Israel MI chief: Iran deepening regional influence

AP News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2011 4:00 PM
Israel MI chief: Iran deepening regional influence

Israel's military intelligence chief said Tuesday that Iran has exploited the recent unrest in the Middle East to deepen its influence throughout the region, accusing the Islamic Republic of actively intervening in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told Israeli lawmakers that Iran was involved in planning two violent confrontations with crowds that tried to breach Israel's frontiers with Lebanon and Syria in recent months. He also said Iran, along with the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, is providing assistance to the Syrian regime in suppressing mass protests against it.

Kochavi did not provide evidence to support his assertions. But Israel regularly accuses Iran of funding and arming its enemies, particularly Hezbollah and the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip.

Iranian officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on the allegations. Tehran _ which has faced an opposition movement within its own territory _ has repeatedly denied involvement in the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, although it calls them "Islamic uprisings" and maintains it will support people against tyrannical governments.

Kochavi made the comments about Iran in a closed parliamentary hearing. He was quoted by a meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.

"They are transferring knowledge, technical aid and means for dispersing demonstrations," he was quoted as saying. "Iran and Hezbollah's motivation to help (Syria) results from their fear of the implications of the demonstrations, particularly of losing their partnership with the Syrians and a trickling of protests into their territory."

He added it is far too soon to write off Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying the military has remained loyal to him and there is no indication of a wave of massive defections of top officers.

The general said Iran is specifically trying to strengthen its relations with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood ahead of planned September elections there and has begun funding the organization as well.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said that the group perceives Iran as an influential Islamic nation, but it doesn't receive money from Iran or any other country. The group also is in favor of improving relations with all countries, including Iran, he said.

"Claiming that we will be a gateway for Iran, is just an attempt to provoke the United States after they approached us," he said, referring to recent outreach from the Obama administration.

Kochavi added that Iran was also taking advantage of the upheaval in the region to gain influence in other countries, such as Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen and Iraq.

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Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.