- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

While the headlines focus on the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control of Gaza, the real winner is Iran, which, with its proxy Hezbollah, has been infiltrating all of the Palestinian terrorist groups for over a decade. The general disorder will leave Iran with a free hand to use Gaza as a platform for terror, not just against Israel, but worldwide. Along with Tehran’s quest for nuclear weapons and subversion in Iraq, the Iranian effort to subsume the Palestinian terrorist groups is a central component of Iran’s bid to become the dominant Middle Eastern power.

Iranian influence extends deeply into every Palestinian faction, guaranteeing Tehran’s sway whatever power structure emerges in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is entirely dependent on Iranian funding and has been Iran’s proxy in the West Bank and Gaza for nearly a decade. Fatah and Hamas, the leading Palestinian factions, are also being taken over by Iran. Working with Hezbollah, Iran has generously supported every Palestinian faction, providing cash, training equipment, medical treatment, and even how-to bomb making videos. Hezbollah provided assistance in launching many of the al-Aqsa Intifada’s bloodiest attacks, including the March 2002 Passover Massacre. This generosity, combined with the vacuum created by Israel’s strategy of eliminating terrorist leaders, has enabled Hezbollah to recruit Palestinians and establish their own network in the West Bank, Gaza and among Israeli Arabs. Israeli intelligence reports that Hezbollah now directs most Palestinian terror operations.

Some leaders from both Hamas and Fatah have complained about Hezbollah’s infiltration. Weeks before he died, Yasser Arafat complained, “[Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei is working against us. He is giving money to all these fanatical groups. Khamenei is a troublemaker.”

But Hezbollah and Iran are also recruiting Hamas and Fatah leaders. Hamas’ Gaza leaders had tried to maintain the organization’s independence. But with Israel’s spring 2004 assassination of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, control of Hamas passed to the Damascus-based leadership who are aligned with Iran and Syria. They quickly invited Hezbollah to play a more active role in the al-Aqsa Intifada.

A Fatah victory over Hamas for control of Gaza will not contain Iranian influence. Farouq Qaddumi, Arafat’s successor as Fatah leader, is relocating to Gaza to better compete with Mahmoud Abbas for control of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Mr. Qaddumi, who has close links to Iran and Syria and opposed the peace process, has founded his own militia and has actively aided Hezbollah infiltration of the PA and Fatah. Many of the thousands of Lebanon-based Fatah members relocating to Gaza are also linked to Hezbollah and Iran. Fatah’s leader in Lebanon, Munir Maqdah, head of the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, helped Hezbollah funnel money to West Bank terror cells.

Israel will continue to be the primary target of Gaza’s terrorists. Israeli officials now view Gaza as a secure rear echelon for emboldened West Bank terrorism. But there are regional and international implications beyond Iran’s ability to strike Israel and disrupt Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Within the Middle East, Persian and Shia Iran’s efforts to export its Islamist revolution were hampered by its ethnic and sectarian isolation from the Sunni Arab mainstream. While Hezbollah has been an effective Arab proxy, it was still isolated from the Sunni mainstream by its Shi’ism. The Palestinians of Gaza are Arab Sunni Muslims and Hamas, which grew from the Muslim Brotherhood, may prove a particularly effective intermediary to the broader Arab world. Gaza based-radicalism threatens both Egypt, which has its own violent Islamist movements, and Jordan, where Hamas is closely aligned with the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s leading opposition party.

The Palestinian terrorist groups will augment Hezbollah’s international reach. Hamas has a global logistics network that could support operations. Both Hamas and Fatah have international reputations that could attract recruits for terror attacks around the globe. The attack on Mike’s Place by two British citizens of Pakistani descent who were recruited in Britain by Hamas could be a harbinger of this trend.

From Beirut to Buenos Aires and throughout Europe and the Middle East, Iran has used terrorism to achieve its ends. Influence over the Palestinian terrorist networks extends Iran’s ability to intimidate and murder its enemies and is an integral part of Tehran’s efforts to dominate the Middle East.

Aaron Mannes, author of the TerrorBlog (www.profilesinterror.com) and “Profiles in Terror: The Guide to Middle East Terrorist Organizations” (Rowman & Littlefield-JINSA Press), researches terrorism at the Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Laboratory (profilesinterror.mindswap.org) at the University of Maryland. Opinions expressed here are his own.

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