While eyes were on Tripoli, what happened in Tehran?
WHILE the TV news, front-page headlines and hypocritical outrage were focussed on Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's return to Tripoli this weekend, there was not so much media attention for an event in Tehran.
Triumphant for now after his police and thugs broke up opposition, and installed against a backdrop of torture and show trials, President Mohammed Ahmadinejad has appointed former Revolutionary Guard commander Ahmad Vahidi as Defence Minister.
Megrahi was released on compassionate grounds, but only after dropping his appeal against conviction for the Lockerbie bombing. Newspapers have kept calling him the Lockerbie "bomber", and politicians pretend to be shocked that he has had a "hero's welcome'; but if they are really convinced of his guilt they can surely not be pretending he acted alone, and without orders or a motive? If, on the other hand, Megrahi had succeeded in proving his innocence - and the Scottish review commission had found faults with the conviction - then the case of who did arrange the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 would again be open.
The longstanding alternative scenario put forward was that the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Commnd was involved in the airline bombing, under a contract to the secret service of Iran. The motive was retaliation for the downing of an Iranian ailiner with the loss of 300 lives, carried out by the US missile carrier Vincennes. The captain and crew of the US ship were decorated. So much for the hypocrisy of US protests about a "hero's welcome".
At least the Iranian explanation has some logic to it, even if the evidence has yet to be gathered and tested. It became impolitic to pursue an accusation against the Iranian or Syrian governments when their collaboration was needed for war on Iraq. Now, when we are hearing all about the feelings of relatives of the Lockerbie bomb victims it is probably impolite to remind ourselves that the Iranian airbus victims also left grieving relatives.
The significance of the Vahidi appointment relates to a different bombing. On July 18, 1994, a van loaded with with explosives was detonated outside the premises of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Argentina's central Jewish welfare and cultural association, in a heavily built-up district of Buenos Aires. The bombing destroyed load-bearing walls, and brought down floors. Eighty-five people died,both service users and staff, and more than 300 were injured. The attack came two years after the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 people were killed.
The AMIA bombing was Argentina's worst ever terror attack, and there was a huge demonstration in Buenos Aires in sympathy with the victims and protest at the outrage. But Argentine authorities have been unable to establish with any certainty who was behind either bombing, and nobody has been convicted.
The Argentine police and military have a record of antisemitism, as well as corruption. A disproportionately large number of those arrested or 'disappeared' under the military junta's 'dirty war' in the 1970s were Jewish, although this did not prevent the junta shopping with Israel for arms and intelligence co-operation.
In 1997 four police officers were arrested. Police commander Juan Jose Ribelli was chargd with providing the van used in the AMIA attack. His father had received $2.5 million prior to the explosion. But it was difficult to prove what this was for, or where it came from, and though suspicions have continued of a local connection to the bombings, investigations have not got far.
In 2004 all suspects in the case of a "local connection" were found not guilty and released. Meanwhile US and Israeli authorities and intelligence services have been keen to claim Iranian responsibility, allegations about which have been made by an Iranian defector. They even named a Lebanese "suicide bomber", though the man's brother said he had been killed in Lebanon months after the bombing.
On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martínez Burgos formally accused the Iranian government of directing the bombing, and said it had used Hezbollah militants to carry it out.
But what was the motive? Buenos Aires is a long way to go to find an Israeli target, let alone to bomb a Jewish community centre which is nothing to do with the Zionist state. The Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in Argentina, who found themselves being put in the frame (including immigrants' son President Carlos Menem) had generally good relations with the Argentine Jewish community. As for the Iranian regime, with perhaps the biggest Jewish community outside Israel in the Middle East, it would hardly need to go to the other side of the world if it was merely bent on attacking Jews, out of its supposed fanaticism.
According to the Argentine prosecutors, Argentina had been targeted by Iran after Buenos Aires' decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer to Iran. This has been disputed, because this contract was never terminated, and Iran and Argentina were negotiating on restoration of full cooperation on all agreements from early 1992 till 1994, when the bombing occurred. That makes one think. Did whoever arranged this bombing in Buenos Aires intent to protest the nuclear deal's suspension, or to prevent the deal's resumption?
Judge Galeano issued warrants for the arrests of 12 Iranians, including Hade Soleimanpour, Iran's ambassador to Argentina in 1994. In 2003, at the request of the Argentine authorities, British police arrested Soleimanpour in Durham, where he had enrolled for a course at the university. He was later released because, according to the Home Office there was not enough prima face evidence to proceed with an extradition.
Judge Galeano also interviewed Abolghasem Mesbahi, an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer who reportedly said a former Argentine president accepted a $10 million payment from Tehran to block the investigation. Former President Carlos Menem denied the claims, but admitted he had a secret Swiss bank account. Menem said the attack had been related to his support to the US during the First Gulf War and to his visit to Israel. Abolghasem Mesbahi claimed to the Argentine court that Iran had planned the bombing, thinking the centre was a base for the Israeli secret service, Mossad.
Mesbahi had also warned accurately that London would be next for bombings. On July 26, 1994 a car bomb exploded outside the Israeli embassy in London, injuring 14 people, and later that day another explosion hit Balfour House, Zionist fundraising offices in Finchley. Apparently MI5 had ignored warnings about the embassy bombing, and Scotland Yard made no effort to interview Mesbahi. Two Palestinian, British university graduates with no connection to Iran, are serving time for "conspiracy" to bomb the embassy, though both denied it.
Interpol has had Ahmad Vahidi on its "red notice" list since November 2007, in connection with the AMIA bombing and an Argentine warrant. At the time of the bombing in Buenos Aires Vahidi headed the al Quds unit of the Revolutionary Guard which co-ordinated operations abroad, including those using Hizbollah members.
The Interpol notices are not in themselves warrants, but member countries can treat them as a request to apprehend the person. Evidently in Ahmadinejad's Iran they are a good thing to put on your CV.
Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman says Vahidi is accused of being "a key participant in the planning" of the attack. "It has been demonstrated that Vahidi participated in and approved of the decision to attack AMIA during a meeting in Iran on August 14, 1993. Iran has always protected terrorists, giving them government posts, but I think never one as high as this one," he told the Associated Press.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said appointment of Vahidi will confirm the "terrorist" nature of the regime in Iraq. Barak is a fine one to talk, considering that Israel made Ariel Sharon prime minister after the Kahane commission had held him culpable for the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Israeli peace campaigners hare supporting calls for Barak himself to be declared a war criminal after the onslaught on Gaza.
But since Israeli war guilt in no way establishes Iranian innocence, we must continue raising questions and demanding answers about the Buenos Aires bombings. Besides Jews and Arabs, Argentina received another group of immigrants after World War II, welcomed by Peron for their import of know-how and capital. Some were just ahead of arrest warrants, but assisted to the New World by Franco Spain, the CIA, or friends in the Vatican. Israel found it easier to infringe Argentine sovereignty then go through extradition procedures when it took Adolf Eichmann. Croat Poglavnik(fuhrer) Ante Pavelic got away when the Yugoslavs sought to extradite him. The deputy whom Eichmann regarded as his "best man", Alois Brunner, was among the Nazis for whom the CIA found work in the Middle East, winding up in Damascus as a businessman and adviser to the security police.
President Carlos Menem must have upset quite a few important people in Argentina and elsewhere when, in 1992, he announced an investigation into the Peron regime and the haven it had provided for Nazis and their loot. all. An American document from April 1945 estimated that Nazis secretly sent more than $1 billion to be invested in Argentina. In December 1996, the Argentine Central Bank handed vital information on bank accounts to Jewish researchers, detailing funds transferred from banks in Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal between 1939 and 1949. In March 1997, President Menem ordered the Central Bank archives to be opened for investigation of Nazi funds.
Did some other agency sell the Iranians a pup, by getting them to believe Mossad was using the AMIA building? Or did someone believe, perhaps with more reason, that some of the files on Nazi wealth being gathered for investigation were housed in the building? Could the Iranian regime's agents have knowingly or unwittingly have provided a convenient 'false flag' for someone else's dirty work?
If the Iranian secret service and Hizbollah were involved in this atrocity they committed a crime not only agaisst Argentina and its Jewish community but against the many Arab Argentinians whose name has been besmirched by association, and who found themselves regarded as "suspects". If not, then Iran as much as anyone has an interest in full investigation and bringing to justice the real culprits. But as with his willingness previously to host a Holocaust deniers' conference (some of whose participants are incidentally as bitter enemies of Muslims as of Jews), Ahmadinejad's peformance is a liability to Iran.