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Why Iran's Revolutionary Guard wants to escort new Gaza flotilla

Iran is worried that Turkey is stealing the limelight on an issue Tehran has championed since 1979: the Palestinian cause. So its Revolutionary Guard has offered to escort an Iranian Gaza flotilla.

By Staff writer / June 8, 2010

A Turkish flag flies on a mast as Palestinians enjoy the beach in Gaza City, Sunday. Iran is worried that Turkey is stealing the limelight on the Palestinian cause. So its Revolutionary Guard has offered to escort an Iranian Gaza flotilla.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today decried the “brutal and barbaric ... Zionist regime,” as if trying to catch up with Turkey's fierce criticism of Israel's raid on the "Freedom Flotilla" last week. In Istanbul for a regional security summit, he heralded the international outcry against Israel as a "reawakening of nations" in a fight of good versus evil.

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“On one side, you can see the pure feelings of the love to the almighty God, love to humanity, love to peace and security and freedom – and the feeling to help each other, to have compassion towards each other,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad. “On the other side, we could see evil forces, violence, hatred, war, captivity, and the devil’s outcry from the throats of the uncultured Zionists. Lies. Deceptions. Deceitful tactics and impurity. And in fact, this side was raising the flag of Satan.”

Analysts say that Iran’s reaction – including Ahmadinejad’s repeated reminders that the Islamic Republic has championed the Palestinian cause since the 1979 Islamic revolution – is designed to recapture from Turkey part of its self-declared role as the regional bastion of militant resistance that fights for the oppressed.

“The Iranians are trying to say, ‘We can still talk the talk,’ ” says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran specialist in Israel. “This is Iran trying to say that it’s still in charge of the Palestinian issue, to milk the international backlash against Israel after the flotilla incident.”

Gazans naming their kids after Turkish PM

This weekend, the Iranian Red Crescent society announced that it would launch two ships of humanitarian aid to Gaza by the end of the week. The Revolutionary Guard, an elite ideological military force that has tightened its grip on everything from Iran's oil to last year's post-election protests – has declared its readiness, if ordered, to provide a naval escort.

The first anniversary looming of Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection on June 12 last year – an event that sparked weeks of violent protests – is one of several factors coalescing into Iran's even stronger criticism of Israel. In addition, after three decades of investing in militant groups and “exporting” the revolution, Iran is trying to preserve aspects of its reputation.

“This is the atmosphere right now: You’ve got all sorts of Turkish flags being raised in Gaza, people naming their children Erdogan [after the Turkish prime minister],” says Javedanfar, who says Iran sees Turkey as stealing the limelight. “There’s no Iranian flag in sight, and I haven’t heard of one Palestinian naming their child Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

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