So, Who Murdered Nisman?

It’s been nearly three months but nobody has an answer to this question. Based on the fact that Nisman was murdered for his relentless investigation into the AMIA bombing that remains unsolved since 1994, there is a good chance that Nisman’s murder might remain unsolved as well.

Too much evidence points to Tehran’s involvement in this murder as in the AMIA bombing. And yet, the Iranian suspects which include top officials such as former presidents, wannabe presidents, IRGC commanders, cabinet ministers etc…are all far from even being investigated.

The Argentinian government has bungled it up once again: instead of demanding that Tehran comes clean and allows the Iranian suspects to be investigated, the government first dismissed Nisman’s murder as suicide and then accused political opposition of murdering him just to make de Kirchner look bad.

This is the cost of maintaining diplomatic ties with Iran: innocent people die while government officials are forced to cover up.

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Argentinian Prosecutor Nisman Conveniently Shot

AMIA 86

Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead of a bullet in the head in his apartment and a gun beside him. His death is a prime manifestation of the shadows of political intrigue – an attempt to cover-up a cover-up for political and commercial interests much like an episode from “House of Cards”. His death (murder or forced suicide) implicates governments and statesman, terror organizations and terror states.

The Argentinian government at first decided that Nisman had committed suicide despite the fact that it goes against all logic, as he was to appear publicly the next day for the performance of his lifetime efforts. But others immediately announced that Nisman had become the 86th victim of the AMIA bombing, nearly 21 years later.

21 years ago, on July 18th 1994, a bomb exploded in the AMIA (The Mutual Society of Argentina and Israel) center killing 85 innocent civilians and injuring hundreds more.

As I outlined in my previous post on this matter, the investigation pointed towards Hezbollah, and more importantly, Tehran.

Over the next few years, the prosecution issued numerous warrants for the arrests of Hezbollah operatives as well as a large number of Iranian diplomats and politicians including: President Rafsanjani, Iranian ambassador to Argentina Soleimanpor, Iranian cultural attaché in Argentina Rabbani, IRGC commander Vahidi (later defense minister), Iranian intelligence minister Fallahian and presidential candidates Rezaee and Velayati (Khamenei’s right hand man).

Tehran, of course, denied all and made a big deal about blaming “Zionist” elements for even suspecting them. Out of all of the suspects, only Soleimanpor was questioned and subsequently released. The others either escaped Argentina or stayed put in Tehran leaving too many questions unanswered.

The case was marred by accusations of cover-ups and corruption and as the years went by, more accusations and warrants were issued but no one was yet to be indicted.

For the governments of Buenos Aires and Tehran this was bad news, as trade between the two countries was severely hampered. So, after 19 years, the respective foreign ministers met and signed a memorandum to set up a joint “truth commission”. The idea was simple: set up a mutual Argentinian/Iranian commission which would ease the pressure on both countries. The memorandum was meant to ease the investigations against the Iranian diplomats and finally allow for the trade that both countries desperately wanted. In the process, Iran absurdly went from being or harboring the chief suspects of this crime to becoming partners with the police that was investigating the suspects. Tehran thought the case would be conveniently closed.

They forgot about Nisman, the untouchable justice seeker, who took over the case back in 2005 (by directive of the previous President). His scathing report (2013) accused Iran of setting up an infrastructure of terror and subversion in many south American countries while abusing diplomatic immunity, stating that Iranian so called “cultural centers” had become hubs for Hezbollah operatives, Iranian diplomats, Qods commanders and local anti-US leaders.

The above mentioned memorandum went against the judicial process, overturning many decisions by the courts, raising public criticism. Within the year, Nisman managed to convince the Argentinian court to declare the agreement as unconstitutional.

Nisman now further charged the government of being involved in a massive cover-up that reached all the way to then Argentinian president Kirchener and his daughter, Argentina’s current president Fernandez de Kirchner: “The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to sate Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests“.

Nisman had seemed worried that he might be a target for an assassination but assured that “with Nisman around or not, the evidence is there” in a TV interview last week. Since he is now dead, we can only hope that the evidence will come to light.

So the AMIA case just got more complicated, or more simple, depending on your point of view. I have no doubt that Nisman was eliminated by a Hezbollah/Qods operative in Buenos Aires with or without the help of the Argentinian government in an effort to silence Nisman’s accusations. His life is a small price for the potential billions of dollars in trade between Tehran and Buenos Aires. And so, Iran remains far from the hands of justice…for now.

Iran and Italy – It’s Amore!

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Roses from Rome

This blog takes pride in shedding light on Iran’s exploitation of its diplomatic infrastructure for some very undiplomatic purposes. Turning now to Italy, it’s not hard to identify those same components that exist elsewhere: the embassy, chamber of commerce, spiritual center, local radicals and gullible diplomats.

Money is a central motive here. Import of Iranian oil rose by 90% last year and contracts have been signed for the next three years. As the President of the Italy-Iran Chamber of Commerce, Rosario Alessandro,  boasted, “Rome will be Tehran’s main European trade partner for the year 2013“.

 

Thorns from Tehran

For its part, Tehran wants to increase its infrastructure of influence in Italy not only through trade and diplomacy but through cultural and political entities as well.

Its base is the Cultural Institute of the Iran Embassy headed by Iranian cultural attache, Ali Pourmarjan. Most of the institute’s activities are seemingly benign – such staging exhibitions and cultural events – but Pourmarjan is a key contact with other organizations which are definitely not benign.

Take the Islamic Association Ahl al Baith organization, for example, created by a neofascist named Pietro Benvenuto who converted to Islam and took on the name of Abd al-Kabir. Abd al-Kabir was inspired and remains in contact with another neofascist and ex-terrorist Claudio Mutti, the editor of  the geoplolitical magazine, Eurasia, who also converted to Islam taking on the name of Omar Amin. Both men and organizations actively support Tehran and are in contact with Pourmarjan and high ranking diplomats in Italy and in Iran.

Another similar organization is the Imam al Mahdi Islamshia center headed by another Italian convert called Hojatolislam Abbas Damiano di Palma who studied in Qom and met former President Ahmadinejad several times.

As in other cases, Tehran’s infrastucture in Italy goes beyond its embassy and religious figures, but rather also includes ties with with radical right wing political organizations such as the “Stato & Potenza” (State & Power) movement whose attacks on “imperialism” clearly mirror Tehran’s sentiments. Its leaders, Lorenzo Salimbeni,  Stefano Bonilauri and Ali Reza Jalali  are all ardent supporters of Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad.

Sounds familiar? Not surprising – especially not the central role by the cultural attache at Iran’s embassy to Italy. Remember Mohsen Rabbani, Tehran’s cultural attache in Buenos Aires during the time of the AMIA attack. Remember  Hamid Mohammadi, cultural attache at Iran’s embassy to Canada (before it was shut down) who bragged about exploiting his position to recruit expatriots for the cause.

Iran’s Ongoing Tango with Argentina

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Solidifying Friendships on the Left

As mentioned in my previous post, Argentina’s open door policy vis-à-vis Tehran has for several years now allowed the latter’s officials to strengthen ties at the local level.  The presence of former Iranian charges d’affairs Ali Pakdaman at a major even event of the Movimiento Piquetero is glaring in this context.

Piquetero is not alone: Tehran is also supported by an organization of women called the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Originally established for an extremely worthy cause, since 2006 its leader, Hebe de Bonafini, has been consistent in defending Iran on the AMIA case. Indeed, she still “does not accept the investigation” (her signature appears on a relevant document that was personally handed in 2007 to Ahmadinejad himself).

Another organization courted by Tehran is the Marxist Movimiento Patriótico Revolucionario Quebracho  whose representative, Fernando Esteche, heads the Islamic Politics Seminar at the national university of Mar del Plata (which regularly hosts visitors from Iran). Apart from openly supporting Hezbollah and mutual demonstrations, the ties between Tehran and Quebracho are mostly underground and are under investigation.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

But at the end of the day, ties cultivated by Iran’s mission with the local fringe are the low-hanging fruit. What truly interests Tehran’s emissaries are legitimacy – as demonstrated by the energy devoted to whitewashing the AMIA case – and circumventing international sanctions.

Enter the Argentinean-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, established in 2010. Founded by a group of local Argentinean businessmen, the chamber is undoubtedly recognized as an official Iranian body by the Argentinean authorities.

Two prominent figures are conspicuous in the chamber’s establishment and operations: Pakdaman (surprise, surprise), for Iran; and Dr. Leonardo Damián Díaz, previously General Manager of the LSG Investment Group, on the Argentinean side.

Damián Díaz is a serious guy: an Argentinean lawyer from the University of Belgrano specializing in criminal and business law, who for 12 years served as a member of the Argentinean team to the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). He’s also an independent player for strategic consulting and negotiation between Argentinean and foreign companies.

Oh, one more thing: he’s also a coordinator in website discussion rooms that defend Iran on AMIA. These chats also dwell on the possibilities of national revolution in Argentina…

Postscript: Rabbani’s Still Around

Turns out that Mohsen Rabbani, Iran’s cultural attaché to Buenos Aires at the time of the AMIA bombing and wanted for murder, continues to preach to his Argentine followers from Iran – despite the time passed since his escape. It’s right there, on the website of the Asociación Argentina Islámica. Apparently even if you can take Iran’s diplomats out of Argentina, its shadow diplomacy will remain anyway.

Iran Emerging from the Shadows in Argentina

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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.