|Vol. 1 No. 12|| |
Clinton administration officials have revealed that Iran is dramatically increasing its support of terrorist organizations opposed to the Middle East Peace Process. A December 4 article in the Washington Post quoted senior U.S. officials with access to classified intelligence as saying that Iran is providing arms and explosives to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and is stepping up arms transfers and training assistance to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas who are waging a war of attrition against Israeli forces in south Lebanon. "Iranian support for the violent opponents of the peace process has not slackened in the last couple years, and in the last couple of months it has intensified," a senior administration official told the paper on condition of anonymity.
The connection between Iran's Shi'ite Islamic clerical establishment and Hamas, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group opposed both to Yasser Arafat's secular regime and to peace with Israel, is extremely troubling to U.S. officials, who have exerted tremendous efforts over the years to successfully stem the flow of funding to the group from wealthy sympathizers in the Arab Gulf states. Now it appears that Iran is stepping in to fill the void. "Although they may have had common objectives, in the past there wasn't a direct relationship between Hamas terrorism and Iran," said a U.S. official quoted in the Washington Post report. "This seems to have changed over the last 18 months." The full extent of Iranian support for the group became known only after the Jordanian government closed down Hamas offices in Amman this fall and confiscated arms and documents which indicated "a direct connection."
Arms transfers to Hezbollah have also increased. The Clinton administration is said to be extremely concerned that extremist elements within Hezbollah intend to continue waging war against Israel even in the event of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria and a subsequent withdrawal of IDF forces from Lebanon. This concern was reportedly discussed last month at a meeting of U.S. and European counterintelligence officials.
In fact, it appears that Iran is cultivating an alliance between Hamas and Hezbollah. U.S. officials said that there is evidence that members of the two groups are training together in Lebanon under Iranian supervision. "The Iranians are encouraging all the groups to work together, to coordinate their activities," a senior official said. This adds credence to Israeli intelligence reports last month indicating that artillery specialists from Iran's Revolutionary Guards are active in Hezbollah training camps. Also participating in this alliance is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a leftist secular Palestinian group. The PFLP-GC is based in Damascus and headed by a former Syrian army officer, Ahmed Jibril, suggesting official Syrian involvement in coordinating these activities.
Despite the relatively moderate policies advocated by Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi, Iran's Revolutionary Guards and other security services remain directly controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other hardline clerics who want to continue Iran's confrontation with the West and Israel.
© 1999 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.