Israel Shocked by Argentina-Iran Pact Over 1994 Jewish Center Bombing

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Israel is shocked by the signing of an agreement between Iran and Argentina Sunday to establish a truth commission in a bid to resolve the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center that Argentine courts accuse Iran of sponsoring. “We warned the Argentinians only a short while ago not to fall into the trap that the Iranians will set up for them,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor. “We are stunned by this news item and we will want to receive from the Argentine government a complete picture as to what was agreed upon because this entire affair affects Israel directly.”

Israel heard about the launching of the dialogue between Argentina and Iran in October from reports in the media. Despite repeated requests from Jerusalem, the Argentine government refused to update Israel on the progress of the talks. In meetings that have been held over the past few weeks between Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman (who is Jewish), and representatives of the country’s Jewish community, he agreed to convey only a few general details about the negotiations.

Before the first round of talks between Iran and Argentina, senior officials of Israel’s foreign ministry traveled to Buenos Aires and delivered a sternly worded message to the effect that Israel would not accept the signing of any agreement that would be at the expense of the victims. The Israeli diplomats were adamant in their demand that Argentina must insist upon the extradition of the Iranian suspects and upon the payment of compensation to the families of the victims.

In the terrorist attack against the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires in 1994, 85 people were killed and over 300, most of them Jews, were injured, after a Lebanese-born terrorist blew up a booby-trapped car alongside the Jewish community center building. After more than a decade of cover-up attempts, Argentine General Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who headed the investigation of the attack, announced that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the bombing.

For an entire decade, particularly during the presidency of Argentine President Carlos Menem, Buenos Aires avoided any comprehensive, thorough investigation of the attack. After Menem stepped down as president, his successor, Nestor Kirchner, ordered Nisman to renew the investigation. In the report he submitted in 2006, Nisman concluded that the attack was carried out by Hezbollah under the direction, and with the assistance of, top officials in the Iranian regime.

Nisman argued that the persons involved in giving the order for launching the terrorist attack against the AMIA building included Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the then-Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian and the head of Revolutionary Guard, at the time, Mohsen Rezae.

The report also stated that the terrorist attack was executed by Hezbollah chief of staff Imad Mughniyeh; Iranian Ambassador in Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour; the cultural attaché at the embassy, Mohsen Rabbani, who, in effect, served as the operations officer for the bombing; and Ahmad Reza Asghari, a diplomat at the Iranian embassy who was in fact an intelligence officer.

Upon the request of the Argentinian government, Interpol issued international arrest warrants in 2007 against several senior Iranian officials, including Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's current defense minister, as well as Fallahian, Rezae, Rabbani and Asghari. Tehran continues to deny any involvement in the terrorist attack and has refused all demands for the extradition of the persons against whom the international arrest warrants were issued. The Iranians claim that Nisman’s report is based on false information that Israel and the United States supplied to Argentina.

Jewish men looking on as rescuers sift through the rubble at the site of a car-bombing at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 18, 1994.Credit: Bloomberg