September 9, 2019 — New York
This piece originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.
Peripheral vision is required when dealing with Iran. Focusing exclusively on one aspect of Iran’s policies, such as its nuclear program or terrorist protégé Hezbollah, risks missing the totality of the Islamist regime’s dangerous expansionist endeavors across the region.
A senior Hamas delegation’s visit to Tehran gave a boost to Iran’s goal of establishing a bridgehead on the Mediterranean in Gaza that would complement Hezbollah’s perch in Lebanon.
“Hamas is the first line of defense for Iran,” Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas’s deputy political chief, declared after the group met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in late July. Arouri has visited the Iranian capital five times over the past two years to rekindle relations that had cooled during the first year of the war in Syria.
Hamas backed the Syrian opposition to President Bashar Assad while Iran intervened to aid his regime. Assad closed Hamas’s headquarters in Damascus in 2012. Hezbollah forces, as well as Iranian Revolutionary Guards, were dispatched to Syria to secure Assad’s survival.
The Hamas delegation’s visit took place a few weeks before the 14th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and transfer of the coastal enclave to the Palestinian Authority. For Hamas – which violently seized Gaza from the Fatah-led PA in June 2007 – and Iran, the world’s lead state sponsor of terrorism, that anniversary is irrelevant. Iran and Hamas are united in calling Israel “the Zionist entity” while seeking its destruction.
Iranian media highlighted the Hamas meetings with top Iranian leaders over several days. In addition to Ayatollah Khamenei, they met with Kamal Kharazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council for Foreign Affairs; Ali Akbar Velayati, former minister of foreign affairs and senior adviser to the supreme leader in international affairs; and Ali Shamkhani, Iranian secretary for the Supreme National Security Council. Velayati is wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Argentina blames Hezbollah and Iran for the deadly attack.
The Hamas delegation included Mousa Abu Marzouk, based in New Cairo, Egypt; Maher Salah, head of Hamas abroad (diaspora), based in Lebanon; Husam Badran, former leader of Hamas in northern West Bank, based in Qatar; Osama Hamdan, based in Lebanon; Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas politburo in Qatar; and Ismail Radwan, former Hamas minister of religious endowments, living in Gaza.
Badran, one of Hamas’s founders, was among the 1,027 convicted Palestinian terrorists Israel freed in 2011 to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Hamas and held in Gaza for more than five years.
Iran has long had eyes on Gaza. The arms-laden Karine A ship, seized by the Israeli navy in January 2002 before it could reach Yasser Arafat’s PLO in Gaza, had originated from Iran.
Since the Hamas takeover of the coastal enclave, the terror group has managed to acquire rockets and missiles that have been instrumental in the ongoing attacks that sparked three wars with Israel and pose an ongoing threat.
IN 2012, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Al Jafari declared: “We are honored to announce that we gave them the technology of how to make Fajr-5 missiles, and now they have their hands on plenty of them.”
At the same time, an Islamic Jihad leader, Ziad al-Nakhla, told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV that “the arms of the resistance, including those of Hamas, are Iranian from the bullet to the missile.”
And, most recently, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s top leader in Gaza, thanked Iran for its support after Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired 700 rockets at Israel over one weekend in May. “Iran provided the rockets,” said Sinwar, who also was freed in the Shalit exchange.
Thirteen years after Israel left Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad “boast about improving military capabilities, smuggling weapons and investing millions of dollars in constructing tunnels,” Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh noted in a Gatestone Institute analysis. “Iran’s money goes to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad war machine – nothing else. Not hospitals, not schools, and not jobs for unemployed Palestinians.”
Iran is boosting its investment in Gaza, following years of what it considers a very successful ROI with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran increased its annual aid to Hamas from $100 million to $360 million following the Hamas delegation visit. Moreover, Hamas and Hezbollah recently pledged to come to the aid of each other if there is an armed confrontation with Israel.
Israel has clearly recognized that Iran is the problem, not just in Gaza, but regionally. “I don’t give Iran immunity anywhere,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week. “Iran is a country, power, which has declared her desire to annihilate Israel.”
While European nations are seeking economic cooperation with Iran and ways to keep alive the problematic nuclear agreement that the US has withdrawn from, Iran’s menacing end-runs must be monitored and effectively countered.
The Hamas-Iran dalliance should not be ignored.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.