Argentine Intelligence Report Details Iranian Hand in Buenos Aires Bombings

Three weeks ago, Miguel Tomas, the head of the Argentinian intelligence services, SIDE, met in Israel with the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan and senior Foreign Ministry officials. He presented his Israeli counterparts with a copy of a top secret report that blames Iran and Hezbollah for the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires in July 1994 that left 85 people dead.

The report also states, although as a footnote, that Iran and Hezbollah were behind the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in March 1992 that killed 29 people and injured scores.

The report, which is thousands of pages long, contains transcripts of interrogations and wire taps, border control records and notes by name dozens of Iranian government officials, diplomats and intelligence officers, Hezbollah operatives and Argentinians and other South Americans who colluded in planning and executing the AMIA bombing.

The report concludes eight years of investigation into the bombing along with Mossad, the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Dagan and other Israeli officials have called the report "professional, poignant and bravely executed." Although Tomas, a senior Peronist Party member, was a political appointment and has headed Argentina's intelligence services for only a year, he did not hesitate to point an accusing finger at those held responsible for the bombing. Among those cited by the report are Iran's spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, who used to hold responsibility for the Islamic republic's intelligence services, the Iranian ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing, and Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah's operations officer, who is known to have close contacts with Iranian intelligence.

Mughniyah was behind the kidnapping of a TWA airliner to Beirut in 1985 and a number of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon during the 1980s. Mughniyah appears on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists and has a $25-million price on his head. He is also believed to be a high priority target of Israeli intelligence and, according to foreign sources, Israel has tried several times to assassinate him, most notably in Beirut in 1994, when a car bomb exploded outside his brother's house.

Although the report repeats the accusations of Israeli intelligence that Iran and Hezbollah were behind both the AMIA and the embassy bombings, this is the first time a non-Israeli or non-Jewish organization has clearly stated that Iran and its intelligence services initiated and executed the attacks.

False identities

The report includes border control records that show Iranian diplomats and government officials entered and left the country under false identities shortly before the AMIA bombing, and transcripts of telephone conversations between the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires and suspected Hezbollah operatives in neighboring countries.

The report also contains hundreds of pages of the testimony of Abdul Gassan Masbani, a senior Iranian intelligence officer who defected to Germany in 1996. Part of Masbani's testimony was published by the New York Times in July 2002. Masbani claims that Ali Khamenei and Hassan Rafsanjani, the Iranian president at the time of the bombings, were behind the two attacks and also supervised and financed the operations.

According to the SIDE report, the Iranian minister for intelligence affairs, Ali Falahian, was put in charge of the operations and recruited Hezbollah as subcontractors for the attacks.

Hezbollah placed its operations officer, Imad Mughniyah, in charge of the plan and he in turn was assisted by Iranian intelligence officers stationed in the Iranian Embassy and by local collaborators.

Hatred of Israel

The Argentinian report claims the attacks were motivated by hatred of Israel and the Jewish people and a desire to punish the regime of Carlos Menem for rescinding the commitment of his predecessor Raoul Alfonsin to provide Iran with knowhow and equipment for its nuclear reactors.

The report also claims that the presence of a large Jewish community and a strong pro-Iranian Muslim community living on the triangle between Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay, that could provide support for the operation was a major factor influencing the choice of target.

On the basis of the report, Argentinian federal judge Juan Jose Galiano, who has been investigating the affair for eight years, issued arrest warrants at the end of last week against Ali Falahian; Ali Akhbar Parvarash, who was education minister and at the time of the terror attack headed a religious delegation to an Islamic convention in Buenos Aires; Muhsen Rabbani, who was the Iranian cultural attache in Buenos Aires, but in fact was a representative of Iranian intelligence; and Barat Ali Balesh Abadi, who was a courier working for Iranian intelligence, and had a diplomatic passport. Although the report states the bombings were executed by Hezbollah operatives, Galiano did not issue a single arrest warrant against Hezbollah agents. Galiano also refrained from pointing a finger at the Iranian leadership and prefered instead to talk of "radical elements" in Iran.

Galiano's wording has further deepened the suspicions of the Argentinian Jewish community, which has previously accused both Galiano and the Argentinian judicial establishment of covering up the affair. Relatives of the victims claim that although the SIDE report is important, it diverts attention from suspects in Argentina itself, including collaborators and former police officers, who perhaps knew about the attacks but did nothing to prevent them.

However, the foreign office in Jerusalem has already expressed its gratitude to the Argentinian government. The Iranians for their part have summoned the Argentinian charge d'affaires in Tehran and warned him that if what they called "the smear campaign" against Iran continued, relations between the two countries would be undermined.