In 1994 a terrorist drove a truck with explosives into the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association headquarters in Buenos Aires. The blast killed 85 and wounded hundreds. Argentinian courts placed responsibility for the bombing on Iran (although incompetence and corruption hobbled a decades-long legal process), which has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the investigation, bring those responsible to justice or provide compensation to the victims and their families. (Hezbollah claimed responsibility for a 1992 bombing of the Israeli consulate that killed 29.)
Now, in a move that stunned Israel and international Jewish groups, Argentina agreed to set up a “truth commission” with Iran. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement:
Argentina’s apparent willingness to collaborate with the Iranian regime’s nearly 20-year effort to evade being brought to justice under the Argentine criminal justice system is deeply disturbing.
The recently announced Memorandum of Understanding is an unprecedented attempt to establish a mechanism with no enforcement powers to internationalize the criminal proceedings against Iranian nationals with ties to the world’s most notorious state sponsor of terrorism which have been pursued for years by professional Argentine prosecutors.
This latest maneuver by Iran with shocking cooperation of the government of Argentina sets up an extrajudicial process which will further delay, and may even eliminate, the possibility of bringing the accused Iranian perpetrators of the terrorist attack to justice under Argentine law. We call on President Kirchner to reconsider this affront to the victims and survivors and to the criminal justice system of Argentina.
The prolonged pain and suffering of the survivors and the families of the victims of the most devastating terror attack on a Jewish institution in the Western hemisphere are all but forgotten in this ill-considered agreement.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to the news: “It will whitewash terrorism and encourage the mullahs to become patrons of further attacks.”
Israeli government’s reaction was swift. Reuters reports: “The forming of the commission, announced during the weekend, was seen as a diplomatic win for Iran as it confronts a U.S.-led effort to isolate Tehran because of its nuclear program.” In addition, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “The Argentine ambassador in Israel will be summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem to provide explanations.” And the Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli officials: “‘The announcement came as a complete surprise and shock,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP news agency about the establishment of the new committee. ‘We warned the Argentineans that the Iranians were trying to manipulate them and set a trap for them that they will use for their propaganda purposes.’ . . . Argentina’s courts have already found Iran culpable, and even issued Interpol warrants against five Iranians and a Lebanese for the attack, including Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.” Israeli officials suspect this is a ploy by Argentina to obtain better relations with Iran.
The U.S. response was surprisingly low key. At the State Department there was this exchange at the daily press briefing:
QUESTION: Yeah. La Nacion from Argentina. I’ll Silvia Pisani. I would like to ask you if you have any comment or – about a recent agreement that Argentina arrived with Iran concerning the bombings in the AMIA.
MS. NULAND: Well, our position on the AMIA bombing is clear. It remains unchanged for the last 18 years. We in the international community have joined the Argentine Government and victims of this horrific attack in seeking justice. We continue to stress that the Iranian Government has a responsibility to cooperate fully with Argentine authorities in seeing that the perpetrators are brought to justice. We’re – obviously, that has not been something that the Iranians have been forthcoming about, but we’ll continue to make the points publicly.
QUESTION: So, is this a good – is this a step in the right direction, that they’re going to engage in this process?
MS. NULAND: To engage in a truth commission?
QUESTION: Yes, because it doesn’t necessarily lead to – usually, such commissions don’t actually lead to prosecutions. You just tell the truth and – so, I mean, is this a step in the right direction or not? Or do you not know?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think we all, obviously, have all wanted to see the perpetrators brought to justice, so if the Argentine Government thinks this might take us closer to that, then we’ll have to see.
Is this part of the administration’s generally lackluster stance toward Iran? Part of its refusal to recognize Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’s toxic influence in our hemisphere?
It is hard to believe we would not have more to say or more interest in a Mickey Mouse commission that paves the way for an Iranian diplomatic coup. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez increasingly has been following the lead of Chavez and in extending an olive branch to Tehran seems to be trying to mimic Chavez’s coziness with the mullahs. This is, in short, a very bad sign for the Western Hemisphere, evidence that Iran is certainly not “isolated” internationally as the administration insists and another regrettable indication that we don’t take Israel’s concerns very seriously.