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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 20, 2004 ]

Persian Bactrian camel meets Arabian Dromedary at Arafat's funeral

  #

Continuing to examine the impacts of Arafat's death, it is clear that Iran has forgiven Arafat and the Palestinians for their tilting in favor of Iraq in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Upon Arafat's death, Iran:

praised Arafat, condemned Israel, and called for Palestinian unity against Israel. Arafat's name and Palestine are permanently linked, according to an Iranian government statement cited by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on 11 November... Iran offers its condolences to "the oppressed Palestinian people," [and] Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani also offered his condolences.

As chance would have it, given that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had years ago declared that the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan would henceforth be annually celebrated as Qods Day (Jerusalem Day), that day happened to fall on the same day as Arafat's funeral, 12 November. In preparation for that day, one of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's prayer sermons:

praised Palestinian "resistance" against Israel and he criticized the international community's "silence." "America is an accomplice itself. The hands of American administrations are stained with the blood of Palestinians right up to their arms. If a court there was to rule in the Palestinian case, the accused would not be only [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and the Zionists. The Americans accused in this case are also people such as Bush, his gangs, and American administrations."

In a deft touch no doubt made with an eye to rebroadcast on al Jazeera and other Arabic-language media, Khamenei switched from Farsi into Arabic, continuing to envelop Qods Day into an indictment of the silence of Arab governments that pay lip service to Palestinians and the defense of human rights, Muslim pride over "Palestinian courage," and "crimes committed by the usurping Zionist regime."

On Qods Day -- the funereal day -- Rafsanjani weighed in noting that "the Palestinian problem will continue until Western powers cut their support for Israel. Rafsanjani's comment that the solution to the "leadership void left by Arafat's death" was to hold free elections, a step that would incidentally give a leg up to Iranian backed Hezbollah membership.

While Rafsanjani professed that the "Palestinian issue affects Iranian domestic and foreign affairs," the US press, continuing what I see as its underreporting of Palestinian affairs, failed to detail the members of the Iranian delegation at Arafat's funeral who one might reasonably assume to have been selected for their ability to extend Iranian influence in Palestinian polity:

  • Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi
  • Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur - secretary-general of the Support for Palestinian Intifada conference series, "founder of Lebanese Hizballah when he was ambassador to Damascus in the 1980s," a relationship that Mohtashami-Pur has maintained
  • Hussein Sheikholeslam - former ambassador to Damascus, participant in the 1979-1981 US hostage taking, Foreign Ministry's director for Arab affairs, thereby coordinating "Islamic Revolution Guards Corps participation in Hizballah operations."

"Representatives of Hizballah, Hamas, the PIJ, the PFLP-GC, the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, and Fatah Uprising met at [Mohtashami-Pur's] April 2001 and June 2002 "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conferences." Mohtashami-Pur pursued talks with representatives of many of those groups while in Cairo for the funeral. One should expect that those conversations echoed the twin themes of earlier Iranian/ILNA traffic, aggressiveness and unity. Iran would encourage the former and join the latter.

Iran has relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah while it "materially supports more extreme Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command (PFLP-GC)." Arafat's death is an opportunity for all competitors, 'foreign and domestic,' to challenge Fatah's domination of the PA.

Expect Mohtashami-Pur to insert Iran and Iranian supported groups into the Palestinian scrum.

Tehran Sends Terrorism Organizers To Arafat's Funeral
Bill Samii
RFE/RL
15 November 2004, Volume 7, Number 40

Gordon Housworth



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