The cost of collaborating with Iran

Next month marks the first anniversary of the death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine federal prosecutor who spent a decade investigating the 1994 Iranian-backed bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. In that massacre, 85 people were murdered and hundreds more injured.

Nisman’s lifeless body, readers will remember, was discovered in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment on January 18, 2015 – the night before he was due to elaborate on his formal complaint against the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in front of the Argentine Congress.  Nisman had concluded, based on the mountain of evidence that was available to him, that the main purpose of Fernández de Kirchner’s 2013 “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the Iranian regime was to abandon the demand for six Iranian suspects in the AMIA bombing to be extradited, thereby paving the way to restored relations between Buenos Aires and Tehran.

The Argentine President made one spectacular miscalculation in all of this. At no point did it occur to her that Daniel Scioli, the candidate she chose to succeed her in the presidential election this year, would end up losing the ballot. But that’s exactly what happened. With the victory, in November, of the pragmatic Mauricio Macri, all of Fernández de Kirchner’s bets regarding the future of the AMIA investigation have been made redundant.

There is a lesson here for politicians that goes far beyond Argentina’s borders. Very basically, the lesson determines that while colluding with Iranian terrorism may deliver short-term gains, in the long-term there are no benefits yielded and quite a few costs to boot.

In the case of Fernández de Kirchner and her principal cohorts, among them her foreign minister Hector Timerman, those costs could conceivably include a jail sentence. Securing the MOU with Iran required Argentina’s leaders to lie about the circumstances of the AMIA bombing. At the time, anyone with even superficial knowledge of the atrocity and its tortured aftermath knew that they were lying. Now it can be proven.

Last week, previously unknown recordings of Timerman’s telephone conversations with local Jewish leaders were released into the public domain. No-one quite knows how the recordings surfaced, but it’s reasonable to believe that with Fernández de Kirchner out of the presidential palace, and with President Macri’s new government declaring that it regards the MOU with Iran as null and void, whoever unveiled them has figured that doing so will not result in a knock on the door in the middle of the night – or a bullet in the back of the head.

One of the ugliest aspects of the MOU with Iran was that it left open the issue of the mullahs guilt for the AMIA bombing – a complete reversal of the stance adopted by Fernández de Kirchner’s late husband, Nestor, during his time as Argentine President, in explicitly identifying the Iranians as the culpable party. Unlike Nestor, Fernández de Kirchner was under the sway of the Venezuelan tyrant, Hugo Chavez, as well as by a coterie of pro-Iranian radicals gathered around her. This was the political context in which the myth of Iranian innocence regarding the AMIA bombing was cooked up.

That’s why, on the recordings, Timerman – even as he berates his Jewish interlocutors for not appreciating that it was in Argentina’s interest to surrender

to Iran on AMIA ­– matter of factly states that it was indeed the Iranians who planted the bomb. Despite that, Timerman, acting on the instructions of Fernández de Kirchner, was willing to make a pact with the devil by abandoning the struggle for justice of the families of the 85 Argentine citizens (not all of them Jews, incidentally) who lost their lives in Iran’s murderous attack.

Were it not so tragic, it would be almost comic. When one of the Jewish leaders attempted to sympathize with Timerman’s predicament by saying that he wished there was someone other than the Iranians to negotiate with, Timerman snapped back, “If there was someone else, they wouldn’t have planted the bomb. So we are back to the beginning. Do you have someone else for me to negotiate with?” Knowing the Iranians were guilty, Timerman still pushed the MOU as a breakthrough, bitterly condemning anyone who questioned his or Fernández de Kirchner’s judgement.

Now that they are out of power, the Kirchneristas look distinctly vulnerable. Macri has made it clear that the investigation into the AMIA bombing needs to be revived. So too with the circumstances of Nisman’s death. If, as the forensic evidence suggests, Nisman was murdered, all eyes will be on Argentina’s former leaders and on their friends in Tehran.

As more evidence regarding this shameful agreement emerges, the underlying theme that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted will be resonate even more strongly. More immediately, the AMIA scandal gives us an important glimpse into how the Iranians negotiate. What they don’t do is compromise. Instead, they present a mixture of threats, ideological venom and faith in the reluctance of Western leaders to take military action as a negotiating strategy. That’s why any country that declares a conflict with the Iranians satisfactorily resolved – whether that’s the AMIA issue or Tehran’s nuclear ambitions – has reached that conclusion in spite of the facts, not because of them.

So watch what happens in 2016. Iran is going to start feeling some pressure. Ironically, its source lies in Buenos Aires rather than Washington, D.C. How the Obama Administration assists or hinders the new resolve in Argentina to secure justice for the AMIA victims will be one of the more colorful foreign policy stories of the coming year.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014). 

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