Tuesday , 5 December 2023

How far will Iran go to support Hamas in war with Israel?

Al-Monitor – The head of Iran’s Quds Force, the powerful wing commanding its controversial foreign military operations, has assured the Palestinian Hamas movement of Tehran’s unwaveringsupport amid the Israeli war on Gaza.  

But depsite the public letter in which Maj. Gen. Esmail Qaani declared that “we will do anything required in this historic battle,” Iran’s practical actions remain cautious. 

Written in Arabic, the letter addressed the commander of Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades, Mohammad al-Deif. The armed branch was responsible for the Oct. 7 operation in which Hamas militants rampaged Israeli communities and military bases, killing 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Israel in response has launched a devastating war on the Gaza Strip, which has claimed over 11,000 lives, drawing international condemnation. 

To Qaani, the Hamas attack was “an epic and a novel initiative,” and he added, “Palestine and the region will not be as they were,” arguing that it “exposed the vulnerability of the occupying Zionist regime.” 

The Quds Force is in charge of the overseas activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It has over the years funded, armed and trained a network of proxies across the Middle East, most notably in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to expand and advance the Shite Islamic Republic’s ideological and military agenda. Qaani is also a long-time comrade of, and successor to, Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most influential general, who was assassinated in a US airstrike in 2020.

“Your brothers in the axis of resistance stand united with you,” the hardliner commander added, highlighting Iran’s “commitment of fraternity” with Hamas.  

No concrete promise  

The letter, however, did not outline how precisely the Islamic Republic will support Hamas. The stated policy which Iran has pursued since the war broke out is one that seeks to avoid direct military engagement.  

Iranian authorities, most notably Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have carefully distanced themselves from the planning of the Hamas operation, and have restricted their rhetoric to a series of warnings that resistance groups — Iran’s moniker for its proxies — could attack if Israel refuses to hold fire.  

Qaani’s belated letter, 40 days into the war, appeared also as a public relations tactic to address growing speculation that Iran is leaving Hamas unsupported in the war. Earlier in November, Hamas leader Esmail Haniyeh met Khamenei in Tehran. The news of the meeting was never published at the time by Iran’s state media, which typically give extensive coverage to such events. It was only a few days later revealed by Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s representative in Beirut. 

On Wednesday, however, a Reuters report claimed that at the meeting, Khamenei had complained to Haniyeh that Iran was kept in the dark on the Oct. 7 operation, and as such the Islamic Republic was not going to fight the war for Hamas.  

The Palestinian movement has denied the account. Its Beirut representative, Hamdan, called it “worthless lies,” according to Iran’s official news agency, IRNA. He described the meeting as “positive,” yet did not offer further details.  

But Hamas has already implied its unease with Iran’s most favored and most powerful proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, for not going far enough in its support. “We expect more,” said Ghazi Hamad, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, in an interview with the Associated Press in late October. While Hezbollah has lost dozens of fighters in clashes with the Israeli military in the flashpoint border area, the group’s engagement thus far has remained limited under Tehran’s guidelines. 

Two recent speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah have also been more reserved than expected, as he walks the fine line not to make any public pledges on behalf of his group, whose involvement could mean thrusting an already economically squeezed Lebanon into a destructive war, while also posing an existential threat to the leadership in Tehran.