Written by Luis Fleischman
There is a new deal brewing between Argentina and Iran in order to improve relations between the two counties, which have been on shaky ground ever since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in 1994. Though Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, was widely believed to have perpetrated these two attacks, no individual has ever been brought to justice. However, Argentina issued arrest warrants and orders of extradition for several high officers in the Iranian government given their involvement in the attacks.
In January 2013, Argentina reversed course and signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that deals directly with the terrorist attack on the Jewish headquarters, but omits the attack on the Israeli Embassy.
The memorandum encourages the creation of a “Truth Commission,” composed of international jurists who would analyze documentation that exists about the case. That commission would be composed of five members: two selected by Iran and two by Argentina. These four members could not be either Iranian or Argentinean and would have to have internationally recognized credentials. The fifth member would be appointed by agreement between the two countries following the same criteria.
The commission would examine the evidence and documentation, request additional information as needed, interrogate people and finally issue a report and recommendations.
To say the least, this agreement is riddled with potential problems. For example, Iran has already refused to allow the interrogation of its Minister of Defense, Ahmad Vahidi. Vahidi is one of the suspects listed by the Argentinean justice system. This statement was issued despite the fact that the Argentinean government affirmed that Vahidi would indeed be interrogated. In addition, Iran then accused Israel of having been responsible for the attack against the Jewish community headquarters.
As I pointed out in another article, to think that the Iranians might acknowledge their role in the terrorist attacks in Argentina or agree to extradite those accused by the Argentinean justice ministry, is ridiculous. In fact, it is unlikely that this bilateral dialogue would even be taking place were it not for the influence of the Bolivarian government of Venezuela on the government of Cristina Kirchner.
That alliance is not merely an alliance of convenience that depends on Venezuela’s largesse towards Argentina. It is an ideological alliance, as Chavez has become a symbol of leftist domination in the region. In the mind of the Argentinean president, Iran is not merely the perpetrator of the most atrocious terrorist attack on Argentinean soil, but one of Chavez’s closest allies and an enemy of the United States. Why should Argentina adopt a U.S. enemy as its own? This would mean accepting subordination to the giant of the North.
At this point the agreement has been approved by the Argentinean Senate and House of Representatives.
Furthermore, in reaction to criticism by Argentinean Jewish organizations and the State of Israel, the government of Cristina Kirchner responded with characteristic arrogance, hostility and intimidation.
The President of the Argentinean Jewish umbrella organization (AMIA) pointed out that if a compromise with Iran is reached, there might be a third terrorist attack against an Israeli or Jewish institution. His thinking was that a compromise might give Iran a sense of impunity, and such impunity might encourage another terrorist attack.
However, instead of responding to this argument, Cristina Kirchner tried to intimidate the Jewish leader by publicly asking him to reveal what he knows about a future terrorist attack.
Ms. Kirchner added that, “it is clear that the potential authors of that third terrorist attack cannot be those countries that have signed the accord. Who would be responsible for a new attack? Which countries, individuals or intelligence services? Would it be those who oppose these agreements?”
The significance of such a remark is not only that the president’s purpose was to put the Jewish leader on the defensive. Such words by the Argentinean president also fit Iran’s propaganda narrative that Israel (or Jews) perpetrated past terrorist attacks on Argentinean soil.
Kirchner has insinuated with aggressive rhetoric that it might be the Israelis or the Jews who plan a third attack to sabotage the agreements.
But this is not the end of the story. The Argentinean president and her allies have been very disturbed that Argentinean Jews were exercising their democratic right to oppose the agreement. Thus, they wasted no time in shooting their venom.
The chairman of President Kirchner’s “Front for Victory” faction in the Senate, Miguel Angel Pichetto, pointed out that the “Israeli hard-liners create fear; this is why they keep rejecting Palestine. They not only operate in Israel but also in Argentina.”
Pichetto also stated during his closing speech in the Senate that the “terrorist attacks in the early 90’s in killed “Argentinean Argentineans and Argentinean Jews.”
The government of Argentina has taken a problematic posture towards its Jewish citizens and towards the State of Israel.
First, Argentina in general has not yet solved its own Jewish question.
Historically, virulent Anti-Semitism has existed in Argentina; particularly in the Armed Forces (including in many of its multiple military governments), the police, the Catholic Church, elements within the Peronist Party, and, of course, in countless Neo-Nazi and fascist groups. However, even in some important elements of the mainstream, Jews are still being questioned whether their Jewish identity does not contradict their national identity. This mentality prevails despite the fact that Jewish immigration is as old as the massive Italian and Spanish immigration to the country in the late 19 and early 20th century. Jews have contributed extensively to industrialization, commerce, culture, science, academia, medicine and liberal professions. In fact, if Jews were to be removed from Buenos Aires, the capital and largest city in the country, the glamorous and vibrant city would not look the same at all.
Yet, Argentinean society has not been able to embrace the Jewish community and accept a distinctive Jewish identity as compatible with its national identity. Pichetto’s words reflect a deep rooted nationalist tradition and a sentiment in a large sector of Argentinean society that the two identities are not compatible.
But Kirchner also adds the element that has characterized the extreme and moderate left in Latin America: the question of Israel.
The government of Argentina has held Israel responsible for the failure of the peace process in the Middle East, despite the fact that Israel offered far reaching compromises on at least three occasions, and the Palestinians rejected all of them without providing acceptable alternatives.
The Palestinians, and the rest the populations of the Arab and Muslim worlds, are regarded by the Latin American “New Left” as oppressed . Therefore, finding common ground between Latin America and those countries is important. That principle constitutes the basis for the South-South relations promoted by Brazil in particular. Iran is also part of this world.
Israel is seen as powerful and its enemies are seen as weak, despite the fact that Israel has had to work very hard to overcome its lack of natural resources and a geographical periphery plagued by hostility. However, the Latin American left continues to view Arab/Muslim countries as poor despite the oil wealth of many of these nations including Iran. If they are poor, it must be because these countries have a colonial past or are exploited by a powerful western country whose wealth derives from this exploitation.
This would be the typical view of many of the pseudo-intellectuals that now populate much of the media and intellectual public life in Argentina. These are the same people who worship Kirchner as they worship Hugo Chavez. These “masters of ideas” do not necessarily question why these countries are so oppressive. For example, they see the rebellion against Bashar Al Assad’s tyranny in Syria not as a fight for liberation from an oppressive regime, but as an American and Western act of incitement. (See previous “Americas Report” article on the intellectuals here)
The Argentina-Iran agreement is nothing but a political act with two main objectives. One is to normalize relations between the two countries and put them on firmer ground with the Latin American left and bypassing the terrorist attacks without any real resolution. The second is to humiliate the United States. This agreement is not only a reflection of the attitudes of the Argentinean government, but also seems to reflect attitudes adopted by many Latin American countries dominated by leftist ideology which now can be seen in their conduct of foreign policy.
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. Published weekly, it features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press. For example, past topics have included: the radicalization of the Latin American grassroots, Hugo Chavez’s involvement in Colombian political scandals, and the ideological alliance between Chavez and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.