Argentina, Don't Let the Terrorists Win

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Argentina's president-elect Mauricio Macri gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 23, 2015.
Argentina's president-elect Mauricio Macri gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 23, 2015.Credit: Reuters

With its new government, under the leadership of President Mauricio Macri, Argentina has a critical opportunity to correct the historical injustice that occurred more than 20 years ago, when terrorists attacked the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

The victims and their families are still waiting for answers, after mishandled investigations and deals with the devil.

This new government is perhaps the last hope of bringing to justice the perpetrators of the horrific bombings, which were sponsored by Iran and executed by Hezbollah.

As we mark the anniversary of these attacks this week, let us not forget: The Iranian threat may not shine in the spotlight as it did before the nuclear deal, but it is still as dangerous as ever. It is still run by the same extremist regime and still funds the very same terrorist organization that carried out these attacks and so many others in recent years.

On March 17, 1992, a car laden with explosives was blown up in front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and wounding more than 240. On July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber detonated another car bomb, this time outside Argentina’s main Jewish community center AMIA, claiming the lives of 85 and wounding 300.

Successive Argentine presidents promised to investigate and prosecute, regardless of the diplomatic and international ramifications. However, these same administrations eventually chose internal political gains and economic interests over moral duty. The result: impunity for terrorists.

Yes, there were investigations over the course of the years. They were sloppy and convoluted, but eventually, the facts and outlines of the two plots surfaced, and there is little doubt as to their veracity.

Yes, through Interpol, Argentina issued international warrants against key Iranian officials believed to be implicated in the AMIA bombing, including at the highest political echelon. But in hindsight, these measures were implemented half-heartedly at best, to avoid making serious waves with Iran.

Indeed, there were brave or courageous people who demanded full transparency, painful or harmful as it might be to some particular political interests. These people believed that justice was more important than politics.

Thanks to Alberto Nisman, the tenacious special prosecutor who took the lead in the AMIA case for more than a decade, the world knows who is to blame for that bombing: the Iranian regime and its henchmen, Hezbollah.

Nisman uncovered shocking evidence incriminating not just Iran, but also showed the total lack of credibility of the investigation conducted by Argentina in its aftermath.

In January 2015, Nisman was found dead in his home in suspicious circumstances, which many believe to be homicide.

Two years before Nisman’s death, the Argentine government, which had hitherto been supportive of his investigation, proved the extent of its willingness to choose economic interests over morality.

President Cristina Fernández and her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman suddenly signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran with the aim of creating what they called a truth commission to reinvestigate the 1994 AMIA bombing. In the end, they stood accused by Nisman of sweeping the facts under the carpet in exchange for commercial benefits from Iran.

The memorandum was the equivalent of a police officer bringing in a thief to investigate the thievery. It was a slap in the face of the victims.

A Buenos Aires court subsequently ruled that the agreement with Iran was unconstitutional. When Mauricio Macri was sworn in as the new Argentine president last December, he immediately moved to cancel the deal. That is a welcome and necessary step. But it is not sufficient. The time is ripe for real change and bold decisions.

Argentina owes it to the victims of both terror attacks, to the Jews of Argentina, and to the international community at large to pursue this matter to the end, and to ensure that justice is served, albeit belatedly. Impunity for the perpetrators of grave acts of international terrorism sends a dangerous signal to the world and encourages others to engage in such activities without jurisprudential concern.

As Nisman laid out meticulously in a report published in 2013, Iranian and Hezbollah operatives are already active in many Latin American nations. Instead of cozying-up to Tehran, Argentina should act to protect its citizens against those who have in the past wreaked havoc and terror.

Argentina must continue to press for the extradition of the terror suspects, no matter how senior or important they are, and regardless of economic or political consequences. The Nisman investigation result must be made public in full and the true circumstances of his death must be revealed.

It is the new administration’s responsibility to ensure that adequate means are provided to finish Nisman’s investigation, and to prevent any attempt to again politicize this investigation.

U.S. President Barack Obama will likely sound a similar message next week when he becomes the first American president to visit Argentina since these attacks. We hope this issue will be high on his agenda, for the sake of the victims as well as future deterrence.

The obfuscation of one of the darkest chapters in modern Argentine history must end. The attacks of Buenos Aires must not be forgotten. Argentina, and the world, must not let these terrorists win.

Ronald S. Lauder is president of the World Jewish Congress, which is meeting in Buenos Aires this week for a Special Plenary Assembly.

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