J'lem wants explanation over Argentina-Iran ties

Israel says it had no idea about decision to set up joint panel on 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

argentina 521 (photo credit: ENRIQUE MARCARIAN / REUTERS)
argentina 521
Jerusalem expressed “surprise and astonishment” Monday at an Argentinean-Iranian decision to set up a “truth committee’ to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
The Argentinean courts already found Iran culpable, and Interpol even issued warrants against five Iranians and a Lebanese for the attack. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is among the Iranian officials sought by Argentina.
“The announcement came as a complete surprise and shock,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said of 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 Argentineans 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 and also wounded hundreds.
The Foreign Ministry released a statement Monday evening saying that the Argentinean ambassador to Israel would be summoned to the ministry to explain the move, and that Israel’s envoy in Buenos Aires would request a meeting with Argentinean Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman to clarify the motivations.
The Foreign Ministry statement said Jerusalem was “clearly and understandably” concerned about the matter, and that the proven connection between the two attacks gave Israel “the natural right to follow the investigations and expect the perpetrators and their sponsors be brought to justice.”
The establishment of the committee makes it “doubtful justice will be rendered,” the statement read.
The “truth commission” agreement was signed in Addis Ababa by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Timerman, who were attending an Organization of African Union summit. The two had met for the first time in September in New York during the UN General Assembly session, and again in Switzerland earlier this month to discuss the AMIA case.
An Argentinean 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 the Argentineans.
The official said that when Israel recently asked the Argentineans about their contacts with Tehran concerning the bombing investigations, it was told that this was an internal Argentinean matter that did not affect Israel.
The official said that Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez has a “fascination” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and that this move toward Iran seemed to be an indication that she was beginning to follow his lead.
Chavez’s Venezuela has a close relationship with Iran. It was not clear, the official said, what economic benefits Iran promised Argentina in return for whitewashing the bombings.
The country’s two largest Jewish organizations – the AMIA and the Delegation of Israelite Argentine Associations – slammed the establishment of the committee and said it impinged on Argentinean sovereignty.
“To ignore everything that the Argentine justice has done and to replace it with a commission that, in the best of cases, will issue, without any defined deadline, a ‘recommendation’ to the parties constitutes, without doubt, a reversal in the common objective of obtaining justice,” the organizations said in a joint statement.
The American Jewish Committee issued an even harsher statement.
“The idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht,” said AJC executive director David Harris.
“It is offensive not only to the families of the 85 murdered and hundreds wounded, but to the entire Argentine nation which has sought justice for more than 18 years.”
Harris said that the Argentinean government’s “acquiescence in this charade called a truth commission is inexplicable” and will undermine efforts by the country’s special prosecutor to bring those responsible to justice.
The commission 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. She 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 Argentinean 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 [of the 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.Reuters contributed to this report.