Despite supporting anti-Israel Islamist groups, Tehran denies direct involvement in the recent terrorist attacks on Israeli soil. Its influence, however, contributes to widening the conflict in the region.
(DW) Following the terrorist attacks by the Islamist group Hamas on Israel from the Gaza Strip last weekend, several Israeli authorities said they suspected the involvement of Iran, a notorious supporter of anti-Israel militant groups in the Middle East.
On Thursday (12/10) the German Federal Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said in the Bundestag, the German parliament, that Iran bears responsibility for collaborating in Hamas having grown to the point where it was able to conduct the weekend attack on Israel.
“Although we have no concrete evidence that Iran supported this cowardly attack operationally, it is clear to all of us that, without Iranian support, Hamas would never have been able to launch this unprecedented attack,” he said.
In an interview with US broadcaster CBS on Sunday night, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said that Israel’s leadership suspects that “Iranian hands” were at work behind the scenes.
“Hamas and Iran are close allies. Iran provides material, financial and arms support to Hamas,” the ambassador accused. “They are linked in what they call the ‘axis of resistance’, of course, resistance to the right of the State of Israel to exist. They are part of the same coalition.”
Herzog made clear his own suspicions regarding Iranian involvement in the attacks. “As far as we are concerned, this is a coalition led by Iran.”
The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told a meeting of the UN Security Council last Sunday that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Hamas leaders a few weeks ago. “We know that there were meetings in Syria and Lebanon,” he said.
“It’s easy to understand that they were trying to organize the military, the terrorist armies and Iran’s representatives in our region. They try to coordinate as much as possible with Iran because the long-term goal is to try to destroy Israel under Iranian nuclear protection.”
Support for a wide network of militias
The Iranian regime, however, denies involvement in the terrorist attacks, which it describes as an act of self-defense on the part of the Palestinians. In a statement to the nation, Raisi made it clear that his country “supports the legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation”. The president also praised Hamas’ “resistance” efforts.
Iran supports a wide network of militias and armed groups in the Middle East, including Palestinian organizations, while the regime is trying to consolidate its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as in Gaza.
Iranian officials often highlight the so-called “axis of resistance” in their statements and positions on Israel. This expression explicitly refers to militant groups dedicated to opposing Israel, and mainly includes Hamas and the Lebanese Hisbollah.
The military wings of these two organizations are considered terrorist groups by several countries, including the United States and the European Union (EU).
Iranian officials meet regularly with these groups. In August, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met in Beirut with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other anti-Israel groups active in Lebanon. On the occasion, the minister reaffirmed his support for the “axis of resistance”.
Officials from both Hamas and Hisbollah frequently admit the substantial support they receive from Tehran.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of Hamas’ highest-ranking members, claimed in December 2020 that approximately 22 million dollars in cash was received during a meeting with former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Qassim Soleimani in 2006.
The leader of Hisbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has repeatedly stated that his organization receives financial support from Iran, as well as weapons and missiles. In mid-2016, he even said that “as long as Iran has money, so do we. No law can prevent us from receiving this aid.”
A 2021 report by the Wilson Center, a US-based think tank, points out that since at least 2006, Iran “has focused on supplying its regional allies and proxies, including Palestinian factions, with know-how and equipment for local rocket production”.
The report quotes an interview with the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Air Force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, in which he says that “instead of giving them fish or teaching them how to fish, we showed our allies and friends how to produce hooks. They now possess missile technologies and capabilities.”
Opposition to Israel’s link with Arab nations
The Hamas terrorist attack took place in the midst of negotiations around diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which Iran is vehemently opposed to.
In a recent interview, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that his country was “gradually progressing towards the normalization of relations with Israel”.
The so-called Abraham Peace Accords, signed in 2020 by Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, made this normalization of the link between Israel and some Arab nations possible.
On October 3, days before the Hamas attack on Israel, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the establishment of relations with Tel Aviv as a “completely futile effort” and emphatically warned Islamic nations that “those who bet on normalization with Israel will be losers”.
Damon Golriz, a researcher and professor at the University of The Hague in the Netherlands, told DW that an extension of the Abraham Accords with Israel would “stifle Iran’s strategic objectives in the region”.
Tehran denies involvement
Tehran denies that it played any role in the terrorist attacks. But a report published last Sunday by The Wall Street Journal quoted Hamas officials as saying that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had helped plan the simultaneous and unexpected attacks on Israel.
On Monday, however, Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said that “Iran is one of the main actors, but we cannot yet say that they were involved in planning or training.”
US officials also say there is no evidence yet of Iran’s direct involvement. “We haven’t seen any evidence that Iran orchestrated or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long-standing relationship,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Raz Zimmt, an expert at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, rebutted the Wall Street Journal article via the social network X, formerly Twitter.
“While there is no doubt about the military cooperation between Iran and Hamas and the increasing involvement in the Palestinian arena in recent years, including the West Bank, I doubt very much that Iran was significantly involved in the latest Hamas action,” he wrote.
Zimmt, however, said that if Israel’s reaction “represents a significant challenge to Hamas”, it would force Iran to “move from the phase of support and coordination to more direct involvement”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared that his country is “at war” with Hamas and promised severe retaliation. On Monday, he said that Israel’s attacks on Hamas would “transform the Middle East”.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, said that the terrorist attacks suffered by the country are “Israel’s September 11”, after which “nothing will be the same”, in reference to the attacks suffered by the United States on September 11, 2001.
Analyst Golriz believes that by maintaining a well-prepared doctrine of “plausible deniability”, Tehran manages to avoid direct involvement in these conflicts. He says that finding evidence that could implicate Iran would be a political decision that could have devastating consequences.
“It would be a declaration of war between Israel and Iran,” he said.
*** Translated by DEFCONPress FYI Team ***