Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Monday it was "surprised" by Argentina’s agreement with Iran to create an independent commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre in which 85 people were killed.
"We were surprised by the news," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. "We are waiting to receive full details from the Argentines on what is going on because this subject is obviously directly related to Israel."
Argentina and Iran reached a breakthrough Sunday in the investigation of the bombing, agreeing to establish an independent international "truth commission" led by a jurist "with high moral standing and legal prestige" to examine Argentina's worst terrorist attack.
"We warned the Argentines from the start that the Iranians would try to set a trap for them and that they should beware," Palmor told AFP on Monday.
The commissioners will examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed "based on the laws and regulations of both countries." Then, commissioners and Argentine investigators will travel to Tehran to question the suspects.
"Historic" was how President Cristina Fernandez described the agreement, signed Sunday in Africa by Foreign Ministers Hector Timerman and Ali Akbar Salehi.
A van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil exploded on July 18, 1994, leveling the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires and killing 85 people. Two years earlier, an attack destroyed Israel's Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people. Both attacks have never been solved. The Islamic Jihad organization, believed to be linked to Iran and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the 1992 bombing.
In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese national in the bombing of the AMIA center. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is among the Iranian officials sought by Argentina, home to Latin America's largest Jewish community.
Western and Israeli sources have voiced concern that Argentina may have lost its interest in pursuing investigations into the 1994 and 1992 attacks. Previous Argentine probes resulted "only in failures and scandal, with a trial that ended up being a farce" after high-level officials were accused of covering up evidence and deliberately misdirecting investigators, Fernandez said in a series of tweets.
In contrast, this process, which needs legislative approval in both nations, provides a legal framework with due-process rights for the accused that could be a model for conflict resolution, Fernandez said, and it puts the dispute firmly in the hands of legal experts overseen by independent arbitrators.
She tweeted that the agreement was "historic, because never will we allow the AMIA tragedy to be used as a chess piece in a game of faraway geopolitical interests."
Jewish groups, however, made clear their discomfort at Argentina's efforts to improve relations with Iran despite the unresolved bombing case.
"It is a monumental step backward," Luis Czyzewski, who lost his daughter Paola in the bombing, told Argentina's Jewish News Agency on Sunday. "I think all the families will reject it and be as angry as I am."
A description of the agreement by Iran's Fars news agency said years of Argentine investigations "have failed to advance the case or prove anything against Iran, indicating that Iran is innocent."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in October that once "investigations take place in an accurate and impartial manner, then the ground will be prepared for the expansion of ties between Iran and Argentina," the Fars report said.