(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s foreign ministry on Wednesday dismissed as “phony” and a “Zionist conspiracy” allegations by Israel and Argentina that the regime was responsible for two deadly bombings in Buenos Aires in the 1990s.
Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the Israeli and Argentine government were involved in a plot aimed at allowing the real perpetrators of the crimes – whom he did not identify – to go free.
Iran has condemned the attacks, he said, and “dismisses the accusations aimed at Iranian citizens of being involved in this issue.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week visited the sites of the two bombings – the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center and the Israeli Embassy.
Eighty-five people died in the AMIA suicide truck bombing in 1994, the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history. Twenty-nine were killed in the 1992 embassy blast, also a suicide bombing, the deadliest attack ever against an Israeli diplomatic mission.
Argentine prosecutors blamed the AMIA bombing on Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally, Hezbollah and expelled Iranian diplomats in connection with both attacks. In 2006 Argentina issued arrest warrants for eight senior Iranian officials.
“It was Iran that lit the fuse of the bomb that struck Argentina twice,” Netanyahu, the first sitting Israeli prime minister to visit Latin America, said at a ceremony at the AMIA center.
“Iran initiated, planned and carried out these horrible attacks through its proxy, Hezbollah. I thank President [Mauricio] Macri and the authorities in Argentina for their willingness to exhaust the investigation into the truth.”
“The time has come to publically place full responsibility on those responsible and condemn them once and for all,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come to deliver justice to the victims.”
Ghasemi rejected Netanyahu’s remarks as baseless, and accused Israel of “state terrorism” against Palestinians and the people of Lebanon and Syria.
Netanyahu used his visit to the two terror attack locations to appeal for stepped-up response to Islamist terrorism, both Shi’a and Sunni inspired, declaring that “terrorism only wins if we do not fight it.”
“The terrorist attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, much like the attack on the AMIA building two years later, taught us that we must not be deterred in any way from the ongoing struggle against extremist murderers,” he said at the embassy.
“We must stand firmly, forcefully, determinedly, against the perpetrators, supporters and distributors of terrorism.”
Netanyahu said Israel was determined to fight Iranian terrorism and prevent it from establishing a foothold near its borders
“We are also determined to fight the second group that spreads global terrorism around the world – ISIS,” he added, but expressed concern that Iran was moving in to areas vacated by the retreating Sunni jihadists.
The AMIA bombing investigation has dragged on for decades, dogged for years by alleged government cover-ups until President Nestor Kirchner on taking office in 2003 pledged a fresh start, appointing a special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman.
In-depth investigations concluded that Iran had masterminded the bombing and tasked Hezbollah to carry it out.
Argentina in 2006 accused eight senior Iranian officials and a Lebanese national and asking Interpol to issue “red notices” for the nine suspects.
After taking legal advice Interpol declined to issue the notices for three of the named suspects – former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and former Iranian ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour.
Interpol did, however, issue red notices for the others in 2007. They were Hezbollah terrorist chief Imad Mughniyah, former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Mohsen Rezai, former intelligence chief Ali Fallahijan, former commander of an IRGC Quds Force special operations unit Ahmad Vahidi, and two senior officials based at Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani and Ahmad Reza Asghari.
An Interpol red notice is not an arrest warrant, but is “intended to help police identify or locate these individuals with a view to their arrest and extradition.”
The Iranians are still at large and still wanted by Argentina. (Rafsanjani died last January.)
Velayati serves as foreign policy advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rezai has run for president twice and is currently secretary of the Expediency Council, a body that advises the supreme leader.
Vahidi served as defense minister from 2009-2013 and is now president of the Supreme National Defense University. Vahidi and Velayati are also both members of the Expediency Council.
The Lebanese suspect Mughniyah – who was also on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorist list for hijacking a TWA plane in 1985 and killing 23-year-old Navy diver Robert Stethem – was killed in a bomb blast in Damascus in 2008.
Nisman, the special investigator, died under suspicious circumstances in January 2015, four days after alleging that then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Nestor Kirchner’s widow) and other officials were trying to shield the Iranian terror suspects in exchange for improved economic ties with Tehran.
Nisman was found in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head one day before he was scheduled to testify before Argentina’s Congress about the allegations. An investigation initiated by his family concluded that he had been murdered.
Macri has vowed to get to the bottom of both the bombings and Nisman’s death.