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Iranian Authorities Prepare to Send Aid Ships to Gaza

Iran's Red Crescent Society will attempt to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza in the next few days, following deadly clashes last week between aid workers and Israel's military. An official close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard also says the unit could take part in "protecting the ships," as well.

A top official for Iran's Red Crescent Society is vowing to send three ships to Gaza to break a naval blockade imposed on the enclave by Israel.

Abdolrauf Adibzadeh told a press conference in Tehran that several Iranian aid ships will be sent to Gaza this week and another next week if all works out.

He says that his group has decided to send the aid, if possible, towards the end of the week, but coordination needs to be made with outside parties. He adds the operation will be coordinated with the International Red Cross and that he hopes (Israel) will be forced to respect international law (and allow the aid to pass).

Adibzadeh also indicated the Iranian Red Crescent would send 30 tons of medical equipment by plane to Egypt for entry by land into Gaza. Egypt and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

An attempt by the Iranian Red Crescent to send an aid ship to Gaza in Dec. 2008 was stopped by the Israeli navy and forced to turn around.

Mehrdad Khonsari of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies says the Red Crescent announcement is probably designed to embarrass Egypt and to save face after years of championing the Palestinian cause, but doing little to support the recent aid effort.

"By making the announcement, whether these ships actually get anywhere near their destinations, [Iranian authorities] are showing support on the one hand for Hamas and for the people of Gaza, and on the other hand they are trying to put the Egyptian government on the spot so that they would be chastised, were they to deny this so-called humanitarian assistance going through the canal and reaching its destination," said Mehrdad Khonsari. "But, I think this is just publicity. Of course, if elements of the IRGC were to actually accompany these ships, it makes obvious sense that [they would] never get anywhere near their destination."

Political Science Professor Houchang Hassan-yari, who teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada, argues Iranian leaders are using talk of sending aid to avoid embarrassment for not having authorized large public demonstrations in favor of Gaza.

"They cannot capitalize on Gaza to rally the people, because the government fears the hijacking of the demonstration by its opponents," said Houchang Hassan-yari. "So, this is why they are not calling for a general demonstration against the Israelis and in favor of Gaza, since we know what happened last year for Jerusalem day [when the opposition took over the demonstration]."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed an international investigation into the deadly boarding of a Gaza-bound aid ship last week.

Israel has balked at the notion of an international investigation, saying that it is being singled out for special treatment, and that it carries out its own investigations of such military operations.