Today, Iran’s parliament came out in support of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nominee for defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi, who is wanted by Interpol for his suspected role in the 1984 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. According to the Iranian news agency FARS, an Iranian lawmaker who planned to speak against the nomimation offered his support instead, along with a denunciation of Israel.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner blogged about the issue recently. Check back this week for Peter’s new updates on the story.
On July 18, 1994, a car bomb killed 85 people and wounded 300 others at the Jewish Community Center in downtown Buenos Aires. The Argentine government and many international intelligence agencies have long contended that Iranian and Hezbollah agents were responsible for the attack as part of a series of retaliations on predominant Jewish targets.
But the claim of Iranian responsibility has often been mixed with political attempts by successive U.S. presidents to cast Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism. And Argentina’s former president, Nestor Kirchner, once told me he thought his country’s original investigation of the attack was faulty.
The government of his successor and wife, President Cristina Kirchner, continues to pursue the Iranian case. More than 15 years after the bombing, the political ramifications are still seething.
This week, the Iranian government rejected criticism from Argentina when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad designated a man blamed for involvement in the attack as his new defense minister. The new appointee, Ahmad Vahidi, is wanted by Interpol for his alleged involvement in the Jewish community center attack.
Argentina said Vahidi played a major role and has sought his capture since 2007. The Argentine government, according to the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin, expressed “its ‘most energetic condemnation’ of the decision of Ahmadinejad to propose Avhidi as minister of defense of his government, and declared that it represented and ‘affront’ to Argentine justice and the victims of the attack.”
Iran denies any involvement in the attack on the center, which is known by its Spanish acronym as AMIA.
“We recommend that, instead of playing a blame game and propaganda, try to identify real culprits of the terrorist attack that based on the documents and evidences available in Argentina, the main terror agents can be identified,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqav.
There is substantial information, according to U.S., Argentinian and Israel intelligence agencies, that links Hezbollah and Iran to the AMIA bombing. It took place at a time in which other attacks were carried out on predominantly Jewish targets in third countries, including the bombing of a Panamanian plane, and an attack on the Israeli Embassy in London.
Despite circumstantial evidence, an extensive report last year in The Nation concluded that the charges against Iran were part of a Bush administration frame-up to isolate Iran diplomatically. The magazine, for example, quoted Clinton administration-era diplomats posted in Buenos Aires as saying the evidence against Iran for the AMIA bombing was “flimsy.”
The Nation reported:
James Cheek, Clinton’s Ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing [said] “To my knowledge, there was never any real evidence [of Iranian responsibility]. They never came up with anything.” The hottest lead in the case, he recalled, was an Iranian defector named Manoucher Moatamer, who “supposedly had all this information.” But Moatamer turned out to be only a dissatisfied low-ranking official without the knowledge of government decision-making that he had claimed. “We finally decided that he wasn’t credible,” Cheek recalled. Ron Goddard, then deputy chief of the US Mission in Buenos Aires, confirmed Cheek’s account. He recalled that investigators found nothing linking Iran to the bombing. “The whole Iran thing seemed kind of flimsy,” Goddard said.
If those former officials are right, and while Argentina and Iran continue their charges and denials, it appears unlikely we’ll know the real culprits in the horrible AMIA attack anytime soon, if ever.
— Peter Eisner