Iran's backing Hamas has led to hundreds of conversions to Shi'a (the Shi'ite Islamic stream) in Sunni dominated Gaza.
Al Arabya reports a large number of Arabs in Gaza have adopted Shi'ite doctrine within the past few years, although the enclave is controlled by the Sunni Islamist Hamas rulers.
Agence-France Press characterized the conversions as a clear sign of an increase in the Iranian influence among the Gaza's Arabs.
Arab states have accused Iran of inciting hatred and igniting sectarian tensions throughout the region. These same states have frozen Hamas out in favor of its arch-rival Fatah.
As a result, Hamas leaders in Gaza find themselves forced to tread lightly with Shiite missionaries in order not to jeopardize their relationship with their closest ally, Tehran.
This, depsite Hamas' stridently fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam.
Abdul Rahim Hamad, who lives in Jabalia, told the Associated Press he converted to the Shi'ite doctrine five years ago. Hamad attributed the growth of Shi'a in Gaza “to the influence of Iran and Lebanon's Hizbullah in the region.”
“We are now hundreds in Gaza," Hamad said. "We will start our political activities soon. Palestinian Shi'ites will play an important role in controlling this region in the future.”
Ahmed Youssef, adviser of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, denied any increase in Shi'ite Islam in Gaza, but added Gaza's Arabs “love Iran and Hizbullah.”
A Message For Iran
Despite Haniyeh's lovey public rhetoric vis-a-vis Iran, Hamas is starting to show signs of displeasure with the ideological Trojan Horse Iranian aid represents in its bailiwick.
Security sources in Gaza intimated police forces last Thursday shut down the premises of the Shi'ite al-Baqeyat al-Salehat society, located in northern Gaza.
“We were surprised today by the shutdown of the society premises,” Hisham Salem, the society chairman, told the Ma'an News Agency.
Salem insisted al-Baqeyat al-Salehat was a charitable society that was given the municipal license four years ago.
“The society receives funds from several foreign states, including Iran,” he said.
Some observers have suggested the shutdown was a veiled message Hamas has little intention of allowing Gaza to become an Iranian satrapy.
But Hamas, messages aside, is in a proverbial catch-22. If Hamas leaders wish to retain control of Gaza they must stanch the spread of Shi'a. But doing so may come at the cost of Tehran's patronage, which serves as a vital life-line for a largely isolated Hamas.
Israel Leaving Door Open For Iran
For their part, Israeli security officials have left the door open for Iran in Gaza.
In a batch of classified US Embassy Cables recently released by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin was quoted as having told US officials his agency possessed intelligence indicating Gaza Arabs were using the Rafah crossing to travel to and from Iran and Lebanon to increase Hamas' capabilities.
Diskin told the Americans: “If we want to approach this seriously, we need to start with the movements of people.”
Despite these comments, Diskin maintained that it was important to leave the Rafah crossing open.
When US officials asked about Egypt’s ability to influence matters in Gaza, Diskin replied, “The most important thing they can do is stop the smuggling which takes place between their borders with both Gaza and Israel.”