Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Panama President Juan Carlos Varela.
(photo credit: PMO)
Iran was responsible for the 1994 bombing of a twin-engine plane in Panama that killed 21 people – including the Jewish former roommate of Panama’s current president – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intimated Thursday at a meeting with the visiting Panamanian leader.
Standing alongside Juan Carlos Varela, Netanyahu said that Iran “was responsible for the two terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires – and I think beyond that, in some of the things that you were referring to – I have no doubt that they had a hand.” He called Iran the “preeminent terrorist state of our time.”
One of the matters that Varela was “referring to” was the bombing on July 19, 1994, of a Panamanian commuter aircraft carrying 21 passengers and crew – 12 of them Jews – from Colón to Panama City.
The plane exploded shortly after takeoff from Colón, instantly killing all aboard. Four of the dead were Israelis and three were Americans.
Last year the FBI found information that pointed to Hezbollah’s involvement in the attack, which took place just a day after the terrorist group blew up the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people. Two years earlier they bombed the Israeli embassy in the Argentinian capital, killing 29.
Varela referred to the Alas Chiricanas Airlines incident in his comments, saying that in November of last year, Netanyahu sent him a letter “confirming that I lost my roommate and a senior member of the Panamanian Jewish community to a terrorist attack conducted by Hezbollah.
“Thank you for that information. We shall share it with the family, and I will keep following that case to make sure that justice is done,” he said.
Netanyahu said that Israel’s “security services and our remarkable intelligence services” have prevented terrorist attacks in over 30 countries, including major ones like the foiled Islamic State downing of an Australian plane earlier this year.
Israel, he said, has prevented these attacks by “sharing our intelligence with other countries, as we share with our friends in Panama.”
Varela, who arrived Wednesday afternoon and is scheduled to leave on Friday, said he was impressed with the IDF soldiers he has run across.
“I can see their commitment to the prosperous future of this nation. They are fighting for a cause, not for their interest – the cause of protecting the State of Israel and to protect the Jewish people. And I admire them and I reaffirm that I support that cause,” he said.
Netanyahu joked with Varela that he has a “personal debt to Panama.”
The prime minister explained that when he finished his studies in the US, he looked for a job in Jerusalem and landed one in 1980 with a furniture company called Rim Industries.
“It was established by Aaron Eisen, a Jew from Panama who was persuaded to come here and begin this business, which he began. And he gave me a job. So I owe you my first job in Israel – I owe Panama my first job,” Netanyahu quipped.
After their statements to the press, Israel and Panama signed a bilateral free-trade agreement, and a memorandum of understanding establishing an Israeli agricultural training center in Panama, the first such center in Latin America.