(photo credit: ENRIQUE MARCARIAN / REUTERS)
Jerusalem expressed "surprise and astonishment" Monday at a decision by Iran and Argentina to set up a "truth committee" to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
Argentina's courts have already found Iran culpable, and even issued Interpol warrants against five Iranians and a Lebanese for the attack, including Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
"The announcement came as a complete surprise and shock," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP news agency about the establishment of the new committee. "We warned the Argentineans that the Iranians were trying to manipulate them and set a trap for them that they will use for their propaganda purposes."
Palmor said that Israel had no information on the mandate of the "truth committee" beyond what was written in the media, and was waiting to hear explanations from the Argentinean about what is being discussed.
The attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building on July 18, 1994 was Argentina's deadliest ever bombing and also left hundreds wounded. Two years before the attack, Islamic Jihad took responsibility for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.
An Argentine newspaper reported two years ago that Buenos Aires was willing to stop investigating the bombings of Jewish targets there in the 1990s in return for improved economic ties with Iran. One diplomatic official said the establishment of the "truth committee" – which he said sounded like something straight out of North Korea – seemed to indicate there was something to that story, denied at the time by Argentina.
The official said that Israel, when it asked about Argentine contacts with the Iranians regarding the bombings, were told that it was an internal Argentinean matter that did not affect Israel.
The official said that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has a fascination with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and that this move toward Iran seems to be an indication that she is beginning to follow his lead. It was not clear, the official said, what economic benefits Iran promised Argentina in return for whitewashing the bombings.
Fernandez said foreign ministers from Argentina and Iran had signed a memorandum of understanding during a meeting in Ethiopia.
The commission, according to the accord, will be made up of foreign legal experts "to analyze all the documentation presented to date by the judicial authorities of Argentina and Iran," Fernandez said in a series of Twitter messages.
Fernandez hailed the agreement as historic.
The five commissioners will be jointly nominated and will not be residents of Argentina or Iran, according to a document posted on Fernandez's Facebook page.
After analyzing the evidence, "the commission will give its vision and issue a report with recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties," according to the agreement.
It also outlines plans for Argentine legal officials to meet in Tehran to question "those people for whom Interpol has issued a red notice."
Fernandez said the accord, which must be ratified by Congress, showed Argentina "would never let the tragedy (attack) become a chess piece in the game of wider geopolitical interests."
"Dialogue (is) the only way to resolve conflicts between countries, however severe they are," she said via Twitter.