Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 2   No. 3

March 2000 


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New Report Links Syria to 1992 Bombing of Israeli Embassy in Argentina
Blanca Madani

A report recently compiled by Acción por la República, an Argentine political party headed by former minister Domingo Cavallo, provides new evidence of Syrian complicity in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. The bombing on March 17, 1992 killed 29 people and wounded more than 200. The embassy attack was followed by a second bombing on July 18, 1994 which destroyed the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, which housed several Argentine Jewish organizations, killing 86 people and wounding several hundred.

    Shortly after the bombing, a group calling itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and the investigation soon focused on Iranian complicity. In May 1998, the Argentine government announced that it had "convincing proof" of Iranian involvement in the bombing and expelled seven Iranian diplomats from the country. This followed the detention in Germany of Moshen Rabbani, who had served as Cultural Attache in the Iranian Embassy in Argentina until December of 1997. Rabbani was alleged to have assisted in planning the bombings along with four Iranian spies who entered the country from the Paraguayan border town of Ciudad del Este, a center of Hezbollah activity in the region. According to reports in the Argentine press, intercepted telephone conversations from the Iranian Embassy and testimony from Ismanian Khosrow, one of the detained Iranians, corroborated Iranian involvement. However, the investigation has since stalled and no action has been taken to prosecute any of the suspects.

    "Days after the eight anniversary of the attack on the Embassy of Israel and almost six years since the attack on AMIA, little to almost nothing has advanced in the investigations of the cause of these actions," the report states. "Various groups . . . have systematically denounced the irregularities during the judicial process, the manipulation and disappearance of evidence, going so far as to petition international entities, such as the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, to denounce the attitude adopted by the previous administration with respect to the development of events."

    "There is no explanation, either from the perspective of the proceedings, or from that of common sense, to reject with such vehemence, investigative trails that could have helped clarify these attacks. Nevertheless, the previous government has flatly denied all reference to what popularly came to be called the 'Syrian trail of the attacks'."

    This report hypothesizes a "Syrian connection" to the bombing of the Israeli embassy and the AMIA building, mainly through the presence and suspicious activities of a Syrian, Monzer al-Kazzar and an Argentine, Alfredo Yabran, and their link to then presidential candidate Carlos Menem's trip to Syria in 1988 and his promises concerning the Condor II missile and the installation of nuclear reactors in return for campaign funding. The report accuses investigators of a cover-up, noting that any possibility that sectors of the Syrian government or its surrogates could have been involved in the preparation or execution of the bombings have been ignored.

    According to the report, taped testimony that tied certain people with the main suspects disappeared due to the negligence of the security services. The involvement of foreigners intimately associated with the previous government has been ignored, and they have been freed of suspicions "thanks to the lies spilled by civil employees of the government." These manipulations were to be expected since "all those investigated and soon rejected suspects were related, in one way or another, intimately with sectors of the previous government, including ex-president Carlos Menem himself." Suspicious activity by a number of Syrians are described in the report, including Mohamed Alem, Narman al-Hennawi, Ghassam al-Zein, Hassan Iasin Satin, Ali Chedade al-Hassan, Yalal Nacrach, Jacinto Kanoore Edul, Nassif Haddad, Javier Haddad and Monzer al-Kassar.

    While there had been a successful attempt during the years since the attack to show that the Iranian track was antagonistic to the Syrian one, the Argentine group believes that both tracks "not only are not antagonistic to each other, but are interrelated with each other."

    "The intent to show their antagonism is due, above all, to a real ignorance of the geopolitical alliances that were established in the Middle East, the deep relations that both sides maintain, the communion of interests, and, mostly, the clear objective to want to deviate the attention of public opinion from any indication that will involve the former government with suspects of the attacks, knowing, beforehand, the international scandal that this signifies."

    These common interests between Iran and Syria are due to agreements of economic cooperation and military and intelligence exchange developing toward a common military. "Their union is due basically to the historical dispute that maintains as their most staunch enemy, Iraq, and the interest of Syrian president Hafez al-Assad to block all political development of a fundamentalist Islamic movement in his country, which is governed by an Alawite minority."

    The intention of "Menemism," as the report calls it, to hide the truth of the events surrounding the attacks, "has its origin in the very history of the last ten years, and especially in the necessity of the illegal financing of the political campaign of 1989 and the dangerous unfulfilled promises to specific Arab countries for such an objective."

    "What factors of state," asks the report, "played a part in reaching the conclusion that a country geographically alienated from the focus of tension, like Argentina, should have involved itself in the Middle East conflict? Without doubt, the response could be obtained in the development of the Condor II missile or the installation of nuclear reactors, factors highly important at the hour of establishing military balance in that region."

    The former government of Menem made promises and then failed to fulfill the promises to these Middle Eastern countries. What it signified to Syria and the rest of the countries, besides not obtaining this military technology (it was perceived that the Condor II was superior to Scud or Badr 2000, a missile similar to the Condor) was the loss of millions of dollars. It is stipulated that more than $100 million was invested "officially" by the various countries involved in the project. Thus, the report concludes that "undoubtedly, such motives are more than sufficient to realize an attack with the characteristics of what occurred against AMIA and the Israeli Embassy. At least, they are more feasible than an action by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who, because of their hatred of the Jews, attack their mutual headquarters and the diplomatic headquarters, for no other reason than the progress of the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine."

    In 1988, Carlos Menem, at that time a candidate to the presidency for the Justiacilista (Justice) Party, made his first trip to the Arab Republic of Syria. It was a personal trip that "rapidly changed" to an official one due to the interest shown by Assad's government toward the presence of someone who could be the future president of a South American country. According to an interview by Oscar Spinosa Melo, a "Menemist" ex-ambassador, Menem met the Syrian vice-president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, one of the highest officials involved in the negotiations with Israel and who controls, together with the president's brother, Rifat al-Assad, the planting of (opium) poppy and hashish in Lebanon, and is also responsible for the Syrian intelligence forces. During these meetings between Melo and Assad, and later with Khaddam, Menem promised to deliver to Syria the Condor II missile and cooperate with the nuclear development of that country (including the assistance of Argentine experts in the development of such technology) in exchange for money to finance his presidential campaign.

    The Syrians not only chose to go with the nuclear reactor in return for the money requested, but in 1992, one month before the attack on Israel, Syria and Iran signed a bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation. Incidentally, in 1991, Argentina suspended the installation of the nuclear reactor in Syria and dismantled the Condor II missile project due to pressure from the United States, Israel, and then minister Domingo Cavallo, according to the then American chief of the secret service. Iran decided to invest two billion dollars during the course of four years, while Syria would apportion ten billion dollars during the same period.

    Although there is no documented proof that the abandonment of the nuclear reactor project by Argentina is related to the strategic pact signed by Iran and Syria, the report notes that "it is highly suggestive," that at Menem's breach of pact, Syria was forced to buy an inferior Chinese reactor. Also "suggestive" is a report presented to the House of Representatives by the chief of the CIA, which reveals that there existed indications that Iran had acquired, with the agreement, Scud missiles, product of the operation's failure to acquire the Condor II. The report adds that: "Absolutely all military analysts agree in pointing out that the Condor II was technologically more advanced than Scud, especially in its navigational system."

    The Condor project was the most ambitious missile and military development plan favored by the Argentine Air Force after the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) war, and one in which various countries in the Middle East were interested, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, and Iraq, the four having carried on clandestine conversations on acquiring the missile.

    The change in the political climate of the region nourished the possibility of Syria acquiring the Condor II, not only because of the promises made by Menem, but especially because of the change in strategy by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who abandoned Iraq after the latter began its "suicide operation," i.e., the invasion of Kuwait. In other words, even though there were conversations where Menem promised, in addition to the nuclear reactor, the sale of the Condor II missile, the certain possibility that the Syrians would acquire the missile came only when the alliances among the various countries left Iraq--the principal interested party--completely abandoned from the Arab world as a result of the participation of Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in the western alliance against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Equally, Syrian aspirations collapsed when Argentina announced later in 1991 the dismantling of the project.

    Testimonies by various participants during that period confirm that during the conversations that took place between Hafez al-Assad and Menem, the Syrian president requested admission to Customs from Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, and mediation from the Syrian dealer, Monzer al-Kassar, in the Condor II missile deal. Another individual that Assad requested, according to Domingo Cavallo, was Alfredo Yabran.

    The relationship of al-Kassar with the Condor II was established, through various intelligence documents of the Ministry of Defense while this ministry was headed by the late Raul Borras, by the presence of arms trafficking in Falda del Carmen in 1985, headquarters of the Condor operations, and also by his contacts with the Air Force, especially with the Crespo and Julia squadrons. Nevertheless, one of the "most suggestive" details is the presence of Alfredo Yabran during the initial project and subsequent development. There is no proof for such affirmation, but the report notes there is cause to suspect the relations maintained with Miguel Vicente Guerrero, the brain behind the Condor II project, his relations with the Air Force, which were such as to arise suspicions that he was an intelligence official in said organization, and mostly his control over the fiscal deposits and transfer of money when Ibrahim al-Ibrahim exercised his influence in the Customs of Ezeiza.

    In the petition filed against al-Kassar, Public Prosecutor Rivoli pointed out that the unfulfilled promises by al-Kassar (to invest millions of dollars in the country) were for the purpose of realizing activities, publicly acknowledged, such as the sale of armaments. While al-Kassar was settling himself in Argentina under the protection of the former government (he was able to obtain an Argentine passport in "record time"), Ibrahim al-Ibrahim was installing himself in the Customs of Ezeiza, and Yabran was strengthening his power over the fiscal deposits, the post office, and the transfer of wealth. Separate investigations affirmed that the establishment of the trio in "neuralgic sectors of power" facilitated the creation of a "real parallel customs" or "free zone" from where all types of merchandise entered, circulated, and exited without any control. Thus the suspicions that part of the technological secrets of the Condor II left through Customs and that the "exogenous" material that blew the embassy of Israel entered.

    Incidentally, it was in 1991 that the illegal sales of arms to Croatia and Ecuador began. A witness, whose identity has not been disclosed and who presumably belonged to the organization led by al-Kassar, declared before the Swiss judge that the Syrian arms trafficker was the intermediary between the Argentine government and Croatian President Tujdman for the resulting arms into Argentina. The witness, of Spanish origin, affirmed that the cargo was destined for Croatia, moving through the Spanish port of Malaga.

    Al-Kassar is also linked with the presidential nephew, Yalal Nacrach, known as the "Hezbollah " of Menemism. Yalal appears tied to the arms cause, among others, via the deposits in the famous account of Daforel on the part of the Eltham Trading investment fund with the investigations of the scandal of the sale of arms. Four hundred thousand dollars was deposited in the Daforel account, which Palleros earmarked as the payment of a bribery to a "high-level industrialist tied to the power."

    Another element which the report indicates links al-Kassar with the Argentine arms traffic is an Ecuadorian government document, classified as "top secret," published by the Ecuadorian daily Posdata on September 11, 1998, which states that the intermediaries for the arms operation were al-Kassar and Jean Lasnaud. Most importantly were the suspicious relations that maintained ties between the arms operation and some of the suspects in the attack on AMIA.

    On March 17, 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was blown up, product of a supposed car bomb that exploded in front of the diplomatic headquarters. The expert of the Supreme Court of Justice, Oscar Laborda, who later worked for AMIA, demonstrated that the explosive contained 65 kilos of extraneous material known as C-4 or Sentex. His conclusions were similar to those reached by the American agency for the Control of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

    At the same time that the Israeli, American, and Argentine experts were debating over the origin of the explosive, then-Minister of the Interior, Josè Luis Manzano, was receiving through the intermediation of a high-placed English diplomat, confirmation that al-Kassar was at that time in Argentina. Manzano was alarmed when he read that the Syrian had entered the country through the Ezeiza airport on Iberia flight 6940, originating from Spain.

    Another file processed by the Spanish secret services has information that ties al-Kassar with the attack on the embassy and would be used by the secret service as a form of blackmail against the arms trafficking so that al-Kassar would continue to perform "some jobs" for Spanish spies. The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, also demonstrated that the same file was the one used by Anserment to accuse al-Kassar in the triangulation of the Sentex.

    The then prosecutor of the Swiss district, demonstrated, in his indictment against al-Kassar, that based on the evidence from the Spanish Ministry of Mines, the investigations of the journalist, Bermudez, and the information from Spanish intelligence, there was a definite possibility that al-Kassar had triangulated part of the Sentex from Spain, going through Damascus, and reaching Buenos Aires via the fiscal deposits of Ezeiza.

    According to Anserment's investigation, the Sentex was bought in a Spanish factory by Cenrex Trading Corporation, LTD of Varsovia. The prosecutor was able to establish that the owner of the firm was none other than Monzer al-Kassar, under the alias of "Monzer Galioun." His investigation also showed that the material, which had been destined for the Democratic Republic of Yemen, was never shipped. He also pointed out that part of the cargo of the triangulated Sentex was sent to Syria, and from there, left for Buenos Aires in 1991, a few months before the attack on the embassy.

    According to the majority of those who investigated the attack on the embassy (but not all), the explosion resulted from a Ford F-100 truck, which had been rented by a person with false identity, using the alias "Elias Griveiro Da Luz." This person paid $21,000 for the truck, 50 percent more than its value on the market. According to the report, it can be established that the money used to pay for the truck originated at a house of currency exchange in the Lebanese city of Biblos, a subsidiary of a larger house of exchange, the "Society of Change in Beirut," which was the property of al-Kassar.

    The Syrian arms trafficker pointed out to the daily, Clarin, and later in a broadcast on "Hora Clave" that he had "abandoned the sale of arms and had dedicated himself to construction and the managing of the most important exchange house in Beirut," which, by chance, was none other than the Society of Change in Beirut, the most important in the Lebanese capital. The Justice department did not bother to investigate if the $21,000 originated from the holding company "Al Khaled Kassar," with headquarters in Damascus and immense interests in Lebanon. According to journalists, the holding company belonged to Ahmed Jibril, leader of the pro-Syrian movement, the Palestine-Comando Special Popular Liberation Front, to Rifaat Assad, brother of the Syrian president, and al-Kassar.

    The Court also did not investigate the movement of Customs between the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992, which the reporting opposition group had demanded, despite the fact that organizations such as the CIA, DEA, and others had denounced Ezeiza, which was directed by al-Ibrahim.

    The report affirms that the investigations of the attack on the embassy of Israel have been relegated to absolute silence, investigating false trails to the point of condemning "generically" an organization, Islamic Jihad, which because of the investigators' lack of knowledge of the prevailing reality in the Middle East, did not even try to learn when and in which context that organization makes a public appearance. It was more than 20 years ago when Islamic Jihad appeared "for the one and only time" in the attack against the US marines in Beirut, only to disappear from the map right after.

    "The Trail that Menem Fears" details the relationship between Customs, the house of exchange, the trafficking of arms, the meeting of al-Kassar and Yabran in Falda del Carmen, the relationship with Yamal Batich, Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, as well as former president Menem (the actual target of this report), all of which it concludes leads to a Syrian connection to the bombings of the Israeli embassy and AMIA. Its principal "proof," however, is the resistance to following the various leads, which may have proven this Syrian connection.

2000 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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