Last week Ebrahim Raisi appointed none other than Mohsen Rezaei, his former competitor in the 2021 presidential race, as vice-president in charge of economic affairs, secretary of the Supreme Economic Coordination Council and head of the Iranian government’s Financial Taskforce.
Rezaei, a longtime presidential hopeful, has put himself forward at every election since 2005. He has also served as secretary of the Expediency Council since 1997, but is far better known for having served as Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the stormy first decade and a half of the Islamic Republic’s existence.
As a profile of Rezaei published by IranWire in April 2019 observed, much of Rezaei’s career has been marked by false starts, if not abject failures, and political infighting. He clashed notably with military figures – as well as Ayatollah Khamenei himself, according to ex-President Rafsanjani – on issues of strategy throughout the Iran-Iraq war, and never succeeded in bringing the regular army under the control of the IRGC as he and others had hoped. Accused of incompetence in the aftermath, he set about extending the IRGC’s reach into the economic and financial spheres, always dubbed “construction projects” and beset by allegations of corruption, before finally tendering his resignation in 1997.
Rezaei’s subsequent two decades on the Expediency Council are also largely remembered inside Iran for his unsuccessful attempts to become an MP and, later, President of Iran. Burned by repeated political defeats, he returned to the IRGC fold in 2015.
Outside Iran, however, Rezaei’s name is infamously associated with one of few operations carried out on his watch that, with horrific consequences, ran exactly as it was intended to: the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was one of the worst peacetime terror attacks to have ever taken place in Latin America, and the single biggest attack on the Jewish community on that continent, killing 85 innocent people and injuring hundreds more.
Raisi’s appointment of Rezaei as his new economic chief followed that of Ahmad Vahidi, who is also implicated in the bombing, as Minister of Interior. Both men are subject to Interpol red notices and so cannot travel without fear of arrest. As per a final report by the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Rezaei was a member of the select group that "submitted the proposal to attack our country" at a secret meeting in 1993, the year before the van bomb attack. The meeting is understood to have been presided over by the most senior members of the Iranian government at the time, including President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – and of course, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Rezaei also attended the crucial later meeting in Mashhad in which it was decided to attack the AMIA building, with Iran’s proxy in South America, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, committed to its execution. They, too, have now been designated in Argentina.
The Israeli Embassy in Argentina was the first to condemn Rezai's fresh appointment. A statement by the embassy's official Twitter account read: "The Iranian government keeps adding terrorists. Following the appointment of Vahidi as Minister of the Interior, now it is Mohsen Rezai's turn". Israel's ambassador to that country, Galit Ronen, added: "No surprise. A terrorist government with ministers and other high officials who are terrorists".
The Argentine government also pushed back against Rezaei’s appointment in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry last Wednesday: "Rezaei, like Vahidi, is the subject of a claim by the Argentine Justice for having had crucial participation in decision-making and planning of the attack committed on July 18, 1994, on the AMIA building, and an international arrest warrant from Interpol weighs on him.
“It is appropriate to recall that in April 2014, the Argentine government confirmed it would request the immediate application of the extradition treaty with any third country if its government invites Rezaei... [Argentina] demands once again that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran cooperate fully with the Argentine Justice, allowing people who have been accused of participating in the AMIA attack to be tried by the competent courts.”
This strident reaction came just hours after the country’s embattled vice president, Cristina Kirchner, once again requested that a complaint filed by Nisman against her be dismissed. In 2013, her government signed a notorious memorandum of understanding with the Islamic Republic that would allow those implicated in the AMIA attack – including both Vahidi and Rezaei – to evade justice in Argentina.