Netanyahu Links Iran’s New President to Terror Carnage in the 1990s

By Patrick Goodenough | October 2, 2013 | 4:27 AM EDT

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

( – Iran’s nuclear activities were at the center of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s address at the U.N. on Tuesday, but the most striking part of the speech may have been the accusation that Iran’s amiable new president at least knew about Tehran carrying out major terrorist attacks on three continents.

Netanyahu called President Hasan Rouhani “a loyal servant of the regime,” noting that he headed Iran’s supreme national security council (SNSC) from 1989 through 2003.

“During that time, Iran’s henchmen gunned down opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant,” he said, “They murdered 85 people at the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. They killed 19 American soldiers by blowing up the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.”

“Are we to believe that Rouhani, the national security advisor of Iran at the time, knew nothing about these attacks?” Netanyahu continued. “Of course he did.”

The Israeli prime minister’s speech in New York, where he was the last speaker on the schedule of the high-level “general debate,” came a week after Rouhani delivered a speech in which he portrayed Iran as a peace-loving nation that was itself a victim of terrorism and aggression.

The Iranian president’s visit and accompanying media appearances were widely described as a “charm offensive.” It ended with a phone conversation between Rouhani and President Obama, prompting widespread commentary about the chances for the improvement in relations.

Netanyahu came to New York with a clear agenda to warn the international community not to be taken in by what he called “Rouhani’s soothing rhetoric.”

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani takes part in a national gathering of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders on September 16, 2013. (Photo: Iranian presidency)

He challenged what Rouhani said in his own speech about the nuclear program, terrorism, democracy in Iran, “the human tragedy in Syria,” and Iran’s willingness to seek “constructive engagement” with other countries. (Pointing to a 2011 Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, and the recent arrest of an alleged Iranian agent suspected of scoping terror targets including the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu scoffed, “Some constructive engagement!”)

The speech brought a tough response from Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi, who in a statement to the General Assembly accused Netanyahu of saber-rattling and warned that he had “better not even think about attacking Iran, let alone planning for that.” Seifi said nothing about the specific terror allegations leveled by the Israeli.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday would not comment on Netanyahu’s allegations linking Rouhani to terrorism during his tenure as Iran’s SNSC chief.

“We’ve seen his comments,” she said in response to a question on that part of the speech. “I’m not sure I have much more to add on his comments.”

On the broader issue of Netanyahu saying Rouhani shouldn’t be trusted, Psaki replied, “If we did not think a path forward was possible, we wouldn’t be pursuing a path forward.”

She also said the U.S. and Israel remain in “lockstep agreement that we are not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Terror republic

The three terrorist attacks Netanyahu cited in his speech as having occurred during Rouhani’s watch on the national security council were:

The remains of the Khobar Towers after 19 American airmen were killed in a 1996 truck bombing. U.S. courts have accused Iran of financing, training and providing travel documents to the terrorists. (Photo: Department of Defense, Public Domain)

--The June 25, 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. A fuel truck carrying a bomb exploded outside the U.S. military housing facility, killing 19 American personnel and wounding 515 people, 240 of them U.S. personnel.

U.S. authorities five years later indicted 14 members of a Saudi Shi’ite group which they said was directed, supported and supervised by Iran.

In a Dec. 2006 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that Iran, the Iranian ministry of intelligence and security (MOIS) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were responsible for the attack, having financed, trained and provided travel documents to the terrorists.

The IRGC and the MOIS are represented on the SNSC, which Rouhani chaired at the time of the attack.

--The July 18, 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.

A special prosecutor appointed by the Argentine president in 2003 – after years of bungled probes under previous governments – concluded after an in-depth investigation that Iran had masterminded the suicide car bombing, carried out by its Hezbollah ally.

In his lengthy report the special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, said the bombing decision “was made not by a small splinter group of extremely radical Islamic functionaries, but was instead a decision that was extensively discussed and was ultimately adopted by a consensus of the highest representatives of the Iranian government at the time.”

Interpol subsequently issued “red notices” for six suspects at Argentina’s request, including senior IRGC and MOIS officials. Five Iranians remain at large – one was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defense minister – while the sixth suspect, Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a 2008 bombing in Damascus.

Argentina also accuses Iran and Hezbollah of responsibility for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires two years before the AMIA bombing, an attack not mentioned in Netanyahu’s speech but also occurring while Rouhani was at the helm of the SNSC. Twenty-nine people were killed in that bombing.

--The September 17, 1992 assassination of four Iranian Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant called Mykonos.

An Iranian man identified as a MOIS operative and IRGC veteran was later convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, along with a Lebanese co-accused. Both were freed and deported after serving just 15 years.

A German court in 1997 ruled that the Iranian regime was directly responsible for the Mykonos killings, a finding which the State Department at the time hailed as proof that Iran was a terrorist state, urging European countries to cut trade links.

A 2007 report by the U.S.-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center said the Mykonos killings were “designed to intimidate and disrupt the activities of political opponents of the regime.”

Other Iranian dissidents killed in similar circumstances during Rouhani’s SNSC tenure included two other Kurdish leaders, killed in Vienna in 1989, and Kazem Rajavi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, shot dead in Switzerland in 1990.

The U.S. government has designated Iran as a terror-sponsoring state since 1984, and for well over a decade it has been named as the worst offender on the list.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow