If the previous week had begun with the 28th anniversary of the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) Jewish community centre being marked, a New York Times article kept this issue a hot topic at the start of this week.
The article (datelined Tel Aviv and signed by Ronan Bergman) divulged an investigation by Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad ruling out both Iranian participation and a local connection in the attack, pointing instead to a secret Hezbollah unit seeking revenge for Israeli operations against Shi’ite militia in Lebanon. While not explicitly aiming in that direction, this report would seem to revive earlier theories of a Syrian connection via Lebanon but Bergman opted to see Hezbollah as seeking to place the blame on Iran, thus both provoking Israel into invading Lebanon while trapping Tehran into a deeper commitment there.
This meticulous investigation (including such minute details as the explosives being smuggled into the country in shampoo bottles and chocolate boxes) would seem to fly in the face of several years of Argentina, Israel and the United States pointing the finger at Tehran, centred on the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires with the attaché Mohsen Rabbani seen as a key figure. The Mossad report instead names Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh, killed in 2008, as heading the operational unit.
The car dealer Carlos Telleldín and several Buenos Aires provincial policemen were eventually identified as providing logistical support and placed on trial as the local connection in 2004 but acquitted – not for lack of evidence but on the grounds of mistrial due to the presiding judge Juan José Galeano having bribed witnesses via the SIDE intelligence. For that Galeano was not only removed from the bench but sentenced to a prison term of six years in 2019. It remains possible that the real aim of the bribery was to sabotage this trial rather than influence its verdict but Mossad concurs with this official dismissal of a local connection.
The Mossad report also contains details on the 1992 terrorist destruction of the Israeli Embassy, some of which point to a Brazilian connection – the car-bomb vehicle was purchased by one Hassan Karaki posing as a Brazilian with a forged passport while the suicide driver was Muhammad Nur al-Din, a Lebanese emigrant to Brazil.
AMIA special prosecutor Sebastián Basso said that this report did not alter his opinion that “Iran masterminded … and gave the order to commit this attack” nor the Interpol Red Notices issued for the arrest of seven Iranian officials.
Israel did not wait until the week was out before ratifying that Iran “initiated, financed and launched” the attack. They also denied that the NYT publication was any scoop or game-changer, stating: “The news is based on an official report summing up the investigations into both attacks (1992 and 1994). There is nothing new about it, it’s been around for several years and makes it clear that Iran was behind both attacks” with the latter conclusion confirmed by 1992 Embassy attack survivor and widower Danny Carmon, today a senior member of the Israeli foreign service. But Bergman maintained that the Mossad investigation had not been finally concluded until late last year.
“Iran and Hezbollah are the same thing,” affirmed Carmon, also praising Bergman as a “great and well-informed journalist.” He agreed that there was “no local connection” but said that Mughniyeh had been misreported as heading the operational unit in the Embassy attack since he was in Iran at the time.
The NYT story did not draw any official comment other than Basso’s statement but triggered considerable media buzz in the early part of the week since the apparent divergence from the official line from an Israeli source seemed to open the door to all other theories.
Meanwhile the Venezuelan aircraft with the partly Iranian crew, marooned at Ezeiza International Airport since June 8 pending court investigations into possible intelligence or even terrorist activities, also returned to the news last Monday as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro greeted the new Argentine Ambassador to Caracas Oscar Laborde by telling him that he had been “patient” over Argentina’s kidnap of his aeroplane but that his patience was wearing thin. Laborde offered no answer, instead requesting Venezuelan aid on the energy front in the form of fuel supplies.
On the same day Lomas de Zamora federal judge Federico Villena ordered the delivery of the freight plane’s cargo to the companies contracting the flight but not the release of the crew members, who continue to languish at a hotel near the airport which they can only leave to shop at the adjacent shopping centre.