The latest round of the long-simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undoubtedly funded and fully approved by Iran. Hamas receives $100 million per year in money and weaponry from the terrorist state. They certainly don’t operate autonomously. Why is next to no one talking about the real driving force behind the violence?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exploded, quite literally, in the news over the past few weeks as missiles rain down on Israel and Israel responds with the most aggressive military action in years. People are dying, buildings are being destroyed, and the world is reacting.
These reactions are predictably polarized, largely by political affiliation. The progressive left believes Israel is an apartheid state committing a slow running genocide, a view pretty well encapsulated by Jeremy Scahill, writing for The Intercept. “The U.S.-backed, armed, and funded extreme right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is currently engaged in a systemic collective punishment campaign against the people of Gaza. More than two million of them are trapped in an open-air prison camp with nowhere to run or hide from this scorched earth operation. Children are being slaughtered. Civilian residential buildings are being razed to the ground. Meanwhile ethno-nationalist militias are rampaging through the streets of Israel and terrorizing their Arab neighbors in a campaign of organized mob violence.”
The conservative, pro-Israel right, of course, disagrees, largely believing that Israel has a right to defend itself and should be given the space to do so. This view is pretty well summarized by Michael Goodwin writing for the New York Post, “Biden must let Bibi fight his way.” “While it’s true there is a long, bloody history between the combatants, the current fighting is unique in ways that make the endgame especially crucial for the Jewish state and the entire region. The most obvious change is that Hamas increased its rocket capacity, both in numbers and range. In previous battles, the relative handful of explosives launched from Gaza were a threat only to Israelis near the border. This time, more than 2,000 rockets and mortars have been fired, and Israeli officials are surprised at how far some can travel. While the explosives are unguided and many are destroyed by Iron Dome batteries, the sheer number has at times overwhelmed the defense system, making all of Israel more vulnerable. Air raid sirens are sending residents to defense shelters all over the country and some civilians have been killed, including a child.”
Ultimately, I think both points of view miss the larger point, though Mr. Goodwin does refer to it in passing: This is entirely about Iran, the Israelis and the Palestinians have next to nothing to do with it. Hamas does not represent the will of the Palestinian people; it’s a terrorist organization funded by Iran and a proxy for the Iranian conflict with Israel and the United States. Ostensibly, Israel is defending itself against Hamas, but the real goal is to destroy an Iranian proxy and keep Iranian influence contained.
How do we know this?
We can start by following the money. In 2020 alone, the State Department estimated that Tehran had provided $100 million in funding to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. According to the Wilson Center, “Hamas, or Harakat al Muqawama al Islamiyah, is a Sunni Islamist militia and political party based in Gaza that has reportedly been funded, armed and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards since the early 1990s. Hamas opened an office in Tehran in the 1990s.” Though Iran cut off Hamas from 2012 to 2016 for not supporting Assad during the Syrian Civil War, leading to a period of relative stability between the Palestinian territories and Israel, they resumed funding in 2017. “Relations with Iran are excellent and Iran is the largest supporter of the Izz ad Din al Qassam Brigades with money and arms,” explained Yahya Sinwar, a senior Hamas military leader, in 2017.
Iran supplies weapons in addition to the money, including continually improved rockets and mortars. One of the weapons of choice has been the Qassam rocket, in use since 2001; even progressive groups like Human Rights Watch fully admit that the sole purpose of these weapons is “harming civilians” as they are too inaccurate or prone to malfunction for anything else. Their utility is in their ease of assembly. They run on fuel and use explosive warheads that can be created from common fertilizer materials; the rocket body is a simple steel cylinder. All in, they barely cost $1,000 a piece.
Regardless, Hamas does not have access to factories to build them. Instead, they get the parts and fuel from Iran. In September 2020, Hamas revealed precisely how these materials and other weapons are smuggled into Gaza . Incredibly, they revealed these details to the world on a television program broadcast by the Qatari Al Jazeera channel, complete with video of Hamas members meeting with Iranians for supplies. Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas’s national relations bureau, noted, “Hamas wanted to shed light on the [past] efforts of Syria, Iran and Sudan in supplying it with weapons and equipment. This explains, according to Hamas, the conspiracy against Sudan to hinder its role in serving the Palestinian cause (in reference to the 2019 coup against the former regime). Syria is already absent due to its preoccupation with its civil war. Meanwhile, Iran continues to support us without restrictions or conditions.”
Also last year, an arms dealer revealed to Al-Monitor the extent of the weaponry Hamas has been getting its hands on from Iran. It’s not just cheap rockets, hence the renewed range and destructive capability. The “military factions in Gaza, headed by Hamas, possess distinct types of Iranian R-160 and Fajr-5 missiles with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles). They also have drones and anti-tank missiles and shoulder-launched rockets produced by Russia. They also plan to acquire Chinese C-704 missiles, anti-ship missiles with a range of 35 kilometers (21 miles) and radar systems for guided missiles.” Some of the new “weapons needed in Gaza are the Grad missiles, the upgraded Katyusha with a range of 40 kilometers (24 miles), anti-armor charges, explosive belts, hand grenades with a range of 150 meters, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft machine guns.”
Again, none of these weapons are produced by Hamas directly. They are manufactured elsewhere by Iran or its surrogates and smuggled in. Nor is this smuggling performed easily. In addition to Israel, Egypt also protects the border, dismantling tunnels used for the purpose and creating a buffer zone. According to Al-Monitor, “most recently, the Berenice military base was established [by Egypt] on the southern coast of the Red Sea in January 2020, with Emirati funding, to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons.”
With all that in mind, it seems highly unlikely that Hamas would press forward with launching 2,000 rockets without receiving their marching orders from Iran. Certainly, Lebanon would not be joining the fray and firing missiles into Israel as well as has been recently reported. The question then becomes: Why is Iran pressing the issue now? In my opinion, the answer is pretty obvious: They’re testing newly minted President Joe Biden both in his support for Israel and his willingness to concede just about anything to negotiate a replacement for the nuclear deal.
Biden came into office after former President Trump had successfully isolated the Iranian regime by establishing the Abraham Accords, pulling out of the original nuclear deal from the Obama era, and sanctioning Iran itself. Though the Abraham Accords were given short shrift by a virulently anti-Trump media, they represented the biggest diplomatic breakthrough in the region in decades. In addition to establishing diplomatic relations between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, plus prompting the first publicly reported meeting between Israel and Saudi Arabian leadership, the Accords had the ancillary benefit of tilting power in the region against Iran, setting up an alliance between Israel and key Arab countries to counterbalance Iranian influence.
While then-candidate Biden was silent on the importance of the Abraham Accords on the campaign trail, he was vociferously opposed to pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, signalling a willingness to reenter the agreement and restart negotiations. Based on public reports, these talks have stalled over a difference in opinion on the timing of sanctions relief. Iran wants them removed immediately; Biden wants Iran to confirm to the rules of the agreement first.
Iran is now testing his resolve as usually happens at the start of a new presidency. So far, I’ll give Biden credit that he hasn’t rolled over and has provided Israel with the space it needs to operate, despite massive opposition from the progressive wing of his own party as evidenced by the quote from The Intercept earlier in this post. At the same time, he and his administration have hardly been clear on the stakes or what is really driving Hamas’s sustained attacks and, unfortunately, our posture might well be evolving against Israel.
The recent confusion surrounding the destruction of a building in Gaza that Israel believes was a Hamas intelligence center might not bode well for the future. In this case, the media was aghast at the leveling of an office building that also housed the Associated Press headquarters. Reports indicate Israel provided information to the Biden Administration in advance. “We showed them the smoking gun proving Hamas worked out of that building,” a senior diplomatic source said. “I understand they found the explanation satisfactory.” A former Obama White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, has also verified the claim, saying “I’m sure Hamas offices were in that building…I talked to people who worked in the building.” Secretary of State Athony Blinken, however, is claiming Israel still needs to produce the evidence.
Biden is now calling for a ceasefire on both sides, though acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself. Ultimately, more clarity is needed. Neither politicians nor pundits should be allowing Iran to hide behind Hamas and the Palestinian people as, literally, human shields. Everyone should be clear on what’s going on: Yes, the Israel-Palestine question remains unanswered at this time, but, no, Hamas doesn’t operate without clearance from Tehran. They are undoubtedly behind these strikes and the blood shed on both sides is on their hands. Our leaders should say as much as keep maximum pressure on Iran to stop funding civilian killing terror in the region.