The Argentina-Iran axis

As Buenos Aires draws closer to the Tehran regime, the chance of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center recedes.

argentina 521 (photo credit: ENRIQUE MARCARIAN / REUTERS)
argentina 521
Although some 18 years have elapsed, no one has ever been brought to justice for the deadly terrorist attack on the central headquarters of the Argentine Jewish community, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.
Argentina says the attack, which killed 85 people, was ordered by the regime in Tehran and perpetrated by a Hezbollah terrorist.
Following a calamitous inquiry, which was ultimately disavowed by the judiciary, Argentina has proven itself to be incapable of apprehending the parties politically and operatively responsible for the massacre – the largest attack on a Jewish target outside Israel since the Holocaust.
The AMIA attack was preceded by the 1992 suicide bombing attack on the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 civilians were killed. Hezbollah and its patron Iran were implicated in this bombing as well.
The political embarrassment that now awaits Argentina in its baffling “dialogue” with the Iranian government was first set in motion in January 2011. A few weeks later, I revealed in the Perfil newspaper of Buenos Aires that the two governments had secretly decided to launch a rapprochement after long years of hostility.
Argentina still maintains an international arrest warrant for eight prominent Iranian officials, issued in the wake of the AMIA bombing. Five of them feature on Interpol’s “red notice” list, which requests the immediate arrest of that person or persons, for the purposes of extradition. The eight officials named in the 2006 arrest warrants include Ahmad Vahidi, the current Iranian defense minister; Mohsen Rabbani, former cultural attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires; Hadi Soleimanpour, in 1994 the ambassador to Argentina and today deputy foreign minister for African affairs; Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister and now a leading adviser on international affairs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; and Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard. Velayati and Rezai are currently aspiring to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president.
In 1999, the Argentine government issued an arrest warrant for master Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyah in connection with the embassy and the AMIA bombings.
Mughniyah was killed in Damascus in 2008 in a car bomb blast.
Nevertheless, determined to effect a complete U-turn on the fruitless series of steps taken to find those responsible for the terror attacks, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman – the first Jew to ever hold the post – made a move of great significance in early 2011: He met secretly with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and President Bashar Assad on January 24 in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
The connection between Assad and Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner was not new. Assad visited Buenos Aires in July 2010 and was received by Kirchner.
After his trip to Syria in January 2011, which was never officially admitted by Buenos Aires, Timerman traveled to Israel in late March 2011. At a joint press conference with Timerman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the issue of Timerman’s visit to Syria had “been cleared up.” In July 2011, Iran announced the opening of a channel of communication with Argentina.
Argentina was in fact beginning to negotiate with Iran. The official Syrian news agency stated that on January 23, the Syrian foreign minister met in Damascus with his counterparts from Argentina and Iran, one after the other. The following day, Timerman traveled to Aleppo, where he met with Assad and Muallem. Also in Aleppo on that same day was his Iranian equivalent, Ali Akbar Salehi.
Why would an Argentine minister of state, who was accompanying his president on a tour of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey, peel off from the official mission and arrive in a Syrian city far from the capital at the same time as Iran’s foreign minister? The deepening rapprochement between Damascus and Buenos Aires dates from January, 2010, when Kirchner received Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal at Argentina’s presidential palace. Six months later Kirchner gave Assad a warm welcome in Buenos Aires and, as a token of the revived friendship, asked for the “restitution” of the Golan Heights to Syria, reaffirmed “the right of the Palestinian people to set itself up as a state in its territory and the right of Israel to live within the internationally recognized borders.” It was the first visit by a Syrian leader to Argentina.
But if the Syria-Iran-Argentina encounters of January 2011 were the starting point for the current dialogue between Buenos Aires and Tehran, the desire for maximum cordiality towards Syria had already been displayed by Kirchner’s late husband, Néstor Kirchner, when he was president. That was in 2006, when Israel fought the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah, during which the senior leader of the Arab community in Argentina, Roberto Ahuad, declared that “the State of Israel applies state terrorism as the Argentine dictatorship did.”
In 2007, the Argentine ruling party (Front for Victory) appointed Ahuad as a candidate for national congressman. In 2009, the Argentine Senate confirmed his appointment as Argentine ambassador to Damascus.
In July 2011, Iran said it was “ready for a constructive dialogue and to co-operate with the Argentine government to shed all possible light” on the 1994 attack and that “the Islamic Republic of Iran, as one of the main victims of terrorism, condemns any terrorist action, including the AMIA bombing in 1994, and expresses sympathy with the families of the victims of the bombing.” But the statement went on to say, “The ministry also denounces the fact that the truth about the criminal action has become the target of plots and political games and that Argentine officials at the time, whose illegal actions have been disclosed and convicted by the court in this regard, mislead judicial investigation and set the stage for the escape of real culprits behind the atrocity from the hands of justice through pointing a finger of blame at a number of nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
At no point has Iran agreed to turn over the wanted men, as demanded by Argentina.
Yet on July 17, a communiqué by the Argentine Foreign Ministry welcomed the Iranian statement, saying, “It would entail unprecedented and very positive progress by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the AMIA case.”
Responding to the Iranian statement on the same day, Israel’s Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Daniel Gazit, was less circumspect. The Iranian communiqué “does not mean anything,” he said. “If they wish to cooperate, they must respond and deliver those accused over the crime to the Argentine judiciary. After the attack on AMIA, some of those responsible for the event received honors in Iran and Lebanon and from the Hezbollah terrorist group.”
The first round of talks between Iran and Argentina in Geneva, on October 28, ended in failure. The idea was “to agree on consensual mechanisms to enable the authors of the 1994 attack to be brought to trial.” But while Timerman termed this first round of conversations as “positive,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast declared, “The Tehran government condemns and rejects the charges of terrorism against its citizens.”
Meanwhile, Argentine exports to Iran increased from $84 million in 2008 to $371 million in 2009, $1,455 million in 2010 and $1,189 million in 2011; trade between both nations reached $ 1,085 million in 2011, with an outlook for a clear improvement in 2012.
Recently, one of the most respected newspapers in Argentina, La Nación of Buenos Aires, revealed that Argentine trade with authoritarian or dictator-run countries has dramatically increased in recent years, and now stands at 24 percent of its exports, with a clear surplus in the relationship with Iran, while distancing itself from more competitive markets.
On October 30, Israel warned Argentina over potential agreements with Iran.
Jerusalem will not approve an Argentina- Iran deal that does not include the extradition of the eight suspects in the 1994 attack and compensation for the relatives of the victims.
Israel concurred with the position of the Argentine prosecutor in the AMIA case, Alberto Nisman, that Iran and Hezbollah are the guilty parties.
Itzhak Shoham and Reuven Azar, senior officials at the Foreign Ministry’s Latin American desk, visited Buenos Aires in October, but were denied a meeting with Timerman, the Hebrew daily Haaretz reported at the time. According to Haaretz, Israel warned Argentina that Iran might use the talks to bring the investigation to a dead end.
In September, Timerman met with Foreign Minister Liberman in New York.
On that occasion, according to Haaretz, the Argentine said that “his country ‘would not be fooled’ by the Iranians and that Argentina would continue to demand the extradition of the suspected officials.”
But according to the Iranian state-run Press TV, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on October 31, “Under intense political pressure by the US and the Israeli regime, Argentina formally accused Iran of carrying out the attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300.” The report concluded by saying that “Argentinean prosecutors, with no evidence for their anti-Tehran allegations, have only used false and contradictory statements by Iranian dissidents seeking asylum in the West to level charges against the Islamic Republic.”
Another round of talks is slated for early 2013. Meanwhile, the bottom line is that there is only one relatively coherent scenario under which the erratic Kirchner government can emerge from the fiasco with Iran with at least some of its reputation intact – by abandoning the “dialogue.” Tehran negotiates nothing and all the more so with a government like that of Argentina, which it neither fears nor respects.
The writer is an Argentine journalist – – Twitter: @peliaschev