114 people died in Iran-orchestrated embassy and AMIA attacks; wife of guard killed in 1992 blast praises ‘Paris of South America’ and says ‘we chose life’
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday attended memorials marking massive bombing attacks on the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center here, accusing Iran of continuing to export terror and asserting that Israel will continue to fight Iranian aggression.
“Israel has been and will continue to be a spearhead in the struggle against global terrorism, and we will continue to act with determination, in various ways, to defend ourselves from the aggression and terrorism of Iran and against terrorism in general,” he said at an event at the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina Jewish community center, known as AMIA.
Hours after landing in Buenos Aires, the prime minister’s delegation headed to the site of the former Israeli embassy, which was rocked by a suicide bombing on March 17, 1992.
Twenty-nine people were killed in the Iranian-sponsored attack, including four members of Israel’s foreign service, the deadliest ever attack on an Israeli mission. Three Israelis whose loved ones were killed accompanied the prime minister from Israel for the memorial.
“Iran stood behind these events,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at the site, referring to Iran’s role in orchestrating both the 1992 embassy attack and the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.
“We are determined to fight Iran’s terrorism, and we are determined to prevent it from establishing itself near our border,” he declared.
Netanyahu earlier told reporters that activity by Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Latin America would be on the agenda in meetings with leaders during his four-day tour through Argentina, Colombia and Mexico.
The prime minister said Shiite Iran and the Sunni Islamic State and al-Qaeda terror groups presented twin problems for the world, which needed to be fought in concert.
“It seems that as long as there are successes against IS, it creates no less of a problem, IS goes out, Iran goes in, IS withdraws, Iran takes over,” he said.
“No country is immune from Islamic extreme terrorism. The solution needs to be common, together, with no hesitation,” he added.
After the brief ceremony, Netanyahu unveiled a plaque at the site. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the people of Israel bow their heads in memory of the terror attack on the Embassy of Israel in Argentina 25 years ago,” it reads in Hebrew, Spanish and English.
Netanyahu also spoke at a memorial for the AMIA Jewish Center victims, which was bombed on July 18, 1994. Eighty-five people were killed by the blast, which was carried out by a 21-year-old Hezbollah operative sent by Iran.
Netanyahu called for the perpetrators of the attack to be prosecuted.
“It is time to hold Iran fully responsible in a public and final way. It is time to get justice for the victims. It is time to denounces the perpetrators,” he said, speaking to an audience of about 150 local Jewish leaders.
Netanyahu thanked Argentine President Mauricio Macri for committing to finding out the truth about the 1994 attack.
Macri’s predecessor had been accused of aiding Iran in avoiding blame for the bombing. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was mysteriously found dead in 2015 hours before he was to present allegations that then-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner orchestrated a secret deal to cover up Iranian officials’ role in the AMIA bombing. Kirchner denied the allegations and judges threw out the case.
In his speech, Netanyahu also called Israel the “spearhead” of the fight against terror.
“A great deal has changed in the world regarding the understanding of terrorism. Today there is no single country on earth that is immune to terrorist attacks,” he said. “Everyone is being hit by this evil, but there are some who disseminate it knowingly, systematically and with endless cruelty. What has not changed is the source of the terror that attacked this place,” he said, going on to accuse Iran and its proxy Hezbollah for ordering, planning and executing both attacks.
The ceremony came as Americans and others around the world marked the September 11, 2001 attacks and Netanyahu included words of condolences in his comments.
“We share the pain, we know the pain, we’ve felt it,” the prime minister said in a video posted to his Facebook page hours earlier.
Also at the event commemorating the victims of the embassy bombing was Argentinian Vice President Gabriela Michetti, who said Argentinians and the Jewish people stand together against terrorism.
“We have a connection in faith against terror and hate,” she said, adding that “these values were attacked on that day, on this place where we gathered today.”
Michetti also said Argentina would continue to pursue justice on behalf of the victims of the attack.
“This plaza today is a place for memorial. The families need to know we have solidarity. But there is no solidarity without justice,” she said.
Representing the bereaved families at the embassy memorial, Miri Ben Zeev, the widow of security agent Eli Ben Zeev, recalled how her family arrived in Argentina after two turbulent years in Ankara, during which they lived with tight security an ongoing threats.
“We came to Buenos Aires, among other things, to rest, to enjoy this amazing city — the Paris of South America,” she said.
When they arrived, their son Eylon was 4 and she was pregnant with their second child.
“Nobody thought that here, of all places in the world, an entire embassy would be destroyed by a well-orchestrated Iranian attack,” she said.
On March 17, 1992 — the day of the attack — Ben Zeev finished her work as embassy secretary as usual she recalled. Her husband walked her to the car, joking about her driving. A few hours later, he called to discuss how they would spend the evening, the last night his mother Rachel, who had come to Buenos Aires to visit, would be in town.
Moment later, she recalled, a friend called to say she heard about a blast at the embassy on the radio, and that no one was picking up the phone. They took a taxi to the embassy, which at the tine was located at the corner of Arroyo and Suipacha street, and was only admitted to get near the site after she explained that her husband worked at the mission.
“The brain apparently protects you from sights the eyes see. I didn’t really understand. I asked the guys, ‘Where’s Eli?” she said. “Walking around,” they answered. “Hours went by and Eli wasn’t seen. I went around between hospitals and looked at lists — nothing.”
Ben Zeev went back home to her mother-in-law and her two sons, she went on.
“Three days went by. He was the last one they found.”
Since the attack, her families has been tied to the Argentine capital. “This is where he took his last breath. In beautiful Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America,” she said.
“We are one big family,” she said, “but we came here to remember. We chose life.”