Argentina and Iran have reached an agreement to establish an independent “truth commission” to investigate the 1994 terrorist attack against a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead and hundreds wounded. Iran was widely believed to have been responsible for the attack and has evaded cooperation with Argentinian investigators, who along with Interpol have futilely sought interviews with six Iranians suspected of involvement for nearly two decades. The agreement between Iran and Argentina was signed by their respective foreign ministers and was heralded by leaders in both countries — though it has also left many international Jewish organizations (along with the Israeli government) angry and demanding answers.
The attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) came after a bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier. Neither case was solved; for years investigations of the attacks went nowhere, resulting in “only failures and scandal,” according to Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchener. Israel’s foreign ministry has, for obvious reasons, remained interested in the results of the investigation. This recent news, however, has left the ministry reeling, accusing Argentina of leaving them out in the cold during talks with Iran. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has also already passed his judgment on the validity of the investigation, which he says is “like inviting the murderer to participate in the murder investigation.” Argentina, which is home to Latin America’s largest Jewish community, has already seen criticisms from its two main Jewish organizations along with condemnation from international Jewish groups, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center (which called the move a “whitewash of terrorism”).
Iran, which will now allow investigators access to the six accused Iranians, seems eager to use the agreement to bolster its ties with Argentina — something Israel, which remains invested in keeping Iran isolated on the international stage, is wary of. Ahmadinejad has previously stated that after investigations took place, the stage would be set for an “expansion of ties between Iran and Argentina.” It also probably does not hurt that one of the Iranians set to be questioned — former Iranian president Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — is considered a persona non grata by the current government, which has been more busy than usual in clamping down on dissent in anticipation of June’s presidential elections. Argentina, on the other hand, can claim to have made an effort to restart the process of prosecuting those accused of the attack. Some analysts also suggest that there is an economic incentive at play here for Argentina — Iran would likely offer appealing terms on its oil exports, something Argentina could certainly benefit from as it scales up its interventionist business policies. With condemnation mounting, it is less clear whether the benefits of the agreement will ultimately be worth the P.R. disaster for Fernandez’s government.