Israeli ambassador upbraided in Argentina

Foreign minister reportedly says that ‘Israel has no right to ask for explanations’ over joint probe with Iran into 1994 bombing of Jewish center

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman reportedly rebuked the Israeli ambassador to Buenos Aires during a recent meeting, castigating Israel for demanding an explanation of the recently announced joint Argentine-Iranian probe into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center.

Timerman summoned Ambassador Dorit Shavit for a “difficult, intense and unpleasant” meeting on January 31, according to Foreign Ministry sources quoted in Haaretz. In the meeting, he “sharply criticized” Israel for interfering in Argentina’s affairs and implied that Israel’s interest in the bombing “encourages anti-Semitism” by implying Jewish Argentinians have split loyalties.

“Israel has no right to ask for explanations. We are a sovereign state,” Timerman reportedly said. “Israel does not speak for the Jewish people and isn’t their agent. Jews who wanted and want to live in Israel moved there and became citizens, and those who live in Argentina are Argentine citizens. The attack was against Argentina, and Israel’s desire to be involved in the matter only gives ammunition to anti-Semites who accuse Jews of dual loyalty.”

The foreign minister said that it was “unacceptable” that Argentinian ambassador Atilio Norberto Molten was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem to provide an explanation for the joint probe into the AMIA bombing. “If we wanted to,” Timerman explained, “we could call you here twice a month to ask for explanations about the military operations in Gaza or on settlement construction, but we do not do that because we don’t want to interfere with your sovereignty.”

Ambassador Shavit reportedly heard Timerman out, then replied that Israel had no intention of interfering in Argentinian affairs and appreciates the relations between the two countries, but nevertheless required an explanation for the similarities between the 1994 AMIA attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds, and a 1992 suicide bombing at the Israeli Embassy, which killed 29 and wounded more than 200.

Both bombings are believed by Israeli and Argentinian intelligence services to have been carried out by Hezbollah agents operating with Iranian backing. Argentine prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of coordinating the AMIA attack under orders from their government. Among the six is Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi.

The joint Argentine-Iranian probe, announced last week, was hailed as “historic” by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez but decried by Argentinian Jewish groups. Argentina and Iran seek to establish an independent “truth commission,” overseen by officials from both countries, which will eventually lead to interviews with the Iranians suspected of involvement in the bombings.

Timerman himself has ties to Israel: His father, Jacob Timerman, a journalist exiled from Argentina for his writings against the military regime, lived in Tel Aviv for several years during the early 1980s, and Timerman’s brother, Daniel Timerman, lives here.

Ambassador Timerman made waves in Britain on Tuesday, when he compared the UK’s control of the Falkland Islands, which are claimed by Argentina, to Israel’s control of the West Bank. Timerman said the Falklands issue was a “colonial” matter dealing with the “occupation of foreign lands” and called UK citizens living on the islands “settlers.”

“The British government complains to Israel about the building in the settlements and said that was against the peace process. It’s strange when you behave in the same way in the Malvinas,” Timerman added, using the Argentine name for the islands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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