BUENOS AIRES (May. 19)
Argentina says `new evidence’ proves Iran behind 2 bombings Argentina is reducing its diplomatic ties to Iran to a bare minimum, charging Tehran with complicity in the deadly bombings of two Jewish sites here.
The charges have created a war of words between the two countries that will likely affect their diplomacy and trade.
And it may also finally result in convictions of at least some of those behind the March 17, 1992, bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the July 18, 1994, bombing of the city’s main Jewish community center, known as AMIA.
The two still-unsolved attacks killed 115 people and left hundreds of others wounded.
Last Friday, saying there was an Iranian connection behind the attacks, Argentina recalled all but one of its diplomats from Tehran. It also told the Iranian government to do the same with its diplomats in Buenos Aires. Iran countered by saying it would cut its economic ties with Argentina.
Reactions to the latest developments provoked mixed reactions within Argentina’s 300,000-strong Jewish community.
The lawyer for the Jewish umbrella organization DAIA, Luis Dobniewski, said he was optimistic that Argentina would finally confirm that Iranian officials had a hand in the bombings.
Others, however, were not so optimistic.
According to Laura Ginsberg, a member of the Memoria Activa group that represents the relatives of the bombings’ victims, “Jews ought to be cautious.”
“Blaming it all on Iran is very convenient to the [Argentine] government,” she said. “President Menem badly wants to close the case and not investigate the local connection — the local police and officials that took part in it.”
“Blaming Iran,” she added, will enable the government to avoid the “investigation that really bothers them: the activities of right-wing police squads.”
Indeed, the investigation into the AMIA bombing has often targeted members of the Buenos Aires police.
A former police commissioner in charge of the grand auto theft division of the Buenos Aires provincial police was arrested in 1996 along with 10 other police officers on charges that they had sold terrorists the van used in the AMIA attack. They were all subsequently released.
Jewish leaders here and abroad have long cited incompetence, corruption and anti-Semitism among police and government officials as causes of Argentina’s inability to solve either bombing.
For their part, Argentinian investigators have long claimed that there was an Iranian connection, and the government has previously downgraded its diplomatic relations with Iran.
Argentina only had a vague basis for its accusations, but now the Foreign Ministry is speaking of “new, conclusive evidence” indicating that Tehran was behind the bombings.
Early in April, the Argentine official in charge of the investigation of the AMIA bombing, Judge Juan Jose Galeano, went to Germany to interrogate a former Iranian official described as “an Iranian dissident.”
Galeano never disclosed his findings, but a source close to him said there was “a new sense of excitement” after the interrogation.
According to the source, the judge is gathering information to issue an international arrest warrant against a former Iranian diplomat, Moshen Rabbani.
Expelled from Argentina in December, Rabbani was the cultural affairs secretary in the Iranian Embassy.
Last week, Galeano took a decisive step based on the information he gathered in Germany.
On May 14, he ordered the arrest of Imaiam Koshrow, an Iranian national who has been living in Argentina for several years. The next day, police teams arrested seven other Iranians living in the country.
A source close to the judge said in an interview that all eight Iranians were “connected to the Iranian Embassy here” and worked for the embassy or its cultural centers “on an irregular basis.”
At least one of the Iranians was arrested while police raided the premises of the South Beef Eximport Co., where an undisclosed number of passports bearing forged Argentine visas were seized, the source said.
After Argentina recalled its diplomats and carried out the arrests, Tehran announced it would impose economic sanctions against Argentina if “the unfounded harassment of our diplomats and nationals does not cease at once.”
Last year, Argentina exported to Iran $640 million worth of grains, cars, farm machinery and pharmaceuticals. Its imports totaled $1.6 million, mostly in fabrics and carpets.
On Saturday, the Iranian charge d’affaires in Buenos Aires, Abdoirajim Sadatifar, insisted that Iran had “nothing to do with the bombings” and blamed Argentina for “giving in to international pressure.”
Tehran lost no time in spelling out what it meant by the word “international.”
The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, referred to the “interference of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires” in a threat to cut off relations with Argentina.
On Sunday, a newspaper in Tehran quoted the Foreign Ministry’s director-general of American affairs, Mohammad Reza Bakhtiari: “It seems that the Argentine judicial system is under the influence of Zionist elements trying to blame their domestic problems on Iran.”