The Buenos Aires mess

September 29, 1994|By A. M. Rosenthal

NEW YORK — New York--THE TWO massacres do not appear on the agenda as presidents and prime ministers gather in New York to attend the new session of the U.N. General Assembly.

But the plain reality is that they are the essence of what the United Nations is supposed to deal with: aggression and expanding threats to international peace and security.

The first massacre took place on March 17, 1992 -- the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Twenty-nine people were killed. The message was that no Israeli establishment, anywhere in the world, was safe from attack.

The second took place on July 18, 1994, again in Buenos Aires -- the bombing of the main center of the Argentine Jewish community. Ninety-five people were killed. This time the message was different: the war is against all Jews, not just Israelis.

Both bombings were carried out with the same techniques, by operatives working out of the same foreign base, dispatched by the same organization.

Investigators say commercial ingredients easily available in Buenos Aires were used to create the bomb, which was loaded in a van and detonated by a suicide bomber. The ingredients were fertilizer and fuel oil -- the same as in the World Trade Center attack.

Both Buenos Aires bombings, intelligence agencies believe, were carried out by members of Ansar Allah, a branch of the Hezbollah, the militant Islamic organization financed by Iran and quartered in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, an area totally controlled by Syria.

In both cases, a small squad of terrorists journeyed to Argentina from the Mideast, stopping off in different countries before the last leg to Argentina. There they made contact with Hezbollah cell members living in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities.

The similarities are so brazen that they are like a note left behind and written large: we did it and we will do it again, know us. But not a single arrest or report in the 1992 bombing has been made by Argentina.

In the United States, Argentina and Israel, Jewish groups ask whether Argentine "neo" Nazis helped the bombers. American sources say they have no such evidence but do know of connections between the militants and Nazis in other countries -- including the United States.

In any case, not one official I have talked to in any country doubts that Iran knew of and approved the Buenos Aires operations. The Israelis say so publicly; Westerners ask that their names not be attached.

Soon after the 1994 bombing, the Argentines issued warrants for some suspected Iranians, then withdrew them and apologized to Iran. Professional intelligence people do not charge an Argentine cover-up, and in a real sense the bombings make Argentina a victim of Mideast terrorism.

But overall, the investigations have not been a triumph for the Argentine government -- an embarrassment would put it kindly.

Some of my sources say that maybe the Syrians did not know in advance of the first Hezbollah massacre, maybe. But not to get a hint that a second attack against the same city could be launched from the Bekaa -- that is fairy-tale time, children.

Somehow Westerners have not grasped the fact that the terrorists of Hezbollah and other radical Islamic groups utterly reject the idea held by many other Muslims that there should be a difference in enmity toward Israelis and other Jews.

Certainly Hezbollah does not hide its hatred of Jews.

July 18 in Buenos Aires was long-distance Kristallnacht. Maybe the fact that the crime leaped across borders will convince the nations to do something about Iran, terrorism's master, and Syria, its safe haven. But I do not think so.

A. M. Rosenthal is a syndicated columnist.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.