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Israel's seizure of arms shipment highlights rising unease about Iran

Israel's naval commander said the shipment, seized on a merchant ship 200 miles off Israel's coast, contained missiles of 'strategic importance' to Gaza and accompanying Farsi-language manuals.

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In recent days, Saudi Arabia has dispatched troops to Bahrain in an effort to stabilize its island neighbor following democracy demonstrations by the Shiite majority there. Mr. Javedanfar said the Shiite unrest presents Iran with another opportunity to present itself as regional patron.

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Even before the turmoil, Israel has watched warily as Iran gained footholds on its borders. Tehran sponsors Hezbollah, which is poised to take a lead role in Lebanon's new government, and has struck up an alliance with Hamas. It also cooperates with Syria.

"The Iranians are more confident now. The upheavals in the Arab world are very good for them," says Dan Schueftan, a political science professor at Haifa University and a former adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry. "The Iranians are trying every way to arm the region, and except for Israel, nobody is trying to stop them. When Egypt is weakened, even if Egypt wants to help Israel, I don’t think there is anyone in Egypt who can do it.’’

Iranian regime's strength less certain at home

In the days after Mubarak’s Feb. 11 resignation, Iran sent two frigates through the Suez canal en route to Syria. It was the first crossing of the water bridge between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean by Iranian ships in decades.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called it a provocation.

However, former Mossad director Ephraim Halevy cautioned against knee-jerk reactions. Speaking to reporters last week, he called the Iranian ships "benign."

"You can only carry out an act of provocation if you let them be provoked," he said.

But while Iran may be taking a more aggressive approach regionally with Egypt cast into uncertainty, its improved strategic position outside its borders doesn't necessarily mean more power at home, says Javedanfar. That will depend on how effectively the Iranian regime handles the opposition movement that has been revived by regional protests.

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