US should help Argentina solve terrorism case

Will the presidential victory of Mauricio Macri in Argentina finally bring justice to the victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires? Will it solve the murder of the AMIA investigation’s special prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, one year ago? Or will Nisman’s revelations of Iran’s role in terrorism in the Western Hemisphere die as he did?      

To be sure, the defeat of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s preferred candidate, Daniel Scioli, was met with a global sigh of relief for those concerned about Argentina’s rapprochement with Iran, including a secret backchannel exposed by Nisman.  

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Since taking office in December, Macri has signaled a significant change of course from his predecessor’s position on Iran. In less than two months, Macri has revoked the controversial Memorandum of Understanding  with the Islamic Republic, appointed a new cabinet- level official and bureau to oversee the AMIA investigation, and re-opened the probe into Nisman’s suspicious death. He has also said he would revisit Nisman’s investigation into the previous Argentine government’s alleged plan to expunge Iran’s involvement in the attack in exchange for closer bilateral diplomatic, economic and perhaps even nuclear ties.   

While these are certainly reasons for optimism, there remain reasons to be cautious as well. On the first anniversary of Nisman’s murder, we highlight five recommendations for the Argentine and U.S. governments to ensure effective continuation of his decade-long work in pursuit of justice for the victims of the AMIA attack and to thwart Iran from exporting its revolution to Argentina and other parts of Latin America. 

1. Nisman’s 2006 report that led to the indictment of senior Iranian officials for their role in the AMIA bombing had a classified version prepared by Argentine intelligence. The Argentine government version should de-classified. This could shed light not only on the bombing itself – which killed 85 and injured hundreds – but on how Iran builds its terror networks throughout Latin America. Public access to the classified version is especially important following the recent release of a 2012 audio recording of former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman admitting to the president of AMIA that Iran was behind the attack.  

2. While Kirchner disbanded the Intelligence Secretariat in February 2015 following Nisman’s death, the prosecutor’s criminal complaint identified several individuals who helped Iran in its backchannel talks with the Kirchner government. Several of these individuals likely remain as intelligence assets for Iran in the restructured Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. Investigating these individuals would help unravel the web of spies who are obstructing Argentina’s efforts in the AMIA investigation.

3. With a fresh investigation under new stewardship, Argentina should undertake – and the United States should support – an independent investigation into whether Iran had any role in Nisman’s murder. Washington should share its intelligence on the role of Iranian networks in and around Argentina at the time of Nisman’s death.  

4. At least three of the five Iranians for whom Interpol has issued “red notices” in connection with the attack—Mohsen Rabbani, Mohammad Asghari, and Ali Fallahian—have filed appeals with Interpol that their red notices, which are tantamount to international arrest warrants, be lifted. Officials in Macri’s administration have told the organization they are “determined to keep the notices in effect" and asked if it requires more information before it makes it recommendations to Interpol’s secretary-general. The U.S. should fully support maintaining the red notices when they come up for review in November.

5. The lifting of trade, banking and other sanctions as part of the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran will make it more difficult for the new Argentine government to counter Iran’s influence in its borders. The influx of Iranian cash may be used to curry political and intelligence favors with Argentine industries that could be tempted to accept even uncomfortable offers because of their desperate economic situation. Iran has been known to provide commercial cover for some of its more nefarious objectives in the region. The Macri government should therefore exercise due diligence on Iranian commercial activity and work with the U.S. and others to identify illicit behavior. The U.S. should use a whole of government approach to intelligence collection, mindful that Iran has used both commercial and cultural covers for its nefarious activities.  

The post-deal influx of international investment to Iran will surely challenge Macri’s efforts to curb Tehran’s influence at home. So far, he has shown he is up to this task. It is imperative that the U.S. and other friendly governments help the new Argentine president as he seeks to right his country’s judicial integrity, an effort for which Alberto Nisman gave his life to protect.

Dershowitz is vice president of Government Relations and Strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Humire is the executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society and co-editor of Iran's Strategic Penetration of Latin America (Lexington Books, 2014).