Like so many pins in a bowling alley, the treacherous former Argentine leaders who signed a secret pact exonerating Iran of its responsibility for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires are, finally, collapsing under the rolling weight of judicial scrutiny.
In a week that saw President Donald Trump recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, one can be forgiven for not having noticed the momentous events that took place in Argentina at the same time. But these events are vitally relevant to the future of the Middle East, where Iran—with or without a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem—remains the greatest threat to Israel and to the region.
For much of this year, Argentine judge Claudio Bonadio has been heading a federal inquiry into the allegation that in 2011, Argentina and Iran signed a secret memorandum of understanding that, in exchange for trade and other benefits, Tehran and Buenos Aires would establish a laughably named “truth commission” to establish the facts of the AMIA bombing—until 9/11, the single worst terror atrocity since World War II. Eighty-five people were murdered and hundreds more were wounded when a fuel truck rammed into the AMIA building on Pasteur Street in downtown Buenos Aires.
Bonadio’s inquiry is based on the complaint against former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her colleagues compiled by Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor investigating the AMIA bombing. Nisman was found murdered in his Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18, 2015, the night before he was due to unveil the complaint before Argentina’s Congress.
Nisman began working on the AMIA case in 2005, when his courageous efforts resulted in Interpol releasing six “red notices” for the Iranian and Hezbollah officials wanted in connection with the bombing. But as Kirchner fell under the sway of the late Venezuelan tyrant, Hugo Chavez, her policy toward Iran shifted accordingly. Nisman found himself out in the cold; and for all that remains to be established, he may have even been murdered on the instructions of Kirchner or someone close to her.
There is now, as a result of Bonadio’s inquiry, the prospect that all this will be the subject of a major treason trial. While Bonadio has asked Argentina’s Senate to strip Kirchner of her immunity from prosecution, former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman—who signed the pact with his Iranian counterpart in January 2011 at a meeting hosted by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—is under house arrest, and a host of political aides, intelligence officials and Kirchner enforcers have been either locked up or forbidden from the leaving the country by Argentina’s police.
The developments are the most important in the AMIA case since Nisman’s murder almost three years ago. All the lies that Kirchner and her acolytes told—when they denied there had been a pact with Iran in the first place, when they tried to smear Nisman’s reputation after his murder and when they insisted that his death had been a suicide—have been exposed as lies. Those who continue to stand with Kirchner do so because of their radical political orientation, and not because they respect the truth about AMIA and Nisman’s murder.
How extensive any trials in Argentina might be is debatable. Stripping Kirchner of her immunity will be a difficult task, and her successor Mauricio Macri will be wary of giving his rival more opportunities to take the center stage with the protestations of innocence at which she is, one has to concede, a master. Timerman, meanwhile, is gravely ill and may not live much longer. (Although one of his singular contributions—admitting, in a February 2013 conversation with Argentine Jewish leaders, that Iran was responsible for the AMIA bombing—was fortunately captured on tape as part of Nisman’s evidence.) As for the others on Bonadio’s list, many of them could end up serving lengthy prison sentences, thus delivering a modicum of justice to the AMIA victims and their families after 23 years of agony.
Of course, the real prize here—the convictions of the Iranians and their Hezbollah allies who planned and executed the bombing—remains more unattainable than ever. Former Iranian President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, at whose home the plan to bomb AMIA was approved, is dead. So is Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah leader wanted by Interpol, who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2008. As for those who remain with us, they remain, as well, under Iran’s protection.
What has emerged from the AMIA tragedy, at long last, are three indisputable truths. First, that Iran was responsible for the bombing. Second, that Kirchner, Timerman and their collaborators willfully conspired to cover this up. Third, that a good and decent man paid with his life for efforts to establish the truth about the criminality that collusion with Iran inevitably brings. Is that justice? For now, it’s the best we are going to get.
Ben Cohen’s column is distributed by JNS.