On May 29, Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused Iran of infiltrating South America and setting up sleeper cells, similar to the one that carried out the deadly attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Iran’s foreign ministry rejected Nisman’s accusation with the dismissive statement that “due to the prosecutor’s background and Zionist character, we won’t consider his statements important.”
And so it goes in the cat-and-mouse game that began 19 years ago, with the loss of 85 lives in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s investigation of the bombing was pretty slow to get moving, but in 2006, Nisman accused Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, with financing and strategic support from Iran.
Interpol has arrest warrants for eight senior Iranian officials accused of masterminding the AMIA bombing. Argentina repeatedly called on the United Nations to pressure Iran to hand over the officials – including two who are candidates in Iran’s June 14 presidential election. But Iran has refused to cooperate. And Argentina has further frustrated its own special prosecutor’s efforts by agreeing to work with Iran to establish a “Truth Commission,” through which Iran and Argentina would jointly investigate the AMIA attack.
When the so-called “Truth Commission” was announced earlier this year, Israel expressed “shock and astonishment.” Much of Argentina’s organized Jewish community, the largest in South America, also condemned the plan. But American reaction was more low key. “We are skeptical that … a just solution can be found in the arrangement announced,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Washington’s passive wait-and-see attitude is a mistake. Instead, Washington should expose the Iranian-Argentinian “Truth Commission” sham for what it is – a planned vehicle for the Iranians to obfuscate the truth. This week, a handful of members of Congress, led by Democrat Grace Meng of New York and Republican Trey Radel of Florida, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the secretary to oppose the commission and for the U.S. to “take action against Argentina should it proceed with the commission.”
While we leave it to the administration to determine the most effective approach to the effort, we agree with Reps. Meng and Radel, and their colleagues, that some opposition and proposed course of action need to be articulated by Washington. It is long past time for the facts of the 19-year old AMIA bombing case to be established, and the perpetrators punished.
As for the sleeper cells serving Hezbollah and Iran, the U.S. and its friends in Latin America need to be wide awake to the threat.