The first Iranian International Hourglass Festival, which took place in 2018, predicted Israel’s destruction by 2040. After the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas-led attacks on Israel, the hourglass symbol is everywhere.
The festival solicited art and media entries for a competition aiming to “disclose beastly and anti-human rights measures of the Zionist occupier regime.” According to the Iranian media and officials, the festival, which celebrates Israel’s “imminent collapse,” follows a secret “plan” launched in 2015 with the announcement by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Israel would be destroyed within 25 years.
The strategy of uniting the Axis of Resistance fronts and proxies was devised by the late Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. At least part of the inspiration for the plan appeared to be Israel’s assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists, which threatened the regime’s nuclear ambitions.
In other words, the regime came to see Israel as an immediate stumbling block that needed to be eliminated quickly, as opposed to at some point in a distant future, to proceed with the rest of its regional roadmap.
This would be a change from the view that while Tehran certainly holds genocidal intent against Israel, it dares not face off the presumed nuclear power until it is at least in the equivalent position. The plan, however, indicated that Iran would not wait to complete its nuclearization, and that it has other means to destroy Israel.
The pronouncements may have seemed nothing more than wishful thinking aimed at the domestic audiences at the time, but consequent events uncovered a dogged dedication by Tehran to that cause. It turned out that the build-up of regional proxies was far more systematic and focused than met the eye. Unlike smaller democracies such as Israel, which find themselves pivoting towards tactical activity and reactionary relationships among more considerable powers or volatile Middle Eastern states, Iran, with a population of over 80,000,000 and no immediate prospects for a democratic transition, can well afford a long-term vision.
While the United States and its allies were distracted by the negotiations over and withdrawal from the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, otherwise known as the JCPOA, Tehran was consolidating its hold over regional militias and terrorist organizations, aiming for the strategic encirclement of Israel.
In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, the Biden administration acknowledged Iran’s broad support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. It held Tehran primarily responsible for the political upheaval and the proliferation of terrorism in the Middle East. Still, it found evidence directly linking Iran to the specific planning of the Simchat Torah massacre lacking.
However, looking at the events from the perspective of the announced 2015 plan to destroy the Jewish state, the seemingly random pieces of the puzzle fall together, demonstrating that Iran is not only the architect of the terrorist infrastructure in the region but also the mastermind behind any operations of significance. These operations all fall within the framework of the plan to destroy Israel and, therefore, require Iran’s participation and green light in some form.
Iran is the mastermind
Iran proceeded with its plan through a three-pronged approach: pursuit of normalization with Arab and Muslim majority states and expansion of its diplomatic sway and legitimacy; consolidation, integration and bolstering of its proxies; and the use of information warfare operations to discredit Israel and weaken its image and relations around the world.
First, Iran took advantage of the growing isolationism inside the United States to play of each other the Democrat-led fixation on a deal, on the one hand, and the Republican interest in withdrawing from the Middle East on the other, to shape its image as the regional hegemon despite its poor economy and internal instability. In its own words, Iran turned the “regional hourglass upside down.”
Within two years of the Abraham Accords, Iran had moved to normalize relations with several countries, including members of the Abraham Accords. From the point of view of some of those countries, this “strategic balance” is all about avoiding direct confrontation with Tehran while receiving the trade and other benefits of working with both countries. Tehran sees this expansion of diplomacy as a strategic victory.
First, these relationships legitimize its image and role in the region, making future sanctions and pressure less likely. Second, these relationships undermine the concept of “MESA” or “Arab NATO,” a strategic regional defense alliance with Israel at its focal point, which makes a concerted attack less likely. Third, it undermines and weakens Israel’s relations with existing Abraham Accord states and presents obstacles to the expansion of the Abraham Accords.
Saudi Arabia is far less likely to go beyond symbolic gestures with Israel—Iran has effectively provided it with a choice between some level of uncertain protection from Iran’s hegemony for the foreseeable future or moving closer to Israel. Riyadh was already facing substantial internal obstacles to normalization with Israel; resuming relations with Iran provided it with a way out of that dilemma without putting an end to lucrative indirect business relations with Israeli companies.
Meanwhile, the UAE and Bahrain are facing a market backlash against Israel: Israeli products have been rolled back from Emirati stores and Bahraini business people have withdrawn from deals with Israel, particularly after Oct. 7. The expansion of these relationships is closely tied to Iran’s other two approaches.
While the Oct. 7 attack was in the works for some time and a war with Israel was the predictable result, Iran was counting on the fact that Israel’s relations with Arab states were still shaky, unfocused and lacked popular support.
While the governments have not withdrawn from the Abraham Accords, every other aspect of those relations has suffered following the attack.
Meanwhile, as reporting by the Wall Street Journal has shown, Iran has exercised direct involvement in security developments in the region. As the publication has shown, Iran officials were pushing Gaza-based movements and the Lebanese Hezbollah into direct attacks on Israel at least six months prior to the Oct. 7 attack. Officials visiting Beirut in April 2022, around the time of the Ramadan riots and rocket attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, openly called for such measures, which indeed followed.
While Hamas had the blueprint of the attack in the works for years—and Israel’s security agencies reviewed the most recent version over a year ahead of the attacks—Iran apparently was closely involved in the final planning of the stages in the weeks leading up to the final execution, including giving a final green light in Beirut just a few days before the attack.
In September, WSJ reported that 500 Hamas and PIJ fighters made it out of Gaza and into Iran for training; in hindsight, this was in preparation for the Oct. 7 attacks. Iran has also been systematically supplying a flow of weapons into P.A.-controlled territories, mirroring its strategy in Gaza for the last few years. Iran has dedicated time, money and effort into turning P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas’s operatives into yet another proxy for its own ambitions.
The coup de grace came from the BBC investigation indicating that Hamas was joined by at least four other terrorist organizations, including the Iran-backed PIJ and the Fatah/PLO affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade on Oct. 7; Abbas’s financial support for the families of the Hamas fighters killed on and after Oct. 7 cemented the consolidation of this network under Iran’s patronage.
The “team of rivals” approach to launching a deadly attack on Israel and drawing it into the war in Gaza would not have been possible without direct Iranian involvement and coordination. Such an attack required advanced training, preparations and the level of deception perpetrated not only by Hamas, which misled Israel and U.S. intelligence about its intentions, but by the P.A., which played into the image of being engaged in a deadly rivalry with its Gaza counterparts. Abbas played up the political tension, which made the P.A. seem moderate by comparison, while the local terrorists prepared for the attack in the background—all with Iran’s assistance.
The final red flag indicating Iran’s direct hand in everything leading up to the Simchat Torah massacre and since comes by way of Iran’s information warfare machinery in the United States and elsewhere. Almost immediately following the deadly attack, and particularly after Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas, mass riots and rallies in support of Hamas sprung up all over the West. Week after week, they launch disorderly and often violent and mostly unlicensed demonstrations surrounding critical U.S. infrastructure, which includes bridges, roads, major shopping areas, museums and government buildings.
Most of these gatherings are sponsored by pro-Palestinian leftist and Islamist organizations. One that stands out in particular is called “Within Our Lifetime,” which describes itself as a Palestinian-led community organization that has been building the movement for Palestine in New York City since 2015. Worth noting is that this organization features prominently the hourglass symbol as its logo, an apparent nod to the Iranian “Hourglass” plan to wipe out Israel.
Within Our Lifetime associates make no secret of their intention: They frequently chant “from the river to the sea,” calling not for a two-state solution but rather for a no-state solution—erasing Israel and displacing it with Palestine. It is no coincidence that the organization was launched in 2015, the year Iran announced its plan to get rid of Israel in 25 years’ time.
Eight years later, Israel finds itself in a war, not only to restore deterrence shaken by the surprise attack but to reclaim international support while these Iran-backed groups are using persistence and playing the numbers game to attract attention and to overwhelm Westerners with anti-Israel messaging.
Moreover, by attacking infrastructure, these groups seem to be measuring the response by the authorities—perhaps in preparation for future, more serious terrorist attacks. If the U.S. government is looking for a “smoking gun” on Iran’s direct involvement in genocidal plots against Israel, it need look no further than in its own backyard in New York.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.