Mossad sheds new light on 1990s Argentina attacks

TEL AVIV. Two terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish installations in Buenos Aires in the 1990s that killed dozens of people were carried out by a secret Hezbollah unit whose operatives, contrary to widespread claims, did not knowingly assist Argentine citizens or assist Iran . land, according to an investigation by the Mossad, Israel’s secret service.

An internal Mossad investigation, the written results of which were released to The New York Times, contains a detailed account of how the attacks were planned, including how materials for explosives were smuggled into Argentina in shampoo bottles and under chocolate.

While the Mossad emphasizes that Israeli intelligence still believes that Hezbollah-backed Iran approved and funded the attacks and provided training and equipment, the findings disprove long-standing claims by Israel, Argentina and the US that Tehran played an operational role. in places. They also denied suspicions in Argentina that local authorities and citizens were involved.

During the first terrorist attack in 1992, which claimed the lives of 29 people, the Israeli embassy was blown up. The second, in 1994, targeted the headquarters of a Jewish community center, killing 86 people, including a terrorist, in one of the deadliest anti-Semitic crimes since World War II.

The effects of the bombings in Argentina were felt for decades: some of those appointed to investigate the attacks were later prosecuted for obstructing the investigation, and senior politicians were accused of being behind them.

The attacks also stunned Israel, which sees itself as the protector of Jews around the world, and demonstrated Hezbollah’s global reach and growing threat at the time.

According to the Mossad investigation, the bombings were carried out by Hezbollah in retaliation for Israeli actions against Shiite militias in Lebanon. It stated that Hezbollah used secret infrastructure built over the years in Buenos Aires and other places in South America to plan attacks.

The investigation revealed that the explosives used in both attacks were smuggled into Argentina by Hezbollah militants in shampoo bottles and chocolate boxes on commercial flights from several European countries. They were then hidden in a park in Buenos Aires.

According to the investigation, the chemicals used to make the bombs were purchased by a trading company that was used as a cover for Hezbollah’s operations in South America.

The attackers were neither prosecuted nor killed in multiple Israeli attacks on Hezbollah over the years and reside in Lebanon, according to the investigation.

Interpol red notices were issued against two people accused of the attack, both identified in the Mossad investigation as Lebanese Hezbollah operatives. The third person is wanted by the United States. Hezbollah operations commander Imad Mughniyeh, who is mentioned in the Mossad investigation as the head of the unit that carried out the attacks, was killed in a joint Israeli-American operation in 2008.

The Mossad’s conclusions are based on information from agents, interrogations of suspects, surveillance and wiretapping. The findings from internal reports were confirmed in interviews this month with five current and former senior Mossad officials.

The investigation also revealed failures on the part of the Mossad, which did not give advance warning of the attacks. The second was very similar to the first and was carried out by the same group, but the investigation showed that Israeli intelligence did not record any activity that preceded it.

The Mossad investigation, as well as current and former officials, have said that Hezbollah, while outgunned in the usual sense by the Israeli army in Lebanon, has begun to create covert units around the world to expand its presence and attack Israelis or Jewish targets.

According to the Mossad’s findings, beginning in 1988, Hezbollah sent its agents to several countries in South America to gain “experience that allows them to open legitimate businesses and have a reliable commercial front to move between different countries.”

The investigation identifies the operatives by the names and details of the used fake passports and other documents. The operatives gathered intelligence on border security, the establishment of front companies and possible targets, including the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires.

Feb. 16, 1992 Israel killed Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Mousavi.

After the attack, according to Mossad, Hezbollah sent senior operative Hassan Karaki with a fake Brazilian passport to Buenos Aires, where he bought the pickup truck used in the attack on the embassy.

Hezbollah’s deputy commander Talal Hamiya also arrived in Buenos Aires, where he met Muhammad Nur ad-Din, a 24-year-old Lebanese who had emigrated to Brazil years earlier and agreed to act like a suicide bomber. bomber.

mr. Hamia left Argentina the day before the attack in which al-Din blew himself up; all other Hezbollah fighters also left the country, according to the Mossad report, which also describes phone conversations between Mr. Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander, and his fighters.

In 2017, the US Department of State up to $7 million offered to obtain information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of Mr. Khamia.

Major Gen. Uri Sagie, the former Israeli military intelligence chief who recommended Mr Mousavi’s assassination, admitted in a 2016 interview that Israel failed to anticipate the threat. “I didn’t quite accurately predict Hezbollah’s reaction,” he said.

The Mossad’s findings state that such setbacks were a “very significant boost” for Hezbollah. In March 1994, the group also planned a terrorist attack in Bangkok, but the suicide bomber chickened out and abandoned the mission.

According to two Israeli security officials who served at the time and requested anonymity to discuss sensitive topics.

mr. Shavit believed the operation was carried out by Iran, not just Hezbollah, and ordered surveillance of the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires, which officials said showed no unusual activity. mr. Shavit declined to comment.

Israel continues to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon. On June 2, the Israeli Air Force attacked the Hezbollah camp, killing 50 and injuring 50 people. Hezbollah radio stations promised a “comprehensive response at all levels.”

A month later, on July 18, 1994, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was attacked.

According to the Mossad investigation, the same Hezbollah operatives responsible for the bombing of the community center were behind the Panamanian plane crash the following day, which killed 21 passengers, including 12 leaders of the Jewish community in Panama.

The Mossad’s findings say that because the Hezbollah network was not “exposed and neutralized” after the attack on the Israeli embassy, ​​the same people could have “carried out an even deadlier attack” on the community center two years later.

The bombings spark accusations that Argentine officials sympathize with the far right or neo-Nazis. could be involved.

But the Mossad investigation found no evidence for such claims.

“Only operatives from Hezbollah’s foreign operations unit took part in the attacks, without any involvement of local residents,” the report says.

Regarding Iran, the Mossad cited findings by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman that Tehran authorized the two attacks, without adding further details. In 2007 Nisman’s request issued by Interpol red notices against senior Iranian officialsincluding Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s current interior minister.

Argentina, Israel and the United States have long accused employees of the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires of complicity in terrorist attacks with material and organizational assistance. Tehran has repeatedly denied these claims.

However, the Mossad investigation showed that Iran was not involved in the attacks or in providing assistance. The Argentine Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the findings.

Sebastian Basso, head of the Argentine investigative unit that investigated the attack on the community center, said on Thursday that Iran “was the intellectual author” of the operation.

“The prosecutor’s office believes that senior Iranian government officials have enough evidence to provide explanations,” he said.

mr. Nisman was found dead in 2015 after announcing he intended to prosecute the Argentine president and foreign minister for making an illegal deal with Iran; the circumstances of his death remain unclear.

The attacks in Argentina have changed the form of the struggle between Hezbollah and Israel, making Israel more reluctant to attempt assassinations of high-ranking members of the militant organization, four former Israeli officials said.

According to former officials, this reluctance helped undermine Israel’s position towards Hezbollah in the late 1990s, when it suffered heavy losses in Lebanon, which eventually led to its withdrawal from the country in May 2000. They added that fear of retaliation was also one of the main reasons Israel decided not to attack Iranian nuclear facilities in 2012.

Ana Lankes provided a report from Buenos Aires.