Israel steps up protest over Iran-Argentina bombing probe

Argentine ambassador reprimanded in Jerusalem; deputy FM says agreement akin to letting a murderer investigate his own killings

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Buenos Aires Jewish center after it was attacked, July 1994 (photo credit: Cambalachero/Wikimedia commons)
The Buenos Aires Jewish center after it was attacked, July 1994 (photo credit: Cambalachero/Wikimedia commons)

Israel on Tuesday made clear it was furious about this week’s agreement between Argentina and Iran to jointly probe a deadly bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, saying it was comparable to asking a murderer to investigate his own crimes.

The country’s ambassador in Israel, Atilio Norberto Molteni, was called to Jerusalem for a harsh reprimand. He met with Yitzchak Shoham, the Foreign Ministry’s director of Latin American affairs, on Tuesday morning.

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.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said it was astonished and deeply disappointed by Sunday’s news that Buenos Aires and Tehran had decided to create an independent “Truth Commission” to examine the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community center, which killed 85 people. The investigators, who will not be from Argentina or Iran but from neutral countries, are to examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed “based on the laws and regulations of both countries.” Then, commissioners and Argentinean investigators will travel to Tehran to question the suspects, according to the memorandum of understanding signed Sunday in Ethiopia.

“Israel is clearly and understandably concerned by the matter,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry statement 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 and because hitherto Iran was not 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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