US analyst: Al-Quds force vessel trying to spread influence and possibly ferry intelligence agents.
By YAAKOV LAPPIN
An Iranian Red Crescent vessel due to set sail for Gaza this week carries a "hidden agenda," providing cover for an attempt by Teheran's al-Quds Force to spread its influence and possibly ferrying intelligence agents, an American expert warned on Saturday.
Iran's Red Crescent Society announced on its Web site last week plans to dispatch the ship with 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid.
"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," Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, told The Jerusalem Post.
"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."
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.
Dr. Ely Karmon, of the Interdisciplinary Center's Institute for Counter-Terrorism, said the Iranians were seeking to extract propaganda value from the ship.
"They saw the Libyans, Qataris and Europeans try, and now they're trying to also get in on the act. I assume they will be turned back," Karmon said. "Then they can create a propaganda stunt for their TV stations like [Hizbullah's] al-Manar. It's propaganda, in my view."
In the past, Israeli officials described attempts by the Free Gaza Movement, which has successfully landed ships on Gaza's shores, as publicity stunts by radical activists.
"We judge every incident individually," one official said last month. "For the past three times, the [Free Gaza Movement] boats have been allowed entry because it was decided that an operation to stop them was not worth carrying out."
Meanwhile, international activists say they have helped 11 Gazan university students leave the area.
Ramzi Kysia of the Free Gaza movement said Saturday that the students sailed on the vessel Dignity and reached Cyprus on Friday. He said they were enrolled at universities in Europe and Canada. Activists have said they shipped out five other students during a previous trip.
AP contributed to this report
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