1. On July 18th 1994 a truck bomb destroyed the headquarters of the AMIA Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires; 85 people were killed and hundreds injured. In 2006 Argentine State Prosecutor Alberto Nisman claimed that the attack had been approved at the highest level in Tehran and issued warrants for the arrest of a number of senior figures in the Iranian regime in connection with it. The validity of those arrest warrants was subsequently confirmed by Interpol. One of the men being sought by the Argentine legal authorities is Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's Defence Minister.
2. On March 26th the newspaper Perfil ran a story claiming that the government of Argentina was in negotiations with Iran, that it was no longer interested in bringing the accused to justice and that in return for 'forgetting' about them it would seek improved trade ties with the Islamic republic.
3. The government of Argentina is usually neither shy nor slow in reacting to unfavourable stories that appear in the press. It has, however, handled this case differently. As far as I am aware, no representative of the government said a word about the matter until yesterday, a whole 10 days after it broke. The first responses came from Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, currently on a visit to Israel. He variously described the accusations as ridiculous and a senseless provocation while also resorting to a quote from the Torah to brush off questions about the issue. A government-sponsored media baron has also stepped up to question the credibility of the Perfil journalist who wrote the original story and to remind us of the solidity of Argentina's trade relations with Iran. As far as I can see, neither Timerman nor any other government representative has offered a straight denial of the story, though no doubt they'd say that calling it ridiculous and a provocation amounts to the same thing.
4. So what to make of all this? Well, the first thing to be said is that there's no sure way of knowing whether the Perfil story is true or not. In favour of the government it must be noted that Perfil is indeed opposed to it and that Pepe Eliaschev - the journalist who wrote the incriminating story - has good reason to feel resentment towards the government as it abruptly took his programme on Radio Nacional off the air a few years ago. Neverthless, the sheer oddness of the government's reaction - 10 days of silence followed by yesterday's mixture of pooh-poohing and evasion - leads me to think that Perfil and Eliaschev were close enough to the truth to knock the government somewhat off its stride. An unambiguous denial at the outset would have killed the matter dead but it didn't come and it still hasn't. One possible reason for this is that some of the government's most ardent supporters, such as Luis D'Elía and his recently formed 'Miles' party, are equally ardent supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if the story isn't true they'd love it to have been true.
5. The AMIA and the DAIA, the official representative bodies for Argentina's Jews, should find much to think about in this saga, as they have unstintingly backed this government and its predecessor in their handling of the AMIA case. Much the same can be said for the American Jewish Committee, a body which has gone out of its way to express its support for the governments of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Néstor Kirchner, support which the government has had no compunction in using to shore up the credibility of its AMIA massacre policies. 'Look, we have the tame local Jews and rich American Jews repeatedly telling us how much they agree with what we're doing regarding Iran, what more do you want?' Of course, no Argentine government spokesman has ever said anything like that but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that it's what they think. (Eamonn McDonagh)
[For the first post in this occasional series see here.]