For many years, Iran has given money and ideological support to radical Palestinian groups, especially Hamas and ... Daily Telegraph
By Anton La Guardia in Tel Aviv
Iran has taken control of many Palestinian terrorist cells from Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, giving them funds and orders to attack Israeli targets, and even rewarding successful missions with "bonuses", according to a senior Israeli security source.
For many years, Iran has given money and ideological support to radical Palestinian groups, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for most of the Israeli deaths in the past four years of the Palestinian uprising.
But Israel believes that much of the Fatah-affiliated armed faction, calling itself the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, has now come under Iran's sway, especially in the West Bank.
Scores of Palestinian attacks, accounting for roughly a third of the 98 Israelis killed so far this year, are believed to have been orchestrated by the Lebanese Hizbollah movement.
The Shia group pioneered the use of suicide bombings in the 1980s, kidnapped westerners and successfully drove the Israeli army out of south Lebanon in 2000. Hizbollah is now a political party in Lebanon.
"Hizbollah is a finger of Iran's hand," the senior Israeli security source said. "In the past year we can see increasing Iranian influence in Palestinian attacks on Israel.
"The same people sometimes receive money both from Arafat's headquarters and from Hizbollah. If the attack succeeds in causing fatalities, they get a bonus from Hizbollah."
Another security source said Hizbollah rewards Palestinian cells to the tune of $5,000 (£2,900) for each Israeli killed.
Israel regards Teheran as its mortal enemy, and has every interest in presenting Iran as a dangerous state sponsor of international terrorism. But on the issue of penetrating Fatah, Israel is in unusual agreement with Palestinian leaders.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian "president" who has been confined to his Ramallah headquarters for more than three years, said this week that Hizbollah was trying to infiltrate Fatah.
He said Iran was financing radical Islamist groups, and denounced Iran's spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei.
He said: "Khamenei is working against us. He is giving money to all these fanatical groups. Khamenei is a troublemaker."
Mr Arafat implied that he retains control of Fatah cells. But Israel believes many of his armed followers are being directed by Hizbollah after many cells were broken up during Israel's re-invasion of West Bank cities in April 2002.
The security official said Hizbollah had a team of 10 "controllers" in Beirut dedicated to overseeing the cells.
The senior Israeli security source highlighted in particular the role of an Israeli Arab who fled to Lebanon in 2000.
He allegedly masterminded the abduction of Elhanan Tennenbaum, an Israeli reserve colonel lured to the United Arab Emirates, kidnapped and held in Lebanon for more than three years before being freed in a prisoner exchange last January.
The Israeli Arab's apparent connection with the Israeli and criminal underworld has helped him to remain in contact with Fatah gunmen.
"Since Arafat's headquarters was destroyed and people were arrested, local cells have had no leadership," said the Israeli security source.
"They are more like gangs than ideological terrorist organisations."
The source said Hizbollah also channels funds to Islamic Jihad, and has tried to recruit a "fifth column" among Israeli Arabs, who formally enjoy full citizenship rights as opposed to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel believes that Hamas, the most active of the Palestinian armed factions, has refused to receive orders from Hizbollah, regarding itself as an important movement in its own right.
Instead, the Israeli security sources say that Hamas liaises directly with Teheran through Iran's Revolutionary Guards and Iranian intelligence agencies.
Israel says that in raids on branches of the Arab Bank in the West Bank town of Ramallah, it seized $8 million in funds sent to terrorist groups, mainly by Iran and Hizbollah.
Hizbollah gained popularity among Palestinians after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.
Senior Israeli officials are convinced that a contributory factor in the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising or intifida - which has so far claimed the lives of some 1,000 Israelis and about 3,500 Palestinians - was the belief that Palestinians could also evict the Israelis by force.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, makes no secret of trying to help Palestinians.
Last July, he blamed Israel for a car bomb that killed a Hizbollah member, Ghaleb Awwali, in Beirut. He said the victim was a martyr to Palestine because he was part of the team dedicated to helping their brothers in Palestine. "We do not want to hide this truth. We want to declare it and boast about it," he added.