Israel intelligence: Iran forming Hamas-led Palestinian army
SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COMWednesday, March 14, 2007
JERUSALEM — Israel's intelligence community has determined that Iran launched a crash program to form a Hamas-led Palestinian army.
Officials said Iran has been training up to 500 Hamas operatives as combat commanders and soldiers. They said the Hamas fighters would serve as the core of any Hamas-led Palestinian Army over the next year.
"When you have 500 people trained in modern warfare, with advanced equipment, they can serve as trainers for a full-sized army," an official said.
On Tuesday, Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin said Hamas has sent hundreds of fighters to Iran for a military training course, Middle East Newsline reported. Diskin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Hamas fighters were receiving "high-quality training" that would last about six months.
"Hundreds of Hamas members have been sent to Iran for training, and not training periods of a week, two weeks or a month, but for long-term, high-quality training," Knesset member Zvi Hendel, a member of the committee, quoted Diskin as saying.
Diskin said the Iranian plan envisioned the formation of a Palestinian army by 2009, with missiles that could reach targets throughout southern Israel. He said Hamas has been training forces the size of companies and battalions in the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, Diskin said, Hamas has sought to build a military infrastructure in the West Bank. The ISA chief said Hamas, with Iran's help, wants to assemble Katyusha-class rockets in the West Bank that could strike Tel Aviv and other major cities in central Israel.
"If these weapons leak from the Gaza Strip to Judea and Samaria [West Bank], it means that every Israeli city -- Tel Aviv and Jerusalem -- could come under possible threat of projectile weapons," Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tsahi Hanegbi said. "This is not the case because the Israeli military is in Judea and Samaria."
Officials said Iran has already trained scores of Hamas fighters for a Palestinian army directed by Teheran. They said the army would be comparable in skills to the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah and contain special forces, logistics, engineering and anti-tank squads.
"Iran and Hamas got married in 2001," Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Diskin's predecessor, said. "Iran tried to build and base this coordination through Hizbullah. But Hamas refused and insisted on direct Hamas links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian Intelligence Ministry."
The key capabilities of the Hamas force has been weapons tunnels and improvised explosive devices. Officials said Hamas has built a network of tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip.
"The picture drawn for us is grave," Knesset member Yuval Steinitz, deputy chairman of the committee, said.
Steinitz has Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been cooperating with the Hamas military effort. The Israeli parliamentarian said Abbas plays the "good cop with whom we talk peace while over his shoulder stands Hamas, the bad cop."
"I call on the government to launch Operation Defensive Shield-2 in the Gaza Strip," Steinitz, in reference to the month-long Israeli operation in the West Bank in 2002, said.

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