Tehran-Hamas alliance seen growing

Israel says boycott gave Iran chance to shore up militants

March 06, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

TEL AVIV, Israel -- A year-old international campaign to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian government unintentionally has pushed the militant Islamic group into a dangerous and growing alliance with Iran, Israel's top internal-intelligence chief said yesterday.

Yuval Diskin, the director of Israel's Shin Bet security agency, said closer ties between Hamas and Iran were one of the "bad fruits" of a U.S.- and Israeli-led economic boycott of the Palestinian government. The boycott gave Iran an opportunity to give Hamas millions of dollars in aid and military training as part of a campaign to destabilize Israel and the Middle East, Diskin said.

"Hamas headed toward the open window of Iran and this maybe strengthened the ties," Diskin told a small group of Western journalists. "All the doors were closed, and they went to the window."

For more than a year, Israel and the United States have refused to provide aid to the Palestinian government because of Hamas' refusal to renounce its long-standing pledge to destroy Israel. European countries have joined the boycott.

The economic blockade has hobbled the Palestinian government, as intended. But it also created an opening for Iran to increase its influence by stepping in to shore up Hamas, Diskin said.

Iran has pledged to provide Hamas with $150 million in aid. In addition, Diskin said, tens of Hamas militants have been sent to Iran for advanced military training, and Hamas would like to send hundreds more to learn to build and operate advanced weaponry.

"I see it as the strategic danger," Diskin said of the training.

Diskin's remarks in a rare on-the-record briefing reflected the growing anxiety of leaders throughout the Middle East and the United States over Tehran's expanding influence.

There was no way to assess the accuracy of his claims independently. They came as the Bush administration also has accused Iran of providing powerful new bombs to Shiite Muslim militia groups in Iraq and as U.S. and Israeli officials continue to press for international action against Iran's nuclear programs.

Diskin provided no specifics on how Israelis knew that Hamas members were traveling to Iran or that Hamas would like to send many more.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials also have accused Iran of helping to funnel advanced weaponry through smuggler tunnels under the Gaza Strip's southern border with Egypt, though they've provided no evidence of such shipments.

"The battle in Gaza is not isolated from what is happening in the region," said Ayman Shaheen, a political science professor at Al Azar University in Gaza City. "The problem is that Hamas has put itself on the axis with Tehran. This is a new regional power that wants to dominate the region."

When Hamas took power last year in legislative elections, Israeli officials were skeptical that Iran would keep its pledge to provide the new Palestinian leaders with extensive financial support. But now Israeli leaders are voicing alarm about Iranian influence in the Gaza Strip.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.