The Iranian Involvement in Blowing Up the Jewish Centre in Buenos Aries
Part III: The Washington-Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran Quadrangle
This week, Iran marked the anniversary of its 11 February 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi. Massive rallies, especially in Tehran, were held. As usual, and in spite of the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and secret cooperation in the fight against Islamic State, the rallies were accompanied by anti-American displays as well as the customary anti-Israel chants and banners. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, addressing the crowds, promised to “spare no effort” to protect the Islamic Republic’s rights as it negotiates. “The sanctions have not forced Iran to enter the talks, but the impracticality of the all-out pressures on Iran and the significant advancements in Iran’s peaceful nuclear program made the United States come to the negotiation table.” That is the way the narrative runs in the topsy-turvy Alice in Wonderland world of Iran.
The 1979 change was more of a coup than a revolution with a group of religious fascists succeeding a more secular clique of secular fascists, though, in contrast to his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah Pahlavi, the son, was Western-oriented and not a Germanophile. Reza Shah Pahlavi seized power in 1925 in what was then called Persia. When Adolph Hitler seized power in 1933 in Germany, the Shah was obsessed with Hitler’s concept of racial purity and an Aryan master race. In 1935, Pahlavi changed the name of the country to Iran, in Farsi, Land of Aryans, to emphasize the connection between Nazi Germany and the Indo-Persian lineage. When war began in 1939, the mufti of Jerusalem served as middle man to trade Iranian oil while organizing active Islamic participation in the murder of Jews in the Mideast and Eastern Europe, mostly Croatia. Hitler, in turn, supported a Pan-Arab state and Arab rule over Palestine.
If Buenos Aries was a centre of Nazi activities in the Americas during WWII, Tehran served the same role in the Middle East as it teemed with Gestapo agents planning the 1941 pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad as the German ambassador to Iraq, Dr. Fritz Gobba, supported both anti-British and anti-Semitic Iraqi movements and organizations. On 31 March 1940, the pro-Nazi, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani from the party of National Brotherhood, became Prime Minister of Iraq. In July, with a letter of introduction from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, then living in Tehran, Gaylani sent his justice minister to meet with Franz von Papen in Greece and win support from Nazi Germany. However, the regent, Emir Abdul Ilah, who stood in for Ghazi’s four-year-old son, King Faisal II since Ghazi’s accidental death in 1939, removed him from office at the end of January 1941. Two months later, one year after he had assumed his role of PM, on 1 April 1941, Gaylani overthrew the regent.
Gaylani instigated a siege of the British Habbaniya airbase. The siege was fought off by British Air Vice-Marshal H.G. Smart and the Iraqi revolt was put down with British reinforcements from India, the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, and troops under the leadership of Brigadier J.J. Kingstone with a mixture of regular troops, Jordanian forces led by Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb, better known as Glubb Pasha, and a Jewish volunteer corps from Palestine after this odd military aggregation raced across 600 m of desert to reach Iran. When the latter reinforcements arrived on 30 May, Gaylani fled to Tehran. There, he was hosted by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.
On Friday 30 May, an imam, Jani al-Gaylani, roused the worshippers with a firebrand anti-British and anti-Semitic sermon. By Saturday, the mobs that had formed saw they could make no headway against the armed forces of the British. Red hands were painted on Jewish homes and shops. On Sunday 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom in Baghdad, The Farhud, targeted the city’s Jewish minority with the mob screaming, “Cutal al yehud,” “slaughter the Jews.” Why the British ambassador, Kinahan Cornwallis, ordered the British troops to stand down, contrary to an explicit order from Winston Churchill to secure the city, has never been adequately explained. In the ensuing two days of rioting, 180 Jews were killed and many hundreds wounded. The death toll would have been much higher if Muslim friends and neighbours had not stepped forward to either protect or hide Jews. 900 Jewish homes were burned to the ground and many Jewish-owned shops were looted and trashed. Finally, later in the day, on 2 June, Baghdad police backed by British troops dispersed the rioters, killing about 400 in the process.
The anti-Semitism that Hitler had successfully helped export to Iraq persisted however. It made life unbearable for the Jewish community after WWII. There were frequent arrests on false charges of spying and public hangings of prominent Jews – that of Shafiq Ades, a prominent Jewish businessman in Basra being the most notable. Though the coup had failed, the anti-Semitism had continued and expanded underground. By 1950, almost all of the 150,000 Jews of Iraq, a 2500-year-old community, left, mostly for Israel after having been forced to abandon all their property. They constituted the militant base of the Likud party in Israel.
After the failed Iraq coup, the mufti of Jerusalem in his venomous anti-Semitism broadcasts from Tehran openly advocated cutting off all oil supplies from Iran to Britain. In October 1941, British, Russian and other Allied forces invaded Iran, deposed the pro-Nazi Shah and replaced him with his Western-oriented son, Mohammad Reza. The mufti skipped off to Berlin from where he continued to rant against Jews and advocate a pan-Arab and pan-Islamic alliance with the Nazi regime and a Middle East purified of Jews. In the bazaars of Tehran’s markets, merchants could no longer celebrate Adolph Hitler, but Iranian volunteers continued to be recruited to serve in the Waffen SS divisions in Bosnia and Croatia.
For thirty-eight years, during the second Pahlavi monarchy, Iranian Jews enjoyed a virtual golden age in Iran. Not only did they enjoy an unprecedented level of cultural and religious autonomy but they prospered economically as well. But when the worship of Cyrus the Great was traded in for Mohammed and puritanical adherence to Islamic values and dogmas, there was no need for Jews to be affected by this anymore than Christian reversion to fundamentalism need target Jews. Theoretically, the turn could go either way.
Not in Iran. Jews had benefitted greatly under the Shah and had been protected by him. Further, they had been leading voices in the embrace of modernism to which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was much more opposed than to Jews per se. Jews were also leading figures in the culture of America in the eighties. In conspiratorial world views, some force had to be behind what Khomeini regarded as the diabolical turn in the world. The explanation was to be found in the confluence of a fundamental metaphysical construction of the world rooted in Persian Zoroastrianism going well back before Cyrus the Great where the world was governed by two opposed forces, Spenta Mainyu (progressive mentality) and Angra Mainyu (destructive mentality) under one God (Ahura Mazda, Illuminating Wisdom). Filtered through selective Shia Islamic beliefs and the Nazi heritage of anti-Semitism, Zionism was stamped as the Angra Mainyu, the evil force that had seeped into human minds. Within this Manichean world view, credit for the focus on Zionism and anti-Semitism can not only go to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, but also the success of Zionism in the Middle East so that even Egypt embraced Israel in a peace agreement in 1979. Zionism became the Leviathan behind all the “horrific” changes in the world.
This is how Khomeini opens his book Al-Hukumah Al-Islamiyyah (Islamic Governance) that he wrote while he was still in exile in Paris. “Since its inception, the Islamic movement has been afflicted with the Jews ‘who’ established anti-Islamic propaganda and joined in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to our present day.” The Jews of the Banú Qurayza were exterminated by the Prophet Muhammad because they corrupted Islam. Unlike the anti-Semitism of Nazism, the Jews were not genetically evil. If kept in their place, as the 25,000 Jews who remained in Iran were, they were not a problem. As long as the Jews and the Chief Rabbi of Iran, then Yedidia Shofet, recognized this, as long as Zionism did not contaminate the Iranian Jewish community, Jews could be tolerated. But if Islam allows itself to be infected and weakened by the Jewish Zionist virus, Iran and Islam will be destroyed.
How do you keep from being infected? By Shia purity, by avoiding contact with the impurity of unbelievers, by making sure that both your body and your mind are not contaminated. Don’t buy food from infidels. Don’t read books by unbelievers. Don’t allow Jews to rise above their inherent inferior status. In other words, do not allow the prime source of impurity, chizhaye napak, infect your souls, the virulent infection exemplified by the Bahá’i who were ruthlessly persecuted in Iran almost immediately upon Khomeini’s return. Even more despicable were the Christians, though, for Khomeini, almost nothing could be worse than the disease of Zionism and infected Muslims like the Bahá’i.
Within ten years, by 1989, anti-Semitism in this form of anti-Zionism had become commonplace. “For their transgression, cursed were the unbelievers of the Children of Israel.” And the military and intelligence services were ordered to develop a combat strategy both to prevent the infection from spreading and to destroy the disease to make sure not only that Iran remain immune from the infection, but to protect all other Muslims. For Khomeini was a modern globalist. Khaybar was the Jewish oasis besieged and conquered by the Prophet. Khaybar became the archetype of victory over the Iraqi Sunnis in the Iran-Iraq war and, subsequently, the basis for combating worldwide Zionism in all its forms as evidenced by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion widely available in Iran.
Clearly, the struggle with Israel was not just a struggle between two emerging nationalities, one Jewish and one Palestinian. Nor was it a dispute over territory and settlements in the West Bank. It was a Manichean dispute between Good (Shi’ite Islam as interpreted by Ayatollah Khomeini) and Jews and Zionism. The very survival of Islam was at stake. The struggle against Zionism was an existential struggle.
It is in that context that the work on nuclear plants and the bombing of both the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community centre must be understood within the first fifteen years of the 1979 revolution. What do we believe we know about Iran’s involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aries in 1992 and the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aries in 1994?
- Iranian intelligence planned both operations
- The Iranian Supreme Council for National Security approved both plans
- The plans of both operations followed the same trajectory
- The plans were developed by Iran’s VEVAK, known as Vijeh, intelligence agency
- The plans for the 1994 bombing were approved in August 1993 by the Iranian Supreme National Security Council with the Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the chair
- Others in attendance included President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997), Ali Fallahian, Minister of Intelligence, Muhamed Hijazi, intelligence and security adviser to Khamenei, and Ali Akbar Velayati, Foreign Minister.
Rafsanjani was the de facto commander-in-chief of the Iranian military during the Iraq-Iran War and thought to be the richest person in Iran. He has a reputation as a pragmatic centrist and is often portrayed as a softie, but since he was in charge of the assassination in Europe of the regime’s opponents as well as domestic dissidents and Bahá’is, since he refused to lift Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, this is a very questionable presumption. More to the point, for our purposes, Rafsanjani strongly supported Iran’s nuclear program while insisting it was only for peaceful purposes, which, in part, helped him earn a reputation within Iran as the only Iranian with both the guile and clout to negotiate a deal with the West acceptable to Iran. Rafsanjani was very careful with his words and is often quoted about Jews as saying, “We have no problems with Jews and highly respect Judaism as a holy religion,” but that was fully consistent with Khomeini’s version of anti-Semitism.
The other members of the Iranian clique that decided to bomb the Israeli embassy and the Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aries were of the same ilk. Ali Fallahian presented himself as an economic reform candidate, advocated ending the uranium enrichment program and was in favour of outreach to the West – the latter prospect having a particular inducement for him since he was wanted by Interpol for the AMIA bombing, by the German justice system for the murder of four Kurdish-Iranian opposition leaders, including Sadegh Sharafkandi, in the Mykonos restaurant assassinations, and by the Swiss courts which -indicted him for sending his agents to Geneva to assassinate Kazem Rajavi. Within Iran, he was the organizer of the 1998 “Chain Murders” allegedly by Saeed Emami, a deputy minister of intelligence. Saeed, widely rumoured to be Jewish, which might partly explain his role as an early Iranian Holocaust denier. He was indicted as a co-conspirator in the AMIA bombings. Arrested for the 1998 Chain Massacres; in prison, Emami purportedly tried to commit suicide on 16 June 1999 and died three days later. I believe, like many others assassinated by the Iranian intelligence service, he himself was murdered because he knew too much.
Hasin Baro, a member of Hezbollah, implemented the bombing of AMIA. Much of the information comes from Mossad, Abolghasem Mesbahi, a former VEVAK agent, from Interpol, from the investigations and charges of German and Swiss departments of justice, and mostly from the Argentinian investigations. Recently, the pattern was repeated in Uruguay where 32-year-old Iranian diplomat Ahmed Sabatgold left Uruguay because the Uruguayan intelligence services had evidence that he was involved in plans to blow up a building housing Israel’s new embassy in Montevideo. These boys were more akin to Mafia mobsters than religious clerics.
Why was AMIA targeted? For two reasons. First, in revenge for Argentina reneging on the Iran-Argentina dealings over Argentinian nuclear expertise and supplies. Secondly, because, for both the Argentinian and Iranian intelligence services, Jews were expendable.
Enough is known about Argentinian-Iranian nuclear negotiations to offer a reasonable portrait of motivation. Argentina did not have nuclear weapons. But it had a covert nuclear weapons program as well as an overt peaceful one. Argentina had refused to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and did not sign the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (the Tlatelolco Treaty). From 1983 until the early 1990s, Argentina also had missile development underway, the Cóndor II program.
However, all of this became moot when Argentina and Brazil negotiated a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and on 24 March 1993, ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco. What to do with all the expertise, equipment and end enriched uranium? The nuclear program, which had been supposedly mothballed with the return of democracy on 10 December 1983, was not the only one that was being scrapped. Under U.S. pressure, President Menem had also cancelled the Cóndor 2 missile program.
The Military Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, VEVAK, which, because of the shared roots of both the Iranian and Argentinian intelligence programs in anti-Semitism, came shopping. Just as Juan Perón had run a two-track program, favouring and protecting Nazis while, at the same time granting Jews full rights as citizens, the two track program now became vertical rather than horizontal, with a subterranean negotiations over nuclear and missile technology and an overt renunciation of nuclear weapons. While President Raúl Alfonsin put the missile and nuclear weapons programs on a shelf, it also became a commodity to trade with Iran for oil and cash, the cash intended to line the pockets of the negotiators, including Carlos Saúl Menem who had been elected President in 1989. The once covert nuclear program and the recently cancelled missile program had become a covert trading package even though Menem had appointed many Jews to his cabinet and released the files about Argentina’s coddling of Nazis under Juan Perón. Nevertheless, if there was a personal profit to be made, nuclear and missile knowledge and materials were offered up to the Khomeini regime. Only the mechanisms for transfers remained to be worked out.
But Menem undercut his own intelligence negotiations with Iran and cancelled the deal. Why is uncertain. Fear of U.S. retaliation, the threat to make the bribes he received public? I do not know. What we do know is that Iran was furious at Argentina for cancelling the covert oil and cash deal for knowledge and materials. It is not known if this rage was also motivated because Menem had already benefited with the deposit of his bribes in Menem’s bank account in Switzerland. Whether or not suggested to Iran as expendable targets by Argentinian intelligence agents, the plot first to bomb the Israeli embassy followed with a bombing of the Jewish community centre was hatched. To what degree the Argentinian intelligence service or some of its agents were involved, is not known, at least not by me. What is known is that Iran was surprised at the reaction to the AMIA bombing since Iranian intelligence knew that the vast majority of Argentinians held the belief that Jews were only interested in money and half of Argentinians believed Jews used the Holocaust to promote their own advantage.
3,000 of the 15,000 to 30,000 disappeared had been Jews even though Jews only made up one per cent of the Argentinian population. Soon more Jews as well as non-Jews would be sacrificed on the twin pillars of aborted international diplomacy and anti-Semitism, both compounded by corruption. Nisman’s later revelations of Iranian-Argentinian arrangements to cancel the inquiry onto the bombings in return for oil seemed to be of the same ilk.
Sunday: The Washington Corn