AMIA Bombing Still Looms Over Key Iranian Diplomats

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As we’re approaching the 20th anniversary of the AMIA (The Mutual Society of Argentina and Israel) community center bombing in Buenos Aires (July 18th, 1994), the survivors and families of victims are still searching for the truth and retribution for the 85 lives and hundreds of injured.

The investigation pointed towards Hezbollah and more importantly, the Iranian regime at the time all the way up to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president.

The prosecution issued warrants for key Hezbollah members as well as Rafsanjani, Hade Soleimanpour (Iran’s ambassador to Argentina) and Mohsen Rabbani (Iran’s cultural attaché in Argentina). Only Soleimanpour underwent questioning and was released after offering his testimony. Rabbani disappeared and re-emerged in Tehran and Rafsanjani simply denied any involvement by himself or by Iran.

The list of Iranian diplomats who were suspected of being involved kept growing: Interpol published names of six individuals (out of nine) who were officially accused for their role in the terrorist attack. These include Ahmad Vahidi (IRGC commander and later appointed as Iran’s defense minister), Ali Fallahian (Iranian intelligence minister), Imad Mughniyah (founding member of Hezbollah), Mohsen Rabbani, Ahmad Reza Asghari (Iranian diplomat), Mohasen Rezaee (Iranian politician and presidential candidate). Other suspects included Ali Akbar Velayati (presidential candidate and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s right hand man). All are high ranking diplomats who would rise even higher over time.

Iran vehemently objected to the notion of arresting its politicians, and so a makeshift solution was conceived: A truth Commission.

Last year, the government of Argentina announced it had signed a memorandum with Iran in order to investigate the AMIA bombing further. It basically meant that Argentina and Iran would now investigate together Iran’s participation in the bombing. The memorandum overturned decisions made by Argentina’s courts and prompted a lot of criticism by the families of the victims as well as US senators who wrote a letter to President Christina Kirschner, saying that they found the agreement “disturbing“.

But, last week a court decision on the matter was given: An appeals court in Argentina declared the deal as unconstitutional but this decision is not yet final since the government is planning to appeal this decision to the high court.

In any case, the AMIA bombing represents a pure example of Iran’s shadow diplomacy: One hand places the bomb and kills people while the other hand diplomatically tries to wash away any connections. And to make matters more complicated, Iranian diplomats sign a deal with Argentina which allows the prime suspect to become a part of the investigation! I can understand why the Iranians acted the way they did…can’t say I understand the motives of the Argentinians.

 

other posts on argentina: irans-ongoing-tango-with-argentina and iran-emerging-from-the-shadows-in-argentina

 

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Iran & Iraq: From Enemies to Neighbors to Partners

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26 years ago, the UN Security Council resolution 598 put an end to the Iran-Iraq war which cost over a million lives and nearly $600 Billion. Since then, relations between the two countries have been mostly chilly and formal…until now.

“Close ties between Tehran and Baghdad will serve the interests of regional countries“, said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking directly to appease the fears of the Gulf and nearby states, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which I wrote about previously in this blog.

An eye opening piece by Ali Hashem in Al monitor explained Iran’s type of political game with its neighbor: “It is a matter of common interests, indeed. The Iranians proceeded according to a playbook with their eye on the long game. Tehran backed the US political process adopted by the Shiite Iraqi groups that had sought refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule, but at the same time supported the armed insurgency against the US occupation”.

Iran’s strategy in Iraq is in line with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s overall  “beyond boundaries” defense policy which is based on exporting the revolution to its neighbors, especially those with substantial Shiite populations,  and to any countries with “anti-Imperialist” forces. Iraq fits that description on all counts.

Iran has also another motive to strengthen ties with Iraq which is the home of a large community of exiled members of Iranian opposition groups. According to the latest report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Iran is behind the Iraqi forces who have killed 116 refugees and wounded 1,350 in refugee camps. Furthermore, Iran has formally requested the extradition of these exiles in order to give them a “fair trial” back in Tehran before sending them to rot in prison or hang from the gallows.

In fact, a source in the know of the relations between the two countries, explained further: “All the other countries in the region stabbed Iraq in the back. Iran’s decision was to help Iraqis in whatever they wanted to do, and that’s why today Iran and Iraq have a $12 billion trade exchange, and in a few years this will be $30 billion.” Iran’s bet seems to have been successful or as Iraq’s Deputy PM Rowsch Nuri Shaways explains: Iran is now Iraq’s “most trustworthy neighbor”.

But the Iranian foreign office and other notables high in the hierarchy might have bigger fish to fry: the US State Department officials are considering an investigation into the presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq. The Iranian interest in Iraq is paramount, and it recently reached what some spectators might call a boiling point: the Iraqi elections.

On the 19th, Iran issued a statement congratulating Iraq on a well-organized and successful election. And yes, Tehran backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his 3ed term.

Iran is searching for reliable allies and Iraq in 2014 seems to be one of its best potentials. You can bet on the fact that part of the trade between these two countries in the future will include military dimensions.

Iran’s Problem with Baharain

 

 

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I’ve posted on this blog posts on Iran’s relations with its fellow gulf countries before (“Trouble brewing in the Gulf, “With friends like these 3“, “Iran’s diplomatic duality in the Gulf“, “With friends like these 1“.

This week, Bahrain is taking focus again in that area and once again, it has to do with Iran’s efforts at subversion in the area. On the 28th of April, a Bahraini court sentenced 12 men to a life sentence in prison for spying. The Judges ruled that the men received training from the IRGC in Iran and that they also possessed weapons and explosives.

Furthermore, an article in The Express Tribune reported that: “Bahrain accuses Iran of fueling unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising led by the Shi’ite Muslim community demanding reforms and more share in running the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty”. This is quite the hefty accusation and it followed similar accusations last year regarding the IRGC setting up a terrorist cell that planned to attack its airport and government buildings.

The response from Tehran was as expected: It denied the allegations, but defended the cause of the Shi’ite opposition. The row between the two countries started a few days before, when the Bahraini Authorities expelled Iraq Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s representative, Hussein al-Najati, in the latest sign of tension with the Shia majority in the Persian Gulf country. “We strongly condemn (such) measures by the al-Khalifa and announce that we will never leave the Bahraini people alone,” said the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani in a speech in Qom, and added that this is a sign of the Al Khalifa’s fall.

The troubles in Bahrain did not go unnoticed by its neighbor and Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia: “Our regional security requires that we, as a Gulf grouping, work to create a real balance of forces with it, including in nuclear knowhow, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file” said  former Saudi intelligence director Prince Turk Al Faisal to the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.

So while Iran is succeeding in getting closer to the West, its neighbors are getting wearier of its continued efforts to stir up a Shia opposition from within. This might seem very distant and irrelevant to readers from Europe and America but Iran’s world view is certainly not limited to its neighbors.