- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Hezbollah guerrillas, who will be dominant in southern Lebanon when Israeli troops pull out of the region in July, enjoy a continuing flow of guns and money from their primary sponsor, Iran, despite recent elections in that country.

U.S. and Israeli officials say the sweeping victory by centrists in Iran's Feb. 18 parliamentary balloting has as yet done nothing to slow Tehran's support of radical Islamic groups in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Iranian jetliners loaded with weapons continue to land weekly in the Syrian capital, Damascus, where their deadly cargoes are unloaded under Syrian supervision and trucked into Lebanon for the armories of the Hezbollah, said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We haven't seen a diminution of Iran's support for Hezbollah since the election," agreed a State Department official, who said unelected, anti-Western religious officials still direct Iran's support for such groups.

Israel's Cabinet voted unanimously on Sunday to pull out of a 10-mile-wide "security zone" in southern Lebanon by July, making clear they would do so even if there was no overall peace agreement with Lebanon and Syria, another sponsor of the Hezbollah.

The Hezbollah guerrillas in recent weeks had stepped up attacks that killed seven of the 1,500 Israeli soldiers occupying the zone. Israel retaliated by bombing three power stations in Lebanon, provoking a furious reaction from Arab nations.

Mr. Clawson said Iran's Revolutionary Guards recently gave the Hezbollah long-range 240mm mortars that can reach Israel's second-largest city, Haifa, as well as other training and equipment for military attacks in Lebanon.

"Iran continues to actively support Hezbollah, which they say has a right to resist Israeli occupation," said the U.S. official. "But Iran also backs other rejectionist groups who can't even claim that all they're trying to do is get Israelis out of Lebanon, and who are trying to destroy the Israeli state."

The official said it was "too early to tell" whether the huge victory by backers of reform-minded Iranian President Mohammed Khatami eventually would undercut backing for terrorism in that country.

But "most funding for Hezbollah comes from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security," which remains beyond control of the parliament or Mr. Khatami, said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

Even if Iran's parliament ends up under the control of centrist allies of Mr. Khatami, Mr. Clawson said, the Iranian president has shown little interest in ending terrorism. He is focusing instead on such domestic issues as press freedom and easing tight religious restrictions on social life.

Real power over the 350,000-strong army, the 125,000 Revolutionary Guards and the shadowy pipelines to terrorists in the Middle East remain in the hands of the National Security Council, which is dominated by supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He remains unyielding in his hatred of America, Israel and the West.

An Israeli official visiting Washington said the Iranian elections were "positive."

"It was a vote for moderation and change and against the hard-line leadership," he said.

"But the army, security service and people who deal with support for international terrorism are not responsive to parliament or to the president," said the Israeli, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

"They work under the unelected religious leadership, and so far, we have not seen any indication that the elections actually have affected Iranian policy on either opposition to the [Arab-Israeli] peace process or support for international terrorism or efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction."

A senior Clinton administration official said, "We don't know" what effect the elections will have on terrorism.

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