Last week, 10 years after the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, an Argentinean court acquitted five defendants accused of indirect involvement in the attack in which 85 people were killed and over 200 injured. With the release of the five men - four former police officers and a car thief - the investigation went back to square one: no suspects, and only accusations aired by official sources in Argentina, Israel and the U.S. against Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah.
Argentina has become an allegory: the 1994 bombing - considered the worst attack against Jews since World War II - symbolized two processes that people were inclined to overlook back in the optimistic early 1990s. One is the increased audaciousness of extremist Islam and its success at carrying out a large-scale terrorist attack in a free world capital. The second is the way that Diaspora Jews became a direct and primary target of terror groups and anti-Semitism, which subsequently began to be called "the new anti-Semitism" - that which persecutes the Jews because of acts committed by Israel.
The world exhibited appalling apathy at the time. The U.S. under Bill Clinton - the No. 1 superpower, which led the world toward globalization and democratization following the collapse of the Soviet Union - was incapable of understanding that the lack of a response to the terrorist attack in Argentina would bring Islamic terror to its own doorstep. Israel, in the wake of the Oslo accords and the establishment of relations with the countries of Eastern Europe, the Vatican and Arab states, was inclined to disregard extremist Islam's takeover of the Arab world's agenda.
In its decision against the separation fence, the International Court of The Hague refused to recognize Israel's right to defend itself against the terror of suicide bombers, claiming that the attacks may not be seen as an organized attack by a sovereign state. Only the American judge on the tribunal, Thomas Buergenthal, a Jew and a Holocaust survivor, stated in the minority opinion that there was no basis for the attempt to restrict Section 51 of the UN Charter - which legitimizes the right to self-defense against an armed attack - to attacks initiated by a sovereign state (the judges from Holland and Britain, who joined in the majority opinion, also expressed their reservations about the interpretation of Section 51).
The UN continues to twist and turn through conflicting definitions of the various terror groups, which frequently - especially in reference to Palestinian terror - grant legitimacy to the employment of all possible means against the Israeli "forces of occupation and repression."
The argument over the definition of terror and the struggle against it is hardly theoretical. It has critical implications on the international deployment in a struggle that has all the components of a world war.
In remarks made to the UN after the Hague court's decision on the fence - the "wall," in the UN's parlance - the American ambassador said that the radical interpretation that restricts the principle of the right to self-defense harms the struggle against international terror. Based on this logic, he said, when terrorists fly planes into skyscrapers or blow up buses, it is not possible to invoke the right of self-defense against them.
Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner declared before his election in 2003 that he would not let up on the investigation of the terrorist attack at the AMIA building until the guilty were brought to justice, and that the investigation would include the state that was behind the attack. Argentina officially accused Iran as being that state.
After Argentina failed last year in its attempt to extradite an Iranian diplomat who was then in Britain, and was suspected of aiding in the terrorist bombing, it became clear to what extent the international community, even after September 11, was not prepared for a fight against the state infrastructure that supports Islamic terror.
Argentina's failure in 1994 persists to this day, coupled with a cynical response by a world that has not yet internalized the significance of the terror threat. The Argentinean judicial system feeds on the inability - or even opposition - of European countries to deal with an extremist Islamic state like Iran, which continues to openly promote its nuclear program counter to the decisions of international bodies. The writing was on the wall in 1994, and the world has not yet learned its lessons.
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