Mossad finds Iran didn’t play ‘on the ground’ role in Hezbollah’s Argentina bombings
Tehran trained terrorists but its agents weren’t directly involved, says Mossad probe reported by NYT; Hezbollah hid explosives in chocolate, shampoo bottles on flights from Europe
Israel’s Mossad spy agency believes a pair of deadly attacks in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s were authored and executed by the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, and Iran did not have an operational, “on the ground” role, as originally thought, according to a report Friday.
A Mossad dossier on the attacks, detailed in a New York Times report, claims to shed new light on how they were carried out, apparently without direct help from Iran or locals, while highlighting intelligence failures that allowed the same group to attack more than once and evade justice.
Twenty-nine people were killed when a bomb ripped through the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992. Two years later, a suicide bomber — subsequently identified as Hezbollah operative Ibrahim Hussein Berro — detonated an explosive-packed van, destroying the AMIA Jewish community center and killing 85 people. Iran and Hezbollah have long been suspected, though nobody has ever been brought to justice, and Iran has denied claims that its diplomats in Buenos Aires aided the operations.
The report found that while Iran approved, and provided funding, equipment and training for the deadly attacks, it was not directly involved.
“While Mossad stresses that Israeli intelligence still believes that Iran, a supporter of Hezbollah, approved and funded the attacks and supplied training and equipment, the findings counter longstanding assertions by Israel, Argentina and the United States that Tehran had an operational role on the ground,” the Times report said.
The probe also pushed back against accusations that locals were complicit. “Only the operatives of the Hezbollah foreign operations unit took part in the attacks, without any involvement of local citizens,” the Mossad report read, according to the Times.
It was not clear when the Mossad report was originally compiled. The agency could not be immediately reached for comment.
The report said that the Mossad dossier was based on information from agents, questioning of suspects, surveillance and wiretapping. The New York Times said it had confirmed the findings in interviews this month with five current and former senior Mossad officials.
Hezbollah, a Shiite terror group in Lebanon, is widely thought to be an Iranian proxy, though the dynamic between them has remained somewhat opaque to the outside.
According to the Mossad, the same operatives behind the pair of bombings in Buenos Aires also blew up a Panamanian plane a day after the AMIA attack, killing all 21 on board, including 12 members of the Jewish community. The involvement of Hezbollah has long been suspected and in 2018, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela sought to reopen a probe after saying he received Israeli intelligence.
The Mossad probe found that Hezbollah was setting up infrastructure for possible attacks in South America as early as 1988, scoping out possible sites, building out front companies and taking notes on border security.
Terrorists managed to smuggle explosives hidden in shampoo bottles or chocolate into Argentina on commercial flights from Europe, later hiding them in a park. Other bomb-making materials were acquired through a front company, the Mossad said.
The 1992 attack, which came a month after Israel assassinated Hezbollah head Sheikh Abbas Musawi, was not preceded by any concrete intelligence warnings. Ahead of the 1994 bombing — planned and executed using many of the same methods employed two years earlier — then-Mossad head Shabtai Shavit received word of a possible threat in South America, but focused on monitoring Iran instead of Hezbollah, the Times reported.
Another bombing also planned for Bangkok, Thailand, at the same time as the AMIA attack was called off when the bomber backed out, according to the report.
According to the report, those involved in the bombings continue to live free in Lebanon.
Based on the investigations of Argentine Jewish prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who died in 2015 under suspicious circumstances, six Iranians and one Lebanese have been on Interpol’s most-wanted list since 2007.
However, Iranians accused of involvement in the plot are still able to move about freely. In January, a public appearance of Iranian official Mohsen Rezaei at the investiture of Nicaragua’s president angered Argentina and drew a harsh response from its foreign ministry, which called Rezaei’s presence “an affront to Argentine justice and to the victims of the brutal terrorist attack″ in the Argentine capital.
In October, a judge in Buenos Aires cleared Argentinean Vice President Cristina Kirchner and other officials of accusations that they had tried to cover up Iran’s involvement.
At a memorial for the victims of the AMIA attack on Monday, the newly elected president of the Jewish community in Argentina Amos Linetzky tied the attack nearly 30 years ago to a recent Argentinian probe into a cargo plane with Iranian and Venezuelan crew that has been grounded outside Buenos Aires since June.
“The plane event shows that Argentina is the same as it was 30 years ago,” he said. “Our borders are still permeable.”