Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, but increasingly during 2008 and especially during the period of calm, Iran directly helped Hamas to intensify its military buildup.
The Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 enabled that organization to establish a radical Islamic entity, which, with Iranian support, allowed it to conduct its own internal and foreign policies, including the waging of a continuous terror campaign against Israel.
Being a terrorist organization, Hamas is isolated by the international community, and is seriously at odds with Egypt and pro-Western Arab countries. It is also increasingly estranged from the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas and the pragmatic Palestinian leadership. Because of the internal and external difficulties it faces, Hamas has a vital need for external strategic support to bolster its political survival and advance its military buildup. Although Hamas is Sunni Muslim and Iran is Shi’ite, they share broad common denominators: their perception that terrorism should be the main Palestinian strategic tool, their objection to the Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations (the Annapolis process) and their long-standing, deeply rooted hostility toward the United States and the West. For these reason’s Hamas’ natural choice for strategic support was Iran.
Since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, but increasingly during 2008 and especially during the period of calm, Iran directly helped Hamas to intensify its military buildup, by proving lavish funding and shipping large quantities of arms and munitions. The main method used for supplying Hamas was by smuggling through tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. There were also attempts to smuggle weapons in by sea. In the recent cease-fire negotiations initiated by Egypt, and even after the cease-fire took hold, Hamas spokesmen made it clear that they would not agree to stop the smuggling.
From Iran’s perspective, a radical Islamic entity in the Gaza Strip is an important strategic asset against Israel’s southern border, in conjunction with the threat posed to Israel by Hizbullah in the north. In Tehran’s view, Iranian sponsorship of Hamas weakens the influence of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and undermines Israel-Palestinian negotiations. It is also a means of exporting Iran’s brand of radical Islam to other Sunni countries, especially Egypt, allowing it to establish a foothold in the heart of the Sunni world.
In retrospect, it is clear that without the massive support provided by Iran, it would have been extremely difficult for Hamas to engage in its recent military buildup. It is also reasonable to assume that without such support Hamas would not have been so aggressive in its rocket fire against Israel and its defiant political stance vis-a-vis Egypt and the pragmatic Palestinian Authority.
Iran has explicitly stated that the fighting in Gaza is one aspect of a wider campaign for the future of the Middle East, which will be waged between the "resistance" camp and the West. In all likelihood, the end of Operation Cast Lead will lead to an Iranian effort to rehabilitate and restore Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and capabilities. As in the past, Hamas and Iran are expected to be creative in overcoming obstacles to renewing the flow of weapons and ammunition. Fortunately, the actual rehabilitation will likely prove more difficult than was the case with Hizbullah in Lebanon, as Iran has no direct access to the Gazan border, and the smuggling attempts will be hindered by closer supervision.
With this in mind, the Foreign Ministry has requested that a comprehensive research brief on Iranian influence in Hamas-ruled Gaza be prepared by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC). It is hoped that discussion, distribution and analysis of this document will heighten the awareness of the international community to the imperative of preventing Iran from re-penetrating Gaza under the guise of the anticipated international reconstruction effort (as was the case following the Second Lebanon War in 2006).