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 Iran Backing Gaza Fighters, Israeli Security Chief Says

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The Sameer
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PostSubject: Iran Backing Gaza Fighters, Israeli Security Chief Says   Sat Mar 17, 2007 6:43 am

WASHINGTON Israel's internal security service has compiled evidence that it says shows Iran is training a new batch of terrorist leaders to be deployed in Gaza, the territory the Jewish state vacated in 2005.

In the last three days, word of the new intelligence confirming the terrorist training has made it to the Israeli press after the chief of the Israeli Security Agency, Yuval Diskin, told the parliamentary committee that oversees national security that he estimated hundreds of Hamas terrorists had gone to Iran for extensive training over several months.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, Effie Eitam, said the intelligence backing up this claim was cross-checked through technical sources as well as by extensive interrogations of captured terrorists. The new evidence of Iranian training is also bolstered by Mr. Diskin's contention that the Israeli Defense Forces seized 31 tons of explosive material from smuggling routes in Gaza, a sixfold increase in such armament from a year before.

Many Israeli politicians fear they are seeing a strategic buildup in Gaza similar to Hezbollah's rearming following the 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. This could scuttle State Department efforts for accelerated negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

"I think the amount and speed of the terror forces buildup in Gaza is faster than what happened in Lebanon," Mr. Eitam, who opposed Israel's initial withdrawal from Gaza, said in a telephone interview. "To me and to all the security experts in this country, it is very clear that sooner or later we have to confront this capability."

For now, it appears the government of Prime Minister Olmert is, at least publicly, not taking this view. A spokesman for Israel's foreign minister in Washington said there were "positive elements" in a 2002 peace initiative from Saudi Arabia that would require Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 border. That plan has emerged as relevant again today with Arab leaders planning on a new summit later this month to discuss a new negotiations offer.

Iran appears to be the one regional player openly fomenting war, and Mr. Eitam yesterday said he was particularly concerned about the new intelligence confirming Iran's training of terrorists in Gaza.

"We know this from all possible sources and information and intelligence," Mr. Eitam said. "It is beyond any shadow of doubt. Nobody in the world, including different intelligence services, will deny that. It is fully multi-sourced."

An American intelligence official who covers Iran yesterday said training camps in that country were well-known and cited public meetings between Hamas leaders and Iran's supreme leader and revolutionary guard commanders. But this source also said he could not confirm the scale of the training operation put forward by the Israeli officials. "We can't say with certainty that there are hundreds of Iranian trained terrorists returning to Gaza," this source said.

Mr. Eitam yesterday described the training as follows: "I think the best way to understand the nature of the training is that it is intensive training in the most advanced equipment, anti-tank missiles, very advanced demolition charges, propaganda. All kinds of courses, which take quite a long time, between months to a year or more. It is a very good, intensive, well-orchestrated training program to provide the future leadership and command of an army, which is about to be built."

At his hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Diskin was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying, "These men who have been sent to Iran for training are not training for periods of a week, two weeks, or a month, but for long-term, high-quality training. They are returning with knowledge of intelligence and weaponry that they did not have before."

The Iranian involvement is significant for Israel because it indicates a strategy of encirclement for the Islamic Republic, a country whose founding charter calls for the elimination of Israel and whose elite security units charged with aiding terrorists is named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, Quds.

But there are other concerns with Iran as well. Mr. Diskin also said the range of the Qassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza are increasing and could hit new population centers. They have been fired into Israel almost from the time of the August 2005 withdrawal.

Mr. Eitam yesterday said a military confrontation is almost inevitable.

"This operation will have to have two goals," he said. "One [is] to destroy the infrastructure and kill as many terrorists as possible, but it also must be focused on bringing the Hamas government down. Maybe if that terror infrastructure will be destroyed, then we might somehow pave the way for a new administration and new partner to renew a peace process."
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