Syrian opposition sources said Tehran has transferred tens of millions of dollars to organize, equip and finance at least two major militias under the direct control of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The sources said the militias contain Shiites, with many of them trained in and sent by Iran.

“The alliance between Syria and Iran dates back more than two decades, and was explicitly reaffirmed by the two ruling regimes as recently as January 2005,” Ammar Abdul Hamid, director of the Tharwa Foundation and a leading Syrian dissident, said. “Indeed, the two are now joined at the hip.”

Abdul Hamid said Assad turned to Iran to help his regime amid sagging support within the Syrian military. He said Iran has increased its influence in the Syrian military and intelligence community.

“For Assad and his supporters, survival is more important than sovereignty,” Abdul Hamid said.

The sources said Iran has sent trainers and operatives from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij militia to Syria. They said the Shiite operatives have been training Alawites and Kurds to organize pro-regime militias outside Damascus.

Syria has reimbursed Iran by providing its military with a base in Zabadani near the Lebanese border. The sources said the Iranians have also manned a facility in Mazra, near the military airport outside Damascus.

“The Iranians are directing much of the military activity in the region,” an opposition source said.

The opposition sources said Assad has witnessed a decline in support within his Alawite community. They said many in the Alawite minority believe that Assad’s pro-Iranian policy would spark a backlash by the majority Sunni community.

In 2005, Assad agreed to the deployment of Iranian commanders in virtually every major Syrian military base, the sources said. They said Iranian officers have overseen the operation of strategic facilities, including radar stations and missile production.

“Growing Iranian influence over the Syrian security apparatus is well established,” Abdul Hamid said. “And Iran is funding an effort to create Syrian Shi’ite militias to compensate for Assad’s sagging support in the army and in the minority Alawite community. Assad cannot turn his back on all of this.”

Russia Announces Delivery To Iran

Russia has announced deliveries of anti-aircraft systems to Iran.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Moscow exported the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile system to Iran. The ministry said Iran was considering another order of the mobile, short-range anti-aircraft system.

“We have supplied the modern short-range anti-aircraft systems TOR-M1 in accordance with our contracts,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday.

The TOR-M1, developed by the Russia’s Almaz-Antei, was said to be capable of destroying manned and unmanned aircraft as well as cruise missiles. The system, introduced in 2005, could destroy two targets simultaneously at an altitude of 10 kilometers. Almaz said the TOR-M1 could identify up to 48 targets simultaneously.

On Tuesday, Iran reported the interception of a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle. An Iranian parliamentarian, Nezam Mola Hoveizeh, said the reconnaissance UAV entered Iranian air space recently.

Officials said the first of 29 TOR-M1 systems were delivered in late 2006. They said deliveries would continue throughout 2007 in a sale reported at $1 billion.

“Iran is not under sanctions, and if it wants to buy defensive equipment for its armed forces then why not?” Ivanov said.

The state-owned Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ivanov as saying the TOR-M1 deliveries have been completed. But later officials said most of the systems remain in Moscow.

Ivanov did not say how Iran would use the TOR-M1. But officials said the advanced system would help protect Iranian nuclear facilities from any U.S. or Israeli air strike.

“We are developing our cooperation with Iran relying on the provisions of international law, and if Iran needs to procure defense weaponry, we are ready for such cooperation,” Ivanov said.

U.S. Deems Iran Major Funder Of Hamas, PFLP

The United States has deemed Iran the leading financier of Hamas and a Syrian-sponsored group. Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran took over responsibility from Saudi Arabia in the financing of leading Palestinian Islamist groups. They said Iran provides about $100 million a year to Hamas.

“We estimate that Saudi Arabia was giving Hamas about $30 million a year until 2004,” an official said. “We think the Iranians give them at least three times that much today.”

Officials said Riyad reduced funding to Hamas in 2003 in wake of the Israeli assassination of the movement’s founder, Ahmed Yassin. They said the Gulf kingdom was dismayed by the emerging ties between Yassin’s successor and Tehran, a rival of Saudi Arabia.

Iran was also deemed to be the leading financier of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Officials said Iran began funding PFLP-GC around 1990 amid Syria’s failure to pay salaries of the group, estimated at having about 800 operatives and responsible for major attacks against the West in the 1980s.

“Our beef with the Iranians is threefold,” Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told a briefing on Dec. 23. “First is the clear effort to develop a nuclear weapons program. Second is the fact that they’re, in effect, a central banker funding Hezbollah, Hamas, PFLP-General Command and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

Burns did not cite Iranian support for the Fatah militia headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Officials said that over the last two years, Iran became a leading financier of Fatah in the West Bank.

Officials said Iran has increased aid to Palestinian insurgency groups. They said Iran and its proxy, Hizbullah, have introduced missile and rocket components as well as detonators and high-grade explosives.

“We are seeing efforts to replicate the kind of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] used in Iraq for the Palestinian arena,” an official said.

Iran, Qatar Agree On Joint Management

Iran and Qatar have agreed to manage a joint oil field.

Iranian officials said the two countries would jointly administer the Mubarak oil field. The field would be shared by Iran and Qatar, and under the agreement, each country would be allowed to take its production share.

Iran’s state-owned Pars Oil and Gas Co. director Akbar Torkan said on Dec. 26 that a joint platform was built at Mubarak, located on Abu Mussa island, claimed by the United Arab Emirates. Torkan said the two countries have not been competing in the energy market.

Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have sought to cooperate on the development of energy resources. GCC states have also been disputing oil fields.

This report was prepared in cooperation with the Middle East News Line.

©The Bulletin 2007

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.