Wasn’t Gaza plagued by extreme poverty? Wasn’t it oppressed and “occupied,” despite the fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from it in August 2005? So, where did those hundreds of rockets that it’s been firing into Israel for nearly two weeks come from? How did Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh purchase them?
Senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official Ramez Al-Halabi recently answered this question.
“I am proud to say that the rockets that are used to pound Tel Aviv have an Iranian signature on them. It is they [Iran] who support us with weapons, money and food,” he said.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said basically the same thing in 2017, when he became a member of the organization’s politburo.
“If not for Iran’s support, we would not have our missile capabilities,” he stated proudly. “General Qassem Soleimani contacted us and pledged to place the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force capabilities at our disposal.”
In other words, Hamas was being given backing by the Islamic Republic’s division responsible for extraterritorial and clandestine military operations.
Other evidence of the continued good use of the hundreds of millions of dollars that the ayatollah-led regime in Tehran provides to the Gaza war spans decades. And it hasn’t been humanitarian aid.
A complex operation involving the transfer of Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missiles to Hamas via Hezbollah, for example, was handled personally by Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.
In addition, Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam TV confirmed his direct supervision over military training in Gaza.
Nor has Haniyeh made a secret of the help that Hamas receives from Iran. In May 2020, he declared: “Iran has never hesitated to support the resistance and assist it financially, militarily and economically.”
Haniyeh, by the way, was a given a place of honor at Soleimani’s funeral.
Haniyeh’s deputy, Saleh Al-Arouri, subsequently outlined Hamas’s future objective: a new intifada. And Sinwar clarified that its purpose would be the “battle for Jerusalem; the holy war.” This is the war that unites Shi’ites and Sunnis on the battlefield. Tehran said as much during the annual Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day celebrations, whose leitmotifs are hate-marches and the burning of Israeli flags.
Tehran was actually the first to declare the current war against Israel more than 10 days ago, even before Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades chief, Mohammad Deif, did so. But, after having contemplated it at length—discussing, evaluating and weighing the pros and cons—Iran wondered whether Hamas was ready.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei decided that the answer was yes—that Hamas must strike, for a number of reasons. In the first place, Hamas was on the verge of conquering the entire Palestinian camp (in elections that were ultimately canceled by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who feared defeat for himself and his Fatah faction.
Secondly, Israel is currently in the throes of a political crisis. Third, former President Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. And finally, the blow dealt to Iran and its allies by the Abraham Accords is less solid.
The calculation in Iran, then, was that a Hamas war against Israel would send a strong message, precisely at a time when negotiations are underway in Vienna for the renewal of the Iran nuclear deal under new U.S. President Joe Biden, who is so keen on it.
For the past 10 days, the barrages of rockets being launched from Gaza into Israel are much more numerous than those of previous wars. In fact, there are twice or three times as many projectiles as compared with previous Hamas-Israel clashes.
Yet even with its leadership decimated, its infrastructure in ruins and its key strategic assets destroyed, Hamas continues to fire rockets. It seems that Iran keeps things going in order to have the last word. Tehran doesn’t like the fact that the guarantors of a possible truce could be Egypt and Qatar; it wants to be the one that holds the reins. And there are still many more projectiles, which have been accumulated over a long period of time. Among these are Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets from Iran and M-302 rockets from Syria, as well as the “Ayyash,” with a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles).
This war has been prepared at length, and is part and parcel of Iran’s grand strategy, which includes supplying Hamas with new technologies and helping it to construct its greatest resource—now destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces—of underground tunnels.
Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s relationship with Iran has been crucial. The two terrorist groups worked hard to cultivate it from the moment that they took possession of the Gaza Strip 16 years ago. And it was a mutual arrangement.
For Iran, taking out Israel is key to its aim to achieve hegemony in the Middle East. Providing the terrorists around it and in its midst with weapons is necessary for this end.
In 2002, as a reporter, I recall Israel’s capture of the ship Karine A, headed to Gaza with 50 tons of arms, which were unloaded before my astonished eyes. Since then, the quantity and quality of aid have not only increased but have also become more technologically sophisticated, with the addition of drones and submarines. Much materiel has been smuggled into Gaza along with humanitarian-aid deliveries.
In the days preceding Hamas’s latest attack on Israel, discussion inside Iran centered on missile-defense methods and the possibility not only of joining Gaza on the ground but of mobilizing Hezbollah as well. Then, on May 7, Khamenei tweeted: “Since day 1, Zionists turned occupied Palestine into a base for terrorism. Israel isn’t a country; it’s a #TerroristCamp against Palestinians & other Muslim nations. Fighting this despotic regime is fighting against oppression & terrorism. And this is everyone’s responsibility.”
What is, in fact, “everyone’s responsibility” is to break the chain by which the incendiary force of Iran devastates Palestinians and holds their people, along with those of Syria, Lebanon and Yemen hostage, while shooting on civilians, not only in Israel but also in Saudi Arabia.
It’s terrorism, stupid, the preferred Iranian weapon of choice in its war of conquest.
War can be lost, however. And Israel has already taught this lesson two or three times to its enemies. Today, more and more Arab states see Hamas for what it is—a pawn in the hands of their worst enemy.
This article was translated from Italian by Amy Rosenthal.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.