Iran’s Gaza Front

By Yehudit Barsky

While the world is focused on Iran’s program to produce nuclear weapons, there is another, lesser-known project with perilous ramifications on which Iran has exerted great effort — hijacking the Palestinian Authority from within.

Iran has been supporting terrorist organizations for more than a quarter-century. Following its creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s, Iran went on to provide financial and logistical support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Both organizations continue to receive funding and support from Iran today.

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In recent months, however, Iran has focused more of its attention and largesse on Hamas, which won 58 percent of the Parliament seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. In an effort to bolster its image as a reformist party among Palestinians, Hamas has refrained from carrying out terror attacks for the moment. At the same time, it has been transferring Qassam rockets to other terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which continue to launch attacks from Gaza against Israel.

On the opposite side of the Palestinian political spectrum, Iran has set its sights on terrorist organizations that are part of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah organization. Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat, remains the main political party in the Palestinian Authority, currently led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since 2000, Iran has invested increasing amounts of funds, training, and logistical support that is dispensed via Hezbollah to Fatah affiliates in the West Bank and Gaza, effectively opening a new front for Iran and Hezbollah’s war against Israel.

An indication of the extent to which the Palestinian Authority became a client of Iran was the January 2002 attempted delivery of arms purchased by the Palestinian Authority from Iran with the assistance of Hezbollah. The arms delivery was thwarted when the Israeli Navy intercepted and seized the 4000-ton Karine A, a Palestinian freighter that was transporting 50 tons of Iranian manufactured weapons, including missiles equipped with Tandem-Charge warheads capable of piercing heavy armor, and 122 mm Katyusha rockets with a range of 12 miles. Other weapons included Strela anti-aircraft missiles, mortar tubes and bombs, land mines, Russian manufactured wire-guided Sagger missiles, ammunition, anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and explosives.

The Iranian effort to infiltrate the Palestinian areas has only increased. Hezbollah serves as a conduit for the distribution of Iranian funds to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Tanzim, both affiliated with Fatah, for terror attacks against Israelis.

Thus, there are an ever-increasing number of terror operatives from these factions that now work for Iran. As of October 2004, 80 percent of the terror attacks that took place in or originating from the West Bank against Israelis were coordinated by Hezbollah. Nearly all of the terror activities carried out by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were reportedly directed and financed by Hezbollah and Iran. Hezbollah reportedly awards bounties of $5,000 for each Israeli killed by Fatah terrorist cells. As a result, these operatives remain agents of the Fatah factions in name only.

Viewed as a whole, Palestinian organizations funded by Hezbollah were responsible for 20 percent of terror attacks against Israelis in 2004. Nine million dollars — nearly 10 percent of Hezbollah’s $100 million annual budget — was devoted to funding Palestinian terrorist groups operating in Palestinian Authority areas. Each cell was provided between $5,000 and $8,000 a month by Hezbollah for expenses, including arms, cell phone calling cards, and spending money.

In its continuing efforts to infiltrate and carry out terror attacks in Israel, Hezbollah created “Unit 1800, ” a secret wing of the organization that has recruited Palestinians to collect intelligence information. The unit is reportedly taking control over Hamas, Fatah, and other Palestinian terror groups. Most recently Hezbollah has established a “forward command ” post in Gaza that serves as a link between terrorists in the West Bank and Hezbollah’s leadership in Lebanon.

Although Iran’s war against Israel started 27 years ago, its efforts over the past several years indicate stepped up attempts to take over Palestinian organizations that are directly involved in the conflict. Through its investments in the activities of various Palestinian terror organizations, Iran seeks to increase its legitimacy among Palestinians. From there it hopes to gain an increasing foothold within the Palestinian Authority, and ultimately take control from within.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Israel should be “wiped off the map ” is not only being implemented via his country’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. Iran has and continues to use all means at its disposal to wage a proxy war against Israel. While some may view President Ahmadinejad’s call for the destruction of Israel and Iran’s development of nuclear weapons as a possible threat for the future, Iran’s Gaza front indicates that the war has already begun.

Ms. Barsky is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.