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.
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.