Israel has called an agreement between Iran and Argentina to investigate jointly the bombing 19 years ago of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people “like inviting a murderer to investigate the killings he committed”.
The terror attack was the deadliest on Argentinian soil, coming just two years after a bomb flattened the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people.
Argentine prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of co-ordinating – under orders from their government – the bombing on 18 July, 1994 that demolished the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building. The centre, a symbol for Argentina’s Jewish community, was destroyed and 85 people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Argentine officials have claimed that Iran masterminded the attack, while agents of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group carried it out.
Among those accused of involvement in the community centre bombing is Iran’s current defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi. Argentina has spent years seeking to interrogate the six with the help of Interpol, but Iran’s government has refused to make them available until now.
On Sunday, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez announced via Twitter that her country and Iran had agreed to establish an independent international “truth commission” to investigate the bombing.
The commissioners will examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed, Ms Fernandez said. Then, commissioners and Argentine investigators will travel to Tehran to question the suspects.
Previous Argentine inquiries resulted “only in failures and scandal, with a trial that ended up being a farce” after high-level officials were accused of covering up evidence and deliberately misdirecting investigators, Ms Fernandez said in a series of tweets.
Ms Fernandez – allied with left-leaning Latin American leaders who are on good terms with Tehran, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – hailed the accord as historic. However, Israel’s foreign ministry said yesterday it is “deeply disappointed” and is summoning Argentina’s ambassador to demand an explanation over the inquiry. Israel’s ambassador in Buenos Aires will request a meeting with Argentina’s foreign minister.
“Though the [Jewish community centre] attack took place on Argentinean soil and was aimed at Argentinean citizens, the findings of the ensuing investigation by Argentinean authorities has brought up a clear resemblance with the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which occurred two years earlier,” the Israeli foreign ministry said.
“The proven relation between the two attacks grants us the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect the perpetrators and their sponsors to be brought to justice … it is doubtful whether this is how justice will be rendered.”
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies and tensions are high over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing Iranian denials of the Holocaust and its calls for Israel’s destruction. Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful, a claim that Israel and many western countries reject.