The death of Alberto Nisman the night before he was supposed to testify before Argentina’s congress on the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires is an incredible development in one of the seminal stories of the past generation. How is the world going to dodge news that the Argentine federal prosecutor in the AMIA bombing case should fetch up dead just before he was due to testify on his accusation that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s link to the bombing that took 85 lives?
I am not any kind of expert on this head, just an editor who has had the story on his scope for years. My instinct is with journalist Noga Tarnopolsky, who wrote on this for the Forward and has since then covered this case for the New Yorker and other papers; she immediately discounted any notion that this is a suicide and tweeted about “the murder of Alberto Nisman.” She notes that he was “repeatedly subject to explicit threats, including by Iranian officials,” and that “Eliminating him wipes out an irreplaceable data base of information on the AMIA attack. This cannot be exaggerated.”
To me, the AMIA bombing is a marker for the West’s failure in the war on Islamist terror over an entire generation. I first wrote about it right after the bombing, in an editorial of the Forward called “Woolsey’s War.” It noted that while the bombers were plotting their attack, top American intelligence officials, led by the director of central intelligence James Woolsey, were meeting with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It was, the editorial noted, a wide-ranging session, touching on all parts of the world. The one area on which “a crackle of disagreement erupted” was on Islamic terrorism.
The disagreement was between “analysts on the intelligence side,” who discounted the notion that we were facing a “unified Islamic threat,” to use the jargon of the time, and several skeptics in the Jewish delegation, including Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. One of the intelligence types, the editorial noted, summed up his view by saying “We do not want to replace the struggle against the red tide of communism with a struggle against the green tide of Islam.”
Even during the Cold War, of course, there were those who sneered at the notion that the communists were coordinating a vast, global war against the West. The Forward, famously anti-communist, was in the hardline camp. After AMIA, it announced that in the terrorist war then coming into view the “better part of prudence, if nothing else, requires proceeding on the basis that the terrorist attacks proliferating around the globe are not merely the work of a few freelance Islamic hoodlums.” It was worried that the administration of then-President William (Bill) Clinton “appears to be moving in the other direction.”
Even at the time this was shocking, given that we’d had the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988; the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992; and the first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993. It is just an incredible thing that in the more than 20 years – a full generation – since then, the effort to bring the perpetrators to book ends up with the prosecutor dead in the bathroom of his home, where, media reports say, a gun and a cartridge shell were found next to his body.
Newspapermen are taught never to discount any possibility, and maybe it will turn out that Nisman suffered from some hidden, life-threatening melancholy. Unlikely, but even suicide wouldn’t change the big picture. The Interpol “red notices” are outstanding against the Iranian and Hezbollah suspects. Where was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry when the long fight to bring Iran to book on AMIA was coming to a head? Where was the Obama Administration? Where are they now? They are pursuing their effort to make America a contract partner with the regime that Nisman accused of being the culprit in the AMIA bombing. What a sorry end to this story that would be.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.
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