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

 

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.

Aboutelabi in the Eye of the Storm

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Should Hamid Aboutalebi be viewed as a diplomat or as a suspected participant in terrorism?

The Iranians say that he is to be viewed as a diplomat because they say so and because UN laws bar the US from not issuing visas to UN diplomats.

They aren’t open to discussions on Aboutelabi’s involvement in the American embassy hostage crisis affair in 1979. Neither are they open to discuss his suspected involvement in a political assassination in Italy in 1993 nor do they accept the US’s version of “terrorism”.

Is Aboutelabi innocent of these accusations? We’ll probably never find out because he isn’t available for questioning and the Americans feel that Aboutelabi would have to prove his innocence or at least be willing to go to court in order to get a visa.

Either that or he will have to convince President Obama to rescind the bill he signed that effectively bars him from legally gaining entry to the US.

The Iranians are sticking to their guns and are making a big deal of the question of legality since Aboutelabi is a diplomat who is supposed to work in the UN and is therefore under diplomatic immunity. The UN has agreed to look into the legality of this issue but they are now accused by Iran of “dragging their feet” and not doing so fast enough. It seems that denying Aboutelabi his visa is both legal in accordance to the laws of the US and illegal according to the laws of the UN.

Perhaps the US should let Aboutelabi into the country but simply limit his presence to the airport, the UN and travel in between. It would be a more elegant solution that would probably satisfy both sides.

In any case, his status as an ambassador to the UN vis-à-vis relations with the US is weak under these circumstances.

Yemen to Iran – Keep Hands Off Yemen!

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Taking a long look through our blog and you’ll see that there have been some queer happenings going on with Iranian diplomats all over the globe. In general, they seem to be hurt or assassinated more frequently than diplomats from any other country.

Take Abolqassem Assadi, the financial and consulate officer of Iran’s embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. He was shot by gunmen in the center of the city back in January.

Or, so it seemed. For a while, there were declarations that he was still alive, kidnapped, hurt or dead. Last month, things started to clear up as foreign minister Javad Zarif sent a letter to the UN secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, expressing the regime’s unhappiness with certain issues, among them was the matter of Mr. Assadi.

The Ministry spokeswoman, Marziyeh Afkham, even voiced an official concern about security conditions in Yemen, going so far as saying that “Iran attaches importance to the issue and waits for immediate action of Yemeni government to identify the assassins behind the assassination of the Iranian diplomat”.

As is usual with statements of this kind from Tehran, Yemen was outraged. After initially stating that the assassination was done only to sever ties between Teheran and Sana’a, the president of Yemen, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, sounded very aggressive toward the Islamic Republic: “Unfortunately, Iranian interference still exists, whether through its support for the Hirak separatists or some religious groups in northern Yemen .We asked our Iranian brothers to revise their wrong policies towards Yemen, but our demands have not borne fruit. We have no desire to escalate (the situation) with Tehran but at the same time we hope it will lift its hand off Yemen”.

So now Iran has another, rather large and unsavory dish, on its plate. They were of course attempting to calm down the situation. Afkham has denied President Mansour Hadi’s allegations.

The story, it seems, remains the same:

  1. Tehran attempts to increase its influence through local organizations hostile to their governments.
  2. Tehran’s efforts at local subversion are met with local violence at the expense of Iranian diplomats.
  3. Tehran is formally accused by the local government of subversion and terrorism.
  4. Tehran accuses the local government while at the same time, denies any accusations of wrongdoing.

If only Tehran would decide to break this circle of violence once and for all!

Aboutalebi Appointment Adds Insult to Injury

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You can say a lot of things about the Iranian regime – but one thing that you must know, is that they have the most twisted sense of humor.

This time, we’re addressing the appointment of the Hamid Aboutalebi as the new Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi was one of the architects of the American  Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979-1981 and a key operative behind political assassinations, most notably, that of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Italy in 1993.

But, this joke is not funny anymore and the US Senate approved a bill to bar the ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz went as far as saying that the “nomination is a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States”.

This incident went as high as the White House – Press Secretary Jay Carney called the potential nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi “extremely troubling”. Later, Carney said that the white house sent a message to the Iranian government saying that this choice is “not viable”. On a side note, it’s nice to see that the Iranians can bring together the Republicans and the democrats…

The Iranians, who apparently thought that they can do whatever they want and get away with it (It’s been working quite alright for them so far…) are trying to calm the matter down –in an interview he gave beforehand, Aboutalebi tried to tell his version of the story, that he was only helping in translation to the terrorists.

Cut to the chase: Iran seems to have enough accomplished diplomats and choosing Aboutalebi to serve in New York is either a bad idea or a great way to taunt the US, both option being unecessary at a time when Iran and the West seem to be getting along so well.

Iran-Backed Terrorism In Turkey

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Tawhid-Salam – Remember This Name. 

Most people don’t know yet what Tawhid-Salam is but then again, few had heard of Al Qaeda before 9/11. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t  heard of Tawhid-Salam until about 3 weeks ago but since then, this name has popped up again and again as a growing terrorist group emerging in Turkey and backed by and well connected to, once again, Iran.

In fact, after a 3-year investigation including 234 people who were wiretapped, Tawhid-Salam was named “the stealthiest and the most dangerous terrorist organization of recent times” according to Former İstanbul Police Department intelligence bureau chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer.

 

Terrorists With Top Connections

The relationship between Iran and Turkey has had many ups and downs but can be summed up in one sentence: Tehran has many friends in Turkey who are beneficial economically and politically. As far as money is concerned, it might be worth your while to re-read my article on Iran’s involvement in Turkey’s Gold Scandal from December 29th that involved numerous high ranking officials in Turkey.

It seems that Tawhid-Salam is also very well connected: According to Yılmazer, the police managed to “expose the wider network of Iranian agents that has been set up in Turkey and discovered connections to senior government officials”. These connections include Interior Minister Efkan Ala, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan and Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay to name a few.

 

Links to Quds Forces and the Iranian Consulate

Tawhid-Salam’s track record is “impressive” and includes assassinations of Iranian opposition leaders and Turkish journalists/intellectuals as well as American, Saudi and Israeli diplomats.

The group has alsoconducted surveillance of the US consulate and drawn “plans of the Nuclear Research Institute in İstanbul’s Halkalı neighborhood” and delivered them to Iranian intelligence. Some of these activities were video-taped by the police as part of the investigation.

Tawhid-Salam was first identified in 1996 but has been systematically protected and covered up for over 20 years by various Turkish officials. Hakkı Selçuk Şanlı, one of the group founders, admitted in 2000 that organization members were trained in Iran “to stage attacks in Turkey and conduct intelligence operations on behalf of Iran”. He also added that he had supplied IRGC Quds forces with bombs for attacks in Georgia and Thailand from a storage unit rented by an Iranian Quds operative, Rızazade Metin.

Their contacts with Quds forces were facilitated by their contact in the Iranian Consulate – Naser Ghafari.