Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. / AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON
Benjamin Netanyahu urged all countries to fight terrorism and singled out Iran as a serial offender as he paid tribute to the victims of two bombings in Argentina on the first trip by an Israeli premier to Latin America.
Surrounded by heavy security, Netanyahu held a closed-door meeting with members of Argentina’s Jewish community, estimated to be Latin America’s most numerous with 300,000 members.
He also participated in a ceremony to remember victims of bomb attacks at the Israeli embassy in 1992, and at a Jewish community center in 1994.
The embassy attack killed 29 and injured 220, while the community center blast left 85 dead and 300 injured.
Israel blamed the embassy attack on the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Argentine investigators accused five former Iranian officials of sponsoring Hezbollah’s attack on the community center but Iran denied involvement.
“Iran is the one that was behind of the great attacks in Buenos Aires in the 90s and is the ‘octopus of terror,’ and also Hezbollah that is sending branches (of terror) around the world, arms to Latin America as well,” Netanyahu said, according to a transcript provided by the Israeli embassy.
The Israeli leader, who arrived on Monday, said it is “an obligation for all countries of culture to fight against terrorism … and in particular, against the Iranian terrorism system.”
Israel “will continue to act resolutely to countering Iran’s terror and terror in general” along with its partners in Latin America and in North America, he said.
DAIA, an umbrella organization for the country’s Jewish community, welcomed the visit and said it represented a “rapprochement between Argentina and Israel.”
But some relatives of victims of the 1994 bombing refused an invitation to the Netanyahu event.
“Netanyahu did not come to commemorate the attack, but to increase business,” said Diana Malamud, who heads a group called Active Memory.
“In these 23 years (since the bombing) Israel has been an observer, like any other country,” and did not honestly help “search for the truth” behind the attack, she said.
Argentina’s 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel was also critical.
“Not only is he himself accused of committing crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court for killing civilians, bombing schools, hospitals and Palestinian mosques, but he provides protection to a repressor of the last Argentine dictatorship,” Perez Esquivel said.
Esquivel was referring to Israel’s refusal to extradite Teodoro Anibal Gauto, accused of committing crimes against humanity during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Pro-Palestinian and left-wing demonstrators plan to protest on Tuesday, when the Israeli premier meets Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes.
Israel is looking to expand its commercial ties with new regions and is seeking allies likely to vote in its favor at UN bodies, where it is regularly condemned over the occupation of Palestinian territories.
“There is a good opportunity to increase investment and trade,” a senior official in the Argentine foreign ministry said.
Argentina will also make a statement regarding the transfer of some 140,000 World War II documents and photos to allow for further research on the Holocaust.
Following the two-day trip, Netanyahu will visit Colombia and Mexico before heading to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.