Iranian support for the Palestinian terrorist organizations

Issued on: 07/01/2013 Type: Article


1. The military capabilities of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) were revealed in Operation Pillar of Defense. Those capabilities were the product of massive Iranian support constructed around an arsenal of many thousands of rockets, both standard and manufactured by the terrorist organizations themselves (using Iranian technical knowhow). They included medium-range Fajr-5 rockets (made in Iran) and M75s (manufactured in the Gaza Strip). The massive rocket fire targeting Israeli civilian population centers, including a number of rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was made possible by Iran's support for the terrorist organizations.[1]

2. Aid from Iran to Hamas and the PIJ in the years before operative arrived in the Gaza Strip overland, by air and by sea, facilitated by border-crossing networks of smugglers and merchants. The main route for smuggling arms was from Iran to Sudan and from Sudan to Egypt and into the Gaza Strip through the smuggling tunnels controlled by Hamas. The sea route was also used, as revealed on March 15, 2011 when the freighter Victoria was seized by the IDF. The ship was carrying arms bound for the Gaza Strip by way of Egypt, whose arrival would upgrade military capabilities of the terrorist organizations. Among the weapons on board the Victoria were C704 anti-ship missiles, which could be used to attack not only military and civilian vessels but also strategic targets in the southern Israeli cities of Ashdod and Ashqelon.

3. Until Operation Pillar of Defense, Iran and the terrorist organizations supported by it were careful, for security and political considerations, to keep secret Iran's military aid and the network smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. A recent indication of the network and Iran's military support was the exposure of weapons stores in Sudan, which were attacked in October 2012. The media reported that the weapons were Iranian and were intended for terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip [Hamas and the PIJ].

4. Towards the end of Operation Pillar of Defense Iran decided to reveal that it had been giving military aid to the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. In our assessment, that was because of Iran's deep frustration with the way Egypt and other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Qatar, had made political and propaganda capital from their support for Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense. On the other hand, the role of Iran before Operation Pillar of Defense, that of providing the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip with most of their military hardware and support, was being overshadowed.

5. By exposing its military aid Iran hoped, in our assessment, to make political capital at the expense of countries like Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. In addition, the central role of Egypt in the understanding which led to the end of Operation Pillar of Defense caused Iran to fear that existing cracks in the so-called "resistance camp" might widen and the Muslim axis led by Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood might become stronger.

6. However, as a result Iran, the PIJ and Hezbollah initiated a media campaign showering praise on Iran's military, financial and technical support for the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip (See Appendix A). The campaign was joined by Hamas spokesmen, who alongside praise for Iran were careful to reiterate Hamas' independence and lack of dependence on Iran.

Institutions and individuals leading the Iranian support for the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip

7. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force (IRG-QF) is an elite Iranian unit which spearheads the export of the Islamic Revolution beyond the borders of Iran. Among other functions, the Qods Force deals with strengthening the political and military power of the so-called "resistance camp." One of the ways it does that is by taking responsibility for transporting military support to the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, especially Hamas and the PIJ. That includes smuggling weapons to the Gaza Strip, training terrorist operatives, transmitting technical knowhow and providing financial support.[2]

8. Two prominent, high-ranking Qods Force officers, conspicuous in the support provided to the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip:

1) Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods Force, responsible for integrating support for the Palestinian terrorist organization organizations at high levels in Iran.

2) Ismail Qaani, deputy commander of the Qods Force, extensively involved in providing military support for the Palestinian terrorist organizations.

Iran's intention to rebuild the terrorist organization's military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip

9. The Middle East upheaval of the past two years caused a serious political dispute between Iran and Hamas. It has been expressed in the rupture of relations between Hamas and the Syrian regime (Iran's strategic ally), and by Hamas' increasing orientation towards on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood administration. In addition, there is Qatar's financial aid to Hamas and Turkey's political and propaganda support, both of which were evident during Operation Pillar of Defense. Nevertheless, Hamas' dependence on Iran for military support is still strong, and is, in our assessment, a necessary condition for rebuilding the military infrastructure damaged by Operation Pillar of Defense.[3] On the other hand, Iran has a clear interest to rebuild and upgrade the Palestinian rocket infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and to maintain Hamas affiliation with the "resistance camp."

10. Thus, in our assessment, Iran and Hamas have a common interest in continuing Iranian military support after Operation Pillar of Defense despite their political dispute. That can be seen in remarks made by Iranians regarding their intention to continue Iran's support for the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip. PIJ leader Ramadan Shallah said in a recent speech that the arrival of weapons from Iran though Egypt would "continue in the future as well" (See Appendix A). In addition, a Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper reported that Hassan Nasrallah, meeting with Hezbollah operatives, said that Iran, as it had in the past, would continue sending "large quantities of high-quality weapons" to Hamas (Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, December 8, 2012).

11. Thus in our assessment Iran can be expected to support an effort aimed at rebuilding the Hamas and PIJ military networks damaged in Operation Pillar of Defense. Special attention will be paid to medium-range rockets, whose existence in the Gaza Strip serves Iran's clear interest in creatinga rocket threat to Israel from both the north (through Hezbollah) and the south (through Hamas and the PIJ). It will be done, in our assessment, even at the price of increasing tension with Egypt. Egypt was the broker of the understandings reached at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, and through its territory most of the smuggled weapons can be expected to pass on their way from Iran to the Gaza Strip. The media have reported that the smuggling tunnels along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip have returned to their pre-Operation Pillar of Defense level of operations (Al-Ghad, December 16, 2012; AP, December 12, 2012).


12. This bulletin has the following appendices:

1) Exposing Iranian military aid to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad after Operation Pillar of Defense.

2) Kinds of Iranian military aid to the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip between Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense.

3) Examples of weapons smuggled from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

4) Smuggling weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

[1] Most of the terrorist organizations' medium-range rockets were destroyed by the IDF at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense. The collateral capability of the rockets remaining in the hands of Hamas and the PIJ was sufficient to fire ten rockets targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, ten of which either fell or were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. Five of them were Fajr-5s and five were M75s.
[2] For further information about the Qods Force see the August 7, 2012 bulletin “The Qods Force, an elite unit of the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, spearheads Iran's global terrorist campaign. The terrorist attack in Bulgaria was, in our assessment, part of the campaign.”
[3] Hamas has other sources of weapons, such as Libya. However, in our assessment they cannot replace Iran as a source of military aid.

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