Argentina shifts away from Tehran and towards Israel

By Isabel de Bertodano , February 28, 2014

The Argentinian government has suspended dialogue with Iran, heralding a shift in policy that coincides with improved relations with Israel.

The government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is understood to have taken the measure after becoming frustrated with the lack of progress achieved in a controversial investigation into the 1994 Amia bombing. Last year, the two countries agreed to form a joint truth commission to examine the attack on the Amia Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.

No one has ever been convicted over the attack, in which 85 people were killed and 300 injured, but the finger of accusation has long been pointed at Iran.

Argentina has the largest population of Jews in Latin America, many of whom were infuriated by the announcement of the joint investigation. However, according to sources cited by the Argentine daily La Nación, Foreign Minister Hectór Timerman has admitted that dialogue with Iran stalled some time ago and has been suspended since December.

At the same time, Argentina appears to be building bridges with Israel. There is talk of cooperation on human rights, bilateral dialogue on legal matters and a potential purchase of Israeli military planes by Argentina.

Next month, a high-level member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is expected in Buenos Aires on an official visit — coinciding with the 22nd anniversary of the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people were killed and over 200 injured.

A diplomatic hiccup occurred last month when the former Israeli envoy in Buenos Aires, Itzak Aviran, asserted that most of the perpetrators of the Amia bombing had already been assassinated by Israel. “The vast majority of those responsible are no longer alive and we took care of this ourselves,” he told the Buenos Aires-based AJN news.

Mr Timerman, who is himself Jewish, responded saying that the comments were “extremely serious” and demanded that the Israeli government deliver any information it had about its operations in the wake of the attack. Tel Aviv was forced to make it clear that Mr Aviran had been speaking in a personal capacity and that his remarks were “well shy of prevailing opinion in the Israeli government”.

However, an aide to Mr Timerman this week told La Nación that “there is a very good climate with Israel and we are much friendlier than before”.

Isabel de Bertodano is a freelance journalist specialising in Latin America. She is a former home news editor at ‘The Tablet’

Last updated: 2:45pm, February 28 2014