When it comes to fighting Israel, the Islamic Republic of Iran has no qualms about employing its ideological rivals – Sunni-Muslim terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). While the proxies Iran is using in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere are fellow Shiite militias from Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Pakistan, and Yemen (Houthis), Hamas and PIJ in Gaza are Sunni-Arabs. Iran began to cultivate its anti-Israel fronts right from the early days of Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then, Tehran has essentially set up six fronts against Israel. The first front is Iran’s ballistic missiles that can hit Israel. In Lebanon, Hezbollah equipped with Iranian missiles is the second. Hezbollah and other Shiite militias in Syria are the third front. The Houthis in Yemen with Iranian supplied long-range missiles is the fourth front. Israeli-Arabs, particularly in mixed cities are potentially the fifth front (they demonstrated that in the recent Guardian of the Walls operation). Hamas is the sixth front, and the most potent. Hamas being closest to Israel’s population centers engendered the long-standing Iranian largesse toward the Gaza-based terrorists.
Although Hezbollah is far more powerful than Hamas, it is more restraint in operating against Israel because of the nature of the Lebanese confessional system. Hezbollah, although yielding major power in Beirut, has to give political consideration to the impact on Lebanon should they provoke a war with Israel. The Second Lebanon War in 2006 devastated the country, and a future war might be even costlier for the Lebanese. Hamas simply does not have such constraints, and Hamas’ very raison d’être is to destroy Israel, not so much for sake of a Palestinian state in its place, but for the glory of Islam, and to recapture every inch of land formerly conquered by Islam.
The Islamic Republic’s Modus Operandi against Israel and its other regional enemies is to incite their Arab-Palestinian proxies (Hamas and PIJ), provide them with cash, training, lethal arms, and ultimately have them pay back the Iranians with their own blood for the Ayatollahs regional hegemonic interests. This is true in Gaza, Syria, Southern Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. It is mostly Arabs not Persians who pay in blood for the Iranian schemes. In recent years however, in what is called “the war between wars,” Israel has changed the formula, and is targeting Iranian assets in Syria, both human and material. Sometimes it is Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps (IRGC) personnel, and other times a missile base manned by Iranians, or some sophisticated weaponry shipped to Hezbollah from Iran. Ironically, and rather hypocritically, while the IRGC and Hezbollah are butchering fellow Sunnis in Syria, including Palestinians, Sunni-Muslim Hamas and PIJ engage with and praise the Tehran regime.
Over the years, the Iranian regime had managed to smuggle thousands of rockets to build up Hamas’ arsenal. When it became hard for Iran to smuggle entire rockets in, they delivered rocket parts to Hamas. And when Israel sealed off the Gaza Strip, the Iranians sent engineers to teach Hamas’ engineers how to assemble the rockets. In the aftermath of the Guardian of the Walls Operation in May 2021, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political bureau chief based now in Qatar, thanked the Iranians for enabling Hamas to carry out its intense bombardment against Israeli population centers with over 4,000 rockets targeting Israeli civilians. He stated, Tehran “did not hold back with money, weapons, and technical support.”
The real warming up in the relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, i.e., Hamas, occurred in 1991. Following the first Gulf war and the liberation of Kuwait, the US attempted to foster regional peace, including an Arab-Israeli peace, through the 1991 Madrid Conference. To counter US efforts, Iran convened a conference on Palestine, and invited the anti-peace camp, including Hamas to participate. About the same time, Hamas was already an active participant in the first intifada (1987-1991). In 1992, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin deported 418 of Hamas’ leading figures to Lebanon. A decade earlier, Iran had created its Shiite proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. The latter, Islamist terror group Hezbollah, taught the Hamas deportees how to build and use suicide bombs and be suicide human bombs. As a result of an Israeli court order, Rabin allowed the deportees to return, and this resulted in the suicide bombers of the second intifada (2000-2005), which cost over 1,000 Israeli civilian lives. In 2006, as Hamas won in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, the US and the EU suspended aid to Gaza, then the Iranian regime decided to allocate $50 million for Hamas.
Iran’s current Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been far more committed to the Palestinian cause than his predecessor. It has been during Khamenei’s reign that the intensity of the Iranian–Israeli conflict grew to major proportions. Hamas’ surprise victory in the Palestinian elections dramatically transformed Iran’s relations with Hamas. By the end of 2006, Iran pledged $250 million in aid to a nearly bankrupt Hamas.
Prior to the December 2008 Gaza war, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, Iran provided military aid and training to Hamas’ military wing Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Iran supplied the military equipment used by Hamas to launch the attack on Israel. In February 2009, Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’ political bureau, on a visit to Tehran after the war, thanked the Iranian regime, calling Iran, “a partner in victory.”
Iran played a key role in all recent engagements between Hamas and Israel. Iran incited Hamas and the PIJ to engage Israel; they funneled weapons, trained Hamas and PIJ operatives, and funded them. In March 2014, just months before Operation Protective Edge, Iran shipped 40 M302 heavy rockets to Hamas in Gaza aboard the Iranian owned ship “Klos C.” The rockets were hidden under Iranian cement bags. Israeli navy commandos seized the ship in the Red Sea on March 5, 2014. A UN report established that the “Klos C” had loaded the weapons shipment in the Iranian southern port of Bandar Abbas. Earlier, during the 2012 war in Gaza codenamed Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas fired long-range Iranian manufactured missiles into Israeli population centers. This was repeated again in May 2021, during Operation Guardian of the Walls. This time, it was supplemented with a greater number of missiles fired at once into Israeli population centers, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This was meant to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome defenses. The missiles this time were more accurate. In addition, Hamas used bomb carrying drones and mini-submarines, all of it helped by Iran. Israel’s Iron Dome shot down most of the missiles, while others fell in Gaza killing scores of Palestinians.
Reuters reported (May 22, 2020) Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as saying, “Iran realized Palestinian fighters only problem was lack of access to weapons. With divine guidance and assistance, we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it.” This was a brazen admission of Iran’s fueling Hamas’ war against Israel. Sadly, the Obama administration 2015 nuclear deal provided the Ayatollahs with a windfall of cash. It was used to arm and fund the wars against Israel.