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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Iran-trained security chief protected Carter on trip to Gaza

GAZA CITY — Hamas has appointed a key Iranian-trained officer to command its VIP protection force in the Gaza Strip.   

The commander was identified as Lt. Col. Mohammed Khalaf, a 36-year-old veteran of courses provided by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Middle East Newsline reported.

Palestinian sources said Khalaf oversaw effective protection for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, during his one-day visit that month.

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  • The sources said the VIP force has become the most powerful unit after the Hamas military, known as Izzedin Kassam. They said the Security and Protection Force reflected the stabilization of the Gaza Strip in wake of the Israeli war in January 2009.

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    Khalaf was regarded as a leading protege of Teheran. He studied four years Teheran's at Ali University before recruited by IRGC in security.

    In 1999, Khalaf, following his arrival from Iran, was arrested by Israel and spent five years in prison. In January 2009, Khalaf succeeded Security and Protection Force commander Ismail Jabari, killed in an Israel Air Force strike.

    "The operation was effective and extremely cheap," another source said. "When Carter went to the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority spent much more and required help from the Americans."

    For his part, Khalaf said Carter and Quartet chairman Tony Blair were protected by the VIP force for $1,000, a budget that went largely for sandwiches and drinks. In contrast, he said, the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Cairo cost Egypt $15 million.

    Palestinian sources said Hamas formed a unit of 2,000 trained fighters to protect the Islamic regime in the Gaza Strip. The unit, titled "Security and Protection Force," was also authorized to protect visiting dignitaries, diplomats and foreign staffers in the Gaza Strip.

    The VIP force, which does not have barracks, was said to report directly to Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who replaced Said Siyam, also killed in the war with Israel. The force has been equipped with armored vehicles, communications, a range of light weapons and personnel who speak foreign languages.

    For his part, Khalaf said IRGC has proven to be a major influence on the VIP force. He said he would protect PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during any visit to the Gaza Strip. The Islamic regime has already rejected the prospect of an Abbas visit.

    "My soldiers have benefited from my Iranian-style in VIP protection tactics and skills," Khalaf said.

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