buenos aires bombing.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel on Saturday night slammed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to name as its defense minister the man responsible for the 1994 attack in Buenos Aires against the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA).
One Israeli official pointed out that the attack was the largest single act of anti-Semitic murder since the Holocaust.
Ahmad Vahidi, who commanded a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards known as the Quds Force at the time of the bombing, was nominated on Wednesday.
The Quds Force is involved in operations abroad, including working with Hizbullah, which is accused of carrying out the Buenos Aires attack.
Argentinean Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Friday on that Vahidi is accused of "being a key participant in the planning and of having made the decision to go ahead with the attack against the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association."
Nisman has led the investigation into the July 18, 1994 bombing - Argentina's bloodiest terrorist attack. The explosives detonated inside a van outside the AMIA building, killing 85 people and wounding 200.
"It has been demonstrated that Vahidi participated in and approved of the decision to attack AMIA during a meeting in Iran on August 14, 1993," when he led the Quds Force, Nisman said. He added that Vahidi was never in Argentina.
Argentinean, Israeli and US officials say that Iran orchestrated the attack, and that Hizbullah carried it out. Iran has denied involvement.
One senior Israeli official said the fact that the Iranian government "could appoint someone indicted for their direct involvement in that ghastly attack exposes clearly the true character of this unrepentant, extremist and hateful regime."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the appointment was "more proof" of the nature of the Iranian regime.
"They don't care what the international community thinks about them, and are showing arrogant disdain for international opinion," he said.
Yossi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Hebrew press, said the appointment showed that "Iran has not changed a bit.
"Anyone who believed that the new Iranian government would bring with it new signs of a new Iran has made a grave mistake," he said. "The appointment of a terrorist as defense minister sharpens the terrorist profile of the Iranian government. Iran is the largest exporter of terrorism in the world today."
Ahmadinejad submitted his 18 cabinet nominees late on Wednesday to parliament, which must approve the list. Most of the nominees were close Ahmadinejad loyalists or little-known figures, while public critics of the president from his previous cabinet were purged.
At least four nominees - for defense, interior, intelligence and oil minister - had ties with the Revolutionary Guards, a powerful base of support for the president.
"It's significant, this nomination, but not surprising," said Nisman about Vahidi's nomination. "Iran has always protected terrorists, giving them government posts, but I think never one as high as this one."
The president of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, Guillermo Borger, told Argentina's Jewish News Agency on Friday that "we are completely surprised and outraged by the nomination of Ahmad Vahidi... His nomination is shameless and insulting."
Interpol said in 2007 it would help Argentina seek the arrest of Vahidi and four other prominent Iranians wanted in connection with the attack.
Among the others is Mohsen Rezaei, who ran against Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election and is a former leader of the Revolutionary Guards.
The other wanted Iranians are former intelligence chief Ali Fallahian; Mohsen Rabbani, former cultural attache at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; and former diplomat Ahmad Reza Asghari.
Interpol had also sought Hizbullah member Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in February 2008.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said on Friday that if Vahidi was indeed the man wanted by Interpol, it would be very "disturbing" to see him confirmed in the Iranian cabinet.