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Op-Ed: The Rafsanjani connection in AMIA bombing

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WASHINGTON (JTA) – The upheaval in Iran following the disputed presidential elections in June has thrust one veteran of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, back into the spotlight. As chairman of the powerful Guardians Council, Rafsanjani could still emerge as a counterweight to the hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But Rafsanjani is not the moderate many in the West believe him to be. As the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires approaches, one might well ask why Rafsanjani remains a central figure in Iranian politics, given that his rightful place is in a prison cell in Argentina awaiting trial.

Argentina’s investigation into the AMIA attack, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 300, for several years was marred by incompetence, corruption and political intrigue. But under the determined state prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who took over the case in 2006, solid evidence has accumulated that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah carried out the July 18, 1994 bombing on the orders of its Iranian paymasters — with Rafsanjani at the helm.

Nisman issued arrest warrants against eight Iranians, including Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the regime’s Revolutionary Guards who ran as a conservative candidate in the recent contested presidential elections, and Rafsanjani, who was Iran’s president when the decision to bomb AMIA was made.

Anyone who understands the decision-making process in Iran will know that it is highly unlikely that the AMIA operation could have been approved without the agreement of both Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to Nisman, the approval was granted at a meeting in the Iranian city of Mashad in 1993, in Rafsanjani’s presence.

Six of the eight Iranians named by Nisman are now the subject of Interpol warrants, know as “red notices”– a testament to both Nisman’s professionalism and the Argentine government’s firm political will. And Nisman remains persistent.

Last October and in May, Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral approved Nisman’s request for the seizure of properties belonging to those named in the official report as culpable for the attack, among them five lots belonging to the former “cultural attaché” in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani. The proceeds from the sale of the seized properties are expected to be distributed to AMIA victims and family members taking part in a civil action.

More fundamentally, Nisman’s investigation has helped to expose the growing danger posed by Iran to the security and well-being of the Americas. Most countries in the region, eager to pursue commercial and diplomatic ties with Iran, have put the AMIA atrocity to one side. Their discomfort in recognizing that the attack was a key indicator, several years before 9/11, of how far terrorists will go (not to mention the realization that Latin America, in common with the rest of the world, is not immune from terrorism) is too great.

Of particular concern is the strengthening of the alliance between Iran and Venezuela — and by extension, those countries in the region aligned with the demagogue of Caracas, Hugo Chavez.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad, his Iranian counterpart and “revolutionary brother,” have undertaken nearly 200 cooperative ventures worth more than an estimated $20 billion since 2001.

In April, Chavez visited Tehran to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the joint bank, Banco Binacional Irani-Venezuela, which was established to fund projects internally and in third-party countries run by anti-western regimes.

Kurosh Parvisian, the bank’s president, is also chairman and managing director of the Export Development Bank of Iran, or EDBI. In October, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial restrictions on affiliates of the EDBI, which supports the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As Argentina knows only too well, the most well-known consequence of Iran’s activities in Latin America has been the continent’s worst-ever terrorist atrocity, in the form of the AMIA bombing. Therefore, as Tehran attempts to expand its influence, all countries in the region need to understand that the Iranian regime is an enemy of freedom, and remember that even so-called moderates in Iran’s ruling circles have no qualms about exporting terrorism and massacring innocents.

(Dina Siegel Vann is director of the American Jewish Committee Latino and Latin American Institute.)

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