Argentina’s Betrayal

Last week, Argentina and Iran jointly agreed to establish a “truth commission” that will investigate the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing. Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had partnered with the Japanese to investigate the truth about Pearl Harbor. Or if George W. Bush had partnered with al-Qaeda to investigate the truth about 9/11. Now you understand the absurdity and moral repugnance of Argentina’s decision.

There is no serious question about who masterminded and carried out the AMIA attack, which left 85 dead and hundreds injured: It was a Hezbollah bombing planned by Iranian agents and approved by the theocracy in Tehran. Six years ago, Interpol issued “red notices” (the nearest thing to global arrest warrants) for several Iranian officials — one of whom, Ahmad Vahidi, is currently serving as Iran’s defense minister. For that matter, the Argentine government itself urged Interpol to issue those red notices. When Argentina made that request, its president was Néstor Kirchner, the late husband of the current Argentine president, Cristina Kirchner. In other words, by agreeing to whitewash the Iranian atrocity, Kirchner is betraying her husband’s legacy, in addition to the victims, their families, the Argentine Jewish community, the state of Israel, and anyone who cares about justice being served.

By the way, the AMIA bombing was not the only Iranian-sponsored terrorist attack in Buenos Aires during the early 1990s. In March 1992, the Iranians planned a bombing at the Israeli embassy that killed 29 people and injured more than 240. One of victims of this attack was an American-born Israeli diplomat named David Ben-Rafael. In February 1998, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle found Tehran guilty of orchestrating the embassy massacre and ordered the Iranian government to pay Ben-Rafael’s family roughly $63 million.

The 1992 and 1994 Buenos Aires bombings confirmed that Iran poses a deadly extraterritorial threat to civilized countries around the world. For that matter, in between the two Argentina attacks, Iranian-backed gunmen went to a Berlin restaurant and assassinated three senior members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, plus their translator. Like the Buenos Aires bombings, the Berlin murders were approved and facilitated by the Iranian government. All told, high-level officials of the post-1979 Iranian regime “have been linked to the assassinations of at least 162 of the regime’s political opponents around the world,” according to a November 2008 report from the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

When Néstor Kirchner demanded justice for the bombings and pushed Interpol to take action, he won praise from Washington and generated lots of goodwill with U.S. policymakers. Now his wife has thrown it all away. At a moment when the United States is eager to isolate the Iranian regime diplomatically, Argentina is effectively helping the regime to avoid responsibility for one of its worst crimes. Not surprisingly, the “truth commission” was rejected by AMIA president Guillermo Borger: “We do not accept Iran as a partner to trust, and much less when it comes to signing deals.” Meanwhile, the Israeli foreign ministry expressed “astonishment and disappointment at the Argentine government’s decision to collaborate with Iran,” and it further slammed “the unacceptable attitude of the Argentine government.”

To make matters worse, Argentina has dramatically increased its bilateral trade with Iran. The online business journal Latinvex has estimated that Argentine exports to the Islamic Republic grew by a whopping 937 percent in 2011, reaching $1.2 billion. And in the third quarter of 2012, Argentina accounted for nearly 64 percent of Iranian soy-oil imports, according to the German consultancy Oil World. So while the United States has been squeezing Iran economically and calling for tougher global sanctions, Argentina has been helping the Iranians to withstand the pressure.

It is now painfully clear that Kirchner has decided to join the Chávez bloc — the collection of autocratic leftists (including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega) who have adopted stridently anti-U.S. foreign policies and have provided either diplomatic cover or outright diplomatic support for Tehran. As I have argued elsewhere, Argentina no longer deserves to be a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) of the United States, nor does it deserve to be a member of the G-20. After all, it now has a government that will abruptly nationalize a Spanish-owned oil company, a government that will randomly and inexplicably seize materials from a U.S. military aircraft, a government that will threaten one of America’s closest allies (Britain), and a government that will whitewash the murderous depredations of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Thus far, Kirchner has suffered no real diplomatic punishment for her actions. It is time for the Obama administration to (1) revoke Argentina’s MNNA status and (2) push for its expulsion from the G-20. This would not deliver justice for the Buenos Aires bombing victims. But it would send a forceful, unambiguous message.

(You can read this article in Spanish here.)