by Dr. Reza Parchizadeh
At a time when the Iranian regime is on the cusp of going nuclear, the link between the AMIA bombing and the IRGC aircraft in Argentina can turn into an explosive issue worldwide.
Iran and Argentina signed a Memorandum of Understanding In 2013 to ostensibly lead a joint investigation into the notorious case of the AMIA terrorist incident where a major Jewish organization in Buenos Aires had been bombed in 1994. The full title of the MOU was “Memorandum of understanding between the Government of Argentina and the Government of Islamic Republic of Iran on the issues related to the terrorist attack against AMIA headquarter in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994.”
In a suicide attack, an explosive-laden van drove into the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) and exploded, killing 85 and injuring more than 300 people in the process. The attack has been the deadliest terrorist incident on Argentine soil to date.
In 2006, the Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused the Iranian leadership and the regime’s ideological paramilitary force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of designing the AMIA attack, and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah of executing it. However, a trend in Argentina’s politics that wants a warm relationship with the Islamists in Iran never favored that official announcement, and has since consistently sought to stall any investigation into the case.
When that trend led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner finally came to power in Argentina, it signed the aforementioned MOU with the Iranian regime. Based on that agreement, the two governments, in cooperation with Interpol, were to form an international fact-finding commission that would investigate the case by interviewing Iranian authorities accused by Nisman, and whose judgment was to be regarded as final by both sides.
In response to the signing of the memorandum, the Jewish community of Argentina launched a comprehensive campaign of enlightenment and filled a petition to declare the agreement with Iran unconstitutional. The community’s contention was that the evidence of the Iranian regime’s involvement in the AMIA attack was undeniable, and that the Kirchner government wanted to whitewash that involvement by internationalizing the procedure and giving leverage to the main suspect of the case.
Nisman also opposed the MOU, calling it “wrongful interference of the executive branch” in the work of the judiciary, and accused President Kirchner and Foreign Minister Timerman of trying to whitewash the case. He even compiled a 300-page dossier on the Kirchner government’s efforts to cover up the AMIA incident, but before he had a chance to present his findings to the congress, Nisman was shot dead on January 18, 2015. His murder case as well as that of the AMIA bombing are still open.
After Kirchner lost the presidential election later the same year and Mauricio Macri came to power, his justice ministry immediately eliminated all hurdles to the memorandum’s getting declared unconstitutional, effectively killing the MOU with the Iranian regime. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, praised the move as a “welcome change of direction” in Argentina’s foreign policy and expressed hope that the relations between the two countries would further improve.
However, the grounding of an Iranian-Venezuelan Boeing 747 in Buenos Aires in June with alleged ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the security apparatus of the Maduro regime, which later brought to light the fact that flights by such aircraft have been a regular thing in Argentina for a while, again raised the specter of AMIA and has made many question the extent of the Islamic Republic’s security and military presence as well as political influence in Argentina. The captain of the plane, Gholamreza Ghasemi, is a ranking officer of the Quds Force, the same IRGC branch that plotted the AMIA bombing in 1994.
The opposition and some judiciary authorities have accused the Argentine government of trying to cover up the regular flights of the regime-affiliated Iranian-Venezuelan aircraft to Argentina and started a wide-ranging investigation into the case. Many of the current Argentine government officials are the same people who signed the controversial AMIA agreement with the Iranian regime during the Kirchner presidency, including Kirchner herself, who is now vice president of Argentina.
A group of Republican US senators recently complained that the Biden administration hasn’t been responding to the Argentine judiciary’s calls for exchange of information on the Boeing case. They believed the administration was aware of the extent of the IRGC’s infiltration project in Argentina and South America but withheld information from the Argentine prosecutors for fear of undermining the efforts to revive the nuclear deal with Iran. The Guards were designated a “foreign terrorist organization” by the United States in April 2019. Perhaps as a response, the U.S. Department of Justice sought action by asking Argentina to impound the plane on suspicions that it is linked to “international terrorist groups.”
Most recently, the Argentine police arrested four Iranians with fake French passports on suspicion of being members of the Revolutionary Guards. They were arrested at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires before boarding a KLM flight to Amsterdam. The press speculates that after the real identities of these Iranian agents were exposed, their handlers were attempting to prevent their arrest by relocating them to another country. The arrest warrant for these four was issued by the Federal Judge Federico Villena, who is also in charge of investigating the case of the plane connected to the Quds Force.
At a time when the Iranian regime is on the cusp of acquiring a nuclear weapon, the accumulating evidence regarding the link between the AMIA bombing and the IRGC aircraft in Argentina and its impact on the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) can turn the whole story into an explosive issue in the area of international politics in the days to come.
Dr. Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and security analyst. He is on the editorial board of Al-Arabiya Farsi as well as Ariel University’s Journal for Interdisciplinary Middle Eastern Studies. He tweets under @DrParchizadeh.