- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s warning last week that Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat should not feel themselves immune from assassination did not occur in a vacuum. It signals Jerusalem’s concern over burgeoning ties between Iran and Palestinian terror groups that target Israelis, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (the latter is affiliated with Mr. Arafat’s Fatah organization). With Saudi Arabia now cooperating with Washington to halt funding for Hamas, Iran has stepped in to fill the void.

Since the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on Sept. 29, 2000, Israel has watched with alarm as Iran and Hezbollah (acting as Tehran’s proxy) have taken an increasingly active role in providing arms, training and logistical support to the Palestinians. Hezbollah has been involved in several large-scale attempts to smuggle arms to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In January 2002, for example, Israel intercepted the Karine A, which sailed from Iran with a crew trained by Hezbollah. In May, Israel seized a boat carrying bomb material and a Hezbollah explosives expert, as it sailed from Lebanon to Gaza. The organization has also used Lebanese drug dealers to recruit Israeli Arabs to engage in espionage operations. As part of Tehran’s effort to recruit Palestinians to carry out attacks against Israel, it created an ostensibly humanitarian organization to fly Palestinians wounded by Israel to Iran, where they were recruited to join Hezbollah. They were then sent back to the West Bank in order to carry out attacks against Israel. Hezbollah has helped Hamas build bombs for suicide attacks, including the March 27, 2002, massacre of 29 persons at a Passover seder at a Netanya hotel.

More recently, Hezbollah and Hamas planned the March 14 suicide bombing that killed 10 Israelis. The purpose of that attack, which was carried out by Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, was to detonate flammable materials in the port.

Iran provides Hezbollah a subsidy of approximately $100 million a year. Hamas reportedly has a budget of $30 million — last summer, more than half of that money came from Saudi Arabia. Since that time, American and Israeli officials say, the Saudis have started to crack down on private charities that were funding terrorist groups.

The problem, according to Matthew Levitt, senior fellow in terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is that Iran has apparently stepped in to fill the gap by increasing its assistance to Hamas, which has jumped from 10 percent to possibly more than half of the group’s budget. Iran has also instituted a system of financial incentives to encourage Palestinian attacks against Israel. The growing Iranian role in Palestinian terrorism lies behind Mr. Sharon’s warning to Mr. Arafat and Hezbollah.

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