspiracies, greed and corruption, leading to former president Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and spreading from Tehran to Buenos Aires, and it directly impacts the local and worldwide Jewish communities as well as the State of Israel.
Nisman, who was found dead in his apartment in January 2015, was killed by bullets a day before he was going to present his report about the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires which was blown up by a suicide bomber in 1994 killing 85 people and wounding hundreds.
Strangely enough, Nisman’s bodyguards left their post before his death, and the entry to his apartment was clear and easy.
Then-president Kirchner and her cronies tried to claim that he had committed suicide, but many believed he was murdered.
Nisman’s never-published report was based on a very detailed earlier report of 800 pages drafted by SIDE (Secretariat of State Intelligence). The SIDE report clearly stated that the AMIA terrorist attack was carried out by Hezbollah operatives, who got their instructions from Iranian intelligence only after the operation was most probably approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Mossad and IDF Military Intelligence, together with the FBI and CIA, helped and contributed to the SIDE investigation.
The Nisman report was going to point out that Kirchner caved in to Iranian pressure and plotted with country officials and intermediaries to cleanse Iran of its responsibility for the AMIA attack and blame other elements, probably Syria and/or terrorists operating under its instructions.
That was the background to Nisman’s unexplained death. In other words, someone murdered him and tried to create the impression that he committed suicide.
Stiusso knows the truth about who killed, or ordered to kill, Nisman.
He already gave his testimony a year ago, after Nisman’s death, to Viviana Fein, a special investigative judge. However, Fein, who was known to be close to Kirchner, concealed his testimony.
Now, Stiusso, in his new testimony, repeated the accusations that Kirchner’s cronies and straw men murdered Nisman on her behalf in order to silence him. The names associated with her have been mentioned also in connection with corrupt takeovers of businesses.
Shortly after testifying for the first time a year ago, Stiusso and his family were threatened. The veteran 63-year-old intelligence officer realized that someone put a contract on his head. He decided to escape Argentina immediately, before it was too late. With the help of good Israeli friends who agreed to help him, he was rushed to the US. Later, the Israelis, who asked not to be named, made sure that his family – his second wife, three daughters and two sons-in-law, would join him. In the US Stiusso talked to FBI agents and briefed them on his findings.
Stiusso has been with SIDE since 1972, including the decade when the military-fascist Junta was in power. He visited Israel numerous times on official but unannounced visits, meeting with Israeli intelligence and other officials, updating them on the AMIA investigation. More than a decade ago he also met with Benjamin Netanyahu, then the finance minister in the Ariel Sharon government, who showed an interest in the affair.
Roughly two years before the AMIA attack, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed by a similar method. A car bomb driven by a suicide bomber exploded, killing 29 people, including four Israeli diplomats. The Argentinean government didn’t open an official investigation. But for the Israeli intelligence community, there was no doubt that Hezbollah, with Iran’s blessing and assistance, was behind it. Hezbollah and Iran wanted to avenge the killing of Abbas al-Musawi, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Shi’ite movement, by missiles fired from Israeli gunships in south Lebanon. Musawi was replaced by the more competent Hassan Nasrallah.
Various Argentinean governments issued international arrest warrants against top Iranian officials, including Ali Fallahian, then his country’s intelligence minister, and Ahmad Vahidi, a senior officer in the Revolutionary Guards and later the defense minister.
But after Kirchner came to power, she changed the course of events, for unclear reasons. Some argue she was under the spell of Venezuela’s Hugo Chàvez, a good ally of Iran. Others claim she got financial rewards. She decided not to pursue the matter.
She and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, conspired with Iranian officials to divert the attention from Iran. A few years ago the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly investigate the AMIA crime. It was tantamount to police appointing a robber to investigate his own robbery. Because Nisman was going to expose these conspiracies, he was murdered.
Kirchner left office in December 2015, with her country on the verge of bankruptcy.
The newly elected president, Mauricio Macri, promised to cancel the memorandum with Iran and reopen the investigations – all of them, including the Nisman case. His promises brought back Stiusso.
The World Jewish Congress will hold a special plenary assembly in two weeks’ time in Buenos Aires, and will focus some of its sessions on the deadly attacks that remain unsolved. It will also take part in Israel's official commemoration of the 24th anniversary of the Israel embassy attack, and hold a session in honor of Nisman.
“Argentina has a thriving and important Jewish community which was the target of the worst terrorist attack against any Jewish institution worldwide in recent memory,” said congress president Ronald Lauder in an email message sent to The Jerusalem Post. “While successive Argentinean governments have initially committed to shed light onto these crimes, the investigations into the bombings of the Israel Embassy in 1992 and the AMIA building in 1994, have yet to be concluded.
“We are at a crossroads and face a critical question: Will Argentina be able to bring these investigation to a close? Will justice be done, finally? The world is watching Argentina and closely following the words and actions of its political and social leaders.
“Argentina and the international community must address Iran’s continued support for organizations engaged in terrorist activities and put this on the agenda of the relevant international bodies.
Argentina needs to strengthen its judicial system to ensure that judges and prosecutors are not influenced or manipulated by politicians or political considerations.”
According to Lauder, “the World Jewish Congress welcomes President Mauricio Macri’s decision to cancel the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, because it would have meant putting the thief in charge of investigating the theft, and we hope he will be able to give a new impetus for the investigations of the two terrorist attacks that have claimed too many lives.”
A week after the WJC meeting, US President Barrack Obama will visit Argentina. He plans to lay a wreath at the AMIA site. Many in that country, the local Jewish community, in Israel and among Jewish communities around the world hope that Obama will pressure Macri to stand by his own promises and bring historic justice and close one of the darkest chapters in the history of Argentina, even if it will lead to an investigation of Kirchner and strained relations with Iran.