A few weeks ago, several media outlets in Argentina reported about a recent meeting between an Argentine journalist and a man named “Ibrahim Yassin” in Israel.
Yassin is well-known in Israel, but almost nobody knew about him in Argentina. Originally a Shiite Muslim from Lebanon, this man told the Argentine reporter the amazing story of how he became an Israeli citizen and an Orthodox Jew, changing his name to Abraham Sinai.
The story of his transformation began during the civil war in Lebanon, in the 1970s and 80s, when he witnessed the atrocities committed by the Syrian army and also by Hezbollah combatants. When the Israeli army entered Lebanon, Yassin was able to confirm that they operated under a different set of values, especially when an Israeli army patrol, putting his own life at risk, rescued Yassin's pregnant wife and arranged for her to be taken to Haifa, where she was able to give birth safely. According to Yassin, she would have died if left in Lebanon.
Yassin’s closeness to the Israelis generated the suspicion of members of Hezbollah, who kidnapped and tortured him for months. According to Yasmin, a man named Imad Mughniyeh, tired of not getting the information he was expecting to get from him, burned Yassin’s 8-month old son alive in front of his eyes.
After a while, and convinced that Yassin was innocent, they decided to release him. According to reports, it was then that Yassin decided to infiltrate Hezbollah and spy for Israel. He did so for 10 years, and the valuable information he provided to the Israelis saved the lives of many Israeli soldiers.
In 1997, when the Israelis felt that Yassin was in serious danger, they took him and his family to Israel, where they have lived since then.
Yassin’s story is relevant in Argentina, not only because it is not very common to find stories in the local media where the Israeli army is portrayed in a positive way, but also — and most importantly — because of the connection between Yassin’s testimony and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.
According to Yassin, Mughniyeh, the same man who tortured him and murdered his son, was the person that ordered the AMIA attack, as Hezbollah’s global operations chief. Yassin in fact states that he was there when the attack was ordered.
Even though this is probably not news for many Israelis, in Argentina his testimony is very important. In fact, Alberto Nisman (the federal prosecutor that conducted the AMIA case investigation for over ten years before being murdered in 2015) had accused Mughniyeh of being one of the masterminds of the bombing, and had even secured an Interpol red alert against him.
Mughniyeh, who is widely believed to have also participated in the planning of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and a number of other terrorist attacks around the world, died in a car blast in Syria in 2008, so he will never be interrogated for his crimes. But Yassin’s testimony should serve as both a vindication of Nisman’s courageous work and a reminder of the dangers of Iran’s global terror activities.
Adriana Camisar is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
By Adriana Camisar
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Argentina yesterday after a very successful visit.
The visit was historical because it was the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visited the country. The trip also showed the great shift of Argentina’s foreign policy since President Mauricio Macri’s inauguration.
During the previous government, the bilateral relationship with the State of Israel had deteriorated considerably, given the close relationship between the government of former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Iranian regime. Indeed, the Argentine government and Iran signed the shameful Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which sought to withdraw the investigation of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building bombing from Argentina's jurisdiction, and to grant "investigative" powers to the Iranians.
In fact, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who had conducted the AMIA investigation for 10 years, was found dead, under very suspicious circumstances, after denouncing that the president and her officials had negotiated the agreement with Iran in order to get impunity for the accused Iranians. Today, Kirchner is being tried for treason by virtue of Nisman’s complaint.
The rapprochement with Israel is the clearest evidence of the desire of the current Argentine government to distance itself from dictatorial regimes like Iran, Syria and Venezuela and to get closer to Western democracies and the free world.
The Jewish community in Argentina is the largest in South America and the 6th largest in the world, and, undoubtedly, for the majority of Argentine Jews it is a source of great joy to witness the warm reception that Netanyahu received in the country and to see the flags of the two nations displayed together, after so long.
The opportunities for cooperation between the two countries are enormous in the areas of innovation and technology, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, health and education. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a very fruitful relationship.
In addition to Argentina, Netanyahu is also visiting Mexico and Colombia, before heading to New York to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to strengthening ties with these Latin American countries, Israel is certainly seeking to confront Iran’s infiltration in the region, which took place in the last few years, particularly with the help of Venezuela, and to gain greater support from Latin American countries at the United Nations, where Israel has historically been unfairly treated. Hopefully, this renewed friendship with the nations of the region will indeed be reflected at the U.N. and other multilateral forums.
Jan. 18 will mark the second anniversary of the “mysterious” death of Argentine Federal Prosecutor Alberto Nisman. For more than ten years, Nisman had been in charge of the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires.
He was found dead in his apartment four days after making extremely serious allegations against then President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman and other people close to the government. Nisman stated he had extensive evidence that the government had secretly negotiated a pact with Iran in order to get impunity for the Iranians accused of plotting and executing the AMIA attack.
The pact the prosecutor was referring to—known as the Memorandum of Understanding—was signed in January 2013. Through this agreement, both governments pledged to create a "truth commission" to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing, something as absurd as creating a Nazi commission to investigate the Holocaust. At the time, the government justified the signing of this pact on the need to discover the truth. However, it seemed clear to most people who knew the case, that the signing of this pact represented a major shift in Argentina’s foreign policy, as it attempted to improve relations with Teheran at the expense of the bombing’s many victims.
The pact never came into force because the Iranian Parliament did not ratify it, and also because it was ultimately declared unconstitutional by an Argentine Federal Court. But it would have given the Iranians access to all the documentation of the case, and made it easier for them to get rid of the Interpol red alerts that Nisman had secured against the accused.
Nisman’s death left the country in shock and there are still no clear answers as to what exactly happened to him. However, there is now some hope that his complaint will finally be investigated.
However, several things changed since then. On Dec. 10, 2016, Mauricio Macri took office as the new president of Argentina, and one of the first things he did was to let the pact with Iran die. He did this by not appealing the ruling that had declared it unconstitutional. Macri also said that he expected the judiciary to act with independence and to get to the truth.
Several months ago, the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA), which is the Jewish umbrella organization in Argentina, made a new presentation alleging that the case should be re-opened because of “newly found evidence,” and requested to be admitted as a plaintiff. The new pieces of evidence submitted were a recording that was found in which Timerman—in a conversation with the former head of the AMIA—conceded that he was negotiating with the ones that “placed the bomb,” and the ruling that declared that the pact with Iran was unconstitutional.
Rafecas, the original judge of the case dismissed the request and so did the Federal Court, but when the issue got to the Court of Cassation once again, they finally decided to re-open the investigation. The Court of Cassation accepted the DAIA as a plaintiff and ordered Rafecas and the other judges that had intervened to withdraw from the case.
For the first time in two years the possibility to get to the truth seems real. And, of course, this case could shed light on what really happened to Nisman, as his death is undoubtedly linked to his complaint.
It is still too early to know if the investigation will go as far as it needs to go, but the re-opening of the case is certainly a promising sign.
Across Latin America, Iran presents itself as a very normal country wanting to deliver its culture and share it with ordinary people.
Mosques and cultural centers want to show Iran´s point: “We are peaceful and we want to spread peace all over the world.”
Iran wants to distract from its nuclear race and the terrorist attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.
Venezuela opened its doors to Iran 10 years ago and Iran took advantage of it, directly or through Hezbollah in South and Central America. But, Iran envisioned that allies like Venezuela or Bolivia may not endure forever as authoritarian regimes, so it has also advanced its agenda with mosques and missionaries.
Tehran’s use of clerics as unofficial agents of the Iranian revolution started in the 1980s and Latin America was not forgotten in this field. The first cleric to reach Latin America was Mohsen Rabbani, who, in 1983, went to Argentina to lead the Al-Tawhid mosque and serve as a halal meat inspector in Buenos Aires. Both tasks appeared innocent, but Rabbani was deeply involved in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured over 300.
In 1984, Sheikh Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji made his way to Brazil. Both Rabbani and Khazraji were cited by the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman (found dead in his apartment a year and a half ago, two days before he was expected to present criminal charges against the former Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner) in his 2013 report on Iran’s Latin American networks.
According to Nisman, “Interpol [Brasilia] informed that Khazraji was an employee of the Iranian government and ... was engaged in recruiting highly politicized believers to get them close to Teheran.”
Though Rabbani left Latin America due to the accusation of his involvement in the AMIA bombing, he continues to run his recruitment program from Iran’s center of religious learning in Qom.
Khazraji remains in the Shia community of São Paulo, Brazil, where he pursues his “clerical tasks.”
According to a very serious investigation of Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert in Islamic penetration in Latin America, “another cleric reportedly linked to Hezbollah is Sheikh Ghassan Youssef Abdallah. Abdallah is active in Chile, in Brazil (frequently visiting the tri-border area), and in Paraguay (where he once ran the Iranian mosque in Ciudad Del Este).”
Ottolenghi explains: “They are not alone. Alongside dozens of Iranian and Lebanese Shia clerics, there is also a new generation of locally born clerics who have joined their ranks. Converts are routinely sent to Qom, all expenses paid, to attend Iranian seminaries specially tailored to Spanish and Portuguese speakers, before they return home to act as Iran’s unofficial emissaries in their countries of birth.”
During his term, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the region numerous times, attempting to influence the region, including: Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua. Iranian influence and Hezbollah activities use religious envoys to deliver messages of hate toward the Jewish people and Israel.
In June 2014, the Imam Ali mosque in Curitiba hosted a well-attended memorial service for a young Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria in March 2014. His Brazilian uncle, wearing a Hezbollah scarf, led the memorial, and praised his nephew as a martyr.
Latin American governments should recognize the threat posed by a foreign power spreading hatred to local populations.
The bombings in Argentina in 1992 and 1994, the freedom of Hezbollah members to traffic drugs in Venezuela and Central America, the anti-Semitic hatred in social media; the murder of a Jewish businessman this year in Uruguay, stabbed by a converted Islamist who said “he had received a call from Allah to kill a Jew,” are enough examples of hate crime, terrorism and hate speech.
And hate crimes and hate speech are a threat for all countries and their populations. If governments and civil society recognize that everybody is under threat, more tragedies could be avoided.
Still Waiting for Justice: 22 Years After the AMIA Bombing Rocked Buenos Aires (English and Español)
This piece was also run on The Times of Israel. You can click below to read it there.
More from Adriana Camisar
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