Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman arrived in Israel Monday for a three-day visit, seen in Jerusalem as both a sign that Argentina-Iran ties are fraying and that Buenos Aires is interested in improving ties with Jerusalem.
Israeli-Argentinean ties have been strained since Buenos Aires and Tehran signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2013 that included a “truth commission” to jointly investigate bombings against Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina’s capital in the early 1990s – which left 114 people killed and more than 500 wounded.
The Argentineans, one Israeli official said, are realizing that “not a lot of good is coming out of that agreement,” and that the Iranians are piling up obstacles in the way of investigating the bombings at the Israeli embassy and the AMIA Jewish Center building.
One clear sign of improving ties is a decision by Israel Aerospace Industries, according to Globes, to sell up to 18 upgraded Kfir planes to Argentina.
The Argentinean newspaper Clarin reported that the sale has raised eyebrows in Britain, which sought clarifications from Israel, because London is concerned Argentina will use the planes for surveillance of the Falkland Islands.
Timerman met separately Monday with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, after taking part in Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies at Yad Vashem.
He is scheduled during his visit to meet Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday, and is also trying to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau.
Timerman’s visit comes some four months after Israeli-Argentinean ties hit a particularly rough patch, with a former Israeli envoy to Buenos Aires – Itzhak Aviran – telling an Argentinean Jewish news agency that Israel killed most of the perpetrators behind the bombing attacks.
Though Israel quickly distanced itself from Aviran’s comments, saying the words of the retired diplomat were “pure fantasy,” Timerman – who has had a somewhat fraught relationship with Jerusalem since taking office in 2010 – pounced on them.
He said that from Aviran’s statements “we can deduce the reasons why Israel has opposed the Memorandum of Understanding.”
Timerman was quoted as saying that Aviran’s words were “very serious, because they would imply that Israel hid information from Argentine courts, blocking new evidence from appearing.”
Despite these comments, and in an apparent interest not to strain ties too far, this episode passed quietly from the public eye a few days later.
Timerman is the son of Jacobo Timerman, the Jewish Argentinean journalist and publisher imprisoned and tortured during Argentina’s Dirty War from 1976- 1983. When he was released from prison in 1979, the elder Timerman was exiled and immigrated to Israel where he became a caustic critic of Israeli government policies. He returned to Argentina in 1984.
The Argentinean foreign minister was last here in 2011, during which he gave a press conference alongside Liberman and became agitated over questions regarding an Argentinean paper that, at the time, had reported that Argentina was willing to stop investigating the bombings of Jewish sites in return for improved economic ties with Iran.
“According to the Torah,” Timerman said, “the person who accuses has to bring evidence. It is not the victim who has to prove his innocence. I will not answer the question.”