Smoking may have saved Lea Kovensky’s life.
On a hot afternoon of March 17, 1992 – exactly 20 years ago this Saturday – Kovensky stepped outside the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, where she worked as a secretary to the military attaché, to light up a cigarette. Suddenly, a huge explosion occurred.
“I was knocked to the ground by the blast and several of my teeth were broken,” the 56-year-old Israeli-Argentinean recalled in a phone interview from Buenos Aires on Thursday.
Despite her wounds, Kovensky could be considered lucky. Two of her colleagues standing beside her were more seriously wounded, though both survived. Had she still been in her office, she said, things might have been even worse.
The ceiling above her desk collapsed, she said, and it was unlikely she would have come out alive.
The suicide bombing that struck the Israeli Embassy that day left 29 people dead and 242 wounded. The attack, and a similar one on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires two years later, are believed to have been planned and carried out by Hezbollah and Iran, its main backer. But while several Lebanese and Iranian suspects have been implicated in the bombings by Argentinean authorities – including Imad Mughniyah, the shadowy Hezbollah operative killed in an explosion in Damascus in 2008 – no one has yet been tried.
For Kovensky and other survivors of the twin attacks, this has been is a sore issue.
“Perhaps the failure to find those who planned the attack on the embassy is what led to the second attack on the AMIA building,” she said.
After the bombing, Kovensky underwent a long period of recovery that included years of therapy. Those who died were more than just colleagues, she said. They were her family.
“If there were weddings, we’d all go together,” she said. “If somebody’s son had a bar mitzva, we all went.” But she isn’t angry or scared to go to the Israeli Embassy, where she still works as the secretary. “I love Israel and I love Argentina.”
This week, a series of events are being organized to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bombing, said Yoav Adler, the embassy’s spokesman.
The main ceremony held at the embassy on Friday will be attended by Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled (Likud), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Gazit on the Israeli side, and Vice President Amado Boudou and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri from the Argentinean one.
In addition, an exhibit featuring photos of the survivors will open at the Jose Hernandez subway station, one of the busiest in the city, located in the Belgrano neighborhood.
The embassy also persuaded four of the country’s top soccer teams – Boca Juniors, River Plate, Velez Sarsfield and Independiente – to pose with plaques commemorating the event.
Adler said the 20th anniversary of the bombing has been in the news in Argentina over the past week. It was the most discussed topic on Twitter in Argentina, he said, but Kovensky said she thought the deadlier attack on the AMIA building in 1994 that killed 85 people and wounded more than 300 has slightly overshadowed the first bombing.
“Perhaps that’s the way it goes,” she said. “Survivors of attacks always remember those they survived while others forget.”