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(photo credit: AP [file])
An Iranian Red Crescent vessel laden with humanitarian supplies was due to set sail for the Gaza Strip over the weekend, AFP reported, quoting the Islamic Republic's state broadcaster.
Red Crescent director Ahmad Navvab was quoted as saying, "Despite the Zionist regime's opposition... this consignment will leave Bandar Abbas for Palestine on Saturday and will arrive in 12 days."
He said that the ship contains "over 2,000 tons of food, medicine and appliances," as well as Iranian doctors and aid workers.
Earlier in December, Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, told The Jerusalem Post that the vessel carried a "hidden agenda," providing cover for an attempt by Teheran's Al-Quds Force to spread its influence and possibly ferrying intelligence agents.
"The Iranian Red Crescent ship sailing to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is an example of Teheran's effort to gain political influence through social aid programs, subvert societies with intelligence agents acting as charitable officials, and encourage the Sunni Muslim street to believe that the Iranian regime is on their side, despite its Shi'ite face," he warned.
"The hidden agenda of the Red Crescent is to spread the Iranian conception of Islam to the Sunni Arab heartland, including Gaza," Tanter said. "Teheran spends millions of dollars per month on 'charities,' coordinated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force."
In response, the IDF Spokesman's Office said the military was aware of media reports on the ship and that the Foreign Ministry had final say on vessels seeking to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Ministry officials declined to comment.
The Iran Policy Committee is made up of former White House officials, high-ranking military figures and academics who believe that Iranian opposition movements should be bolstered by the West.
Iran's Red Crescent Society and other Iranian charities, such as the Imam Relief Committee and the Persian Green Relief Institute, were all "agents of the Iranian regime to carry out its subversive activities, Tanter said. "In Iraq, the Red Crescent operates as a cover for the Quds Force. While appearing to conduct charitable operations, the Red Crescent in Gaza is probably a way for the Quds Force to get closer to Jerusalem," he added.
"Because all missions of the Quds Force are designed to export the Islamic Revolution, Israeli citizens should be wary of the approach of an Iranian Red Crescent ship toward the coast of Gaza, ostensibly carrying humanitarian goods," he said.
"There is the possibility of our ship being blocked just as the Libyan ship was blocked," Iranian Red Crescent secretary-general Ahmad Moussavi said last week, referring to a vessel Israel intercepted last month.
In the past, Israeli officials have described attempts by the Free Gaza Movement, which has successfully landed ships on Gaza's shores, as publicity stunts conducted by radical activists.