Nearly 20 years after a suicide bomber driving a van detonated a powerful bomb in front of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the worst antisemitic crime since the Holocaust in terms of casualties, it has yet to be solved.
The blast, coming shortly on the heels of the bombing of Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires, was the subject of a government investigation, which, many claim, was botched by incompetence and corruption.
With its findings have been thrown out in 2005, a special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was appointed to come up with answers. He did, filing a 500-page indictment accusing nine senior Iranian officials of planning and financing the operation and Hezbollah of carrying it out. The suspects included Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former state president, and Ahmad Vahidi, the defence minister.
Nisman also accused a former cultural attache in Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani, of masterminding Iranian clandestine activities in South America.
In 2007, at Argentina’s request, Interpol issued arrest warrants for five Iranians and one Lebanese person in connection with the bombing and destruction of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association on July 18, 1994.
Eighty five people, including two Poles, one Chilean and six Bolivians, were killed in that explosion, while 300 were wounded.
Iran has refused to carry out the arrest warrants, blocking Argentina’s plan to put the suspects on trial.
Just two years earlier, on March 17, 1992, 29 people died when Israel’s embassy in the Argentine capital was blown up. This case has not been solved either, but Israel believes Hezbollah, its mortal enemy, was responsible.
Last January, Argentina and Iran agreed to establish a joint commission to study the bombing of the Jewish community center, and in February, Argentina’s parliament ratified the agreement.
Signed by their respective foreign ministers, Hector Timerman and Ali Akbar Salehi, the accord stipulated that a five-member commission of international law experts, none of Argentinian or Iranian nationality, would be created.
Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, hailed it as “historic.” Argentinian Jewish leaders, as well as Israel, expressed doubt that Iran would be sincerely cooperative. Last April, three major Jewish community organizations filed a petition with the Federal Administrative Court claiming that Argentina’s parliament acted unconstitutionally in supporting the agreement.
Last September, however, Timerman — Argentina’s first Jewish foreign minister — met the new Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who assured him that Iran would “honor all points of the agreement.”
But in mid-November, Nisman asked a judge to block the agreement and annul the so-called “truth commission” as unconstitutional. According to Nisman, the agreement flies in the face of constitutional rights such as judicial independence, the victims’ right to justice and the guarantee of due process.
The picture has further been clouded by a claim that Israel has assassinated most of the operatives who bombed the Jewish community center. Yitzhak Aviran, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said, “The great majority of the guilty ones are already in the other world, and it was we who did this.”
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman called the claim “complete nonsense,” but one tends to think it’s true, given Israel’s record of assassinating terrorists.
Having been surprised by Aviran’s startling disclosure, Nisman has asked the Argentine foreign ministry to formally request that an Israeli judge force Aviran to provide sworn testimony.
Aviran, who was only blocks away from the Jewish community center when it was destroyed, has belittled Argentina’s accord with Iran as a “farce” and suggested that only Israel has acted resolutely in dealing with the matter.
It remains to be seen whether last January’s agreement will yield anything of substance, but both Argentina and Iran have a vested interest in maintaining good relations.
Iran’s trade with Argentina has grown by 200 percent in the last few years to more than $1.2 billion. Argentina, home to South America’s biggest Jewish community, is eager to expand its commercial ties with Iran. Iran, having forged ties with Latin American nations like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, wants to break out of its international isolation.