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U.S. arms linked to Israeli deaths in Lebanon

LONDON, Feb. 14 (JTA) — Arms shipped illegally by the United States to Iran via Israel may have been used in recent Hezbollah attacks in southern Lebanon that killed seven Israeli soldiers.

The allegation surfaced as Western intelligence sources are blaming Iran for the recent series of assaults by the Islamic militant group.

London’s Sunday Telegraph quotes the sources as saying that the attacks have been fueled by a large Iranian shipment of weapons to Hezbollah.

Evidence of direct Iranian involvement in the Hezbollah attacks emerged last week, when Israeli security officials identified anti-tank missiles weapons used by Hezbollah as being among the “Irangate” consignment that was delivered to Tehran in the mid-1980s as part of the United States’ arms-for-hostages deal.

That deal involved a convoluted series of transactions that involved arms sales to Iran aimed at securing the release of U.S. hostages held in Lebanon at the time. The proceeds from those arms sales went to support anti- government forces in Nicaragua, known as Contras. When word of the deals became public, it set off what came to be known as the Iran-Contra scandal and led to a U.S. congressional probe of almost every top official in the administration of President Reagan.

The recent Hezbollah attacks are said to have been personally authorized by Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as part of a broad military strategy.

They were designed to achieve two particular objectives, said the sources: to sabotage Israeli-Syrian peace talks and to boost conservative candidates in the Iranian elections, which are to be held on Friday and are widely being seen as an indicator of the strength of the reformers in Iran.

Senior Iranian conservative leaders summoned to Tehran by Khamenei at the end of last year reportedly developed the strategy.

While authorizing the escalation, Khamenei reportedly said that every effort should be made to conceal Iran’s involvement so that Syria would be blamed for the attacks and Israel would walk out of the talks going on at the time with Damascus.

A contingency plan has also reportedly been developed that will ensure that Hezbollah’s military infrastructure in southern Lebanon survives even if Israel and Syria reach a peace accord.

In addition the Iranians are reported to be intensifying their military links with Palestinian extremists in southern Lebanon to help disrupt the peace process.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, experienced Iranian Revolutionary Guards are helping train Palestinian recruits at camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, while some of the recruits have been sent to Iran for training.

The paper said the ongoing Israeli bombing raids of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in retaliation for the Hezbollah attacks “will undoubtedly play into the hands of hard-line politicians in Tehran as they enter the final week of election campaigning.”

At the same time, revelations that hard-liners are behind the attacks are likely to be deeply embarrassing for Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a relative moderate who has worked hard to persuade the West that Iran is no longer involved in international terrorism.

In a related development, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that Iran has put Hezbollah in charge of Islamic fundamentalist efforts to thwart Middle East peace efforts.

The paper said Monday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, terror groups operating mainly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, would come under the supervision of Hezbollah officials in Lebanon.

Talks to coordinate their efforts have already begun, the paper said.

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