JERUSALEM (Mar. 22)
Israeli officials have reacted with caution to various reports that Argentine authorities have made arrests in connection with last week’s bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.
While they welcome the apparent progress in the official investigation of the blast, they caution that it is too early to draw conclusions about the identity and motives of the perpetrators.
There were conflicting reports over the weekend about the number of arrests made and the nationalities of the suspects.
In Buenos Aires, an assistant to President Carlos Menem confirmed Sunday that arrests had been made in the case, but did not specify numbers or give other details to Kalman Sultanik, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, who went to Argentina to attend the victims’ funerals.
The Argentine news agency Telam reported that four people had been apprehended in connection with the bombing, and a British report picked up by Argentine papers put the number at four men and a woman, all described as “Arabic.”
There seem to be “as many versions as there are newspapers” in Buenos Aires regarding the police investigation,” Israel’s ambassador to Argentina, Yitzhak Sheffi, said Sunday in an interview with Israeli army radio.
Sheffi was not in the embassy at the time of the blast.
FOUR ISRAELIS DEAD
There were also conflicting reports about the final death toll from the blast. Here in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister David Levy told the Cabinet that the final count was 22 dead. But reports from Buenos Aires spoke of 28 dead, and The New York Times reported that 32 had died.
Eight of the dead were Israeli Embassy staff members: four Israelis and four local personnel.
Funerals took place Friday for the two Israeli women who died, and the bodies of two men were being flown to Israel from Argentina for burial Monday.
Zahava Zahavi, who worked as a secretary at the embassy and was married to the embassy’s first secretary, was buried in Netanya, in the presence of her husband, Yitzhak, and three children.
Eliora Carmon, wife of Consul Danny Carmon, was buried at a state funeral in Jerusalem. Her five children stayed away from the ceremony.
“I don’t think there is a better definition of an innocent victim than the victim lying before us,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
“This is the purpose, to break our national will,” he said. “But this has not happened and will not happen.”
The two other Israeli fatalities were David Ben-Raphael, an attache at the embassy, and Eli Ben-Ze’ev, security officer at the embassy. An Argentine transport plane was provided to take the bodies to Rome, where an Israeli air force plane was to complete the journey home Monday.
Ben-Raphael was the son of Ralph Goldman, honorary executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He left a widow, a 3-year-old daughter and a 9-month-old infant.
PANIC REPORTED IN LEBANON
At the Sunday morning Cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Levy and other officials suggested it was too early to draw any firm conclusions about the perpetrators’ identities.
But Levy vowed that Israel would avenge the blood of the victims. “We have an open account, and we shall settle it,” he said. “There is no coexistence with terrorism.”
Speculation has been rife in Israel that a Shi’ite extremist group was responsible for the attack, and this, in turn, has given rise to near panic in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, where there is anticipation of a major Israeli reprisal action.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in a statement to the ministers later published by the Cabinet secretary, said the attack had been directed “at the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
“This is not the first time that Israeli diplomatic missions abroad serve as the targets of Arab terror attacks. When the perpetrators succeed in carrying out their plot, the pain strikes at us all,” he said.
After the meeting, Cabinet ministers told reporters that it was premature to reach conclusions about security precautions at the embassy in Argentina or those in other countries.
But Israeli foreign service personnel abroad reportedly have been instructed to tighten security at their homes as well as their offices.
LATIN AMERICAN JEWS CONCERNED
Security is also being tightened at Jewish institutions in Argentina and throughout Latin America. And security will be high on the agenda when Jewish leaders from the southern continent attend a meeting of the Latin American Jewish Congress in Brasilia this week, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said in New York.
Steinberg said he had talked by telephone with WJC Vice President Sultanik and Manuel Tenenbaum, executive secretary of the Latin American Jewish Congress, who flew from Buenos Aires to Brasilia on Sunday for the meeting.
Both described the mood among Argentine Jews as one of shock.
But Argentine President Menem told Sultanik that last week’s attack would only strengthen ties between Argentina and world Jewry.
Sultanik quoted Menem as saying that “this terrible tragedy will strengthen the friendship and ties between Argentina — the government, the people — with Israel and its people and the Jewish people around the world.”
The WJC leader spoke with Menem both during and after a massive march that took place March 19 in Buenos Aires to decry the attack and express solidarity with Israel. Some 70,000 people took part in the march.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)