Hezbollah's 1992 Attack in Argentina Is a Warning for Modern-Day Europe

Twenty-one years ago, a van blew up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aries, and few saw it coming. Here's how the EU can prevent similar tragedies.
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Rescue workers scour the rubble of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992. (Don Rypka/AP Images)

Around 2:45 p.m. on March 17, 1992, a Ford F-100 panel van drove down Arroyo Street in tranquil neighborhood of Buenos Aries. It approached the front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires--then drove up onto the sidewalk and blew up. The explosion wreaked havoc up and down the street, destroying the front of the building, causing the entire consulate building and part of the attached embassy building to collapse. The 220 pounds of high explosives and shrapnel, concentrated in the back right section of the vehicle, left twenty-three people dead and another 242 injured. Most of the people killed and injured were in the embassy but some were pedestrians, including a priest from the Roman Catholic Church across the street and children at a nearby school.

Hezbollah's most recent international terrorist plots targeted Bulgaria and Cyprus, EU member states on the continent's eastern periphery, prompting debate over designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group at the EU. For those European leaders who remain undecided, this week provides a timely reminder of what happens when the international community fails to respond to Hezbollah terrorism.

The 21st anniversary of the bombing provides a timely reminder of what happens when the international community fails to respond to Hezbollah's terrorism.

This week marks the 21st anniversary of the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing. Failure to respond to that attack emboldened Hezbollah, which incurred no cost for the attack. Two years later Hezbollah struck again, this time escalating from a diplomatic to civilian target and blowing up the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Yaacov Perry, former director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), visited Argentina just a week before the embassy bombing for liaison meetings with his intelligence counterparts. At a polo match and luncheon, the intelligence chiefs discussed "the menace posed by terrorists," though neither had any idea how close the menace was or how soon it would be realized. Within days, Israeli counterterrorism teams would be back in Buenos Aires investigating the embassy bombing alongside Argentinean and American law enforcement and intelligence experts. An American International Response Team, including U.S. explosives experts, deployed to the site of the bombing and determined the type of explosive used by examining the charred remnants of the car bomb. Within hours of the bombing, investigators found the front section of the vehicle's engine block in a garden below the staircase of an apartment building down the street.

In time, investigators would determine that the Ford van had been parked at a parking lot located just a couple of blocks from the Israeli embassy for the hour and a half immediately preceding the bombing--to be precise, from 1:18 p.m. to 2:42 p.m., according to the stamp on the ticket. Three minutes after the van's departure, the vehicle bomb exploded outside the embassy.

In its claim of responsibility, delivered to a Western news agency in Beirut, Hezbollah's Islamic Jihad Organization declared "with all pride that the operation of the martyr infant Hussein is one of our continuing strikes against the criminal Israeli enemy in an open-ended war, which will not cease until Israel is wiped out of existence." Hussein was the five-year-old son of Hezbollah leader Abbas Moussawi, both of whom were killed in an Israeli air strike on his car on February 16, 1992. Speaking at Moussawi's funeral, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah warned that "Israel will not escape vengeance. We have received the message that there is no need to respond in an emotional fashion." Fadlallah assured his listeners in another statement that "there would be much more violence and much more blood would flow."

Presented by

Matthew Levitt is the Fromer-Wexler Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God.

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