The Argentine government recently decided to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and ordered the freezing of the Lebanese Islamist group’s assets in the country. This historic decision coincided with the 25th anniversary of the 1994 terrorist attack at the site of the Jewish community center, known as AMIA, in Buenos Aires, that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.
The evidence that Iran and Hezbollah were behind this attack (and a previous one against the Israeli Embassy in 1992) is extensive. And yet, Argentina continued to have diplomatic relations with Iran, and Hezbollah’s activities in the region did not receive enough scrutiny.
The decision of the current Argentine government to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist group is of critical importance, not only to prevent future Iranian-sponsored attacks in the region but also to curtail Hezbollah’s ability to raise funds, particularly through drug trafficking and other illegal activities.
The loosely regulated tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay has for a long time been used by Hezbollah to raise money and plan possible attacks. In fact, it is widely believed that part of the planning for the AMIA bombing took place there.
Last year, Argentina’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF-AR) ordered the freezing of the assets and money of members of the so-called “Barakat Clan,” a criminal organization engaged in extorsion, counterfeiting, drug and arms trafficking and money laudering. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Barakat has long served as a “treasurer” for Hezbollah.
Argentina is the first country in the region to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and the decision was probably prompted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Buenos Aires just a day after the AMIA anniversary commemoration. Pompeo expressed the hope that other countries would follow Argentina’s example.
The secretary of state met with President Macri, visited the AMIA premises to honor the victims of the bombing and participated in a hemispheric counter-terrorism summit hosted by the Argentine foreign ministry. At this summit, the formation of a new counter-terrorism alliance between the U.S., Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (named “three plus one”) was announced.
Pompeo also stated that Washington would offer a $7 million reward for information leading to the capture of Salman Rauf Salman, who had been accused by the late AMIA case prosecutor Alberto Nisman of being the on-the-ground coordinator of the AMIA bombing.
Nisman, whom I had the honor to meet several years ago, once said to me with clear frustration that Argentina should have become a regional leader in the fight against terrorism. Perhaps now, 25 years after the AMIA attack, this is finally becoming reality.
This post was originally published on the B’nai B’rith website.