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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Like in Lebanon, Iran plans to boost presence in post-war Gaza

JERUSALEM — Iran was expected to increase its influence in the Gaza Strip in wake of the Hamas-Israel war, a report said.   

The report by the Jerusalem Institute for Public Affairs said Iran would seek to expand its stake in the Gaza Strip through international reconstruction programs. The report by Israeli intelligence analyst Shimon Shapira said Teheran could repeat its success in 2006, when Iranian agents directed massive rehabilitation projects in Lebanon following the Hizbullah war with Israel.

"Iran is already positioning itself for influence in post-war Gaza," the report, titled "Averting Iranian Influence in Post-War Gaza: The Rehabilitation Issue," said.

Palestinian sources said Iranian experts helped Hamas in Grad rocket fire during the 22-day war with Israel, Middle East Newsline reported. The sources said several agents of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed in Israeli air strikes.

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On Jan. 14, Iranian deputy parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Mohtashami, heading a 40-member delegation, arrived in Lebanon to direct Iranian support for Hamas.

"Based on the major lessons from the Second Lebanon War, it would be prudent to anticipate that Iran will seek to provide immediate assistance in order to rehabilitate Hamas in Gaza," the report said. "Just as in Lebanon, Iran will strive to channel the rehabilitation funds for Gaza to its Sunni protege, Hamas, in order to preserve Hamas' ability to reassert its rule over Gaza. Sealing the Philadelphi Route [Egypt-Gaza border] effectively will not only block the supply of Iranian rockets, but also the flow of Iranian cash into Gaza."

In 2006, the report said, Iranian agents arrived in Lebanon and began distributing up to $12,000 to each Shi'ite family whose home was destroyed in the war with Israel. Within several months, Iran, ignoring the pro-U.S. government in Beirut, paved hundreds of kilometers of roads and rehabilitated houses and public institutions damaged during the fighting.

The Iranian effort in Lebanon was directed by the Waad Co., operated by Hizbullah. The United States determined that Waad rebuilt Lebanese homes as well as the Hizbullah command and control center in Beirut.

The report urged the Israeli government to insist that the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, remain the sole arbiter of reconstruction projects in the Gaza Strip. Shapira said PA personnel must be stationed in the Gaza Strip to prevent Iran infiltration.

"It is of prime importance to identify who will provide the assistance funds for Gaza rehabilitation, and who on the ground will implement the wide-ranging renewal projects," the report said. "A reliable international mechanism is urgently needed to prevent Iran from acquiring influence in post-war Gaza through any assistance programs. This is the only way to guarantee the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza and convert Hamas' severe military debacle into political currency in Gaza."

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