PM hints Iran be­hind 1994 Panama plane bombing

I ad­mire sol­diers’ com­mit­ment to the na­tion, says Varela

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By HERB KEINON (Gali Tib­bon/Reuters)

Iran was re­spon­si­ble for the 1994 bombing of a twin-en­gine plane in Panama that killed 21 peo­ple – in­clud­ing the Jewish for­mer room­mate of Panama’s cur­rent pres­i­dent – Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in­ti­mated Thurs­day at a meet­ing with the vis­it­ing Pana­ma­nian leader.

Stand­ing along­side Juan Car­los Varela, Ne­tanyahu said that Iran “was re­spon­si­ble for the two ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Buenos Aires – and I think beyond that, in some of the things that you were re­fer­ring to – I have no doubt that they had a hand.” He called Iran the “pre­em­i­nent ter­ror­ist state of our time.”

One of the mat­ters that Varela was “re­fer­ring to” was the bombing on July 19, 1994, of a Pana­ma­nian com­muter air­craft car­ry­ing 21 pas­sen­gers and crew – 12 of them Jews – from Colón to Panama City.

The plane ex­ploded shortly af­ter take­off from Colón, in­stantly killing all aboard. Four of the dead were Is­raelis and three were Amer­i­cans.

Last year the FBI found in­for­ma­tion that pointed to Hezbol­lah’s in­volve­ment in the at­tack, which took place just a day af­ter the ter­ror­ist group blew up the Ar­gen­tine Is­raelite Mu­tual As­so­ci­a­tion (AMIA) Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ter in Buenos Aires, killing 85 peo­ple. Two years ear­lier they bombed the Is­raeli em­bassy in the Ar­gen­tinian cap­i­tal, killing 29.

Varela re­ferred to the Alas Chir­i­canas Air­lines in­ci­dent in his com­ments, say­ing that in Novem­ber of last year, Ne­tanyahu sent him a let­ter “con­firm­ing that I lost my room­mate and a se­nior mem­ber of the Pana­ma­nian Jewish com­mu­nity to a ter­ror­ist at­tack con­ducted by Hezbol­lah.

“Thank you for that in­for­ma­tion. We shall share it with the fam­ily, and I will keep fol­low­ing that case to make sure that jus­tice is done,” he said.

Ne­tanyahu said that Is­rael’s “se­cu­rity ser­vices and our re­mark­able in­tel­li­gence ser­vices” have prevented ter­ror­ist at­tacks in over 30 coun­tries, in­clud­ing ma­jor ones like the foiled Is­lamic State down­ing of an Aus­tralian plane ear­lier this year.

Is­rael, he said, has prevented these at­tacks by “shar­ing our in­tel­li­gence with other coun­tries, as we share with our friends in Panama.”

Varela, who arrived Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon and is sched­uled to leave on Fri­day, said he was im­pressed with the IDF sol­diers he has run across.

“I can see their com­mit­ment to the pros­per­ous fu­ture of this na­tion. They are fight­ing for a cause, not for their in­ter­est – the cause of pro­tect­ing the State of Is­rael and to pro­tect the Jewish peo­ple. And I ad­mire them and I reaf­firm that I sup­port that cause,” he said.

Ne­tanyahu joked with Varela that he has a “per­sonal debt to Panama.”

The prime min­is­ter ex­plained that when he fin­ished his stud­ies in the US, he looked for a job in Jerusalem and landed one in 1980 with a fur­ni­ture com­pany called Rim In­dus­tries.

“It was es­tab­lished by Aaron Eisen, a Jew from Panama who was per­suaded to come here and be­gin this busi­ness, which he be­gan. And he gave me a job. So I owe you my first job in Is­rael – I owe Panama my first job,” Ne­tanyahu quipped.

Af­ter their state­ments to the press, Is­rael and Panama signed a bi­lat­eral free-trade agree­ment, and a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing es­tab­lish­ing an Is­raeli agri­cul­tural train­ing cen­ter in Panama, the first such cen­ter in Latin Amer­ica.

PANAMA’S PRES­I­DENT Juan Car­los Varela and Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu ad­dress the me­dia, ahead of a meet­ing at the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice in Jerusalem yes­ter­day.

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