Here's Why Iran Might End Up Turning Its Back On Hamas
Iran's revolutionary regime insists it wants Israel destroyed and has threatened a regional war, but its actions are ambivalent, suggesting it may fear a regional war that would hasten its demise. As a result, it may decide to stop supporting Hamas in Gaza.
Updated Nov. 14, 2023 at 11:05 p.m.
Urban warfare is an ugly mess even for high-tech armies, yet after weeks of bombing Hamas targets, Israel believed it had no choice but to invade Gaza and expose its troops to just this type of fighting. It is the only way of flushing out Hamas, it says, which has decided to fight Israel amid the wreckage of Gazan homes, schools and clinics.
Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by similar militias working in coordination with the Iranian regime have become a headache for the Biden administration, which is seen by some as taking a soft line with the Tehran. The administration insists there is no hard evidence yet of Iranian involvement in Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7, though it has hardened its tone, warning Tehran not to pour "fuel on fire."
As for the European Union, it remains cautious about listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, even if in September the NATO parliamentary assembly advised members of the alliance to list them as such and aid the democratic aspirations of ordinary Iranians.
Whatever the details, the war in Gaza is intimately connected to the Iranian regime and its modus operandi.
Its officials have warned that the Gaza offensive, if continued, would open new fronts against Israel. The regime's foreign minister, Hussein Amirabdullahian, vowed Gaza would become an Israeli "graveyard" if its troops invaded, while the head of the Revolutionary guards, Hussein Salami, compared the strip to a "dragon" that would "devour" the invaders.
But so far we have seen nothing of Iran's more dramatic threats, made soon after the October attack, including the West Bank joining with Gaza or the Lebanese Hezbollah firing off 150,000 rockets. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while insisting Iran had nothing to do with the Hamas assault, urged regional states to starve Israel of fuel. That too has yet to happen.
On the other hand, neighboring states like Jordan and Egypt have closed their borders, refusing to contemplate a Palestinian exodus into their territories.
Curiously perhaps, the Islamic Republic's UN envoy voted for a resolution tabled at a General Assembly session on October 27, which reiterates the two-state solution for the conflict. This goes against Iran's vociferous calls in past years for Israel's disappearance. Some observers of Iranian diplomacy suspect this might be another case of the "heroic flexibility" touted by Khamenei, which has allowed the regime to engage in diplomatic volte-faces without losing face, as it were. Others say evolving events may have trapped Iran.
Regional affairs specialist Meir Javedanfar told Kayhan-London that Iran voted for the resolution as it was evident most assembly members would back it. It paid the price of accepting its 13th clause, which effectively recognized an Israeli state, in exchange for the satisfaction of the text's refusal to condemn Hamas. A better indication of Iran's serpentine maneuverings was in a report in the Kuwaiti daily Al-seyassah citing declarations to Newsweek by the Hamas envoy in Lebanon, on October 19. He reportedly declared that Hamas has acted in full coordination with Iran and Hezbollah and had in fact fallen prey to Iran's deceitful promises and evident betrayal.
Is the Tehran regime having misgivings about the Palestinian cause?
So is revolutionary Iran stepping back? Is there discord among decision makers in Tehran? Why hasn't Hezbollah launched a full-blown attack on Israel? Is the Islamic Republic manipulating these militias for its own interests? What did Khalid Mishaal, one of Hamas's political bosses, mean when he said in October that he was hoping for more help from Iran and Hezbollah? Is the Tehran regime having misgivings about the Palestinian cause?
Iranian Pro-Palestine protestors gathered during an anti-Israeli rally to show their solidarity with Gaza.
Nevermind the Gaza toll?
Hamas authorities say more than 10,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza since Israel began bombing the territory. Whatever the exact figures, to be established in due course, for Tehran, they're a trifle. The crucial point is that its Axis of Resistance has struck Israel a painful blow. As the head of the Iranian armed forces joint command, Muhammad Baqeri, has said, "even if Gaza is bombed for a year and all [its people] are martyred, the Zionists would still be the undoubted losers."
The Kayhan newspaper in Tehran, usually considered a mouthpiece of the Supreme leader, published on October 28 a reader's opinion — and no doubt its own — that Iran's enmity with Israel was not just "over the Palestinians. Even if... all the Palestinians were to start supporting Israel, Iran will remain its enemy." Clearly, the regime is focused on its hatred of Israel, and not the plight of the Gazans or Palestinians.
How much does Iran actually support Hamas?
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh claimed in an Al Jazeera interview that Iran is Hamas' largest donor, providing roughly $70 million per year to the armed Palestinian group. U.S. and Israeli officials predict that the amount could be as high as $100 million. In addition to Hamas, Iran has invested billions of dollars to arm, train and finance other armed groups like Gaza-based Islamic Jihad and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
Why are U.S. - Iran tensions so high?
Tensions between the United States and Iran have been high since the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini replaced the U.S.-backed Shah (Iran's Monarch), who had taken power after U.S. and British intelligence helped overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953. Tensions between post-Islamic Revolution Iran and the United States have only increased as Iranian-backed militias threaten Israel, America's closest ally in the region. In the wake of Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7, the United States has increased military activity around Iran by sending two aircraft-carriers and a nuclear submarine to the region.
How close are Russia and Iran?
Moscow and Tehran have become closer allies since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as the countries have united around opposition to the United States and its allies. Iran has sent drones to support Russia's effort against Ukraine, and Russia has sent back U.S.-made weapons captured in Ukraine to Iran, according to CNN. Military, economic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. Hamas officials met with Russian officials in Moscow last month.
Crossing the red lines
Hamas's assault, its modalities and its hostages have crossed so many red lines that a regional war is no longer implausible. Iranian officials seem to have taken stock of this possibility, in spite of Israel's apparent hesitations.
Iran and the United States were never as close as they are now to open conflict.
A former member of the Iranian parliament's National Security committee, Hishmatullah Falahatpisheh, has said Iran and the United States were never as close as they are now to open conflict. If Iran were coyly stepping back, it certainly would not be out of concern for the disastrous effects of any war on its semi-comatose economy.
Many states, like Russia, have shown they will pursue an irrational conflict in spite of its economic consequences, and Iran's leadership too has shown it has little time for irritants like the economic problems of millions of Iranians.
Factors for war
While the West is loath to open a second or third front of conflicts when grappling with a first one in Ukraine, Russia on the other hand may benefit from Western entanglement in the Middle East. Perhaps it has enough influence on Iranian policy-making to goad the regime into taking a rash step and courting disaster. Because in the hierarchy of global cynicism, just as the Islamic Republic cares little about the suffering of ordinary Gazans, its ally Russia has shown, time and again, that it too will use, and ditch, the regime to suit its own purposes.
Inside Iran, there is a "millenarian" or cataclysmic current among the Shias that believes that striking at Israel will hasten the Mahdi or Hidden Imam's appearance. It has ties both to the seminaries and the military and in principle at least, the Islamic Republic's policies have sought to favor this appearance (as a prelude to peace and justice in the world).
In recent weeks, Iran's top military commanders have repeated their hatred of Israel and "ardent desire" to see it destroyed. Observers of regional tensions have often warned of a strategic mistake sparking the dreaded, regional war. Could the fervor of influential religious elements or members of a hardline government cause the spark? Was the Hamas attack a strategic mistake? Or, did Iran make that mistake already by arming and throwing in its lot with Russia?
Does the Iranian regime have an arsenal to match its provocations? Overuse of its favored tools — proxy militias, drones, rockets, hostages and blackmail — could also act as the detonator of a war with hideous consequences. Expert Meir Javedanfar believes the next flashpoint in any spreading war would be some big action by Hezbollah. That would entail massive Israeli retaliations, which could in turn include strikes on targets in Syria, and possibly inside Iran.
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