JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel summoned the Argentinian ambassador on Tuesday in protest over an agreement between Iran and Argentina to jointly investigate the bombing 19 years ago of a Jewish center that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires and that was widely blamed on Tehran.
The terror attack was the deadliest on Argentinian soil, coming just two years after a bomb flattened the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the Argentina-Iran agreement, which was struck on Sunday, "is like inviting a murderer to investigate the killings he committed."
Argentine prosecutors have formally accused six Iranians of coordinating — under orders from their government — the July 18, 1994, bombing that demolished the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building.
The center, a symbol for Argentina's Jewish community, was destroyed and 85 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Argentine officials have claimed that Iran masterminded the attack while agents of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group carried it out.
Among those accused of involvement in the community center bombing is Iran's current defense minister, Ahmad Vahidi. The Argentines have spent years seeking to interrogate the six with the help of Interpol, but Iran's government has refused to make them available until now.
On Sunday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez announced via Twitter that her country and Iran agreed to establish an independent international "truth commission" to investigate the bombing.
The commissioners will examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed, "based on the laws and regulations of both countries," Fernandez said. Then, commissioners and Argentine investigators will travel to Teheran to question the suspects.
The agreement was signed in Africa by Argentinian foreign minister Hector Timerman and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi.
Previous Argentine probes resulted "only in failures and scandal, with a trial that ended up being a farce" after high-level officials were accused of covering up evidence and deliberately misdirecting investigators, Fernandez said in a series of tweets.
Israel's foreign ministry said Tuesday that it is "deeply disappointed" and is summoning Argentina's ambassador to demand an explanation over the joint probe and that Israel's ambassador in Buenos Aires will request a meeting with Argentines foreign minister for clarifications.
"Though the (Jewish community center) attack took place on Argentinean soil and was aimed at Argentinean citizens, the findings of the ensuing investigation by Argentinean authorities has brought up a clear resemblance with the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which occurred two years earlier," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
"The proven relation between the two attacks grants us the natural right to follow the investigations and to expect the perpetrators and their sponsors to be brought to justice, particularly in times when to suffer from the Iranian terror plague around the world," the ministry said. "It is doubtful whether this is how justice will be rendered," it said.
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies and tensions are high over Tehran's nuclear program.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, citing Iranian denials of the Holocaust, its calls for Israel's destruction, its development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state and its support for violent Middle Eastern militant groups. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful, a claim that Israel and many Western countries reject.