Israel wary of Iran-Argentina probe of Jewish center bombing

Foreign Ministry says it is waiting for details from Buenos Aires on Tehran’s willingness to investigate 1994 attack

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)

Jerusalem was caught off guard by the formation of a joint commission between Iran and Argentina to probe the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center and remains cautious of the agreement, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

“We warned the Argentineans that Iran will try to take advantage of them and maneuver them for their own propaganda,” a ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

Eight-five people were killed on July 18, 1994,  when a bomb leveled the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building. As with a separate attack that destroyed Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, killing 29, it has never been solved.

On Sunday, Iran and Argentina announced they had agreed to establish an independent international “truth commission” led by a jurist “with high moral standing and legal prestige” to examine the Buenos Aires blast, Argentina’s worst terrorist attack.

The Foreign Ministry in Israel said that it expected Buenos Aires to keep Jerusalem apprised of developments in the case.

“We expect to receive full information from the Argentinean government on this significant development, as it is a matter that is directly relevant to us,” a spokesperson said.

The commissioners will 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.

“Historic” was how President Cristina Fernandez described the agreement signed Sunday in Africa by foreign ministers Hector Timerman and Ali Akbar Salehi.

Argentinean prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of coordinating the AMIA attack under orders from their government. Among them is Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi. The Argentineans have spent years seeking to interrogate them with the help of Interpol, but Iran’s government has refused until now to make them available.

Previous Argentinean probes resulted “only in failures and scandal, with a trial that ended up being a farce” after high-level officials were accused of covering up evidence and deliberately misdirecting investigators, Fernandez said in a series of tweets.

In contrast, this process, which needs legislative approval in both nations, provides a legal framework with due-process rights for the accused that could be a model for conflict resolution, Fernandez said, and it puts the dispute firmly in the hands of legal experts overseen by independent arbitrators.

In a tweet Sunday, she called the agreement “historic, because never will we allow the AMIA tragedy to be used as a chess piece in a game of faraway geopolitical interests.”

Jewish groups, however, made clear their discomfort at Argentina’s efforts to improve relations with Iran despite the unresolved bombing case.

“It is a monumental step backward,” Luis Czyzewski, who lost his daughter Paola in the bombing, told Argentina’s Jewish News Agency on Sunday. “I think all the families will reject it and be as angry as I am.” A description of the agreement by Iran’s FARS news agency said years of Argentinean investigations “have failed to advance the case or prove anything against Iran, indicating that Iran is innocent.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in October that once “investigations take place in an accurate and impartial manner, then the ground will be prepared for the expansion of ties between Iran and Argentina,” according to a report in the semi-official Fars news agency.

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