- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

JERUSALEM — Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called Israel a "cancerous tumor" that should be wiped off the map of the earth, is sending arms to south Lebanon in pursuit of his goal, according to top Israeli officials.
Iran's Islamic regime has sent Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon as many as 8,000 Katyusha rockets that could easily strike most of the northern third of Israel, the officials say.
Intelligence sources cited in the Haaretz newspaper yesterday said Iran is stepping up its weapons shipments to the Lebanese guerrillas, airlifting hundreds of tons of arms and materiel via Syria in the past few days.
Two months, ago there were reports that the United States had closed off the primary supply route Iran has used for almost 20 years to fly weaponry and other material support to Syria for extremist groups in Lebanon.
That success, however, has been countered by Iran's escalating involvement with extremist groups — primarily Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah — determined to destroy the U.S.-brokered Mideast peace process.
Iran's role during the past seven months has grown to levels not witnessed in a decade, U.S. officials said at the time.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the Jerusalem Post that Iran has become "the mother of international terrorism."
The fundamentalist Shi'ite militia Hezbollah has been perched along Israel's northern border since Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in May 2000, ending 22 years of occupation in what then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak hoped would lead to a comprehensive regional peace.
But with the collapse of the peace process, Hezbollah's violent struggle to oust Israel from south Lebanon after Iran and Syria helped found the group in the 1980s has been viewed as a model of how to stand up to the Jewish state.
Now, Israeli officials say, Hezbollah is establishing a growing presence in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank as well as throughout Lebanon, where Iran's closest Middle East ally, Syria, is the main power broker.
The Iranian Embassy in Beirut has fervently denied claims that troops from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards are on the ground in Lebanon, operating command-and-control centers for high-powered Iranian missiles pointed at Israel.
"There has been a major deterioration in the security situation across the region, mostly due to a resurgence of Iranian power," says Dore Gold, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"This poses a threat to not just Israeli interests but the interests of most Western countries and the Middle East," he said, noting that the Islamic Republic is believed to be five years away from having a nuclear weapon.
Irani President Mohammad Khatami has rehabilitated Iran's image on the international stage with his calls to open the country to foreign investment and his moves to instill political and social freedom at home.
But it is Ayatollah Khamenei who has final say on all matters of state, and he used an international conference organized by the Iranian parliament earlier this year in Tehran to charge that Zionists had conspired to exaggerate the Holocaust.
Some foreign press reports said Mr. Khatami was embarrassed by the speech, but with representatives of the groups and nations most hostile to Israel gathered under Iran's umbrella, the conference underscored Tehran's implacable hostility to the Jewish state.
Iran also has been a fierce defender of the Palestinian cause, using its growing power to try to coax the Muslim world into adopting a unified stance against Israel despite the fact that non-Arab Iranians feel little sympathy with the struggle.
The latest reports of massive Iranian firepower hardly more than a stone's throw from Israel will likely do little to calm nerves outside the region amid fears that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could spill over to regional war.
But that presence is unlikely to deter the rush of foreign nations willing to throw money at Islamic Iran for a piece of its lucrative, and still undeveloped, oil and gas sector.
Mr. Gold cautions Europe — which can count France, Italy and Norway among nations already investing in Iran's petrochemical sector — to remember that Iran's developing weapons industry also could put missiles within reach of the continent.
"The military capabilities being developed in this region," he says, "affect European security before they affect American or Israeli security."

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