Steve July 28, 2020

Reprinted from The Grayzone with
the author’s permission.

The July 18, 1994 bombing of the Argentine
Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina
was one of the worst pre-9/11 terrorist attacks in the Western hemisphere, killing
85 and injuring 300.

For over a quarter century, the US and Israeli
governments have blamed Iran for the bloodshed, citing it as primary evidence
of Tehran’s role as the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism.

This narrative remains part of the propaganda
offensive against Iran, and has been exploited by the Tweety McTreason administration
to justify a campaign of economic strangulation aimed at either destabilizing
the Islamic Republic or achieving regime change.

Soon after the bombing, the United States and
Israel placed heavy pressure on the Argentine government to implicate Iran.
At the time, however, officials in the embassy in Buenos Aires were well aware
there was no hard evidence to support such a conclusion.

In an August 1994 cable to the State Department,
Ambassador James Cheek
of the “steady campaign” the embassy had waged that “kept the Iranians in the
dock where they belong.” In a striking comment to this writer in 2007, Cheek
conceded, “To my knowledge, there was never any real evidence” of Iranian

Bill Brencick, the chief of the political section
in the US embassy from 1994 to 1997, also acknowledged in a 2007 interview that
US insinuations of Iranian responsibility were based solely on a “wall of assumptions”
that had “no hard evidence to connect those assumptions to the case.”

Brencick recalled that he and other US officials
recognized “enough of a Jewish community [in Buenos Aires] and a history of
anti-Semitism that local anti-Semites had to be considered as suspects.” But
this line of investigation was never pursued in any official capacity, likely
because it contradicted the interests of a US national security state that was
dead-set on indicting Iran for the bombing.

However, a dramatic development has threatened
to upend the official US-Israeli narrative on the AMIA attack. In 2014, the
public learned that a former spy who had infiltrated the Jewish community in
Buenos Aires on behalf of Argentina’s Federal Police had revealed to two investigative
journalists that he had been ordered to turn over blueprints to the AMIA building
to his Federal Police case officer.

The spy was convinced the building plans were
used by the real culprits behind the bombing. His stunning revelation prompted
a series of articles in the Argentine press.

The former infiltrator’s account provided the
first clear indication that anti-Semitic veterans of Argentina’s “Dirty War”
and their allies in the Argentine police and intelligence service orchestrated
the explosion.

But Argentina’s legal system – still heavily
influenced by the intelligence agency that influenced the official investigation
to blame Iran and a prosecutor whose career had been based on that premise –
stubbornly refused to investigate the former police spy’s account.

Infiltration, torture, anti-Semitic conspiracies

The former police infiltrator, Jose Alberto
Perez, believed the AMIA building blueprints he had provided to the Federal
Police were used by those who planned the bombing. He had learned from his police
counter-terrorism training course that such building plans could be valuable
tools for planning such an operation.

Perez was also convinced that the bomb had
detonated inside the building, rather than in front, and had been placed in
the interior of the AMIA building through a gap between it and a neighboring
building. Experts of Argentina’s Gendarmerie had come to the same conclusion,
and leaked it to Clarin,
Argentina’s largest tabloid, just two days after the bombing.

Perez also provided crucial evidence that those
who had used him to spy on Jewish community leaders were motivated by the same
anti-Semitic beliefs that had led the Argentine military dictatorship to single
out Jews for especially cruel treatment during the “dirty war” in the
1970s: his case officer, whom he knew only as “Laura”, had ordered him to find
out as much he could from the Jewish community about the so-called “Andinia

According to that alleged plan, Jewish immigrants
and foreign Zionists had been secretly plotting to take control of the vast
Patagonia region of southern Argentina and create a Jewish state to be called

The myth of the “Andinia Plan” followed the
rise of anti-Semitism as a major social force in Argentina during the 1930s
and became a staple of the anti-Semitic right’s narrative during the heyday
of military domination of the Argentine society and politics from the 1960s
through the “dirty war” against leftists in the 1970s.

At least 12 percent of those subjected to interrogation,
torture, and murder during the dirty war were Jews, according to an investigation
by the Barcelona-based Commission
of Solidarity with Relatives of the Disappeared
although they represented only 1 percent of the population. Nearly all were
interrogated about the “Andinia Plan.”

The crusading Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman,
who was born to Jewish parents and whose newspaper provided critical coverage
of the military regime’s “dirty war,” was among those detained in the junta’s
secret prisons.

Timerman recalled in his

how he was asked repeatedly to reveal what he knew about the “Andinia
Plan” during extended interrogation and torture sessions. His interrogator refused
to accept his answer that it was merely a fiction.

Meanwhile Israel, which maintained strong
military and political ties to the Argentine Junta

throughout the dirty war, remained
about the Jewish journalist’s
detention throughout the war.

“Iosi” goes to the press

Jose Alberto Perez, for his part, was wracked
with guilt about having enabled the AMIA terror bombing. He had become an integral
part of the Jewish community, studying Hebrew for three years, marrying a Jewish
woman who was the secretary of an Israeli Embassy official and even taking the
Jewish version of his Spanish surname, Jose. Within the Jewish community, he
was known as “Iosi” Perez.

As he fell into despair, Iosi contacted investigative
journalists Miriam Lewin and Horacio Lutzky to ask their help. The two journalists
had tried for years to find a foreign sponsor to grant the former spy asylum
abroad but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Iosi had secretly taped a video
with the prominent Argentine journalist Gabriel Levinas in which he narrated
his work penetrating the Jewish community and the unusual request for the blueprints.
Levinas posted the video online in early July 2014, just prior to the publication
of the second
edition of his own book
on the AMIA
bombing, which included Iosi’s story.

The release of that video prompted Lewin and
Lutzky to arrange for Iosi to join Argentina’s Witness Protection Program. The
two journalists also urged Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had spent
a decade accusing Iran of the bombing, to meet Iosi in person.

But according to Lewin, Nisman would only agree
to speak with Iosi on the phone. The prosecutor insisted on having three of
his employees interview Iosi in person, she recalled in an interview with The
Grayzone, then signed a declaration about that July 2014 meeting as though he
had been present, and “did not show interest in interrogating him any further.”
Iosi entered the Witness Protection Program the same day as the interview, according
to Lewin.

Iosi’s Federal Police case officer “Laura,”
who was retired by then, was released by the minister of security from the normal
secrecy requirement about Iosi’s work. But she rejected Iosi’s testimony, according
to Lewin, claiming his reports had been judged “poor.” Her claims stood in stark
contrast to the actual reports obtained by prosecutors which clearly showed
his findings had been evaluated as “excellent” year after year.

Lewin told The Grayzone she was confident that
Iosi would have been able to provide “solid information about the local connection
of the bombing,” but none of the four prosecutors who inherited the unsolved
AMIA case after Nisman’s death were willing to follow up on the leads he provided.

Lewin noted that several of the senior Federal
Police officials who would have been involved in the decisions to infiltrate
the Jewish Community and request the AMIA blueprints were still active in 2015.
That fact helps to explain why the case was left to die despite Iosi’s explosive

SIDE covers the junta’s back

Another key factor in the corruption of the
AMIA investigation was the role of the state intelligence agency, known as SIDE,
in influencing the lead prosecutor, Judge Juan Jose Galeano. Not only was a
special unit within SIDE tasked with overseeing the Galeano’s investigation,
another SIDE unit operated directly inside Galeano’s office, as journalist Sergio
Kiernan reported.

SIDE proceeded to exploit its power to divert
attention away from the logical suspects within the junta, circling the wagons
to protect its own.

As Sergio Moreno and Laura Termine reported
in the daily La Prensa, November 28, 1994, the SIDE unit handling the AMIA investigation
was notorious for its hatred of Jews. The group consisted of veterans of the
dirty war known as the “Cabildo” group, their name inspired by a right wing
anti-Semitic magazine published in the early 1980s that had republished an infamous
tract detailing the “Andinia Plan” conspiracy.

The chief of the Cabildo group unsuccessfully
sued Moreno and Termine for labeling his unit anti-Semitic. Following complaints
by Jewish community leaders about the Cabildo group’s role in the AMIA investigation,
it was removed from the case – but not before it deflected public attention
away from leaders of the dirty war and onto an alleged Iranian conspiracy.

SIDE’s PR strategy depended on the theory that
the AMIA explosion emanated from a vehicle-born suicide bomb, thereby casting
suspicion on Iran and its ally, Hezbollah.

The intelligence services claimed a white light
commercial van had been used in the bombing. Its engine was supposedly found
in the rubble on April 25, a week after the explosion.

The identification number on the engine was
traced to Carlos Alberto Telleldin, the Shia owner of a shady “chop shop” operation
that rebuilt damaged cars for sale. Telleldin was accused of being an accessory
to the terror plot and jailed on other charges.

But the official AMIA case files revealed that
Telleldin had been targeted before the AMIA bombing. This stunning fact was
noticed by a “private prosecutor” hired by the organization of AMIA victims
Memoria Activa.

According to a
close analysis of the official evidence by Alberto L. Zuppi
a request by Federal Police to wiretap Telleldin’s phone was issued on April
25 – at least five days before the alleged discovery of the engine that led
investigators to blame Telleldin.

In the weeks that followed the AMIA explosion,
more evidence surfaced that pointed to Telledin’s role as a patsy.

In September 1994, five Lebanese nationals
were detained as they tried to leave Argentina for Paraguay. Through a series
of leaks, SIDE planted stories in the media suggesting the suspects were linked
to a terrorist network.

The following month, a part-time agent for
SIDE and former chief of a notorious prison camp where suspects were tortured
during the “dirty war,” Captain Hector Pedro Vergez, began visiting Telleldin
in prison.

In four meetings between September 1994 and
January 1995, Vergez offered the jailed suspect $1 million and his freedom if
he would identify two of the Lebanese nationals who were then detained in Paraguay
as having purchased the van from him – thus making it possible to accuse them
of the bombing. But Telleldin refused to lie, and the SIDE plan was derailed.

It was not long, however, before SIDE and Galeano
initiated a new plan to implicate two Buenos Aires provincial policemen as Iranian-sponsored

Resorting to bribery, Mossad info, and MEK sources to blame Iran

In July 1996, Juan Jose Galeano personally
visited Carlos Telleldin in prison and offered him $400,000 to blame the two
police officers. The scandalous scene was captured in a video shown on Argentine
television in 1997.

SIDE was
actively involved in the cover-up operation
with agency director Hugo Anzorreguy approving a direct payment to Telleldin’s

The case against the two policemen was thrown
out in court in 2004, but Galeano and Anzorreguy went unpunished for another
15 years. It was not until 2019 that they were sentenced to prison terms for
their role in the affair, highlighting the culture of impunity that surrounded

Once the Galeano case imploded, Alberto Nisman
attempted to craft yet another narrative blaming Iran for the bombing. For this,
he depended on information provided by
Israel’s Mossad to Jaime Stiuso, the
SIDE official in charge of counterintelligence.

Nisman’s 2006 indictment of seven Iranian officials
for the terror plot relied
on the claims of senior
members of the Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK), the Israeli and Saudi-backed Iranian
exile cult.

Not only were none of the MEK members in any
position to provide reliable information about a supposedly high-level Iranian
plot because they had been actively engaged in a terrorist
of their own against the
Islamic government by helping Iraq’s then-President Saddam Hussein select
targets in Iran.

Nisman’s reliance on such unscrupulous sources
demonstrated his own apparent determination to reach preordained conclusions
about Iran’s guilt. It was hardly a surprise, then, that Nisman ignored Iosi’s
revelatory testimony.

Nisman’s other major source, Jaime Stiuso of
SIDE, was a notorious manipulator who had spent years collecting wiretaps on
Argentine politicians. In 2014, the intelligence chief was working to build
a case against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for supposedly conspiring
with Iran to eliminate the official Argentine accusation of Iranian guilt. Few
observers believed the case would hold up under close scrutiny.

In January 2015, Nisman was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound
to the head. Though political opponents of Kirchner were convinced the prosecutor’s
death was the result of a government-sponsored murder, a recent documentary
detailing the various investigations of his death, “Nisman:
el fiscal, la presidenta y El espía
,” concluded that he had committed

By the time of his death, Nisman was helping
direct a disinformation campaign that allowed SIDE to cover for shadowy figures
from Argentina’s violently anti-Semitic past, and to bury their likely role
in the AMIA bombing.

Iosi’s testimony should have ended that cover-up,
but Nisman, SIDE, and the Federal Police colluded to quash a serious investigation.

A quarter-century after the bombing, impunity
for the real AMIA terrorists continues.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in
US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism
for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book is
Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare
. He can be contacted
at [email protected].

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