Mossad Sheds New Light on Argentina Terrorist Attacks in 1990s

TEL AVIV – Two terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in the 1990s that killed people were carried out by a secretive unit of Hezbollah whose activities, contrary to that of common statements, not knowingly abetted by Argentine citizens or supported by Iran. on the ground, according to an investigation by the Mossad, Israel’s secret service.

Internal Mossad research, written findings shared with The New York Times, provides a detailed account of how the attacks were planned – including how explosives were made. smuggled into Argentina in shampoo bottles and chocolate boxes.

While the Mossad emphasizes that Israeli intelligence still believes that Iran, a pro-Hezbollah country, approved and funded the attacks and provided training and equipment, the findings contradict the assertions. Israel, Argentina and the United States that Tehran has a combat role on the ground. They also countered suspicions in Argentina that local officials and citizens there were complicit.

In the first attack that killed 29 people in 1992, the Israeli Embassy was blown up. The second, in 1994, targeted the headquarters of a Jewish community center, killing 86 people, including the bomber, in one of the deadliest anti-Semitic crimes since World War II. .

Consequences from the explosions have been documented for decades in Argentina, with several people appointed to investigate the attacks later prosecuted for obstructing the investigation and top politicians being impeached. related allegations.

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

According to the Mossad investigation, the bombings were carried out by Hezbollah in retaliation for Israel’s activities against Shiite militias in Lebanon. It said that Hezbollah used secret infrastructure built over the years in Buenos Aires and other South American locations to plan attacks.

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

According to the investigation, the chemical used to make the bomb was acquired by a commercial company used as a cover for Hezbollah’s operations in South America.

The attackers have not been brought to justice or killed by Israel in multiple attacks on Hezbollah over the years and are living in Lebanon, the investigation reports.

Interpol’s “red notices” have been issued against two alleged attackers, both of whom were identified during the Mossad investigation as Lebanese Hezbollah agents. The third person wanted by the United States. Hezbollah’s campaign commander, Imad Mughniyeh, who was mentioned by the Mossad investigation as the commander of the unit that carried out the attacks, was killed in a joint Israeli-American operation in 2008.

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

The investigation also revealed the failures of the Mossad, which had no prior warning of attacks. The second incident was very similar to the first and was carried out by the same team, but the investigation revealed that Israeli intelligence had not detected any prior activity.

An investigation by the Mossad and current and former officials revealed that Hezbollah, dominated by the Israeli military in Lebanon in the common sense, had begun building clandestine units around the world to expand its reach. vi operating and attacking Israeli or Jewish targets.

Starting in 1988, Hezbollah sent special forces to several South American countries to learn from “experience that helped them open legitimate businesses and have strong commercial cover to move between different countries.” , as discovered by Mossad.

The investigation identified the employees by name and details of forged passports and other documents used. The agents gathered intelligence on border security, on setting up insurance companies and on possible targets, including the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

On February 16, 1992, Israel assassinated the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Abbas Musawi.

Following that attack, according to the Mossad, Hezbollah sent a high-ranking operative, Hassan Karaki, with a forged Brazilian passport to Buenos Aires, where he purchased the pickup truck used in the embassy attack.

The deputy commander of Hezbollah’s operations unit, Talal Hamiyah, also traveled to Buenos Aires, where he met Muhammad Nur al-Din, a 24-year-old Lebanese man who had emigrated to Brazil several years earlier and agreed to act as a suicide. bomber aircraft.

Mr. Hamiyah left Argentina the day before the attack in which Mr. al-Din blew himself up; All other Hezbollah operatives also left the country, according to the Mossad report, which also describes phone calls between Mr. Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander, and his agents.

In 2017, the US Department of State offered up to 7 million dollars for information leading to the location, arrest or conviction of Mr. Hamiyah.

Major General Uri Sagie, the former director of Israeli military intelligence who suggested Mr. Musawi’s assassination, admitted in a 2016 interview that Israel failed to anticipate the threat. “I didn’t exactly anticipate Hezbollah’s reaction,” he said.

The Mossad findings said such failures were “a very important incentive” for Hezbollah. In March 1994, the group also planned a suicide bombing attack in Bangkok, but the suicide bomber got cold feet and abandoned the mission.

The head of the Mossad at the time, Shabtai Shavit, had been warned by a senior intelligence official that there was a serious risk of another attack on Jews or Israelis in South America, particularly in South America. especially in Argentina, according to two Israeli security officials. serving at the time and who requested anonymity to discuss classified topics.

Shavit believes the operation was carried out by Iran, not just Hezbollah, and he ordered the surveillance of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, where there was no unusual activity, officials said. Mr Shavit declined to comment.

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

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

According to the Mossad investigation, it was the Hezbollah special forces responsible for the bombing of the community center that were behind the downing of a Panama plane the next day that killed 21 passengers, including 12 leaders of the group. Jewish community in Panama.

The results of the Mossad said that because the Hezbollah network was “not exposed and disabled” after the attack on the Israeli Embassy, ​​those people were able to “carry out an even more deadly attack” on the Israeli embassy. community center two years later.

The bombings sent flying accusations that Argentine officials were sympathetic to Nazi extremists or neo-Nazis. may have participated.

But the Mossad investigation found no evidence for such claims.

“Only the special forces of Hezbollah’s foreign operations unit participated in the attacks, without any involvement of local citizens,” it concluded.

On Iran, the Mossad cited findings from an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, that Tehran approved the two attacks without further details. In 2007, at Nisman’s request, Interpol issued red notices against senior Iranian officialsincluding Ahmad Vahidi, currently Iran’s Interior Minister.

Argentina, Israel and the United States have long accused Iranian Embassy officials in Buenos Aires of supporting the attacks with material and organizational help. Tehran has repeatedly denied the claims.

However, the Mossad investigation found that Iran was not involved in carrying out the attacks or assisting. Argentina’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the results of the investigation.

Sebastián Basso, the head of the Argentine investigative unit that is investigating the attack on the community center, said on Thursday that Iran is “the intellectual author” of the operation.

“The prosecution considers that there is enough evidence for the high authorities of the Iranian government to provide an explanation,” he said.

Mr. Nisman was found dead in 2015 after announcing that he intended to prosecute the president and foreign minister of Argentina for making an illegal deal with Iran; the circumstances of his death are still unclear.

According to four former Israeli officials, the attacks in Argentina have reshaped the struggle between Hezbollah and Israel, making Israel more reluctant to carry out plots to assassinate senior members of the organization.

That reluctance helped weaken Israel’s position against Hezbollah in the late 1990s, when the country suffered heavy losses in Lebanon, eventually leading to its withdrawal from the country in May 2000, former official said. They added that fear of retaliation is also one of the main reasons why Israel decided not to attack Iran’s nuclear sites in 2012.

Ana LankesContribution reports from Buenos Aires.

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