A Tale of Two Cities
Tangled web behind terror, and trials without justice
BUENOS AIRES, 1994
ARGENTINE prosecutor Alberto Nisman announced at the end of last month that he had "irrefutable evidence" to back up international arrest warrants issued at his request for former Iranian president Rafsanjani and eight other former officials, in connection with the 1994 bombing of the main Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.
The destruction of the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building, which housed mutual aid, social welfare and cultural societies, killed 85 people and injured another 300. No one has ever admitted responsibility and nobody has been successfully brought to justice. Several police officers and one civilian were prosecuted, in connection with a vehicle used in the bombing, but the trial was annulled in 2004 due to serious irregularities.
But Nisman's performance in this "local connection" trial led to his designation that year as the head of a special unit set up to investigate the case. Shortly after the Argentine court issued the arrest warrants for the former Iranian officials, the Iranian regime threatened to issue its own warrants for the arrest of Nisman and Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral. A few days later, an anonymous voice warned him over the phone that if the investigation continued, he and his family would be "blown up."
Niesman says there are precedents for indicting senior Iranian officials, pointing to cases such as the murder of Iranian Kurdish militants in Germany. But none have so far been successful. And while the Iranian government's hand and motives were clear in tracking down its opponents, its interest in the Argentine bombing are not so obvious. Unlike the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires which had been bombed two years before, with 29 deaths, -also unsolved - the AMIA building had no Zionist or governmental significance.
For Israeli and US Zionist propaganda it may suffice to say that the Iranian government and the Hizbollahi it is supposed to have employed are just anti-Jewish, and the present President Ahmadinejad, currently hosting a conference for Holocaust revisionists, may seem happy to fit the part. But Iran has its own Jewish community, as well as others nearer at hand than Buenos Aires if it had merely wanted to hit Jews.
Relations between Argentina's Jewish and Arab, mainly Lebanese communities have not been bad, at least until recently affected by tensions over the Middle East. But there is a tradition of violent antisemitism in Argentina, linked historically with the Army and the Church (which has also issued anti-Muslim statements). In the 1960s, the Tacuara youth movement carried out violent attacks on Jews, and under military rule from 1976-83, (notwithstanding links with Israel), a disproportionate number of Jews were "disappeared" or tortured in the junta's "dirty war" against the Left. Many Argentine Jews have little doubt that, with or without outside involvment, local forces, including police and army officers, had a part in the bombing.
Nor should it be forgotten that many Nazis from Europe found a haven in Argentina after the Second World War, setting up businesses and connexions in high places. In 1992 President Carlos Menem announced an investigation into the Nazi link. People with a vested interest to stop this going too far would also have had the connections - in Argentina and abroad (including old colleagues for whom the CIA found niches in the Arab world) -to strike out at those they feared. There was even a suggestion that some documents might be stored in the AMIA building.
Menem lost office when the US fell out with him. Besides general economic crisis, there was a story - since withdrawn - from an Iranian defector, claiming the Iranians had secretly paid the Argentine president with a Swiss bank account for suppressing their role in the bombing. Abdolghassem Mesbahi, a former Iranian intelligence officer whom some dismiss as a CIA asset also supplied a more sophisticated motive for the attack, claiming Iran had been angered by the cancellation of an agreement on nuclear co-operation.
(Another defector claimed the Iranians mistakenly believed the AMIA welfare building was Mossad headquarters. Sounds far-fetched, but if so, I wonder who might have fed them that story? Someone worried about those files?)
The AMIA bombing was allegedly planned at a meeting in Mashad between Iranian intelligence officers, officers of the Syrian-backed PFLP General Command (Ahmed Jibril group) and the Hizbollahi. (A Lebanese-born driver is said to have driven the vehicle used in the bombing). Two Iranian diplomats normally based in Argentina were also invited. Nieman seems satisfied that this explains the AMIA bombing; "The pieces fit perfectly". But critics say they fit too perfectly, and suggest the picture was put together by Mossad and the CIA.
Besides, doubt was cast on the nuclear row story by the revelation last month that Argentina was continuing to provide Iran with low-grade enriched uranium, and the two governments were in serious negotiations on broader nuclear cooperation when the bombing occurred. This suggests that the last thing President Rafsanjani would have wanted then was a bombing in Buenos Aires to wreck relations with Argentina. It was the United States that wanted to stop the deal.
The New York Jewish Daily Forward has reported that the United States put pressure on the Argentine authorities to go for the Iranians. "The U.S. Urges Argentina To Indict Iranians Link Eyed to ’94 AMIA Bombing
Marc Perelman, Fri. Mar 17, 2006. On November 3, Perelman said the Bush administration intended to cite the indictment as part of its campaign to get Russia and China to support a Security Council resolution on sanctions against Iran.
While keeping an open mind on the the Buenos Aires bombings, there are implications concerning bombings in London. In 1994, another former Iranian intelligence operative, Manoucheh Moatamer, alleged that his country's diplomats had been involved in both the AMIA bombing and that at the Israeli embassy two years before it.
Moatamer moved from Venezuela to the United States, coming under witness protection. Although the Iranian government rubbished Moatamer's allegations, he gained some credibility from accurately predicting that London would be next. On July 26, 1994, a car bomb explosed outside the Israeli embassy in London, and later there was an explosion at Balfour House, in Finchley, home of the Zionist Federation and the Jewish National Fund. Nobody was killed in the London bombings.
Two young Palestinians, Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, have spent the last ten years in jail for "conspiracy" to cause these explosions. Both claim innocence. In fact neither of them was near either building, nor were they likely to have obtained the sophisticated explosives that were used. The only evidence linking them to the attacks was that Jawad, a keen motor enthusiast, had accompanied a man called Rida Mughrabi to some car auctions, at which Rida bought the Audi used in the embassy bombing. Neither this man, nor the woman who drove the car up to the embassy under the watchful eye of a policeman, nor any other conspirators, have been found.
At the time of the bombings, the British security services claimed they had no warning, and that a hitherto unknown Palestinian group must have carried them out. Then in 1997, ex-MI5 officer David Shayler blew the whistle, saying MI5 had been given a warning from a reliable source and did nothing. Home Secretary Jack Straw slapped a ban on such evidence, and had Shayler pursued abroad.
As for the "Iranian connection", which the police and prosecution had pooh-poohed, here's a passage from an Institute of Jewish Policy Research report on Argentina, talking about Moatamer's allegations:
"Curiously, an Iranian link with the attacks on the Israeli embassy and Balfour House in the British capital was never mentioned by UK sources; instead, those apprehended and prosecuted in London were identified as Palestinian. Making matters worse for Moatamer's claims was the UK's coolness vis-à-vis such an apparently privileged source of information. Indeed, unlike (Argentine Judge) Galeano's rushing to Caracas to interview him, UK officials neither questioned the Iranian during his brief Venezuelan sojourn nor relayed specific questions for the US officials to put to him, according to Lord Avebury, chairman of the UK parliamentary human rights group (monitoring, among other things, Iranian terrorism)".
See also:http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw97-8/la-int.html, concerning Argentine police.
Former Iranian diplomat Hade Soleimanpour, accused of involvement in the AMIA bombing, was arrested in Durham in 2003, but after Iranian protests the Home Office decided to drop extradition proceedings, claiming Argentina had failed to produce prima facie evidence. It's different when the British - or US - security authorities want someone.
Anyone who knows either Samar or Jawad can have no doubts about their commitment to the Palestinian cause or their wish to put their education to constructive use for their people's good. Likewise, it is hard to imagine either of them subordinating their efforts to the Ayatollahs or as Hizbollahi. Indeed, the authorities who jailed them not only failed to show they were bombers but did not try to link them with any known guerrilla organisation, let alone with Iran.
But just as US organisations and media "know" without needing an investigation who bombed the AMIA building, so various right-wing commentators, from American neo-cons to the BNP, assert as fact that "two Palestinians close to Hizbollah" bombed the London embassy. (Should there be a change of policy the "facts" may change accordingly)
President Kirchner of Argentina said last year that it was a disgrace that no one was in jail yet for the Buenos Aires bombings. Perhaps. But not as disgraceful as the apparent complacency of the British authorities, satisfied that so long as they have someone in jail for the London bombings, even two innocent Palestinians, they need not worry about pursuing anyone who might be guilty. Besides, looking for an Iranian connection, and whatever is behind it, might bring diplomatic and trading complications. Palestinians don't have a state.