1. Israel 's disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 created a new situation which accelerated the establishment of the area controlled by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It enabled it to translate its increased power on the ground into gains in internal Palestinian politics was well. It won a landslide victory in the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, formed a government in March 2006, and took over the Gaza Strip by force in June 2007, neutralizing Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.
2. Following its takeover of the Gaza Strip, Hamas established a radical Islamist entity which is still being formed. The Hamas entity, with Iranian and Syrian support, conducts its own internal and foreign policies, wages a continual terrorist campaign against Israel , and is seriously at odds with Egypt and pro-Western Arab countries. In addition, it is isolated in the international arena and increasingly separated from the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria , led by Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah.
3. After Israel 's disengagement, and more intensely in the year preceding Operation Cast Lead, Hamas accelerated its military buildup . One of its objectives was to make it possible to continue its strategy of terrorism ("resistance”) against Israel by using, at this stage, rockets as its main weapons (inspired by the achievements of Hezbollah strategy Israel during the second Lebanon war). Another was to give Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip defensive capabilities which would enable their military forces to survive, deter Israel from taking action in the Gaza Strip, and make it difficult to take it over or conquer parts of it. 1
4. Because of its internal and external difficulties, which increased after its military takeover of the Gaza Strip, Hamas had even greater need of external strategic support to ensure its political survival and advance its military buildup. Its natural choice was the Iranian-Syrian axis . Since the beginning of the second Palestinian terrorist campaign (the second intifada) in October 2000, Iran and Syria had provided extensive support for Hamas and Palestinian terrorism in general. 2 In addition, although Hamas is Sunni Muslim and Iran is Shi'ite, they shared a broad common denominator: the perception that terrorism ("resistance”) was the main Palestinian strategic tool, both objected to the Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations (the Annapolis process) and both had long-standing, deeply rooted hostility toward the United States and the West. 3
5. Iran , for its part, has a clear strategic interest for helping Hamas reinforce its control of the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that Hamas, as opposed to Hezbollah, is not willing to fully subordinate itself to Iranian dictates. For Iran , a radical Islamic entity in the Gaza Strip is an important strategic asset against Israel 's southern border, in conjunction with the threat posed by Hezbollah along Israel 's northern border. In both cases, Iran regards using rockets as an effective way of exhausting Israel 's home front, both routinely and during a future regional crisis. Therefore, it has established large rocket arsenals for Hezbollah and Hamas, at the same time has developed their military capabilities, although at different quality levels (for Iran , Hezbollah is clearly preferable to Hamas).
6. Moreover, Iran regards Hezbollah (which has gained considerable political influence in Lebanon ) and Hamas (which took over the Gaza Strip and gained influence in the Palestinian Authority) as two important sources of power which it can use to promote its strategic goals, at the center of which is its striving toward regional hegemony . Using Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, the Iranian-Syrian axis can increase its influence in the Arab and Muslim world, pose a serious challenge to Mahmoud Abbas, harm the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and export the Iranian brand of radical Islam to other Sunni countries, especially Egypt (which regards Hamas control over the Gaza Strip as an Iranian threat to Egypt and the entire region). From the Iranian point of view, its sponsorship of Hamas is considered as a means of establishing an Iranian foothold in the heart of the Sunni world
7. The meeting of interests between Hamas , Iran and Syria led, over the past two years, to massive Iranian support for Hamas (and Syria , where the "external” Hamas leadership has settled). Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei is personally involved in directing the strategic support provided to Hamas by Iran . In practice, support is provided by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, headed by Qassem Suleimani , 4 and by Iran 's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, headed by intelligence minister Mouhsen Hussein Azahi .
Right: Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, Qods Force commander since 1998, in uniform.
Left: In a rare interview, Qassem Suleimani talks about a comrade killed during the Iran-Iraq war
(Iranian Channel 1 TV, March 18, 2007).
8. Iran aid to Hamas during the two years which preceded Operation Cast Lead were the following: weapons , including hundreds of 122mm Grad rockets, with ranges of 20-40 km, and advanced anti-tank missiles; technological knowhow which made it possible for Hamas to manufacture lethal Hezbollah-inspired IEDs ( Shawaz projectiles); advanced training in Iran for hundreds of operatives from all the terrorist organizations; several hundred million dollars a year for Hamas's political and military wings; political and propaganda support ; as well as efforts to prevent the lull arrangement, to encourage terrorist attacks, and to oppose Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (the Annapolis process).
9. In retrospect, it can be seen that without the massive support provided by Iran , it would have been extremely difficult for Hamas to engage in its military buildup, which peaked during the past year. It is reasonable to assume that without such support Hamas would not have been so aggressive in its rocket fire against Israel and its defiant political stance vis-à-vis Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, which led to open schisms with both ( Egypt is fully aware that Iran's strategic considerations are behind its sponsorship of the Hamas entity in the Gaza Strip). The policy of firing increasing numbers of rockets to sabotage the Egyptian-brokered lull arrangement was what led, finally, to the its unilateral abandonment of the lull arrangement and Operation Cast Lead.
10. Iran has explicitly stated that the war in the Gaza Strip is one aspect of a wider campaign for the future of the Middle East being waged between the "resistance” camp and the forces of "arrogance” (the United States , the "Zionist regime,” the West and waning liberal democracy.) During Operation Cast Lead the Iranian regime, both directly and through Hezbollah, encouraged Hamas to keep fighting , and on December 28 the Iranian Leader even said that every Palestinian killed in battle would be a shaheed. At the same time, the Iranian regime waged a hate campaign against Israel and Egypt , sent humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, but was also very careful not to be drawn into direct involvement in the turmoil in Gaza . After the battles are over, regardless of whatever arrangement is achieved, the common Hamas-Iranian-Syrian interests will lead to a joint effort to rehabilitate and restore Hamas's military-terrorist infrastructure and capabilities (as Iran and Syria rehabilitated and expanded Hezbollah's terrorist infrastructure after the second Lebanon war).
11. Regarding the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire, Hamas spokesmen made it clear that Hamas would not agree to stop the smuggling. Moreover, Abu Usama Abd al-Mu'ti , Hamas representative in Iran , appealed to "Islamic countries” (i.e., Iran ) to send military equipment to the Gaza Strip to help Hamas. He said that since the United States had established an airlift for Israel , "observant Muslims” had to send weapons to the fighters in Gaza (Press conference held at the Islamic Propaganda Organization in Tehran ,” Islamic Republic News Agency, January 13, 2009 ).
12. As opposed to Lebanon , however, Iran will face greater difficulties in supporting Hamas in the Gaza Strip once the dust settles. That is because Iran has no direct access to the Gazan border (as opposed to good access to Lebanon though its wide-open border with Syria ), and an arrangement may be reached at the end of the fighting that will lead to closer supervision along the Egypt-Gaza border. As in the past, both Iran and Hamas are expected to be creative to overcome the difficulties and to ensure a renewed flow of weapons to the Gaza Strip, especially long-range rockets, which will renew the rocket threat and Hamas and Iran's ability to threaten the million people living in Israel's south. They also aspire to include new zones in the range of fire, up to at least 60 km, i.e., Tel Aviv.
13. The following is a short summary of the main components of the support and aid Iran provided to Hamas during the past three years, which enabled Hamas to establish its military-terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and accelerate the processes which led to the collapse of the lull arrangement and Operation Cast Lead. The Appendix presents a selection of Arab responses to Iran 's support for Hamas and conclusions drawn by the Arab regimes in the Middle East .
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1 For further information see our April 9, 2008 Bulletin entitled "Hamas's military buildup in the Gaza Strip (Updated April 2008)” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/hamas_080408.pdf .
2 For the support Iran and Syria gave the Palestinian terrorist organizations during the second intifada, see our April 2003 Bulletin entitled " Iran as a State Sponsoring and Operating Terror / April 2003,” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia//ENGLISH/IRAN/PDF/APR_03.PDF .
3 The collaboration between Sunni Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Shi'ite Iranian regime, is not obvious. Radical jihadist Sunni groups, such as Al-Qaeda and the global jihad do not collaborate with Iran and even sometimes oppose it. However, for Hamas, the strategic considerations of its confrontation with Israel are stronger than religious differences with Iran . When Musheir al-Masri, Hamas representative in the Palestinian Legislative Council, was asked if Hamas would accept aid from Iran , he said that it would, despite their ideological differences. He said that Iranian aid was "a thousand times preferable than relying on the Americans and Zionists...” ( Al-Zaman , Iraq , July 7, 2007 ).
4 For further information about the activities of the Quds force in Lebanon and other countries, see our April 2, 2007 Bulletin entitled "Using the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards as the main tool to export the revolution beyond the borders of Iran” at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/iran_e0307.pdf .