Naturally, the conspicuous timing of what the Argentine government is calling Nisman’s suicide has raised suspicions among Argentinians and other followers of the case. CNN reported on Tuesday that protests had been taking place near Buenos Aires’ presidential palace, questioning the government narrative and calling attention to a larger pattern of corruption. Before his death, Nisman had suggested that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez had helped Iran to evade culpability for the AIMA bombing because of plans to expand trade relations between the two countries.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran has maintained a similar outlook on the 1994 incident, and has similarly alleged that other Western nations’ policies toward Iran have been manipulated by economic factors and occasional pursuit of cooperation in spite of Tehran’s record of global support for terrorism.
That record was extensively highlighted on Monday by Christopher Dickey in an article in The Daily Beast titled with the fairly obvious question, “Did Iran murder Argentina’s crusading prosecutor?”
Dickey points out that “in the world of intelligence… there has been little question that Iran was behind the AMIA bombing in 1994 and the earlier car-bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.” The general consensus on this point is justified in large part by the record of foreign terrorist operations that were carried out around that same period by Iran and Hezbollah, including 18 assassinations in Europe of opponents of the Iranian regime between 1987 and 1993.
If Iran is responsible for the death of Alberto Nisman, it is suggestive of interesting motives. That is, the stalling of his investigation may serve to suppress negative publicity for Iran at a time when President Hassan Rouhani is still pursuing improved relations with the world community. Assassinating Nisman would have effectively demonstrated that Iran is still impelled to carry out foreign terrorism, but also that it cares about how it is perceived.
Evidence of past wrongdoing might diminish Iranian leverage in ongoing talks over the nation’s nuclear program and eliminate current fears by the administration of President Barack Obama that the unsuccessful end of those talks might be blamed on the US. Furthermore, with the US Congress now dominated by the more anti-Iranian Republican Party, any hard evidence of Iran’s terrorist activities could give legislators incentive to actively derail the talks, effectively ending Iran’s hope for a conclusion that involves the removal of US-led sanctions.
Foreign analysts widely agree that Iran is desperate for sanctions relief. But at the same time, Iranian officials have made it clear that they are equally desperate to appear as if they do not need that relief. To that end, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Monday that his country would be able to survive oil prices nearly 50 percent lower than their already depressed prices of less than 50 dollars per barrel, according to Reuters.
However, most economic analysts agree that Iran needs oil prices of nearly 100 dollars per barrel in order to balance its budget, and perhaps much higher. Looking simultaneously at Iran’s possible attempt to cover up its terrorist past and its definite attempt to conceal its economic vulnerability, it would seem that the Islamic Republic is attempting at once to defy and reach out to the West.
Indeed, this assessment is very much in keeping with the nation’s broader policies and public statements. At the same time that President Rouhani and his cabinet are continuing negotiations, supposedly with the sanction of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Khamenei himself continues to refer to the West as “enemies,” and his hardline affiliates in the government and the Revolutionary Guards have continued to make explicitly threatening statements related to Iran’s weapons stockpiles and resistance to outside cultural influence.
Meanwhile, more direct shows of strength have been directed by Tehran against its regional adversaries, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Tower pointed out on Monday that “for all intents and purposes, Iran is now sitting on Israel’s northern border” thanks to close affiliation with Hezbollah, the same partner that helped Tehran to carry out so many terrorist attacks in the 80s and 90s.
But awareness of this Iranian presence has only led Israel to maintain a very hard line on policy toward it. This in turn threatens Iran’s façade of strength. On Sunday, Israel carried out an airstrike against a Hezbollah convoy in Syria, as part of efforts to limit the terrorist group’s strength there, where it is fighting for the Assad regime on behalf of Iran. But in addition to six members of Hezbollah, the strike also killed several Iranians, including IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, a commander of Shiite militias in Syria.
Among the Hezbollah members killed in the strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, who was practically an adopted son to IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, according to The Daily Beast. Suleimani, who has been effectively running the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, was himself reported wounded last week. That and the deaths of his colleagues and close friends suggests that the price of Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts is increasing, and possibly that defenses are weakening for its own fighters.
Meanwhile, suspicion surrounding the death of Alberto Nisman threatens to expose Iran’s record of foreign intervention beyond the Middle East. In this way, Iran’s narrative about itself is threatened from both sides. It may eventually come to be recognized as both more vulnerable and less internationally cooperative than it has led some policymakers to believe.