Argentina rebuffs Israeli demand for explanation over AMIA probe

‘It is a sign of ignorance and bad faith of those who say that we are ceding sovereignty,’ says foreign minister following harsh criticism of Iran involvement

Families of victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing mark the anniversary of the attack in 2006. (photo credit: AP/Natacha Pisarenko)
Families of victims of the 1994 AMIA bombing mark the anniversary of the attack in 2006. (photo credit: AP/Natacha Pisarenko)

Argentina rejected Israel’s demands for explanations over Buenos Aires decision to conduct a joint probe with Iran into a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center Tuesday, firing back a day after Jerusalem criticized the Latin American country for joining up with Tehran.

The attack on the AMIA center in the Argentinian capital nearly 20 years ago left 85 people dead. Argentina and Israel have long suspected Iranian involvement in the unsolved terror attack, and on Sunday Argentina signed a deal with Iran to establish a joint “truth commission” into the incident, drawing harsh criticism and a demand for explanations from Jerusalem.

But the Argentine Foreign Ministry said it was not beholden to defend its probe to Israel.

“The attack against the people of our country on July 18, 1994 did not involve any Israeli citizens. Victims were mostly Argentines and included six Bolivians, two Poles and one Chilean,” read a foreign ministry statement. “It should be noted that Argentina has never demanded of an Israeli ambassador to provide explanation for his government’s actions.”

Earlier Tuesday Israel made clear it was furious about the agreement between Argentina and Iran, saying it was comparable to asking a murderer to investigate his own crimes.

Argentina’s ambassador to Israel, Atilio Norberto Molteni, was summoned to Jerusalem for a harsh reprimand.

The Foreign Ministry’s director of Latin American affairs Yitzchak Shoham conveyed Israel’s “astonishment and disappointment” at the Argentinean government’s decision to “collaborate” with Iran, according to a Foreign Ministry press release. Shoham protested “the unacceptable attitude of the Argentinean government towards Israel since the beginning of contacts between Buenos Aires and Tehran,” the statement read. “Argentina’s approach is particularly disappointing given the intimate relationship to which Israel is accustomed with Argentina, a very friendly country,” Shoham stated.

Israel’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Dorit Shavit, was likewise instructed to request a meeting with Argentinean Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to “clarify the motivations for this move,” according to an announcement.

The agreement, signed by Timerman and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, “is like inviting a murderer to investigate the killings he committed,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry called the subpoena to demand explanations over its sovereign decisions an “improper act” saying it goes against the traditional relations of friendship between the two countries.

According to Argentinian media reports, Timerman spoke to the families of the victims before sending out the harshly worded statement.

“It is a sign of ignorance and bad faith of those who say that we are ceding sovereignty, the trial continues in Argentina with an Argentine judge and an Argentine prosecutor,” he was quoted as telling the press from the building of the AMIA, or Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina, in Beunos Aires.

“Israel is clearly and understandably concerned by the matter,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement issued Tuesday read. “Though the attack took place on Argentinean soil and was aimed at Argentinean citizens, the findings of the ensuing investigation by Argentinean authorities has brought up a clear resemblance to the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which occurred two years earlier. The proven relation between the two attacks grants us the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect that the perpetrators and their sponsors be brought to justice, particularly when we continue to suffer from the Iranian terror plague around the world.”

Argentinean authorities together with Interpol have accused Iran of sponsoring the attack. While Tehran rejects any involvement, Argentina has for years demanded the extradition of several Iranians suspected of masterminding the bombing, including some former senior government officials.

“Now, this recent agreement raises severe questions: it establishes a committee whose recommendations are non-mandatory, and it provides the country which all the evidence points at, namely Iran, with the capacity to delay indefinitely the committee’s works,” the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said. “It is doubtful whether this is how justice will be rendered.”

Jewish groups in Argentina were also critical of the commission’s establishment. “It is a monumental step backward,” said Luis Czyzewski, who lost his daughter Paola in the bombing. “I think all the families will reject it and be as angry as I am.”

The country’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, on the other hand, described Sunday’s agreement as “historic” because it would enable Argentinean judicial authorities for the first time to interrogate the Iranian suspects. Before the agreement, she said, Iran had not been bound by any instrument of international law to comply with Interpol’s investigation.

But Israeli rejected these assertions. “Iran was and still is obligated to cooperate with Interpol and Interpol arrest warrants,” a Foreign Ministry official said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of offending Israel’s ally. “What the Argentinean president is saying runs so blatantly counter to the factual truth that one cannot but call it lie.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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