Iran Emerging from the Shadows in Argentina

argentina

Trying to understand the levels of Iran’s involvement in Argentina, as in other countries already examined in this blog, is complicated: there, most of the infrastructure is either in the guise of religious, cultural and commercial organizations and open/underground ties with heavily anti-American/”imperialist” groups. Thus, actual open diplomatic relations are only the visible tip of an iceberg that is much, much bigger.

With the Argentine-Iranian AMIA cooperation agreement still nowhere close to realization, we believe that bilateral ties and Iran’s modus operandi around Buenos Aires warrants closer attention.

Growing Cooperation

Understanding the very nature of this relationship became important in the wake of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 (29 dead and 242 injured) and the Asociacion Mutual Israelita (AMIA) bombing in 1994 (85 dead and 300 wounded) in which Iranian officials were implicated: Ali Fallahijan – Minister of Information and Security of Iran (1989-1997), Mohsen Rezai – Commander of the IRGC (1981-1997) – Ali Akbar Velayati, Minister of the Exterior of Iran (1981-1997).

Other warrants were issued to Ahmed Fayez Moughnieh – Chief of Hezbollah Overseas Security ServicesAhmad Vahidi, Commander of the Quds forces (1989-1998), Mohsen Rabbani – Cultural Attaché at the Iranian Embassy (1994-1998), and Hade Soleimanpour – Iranian Ambassador to Argentina in 1994.

In May 2013, Argentinian attorney Alberto Nisman declared that the AMIA bombing was part of a bigger plot directed by Iran. According to Nisman, prior to the attack, mosques in Argentina were responsible for recruiting potential terrorists and the Iranian Embassy provided the relevant legal protection.

The Diplomatic Connection

Not everybody has been pleased with Nisman’s tenacity. Although Argentina’s 700,000 strong Muslims are not all Shia, those who are tend to maintain a very cosy relationship with Iranian officials – some examples:

  • Former cultural advisor to the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, Sheikh Mohsen Rabbani headed the local Shia community between 1983-1998 before fleeing to Iran after being implicated as being the “brains” behind the AMIA bombing.
  • The current director of the prominent Tawhid mosque in Buenos Aires, Sheikh Abdul Karim Paz is an ex-Catholic convert to Islam, having lived in Iran and a frequent visitor there. As the head of the Islamic Argentinian Organization he advocates an Iranian-type strict adherence to. He is in close relations with Iranian diplomats from the foreign office and is a sharp critic of the US and Israel.
  • Sheikh Kamel Gomez, the Shia head of the Muslim community in Mar de Plata and the President of the Arab Union Charity which embodies the Iranian fundamental vision of unifying all Muslims under an Iranian led revolution. He is a vocal supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy terrorist agents.
  • Sheikh Mohsen Ali is a radical Muslim community leader and a member of the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly based in Iran. He is a staunch supporter of Hezbollah as well as a very vocal anti-US/Israel.

Needless to say, Iranian embassy officials are very supportive of these leaders and the organizations they lead and they meet in mosques, embassy events and anti US/Israel events and protests.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

But Iran’s supporters in Argentina are not just Shia. Indeed, the ties to Argentina’s extreme left wing are also quite strong – as personified in Luis D’Elia,  a prominent leader of the Piquetero Movement. For years, he has vocalized his denial of Iran’s involvement in the AMIA bombing (he “believes” that the bombing was carried out by Israel’s Mossad and the US) as well as denying the Holocaust.

He travels frequently to Iran, meeting there in the past with Ahmadinejad himself, numerous senior Iranian officials and Sheikh Rabbani.  D’Elía himself admitted that the purpose of these trips was to strengthen economic ties and advance Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the years, the Piquetero Movement – which began as a working-class movement – has developed visible ties with the Muslim communities in protests, demonstrations and conferences.

(D’Elia is under investigations for receiving cash payments by the Iranian embassy in exchange for promoting Iranian interests.)

At the inauguration of SMILE, another political party he is heading, former head of the Iranian mission in Buenos Aires  (officially the “representative responsible for commercial affairs” with Iran, but generally referred to as “ambassador”) was conspicuously present.

From the above it emerges that Iranian diplomacy is skillfully playing Argentina at least three ways: the government, the Shiite community, and the radical left. Not surprisingly, this modus operandi is no different than its activities in other regions.

The Case of Thailand: Iran’s Diplomatic Underworld

thailand no remorse

A look at the state of diplomacy between Iran and Thailand reflects just how complicated relations with Tehran can be. Instead of straightforward activity to solidify bilateral ties, the observant will findlayer upon layer ofinfrastructure serving terrorism and subversion. Diplomats, spies,forgers, tourists, terrorists and drug dealers alllive in harmony in this underworld– and sometimes even complement each other.

Iranian Terrorist Wave: A Reminder

As this blog previously detailed back on February 14 2012 three Iranian nationals who intended to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Thailand were apprehended after their C-4 bombs accidently exploded in Bangkok (a few weeks earlier an operative for the Iranian-supported Hezbollah was also arrestedin the Thai capital for bomb-making activities). In August 2013 aThai court sentenced the two convicted terrorists to life imprisonment and 15 years in jail, respectively.

The planned attacks in Bangkok were part of a year-longIranian terrorist wave against American, Saudi and Israeli diplomatic targets which also included Azerbaijan, Pakistan, India, Georgia and Washington DC.

Role of Iranian Embassy

Despite the prominent involvement of Iranian nationals, Tehran denied any connectionto the Thai incident. Furthermore, its embassy in Bangkok also refused to assist the localpolice concerning the suspects, as if they were from another country. This refusal to cooperate included with regard to the whereabouts of a fourth suspect, Leila Rohani, who had rented the house for the terrorists and their bombs and managed to flee to Tehran.

But all this doesn’t mean the Iranian Embassy was inactive. Even before they presumably worked overtime to secure release of the suspects, behind the scenes Iranian diplomats laid the groundwork for a bilateral prisoner extradition agreement. Such an agreement would guarantee that tough-luck Iranian terror operatives, caught in the act, could serve most of their sentences among the comforts of home.

We understand that the extradition agreement eventually reached (translation from Thai attached) was finally ratified by Tehran only in April 2012 – two months after the botched terrorist attack (even though it was originally signed a year before, in February 2011).So while efforts to hammer out the agreement were most probably also connected with the abundance of Iranian drug dealers serving life terms in Thai jails (approximately 160 Iranian nationals are imprisoned in Thailand), the urgency with which it was ratified is much more incriminating.

At least that’s how this development is viewed by the convicted terrorists’ Bangkok lawyer, who’s betting on extradition for his clients as well:

 “They will initially serve their sentences in Thailand, but Thailand and Iran have a prisoner exchange treaty so they could seek to serve their remaining terms in their homeland after a period of time.”

Thanks to Iranian diplomacy, that is.

click here to view thai iran extradition treaty

Iranian Diplomatic Abuse Increases Visa Restrictions

visa

 

Following President Rouhani’s election and promotion of his agenda to lead meaningful change in Tehran’s foreign policy, a quick thaw in its international relations might have been expected.

Iran’s not there yet.

During the past three months five countries have hardened their visa regulations with Iran, making it more difficult to visit that country. According to this recent article in Farsi, Georgia http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/08/12/georgia-stops-irans-revolving-diplomatic-door/, Oman http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/30/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-1/, Indonesia, Egypt http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/10/08/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-2/ and now Malaysia seem unconvinced by Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric; instead of opening doors with Iran, they’re slamming them shut.

A few of the mentioned (and other) countries have enforced more stringent visa rules because of diplomatic and other abuses by Iranians on their soil. Some want to pressure Iran to alter its behavior, while others want to stop the flow of refugees from that country.

Of course, the Iranians are trying to put a brave face on the continuing deterioration in relations with countries from their core group, the Non-Aligned Movement (Tehran is group chair, a position it will hold for the next two years). Indeed, Tehran recently announced http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/159110 it is considering lifting visa requirements for certain states. Doesn’t seem like this plan will wash for the time being.

(We wonder whether the Iranians have an ulterior motive behind the move – in addition to boosting tourism – such as bringing in more foreign nationals to promote its darker activities http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/02/iranian-embassies-recruit-latin-american-students/.)

These developments might seem inconsequential at a time when Tehran is focusing on nuclear negotiations with the . But think again: since his election, Rouhani has been quite vocal about reintegrating Iran into the international community and improving relations with Iran’s neighbors – especially Saudi Arabia.P5+1

The Iranian president clearly has his work cut out for him. He definitely won’t attain his goal as long as the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue abusing the tools of diplomacy and fueling world suspicions.

With friends like these – Iranian Diplomacy in the Middle East (part 2)

 suleimani salehi

Diplomats, Passports & Spies in Egypt

When it comes to Iran’s shadowy diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, it’s not easy to get a precise handle on its modus operandi. Unlike in the west, open-source information is sparse (no Library of Congress report here!), and what does trickle out is quite stingy (and occasionally convoluted).

Nevertheless, after noticing a certain pattern I decided to focus my previous post on Iran’s activities in the Gulf States. Scanning the region further, the case of Egypt caught my eye: not only because of similarities to the Gulf, but also to Asia. The common denominator: Diplomats, spies and passports.

The Case of Qassem Hosseini

Iranian diplomat Qassem Hosseini was arrested in Cairo back in 2011, and subsequently deported, for organizing spy rings to gather classified information about Egypt and the Persian Gulf states – including information about the economy, politics, and military – in return for money. He reportedly passed the information to Iranian intelligence.

Egyptian prosecutor Taher El Khouli accused Hosseini of trying to organize spy rings in the country while working in the Iranian Embassy in Cairo as an undercover operative ( spying equipment banned in Egypt was found in his home). Luckily for Hosseini, he was saved by diplomatic protocols he had violated himself and used his diplomatic immunity to escape.

Interestingly enough, right around the time of Hosseini’s arrest his foreign minister, Ali Akhbar Salehi, held an important meeting with his Egyptian counterpart on the sidelines of an international conference. In view of Salehi’s well-documented efforts to promote Iran’s strategic interests, we wouldn’t be surprised if they discussed the diplomat’s release.

More Arrests, Rapprochement, Silence

This wasn’t to mark the end of Tehran’s strange doings in Egypt. A year later, three Iranians carrying fake Turkish passports were arrested and interrogated by the security services after trying to enter the country from Iraq. While a significant incident, perhaps it was brushed aside because Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had just risen to power.

Indeed, by the end of 2012 there were signs of a Cairo-Tehran rapprochement: a meeting between intelligence heads, a visit  by Qods force commander Qassem Suleimani and a meeting between Morsi and Salehi.

These developments were short-lived, particularly in view of further political changes in Egypt (the recent arrest of an Egyptian returning from Iran – with policemen’s uniforms well concealed  in his suitcase –  after he allegedly failed to find work is probably an indication of this). But one thing has surely not changed: Iran’s continued exploitation of diplomatic privilege in countries of the region. For Tehran, there’s no difference between Cairo and Riyadh.