By Barbara Starr
Iran is "finding ways to resupply Hamas" with long range rockets and other weapons even after the intense fighting between Hamas and Israel that ended in a cease-fire last week, a senior U.S. official told CNN.
The issue is sure to be a problem as Israel and Hamas work out further terms of the cease fire agreement.
Outgoing Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be at the Pentagon on Wednesday and the topic of Iran arming Hamas is sure to be discussed.
One area of focus is the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, which is under intense surveillance by American and Israeli intelligence services using spy satellites to gather the latest on Iran's cargo ships and aircraft smuggling weapons into Gaza.
U.S. and Israeli officials said Iranian ships make their way from Bandar Abbas into the Red Sea and dock in Sudan. Some unload arms and missile parts, which are then smuggled over land into Sinai and then into Gaza's tunnels, according to Israeli and American officials.
Other ships dock further north and the goods are unloaded into tunnels that lead from the Sinai to Gaza. Iran wants to keep several routes open - especially if there is a crackdown on the ho`rizon from Egypt on the tunnels, officials believe.
Smuggling weapons to Gaza - the long way
"Its not so easy to get things into Gaza unless you use the tunnels and what the Egyptians seems to be doing with this agreement is moving toward an arrangement where what goes into Gaza goes in above ground," said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert with the Center for Strategic & International Studies. "That may make it much harder to get weapons into Gaza."
After the cease-fire between Gaza and Israel was reached last week after eight days of violence, Israeli officials said Iran continued to try to push arms into Gaza, according to an Israeli military spokeswoman.
"It tried during the operation itself to push more and more rockets into the Gaza Strip," Israel Defense Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said on CNN's "Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer last Wednesday. "We know Iran is deeply involved with Hamas inside Gaza."
Israeli officials told CNN it has been impossible to shut down the hundreds of sophisticated tunnels in Gaza because of the millions of dollars in economic activity that are carried through there. Trusting Egypt with sensitive intelligence about weapons smuggling could be risky, Alterman said.
"After all if there is an emerging alliance between Hamas and the government of (Egyptian President) Mohamed Morsy. You have to be very careful about what you tell the government of Mohamed Morsy what you know about Hamas for fear it will go right back to Hamas," Alterman said.
The United States "strongly condemns" Iran's efforts to resupply Hamas with rockets, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN on Monday.
Nuland said Iran is subject to a U.N. resolution prohibiting it from exporting arms and neighbors of Iran are obligated to enforce this measure.
"We are hopeful that the nations in the region take appropriate steps to halt any attempts to transport weapons to (Gaza), through their territory or airspace," Nuland said.
Efforts to seek comment from Iranian officials were unsuccessful.
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