Op-Ed By Daniel S. Mariaschin in the Jerusalem Post - Iran, Argentina and a 25-Year-Old Terror Attack
In the wake of the 25th anniversary of the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post about the need for justice in this still-unresolved case.
Next month will mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, which took the lives of 85 people and injured more than 300. The attack on the social services hub of the Argentine Jewish community remains the largest terrorist attack in Latin America. Memorial services marking a quarter century since the attack will begin this month.
To this day, justice has not been served to the victims and their families.
For three years in the wake of the attack, the judge heading the inquiry produced 22 arrests – mostly Buenos Aires provincial policemen – and a trial that, in the end, amounted to nothing more than a diversionary wild goose chase. A representative of our organization attended every day of the nearly three-year trial.
But the stench of a cover-up hovered over those proceedings. Not-guilty verdicts were handed down for those brought to trial, and the judge was later impeached for attempting to bribe a witness to give testimony incriminating police officers and for his general mishandling of the case. He was summarily removed from his post.
But what did come out of early scrutiny of the attack was the unmistakable hand of the Iranian regime. At first, it was studied speculation, but by 2006, two prosecutors in the case officially put the finger on Tehran. Operatives connected to the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires were identified, but at that point, they all had made their way out of the country.
The case was turned over to two new prosecutors, Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos, who in 2007 brought the matter to Interpol. They had requested that “red notices,” or arrest warrants, be issued to nine suspects, including former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani, former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and former Iranian ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour. Interpol’s executive committee let those three officials off the hook, choosing instead to issue notices for the other six suspects.
Years passed, but Nisman, now working alone, pressed ahead. In 2015, he was ready to release evidence that a deal had been negotiated at the highest levels of the two governments, which would see Tehran deliver oil to Argentina in exchange for food, weapons and a pledge to convince Interpol to drop the red notices on the terrorist suspects.
On the eve of this information being shared in the Argentine Congress, Nisman was found dead, from what the authorities called a suicide. Doubt immediately surfaced, given the nature of the charges Nisman was about to bring. Subsequently, the mysterious circumstances of Nisman’s death have become clarified, and evidence points to him having been murdered.
THE AMIA CASE is only one in a litany of terrorist acts carried out on foreign soil by the Iranian regime.
In 1992, in what foreshadowed the attack on the AMIA building two years later, a suicide bomber attacked the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring 242. Responsibility was claimed by the Islamic Jihad organization, a group believed to have ties to Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Also that year, three Iranian opposition leaders and their translator were killed at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin. The verdict in that case pointed to Iran’s highest officials – as believed to be the case in the AMIA bombing – having signed off on the attack. In 1996, in an attack on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, a truck bomb killed 19 American soldiers and a Saudi citizen, and nearly 500 people were injured. While credit was not claimed, it is widely and authoritatively believed that Hezbollah was behind the attack.
Iran’s malign behavior operates on three fronts: its pursuit of nuclear weapons; its support for and use of terrorist proxies in the Middle East and beyond; and its serial abuse of human rights of women, adherents of the Baha’i faith, political dissenters, juvenile offenders and the LGBTQ community.
The Trump administration has rightly pointed to serious omissions in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multi-lateral agreement meant to curb Iran’s nuclear program. But in bringing Iran to the table, the international community made a monumental error in judgment in not opening talks at the same time on the other two legs of Tehran’s destructive behavior. Had it done so, we might well have been able to shine a conclusive light on the activities of its agents in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.
Today, at the site of the AMIA bombing, there is a stunning memorial to those killed on that day 25 years ago, created by the Israeli artist Yaakov Agam. Perhaps more touching are the names of the victims listed at the site: professionals of Jewish organizations, office workers and people from the community who had come to seek assistance for one or another personal or family matter. A van packed with 600 pounds of explosives put an end to all of that, in seconds.
The Iranians are still at it. They’ve provided Hezbollah with more than 100,000 rockets, and Hamas with many thousands. They work with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela, and with North Korea. They have taken over Lebanon, have ensconced themselves in Syria and are meddling in Iraq, Yemen and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Tehran has used the JCPOA as cover for its other nefarious activities. It has enjoyed impunity for far too long. Its decades-long record of promoting terrorism to advance its hegemonic objectives demands accountability and international opprobrium. That the European Union could not agree on designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization (it ultimately created the fiction of military and political “wings” of the organization so it could have it both ways) speaks to the failure of international will to confront the Iranian menace.
In the meantime, a quarter century has passed without the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing and their sponsor being brought to account. For the sake of the victims and their families, is it too much to ask that justice be served? If we are to turn the tide on state sponsored terrorism, let it begin here – before the dust collects on memory while those who were responsible remain free.
B'nai B'rith Special Advisor on Latin America Affairs Adriana Camisar wrote about how there is hope for Argentine Federal Prosecutor Alberto Nisman's complaint against former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman to see the light of day.
Nisman charged that they secretly negotiated a pact with Iran in order to get impunity for the Iranians accused of plotting and executing the AMIA attack. Nisman's complaint will finally be investigated. He “mysteriously” died days after making extremely these serious allegations.
The blog was published by The Times of Israel. Click the button below to read it on their website or scroll down.
Camisar's blog was also published in Spanish by the Argentine news outlet El Tribuno. Click below to read the Spanish version.
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.
Right after Nisman’s death, a brave prosecutor tried to get the courts to open a serious investigation into his allegations. But Daniel Rafecas, the judge assigned to the case, dismissed his complaint in a very expedited way and with questionable legal arguments. His ruling was appealed but the Federal Court quickly dismissed it as well. A federal prosecutor subsequently appealed this decision before the Court of Cassation—the last resort that the Argentine criminal system admits before resorting to the Supreme Court. But the prosecutor who needed to allow the case to get to the Court of Cassation failed to do it (probably because of his known ties with the former government) and therefore, all doors seemed to get closed and most Argentineans believed that a proper investigation would never take place.
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
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