Since December 27, the Palestinians have taken a pounding unlike anything they have experienced since the war of 1948. Hundreds are dead and thousands wounded as a result of this unexpected war in which Hamas has drawn Israel.
Reminiscent of the 2006 war with Hezbollah, this Hamas war of 2008 raises numerous questions as to the timing, motives and objectives (not to mention wisdom) of hurling hundreds of rockets at Israel following the December 19 expiration of the ceasefire. One of the most critical of the questions is whether Tehran was behind Hamas' escalation leading to the Israeli retaliation.
With the war only days underway, evidence for Tehran's explicit complicity has yet to be established. But terrorism expert Walid Phares has argued that from a strategic perspective, Iran's involvement can be expected. "Hamas is a direct ally of Iran and strategic decisions by the jihadi group are made in Tehran...just as we saw in Lebanon in 2006 -Tehran is pulling the strings and very smartly."
A closer look at Iran's relationship to Hamas over the last two decades as well as the purpose and results of the 2006 war lends support to his thesis and reinforces that the recent actions of Hamas are being directed by the Iranians to further their messianic mission toward hegemony in the region leading to a global Caliphate.
Hamas' origins date back to the late 1980s where it originated as the armed military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) of Palestine. As they emphatically declare in their founding Covenant, "The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of the Moslim (sic) Brotherhood in Palestine" with an unequivocal objective "...to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine." Their official slogan summarizes their dream: "Allah is the target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes."
Originally resistant to the Khomeinist brand of the Iranian Shi'ite revolution, Hamas made efforts early in its history to resist Iran and pursue a more independent path toward the fulfillment of their vision. But by 1990 when the first intifada began, Hamas began to see Iran as an ally that could assist in its Covenant purposes to eradicate the Jewish state and replace it with an Islamist one.
Following the defeat of Iraq in the first Gulf War, Hamas recognized Iran as the emerging power of the region and by 1992 sent an official delegation to Tehran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khameinei. Pledging military and financial support, Iran received Hamas, eventually giving them permission to open an office. Hamas responded in kind announcing that Hamas and Iran shared an "identical view in the strategic outlook toward the Palestinian cause in its Islamic dimension."
Ties between the two continued to tighten following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and in particular after Hamas' electoral victory in 2006. The international isolation of Hamas and refusal of the US, Europe and most Arab states to fund the newly elected military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood prompted Iran to announce $50 million in support in 2006. By mid 2007, Iran's known support for Hamas reached at least $120 million with pledges of an additional $250 million more, not including the military training and weapons Hamas received from Iran. By 2008, Iran was the primary supporter of Hamas and by some estimates had achieved proxy control of the organization. That Hamas has been brought under the Islamic Republic's wing was confirmed through a Hamas commander's own confession last spring when he verified that Hamas has been receiving military training by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard since 2005. "We have sent seven ‘courses' of our fighters to Iran," he said. "During each course, the group receives training that he will use to increase our capacity to fight...Those who go to Iran have to swear on the Koran not to reveal details, even to their mothers." Just ten days prior to the ceasefire's expiration on December 19, Ahmadinejad himself -- as if he knew something was about to happen -- emphasized the larger partnership between the two, vowing to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to support them "until the big victory feast which is the collapse of the Zionist regime." An excellent overview of Iran's strong influence in and over Hamas has been detailed by Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute, who argues persuasively that Iran's use of Hamas as a strategic asset is part and parcel of their grand design to establish the Caliphate from which their revolutionary jihad can be prosecuted more effectively for the subjugation of the West and world to Islam. This was also the purpose of the 2006 Israeli war with Hezb'allah.
Referred to as the First Israeli-Iranian War by Wurmser, the war was the beginning of a deliberate military effort by Iran to demonstrate to the Islamist world Iran's resolve (via Hezb'allah) to eradicate Israel and advance the Islamic revolution. Even to Iran, the results of the war were astonishing, confirming the military and strategic utility of using its proxies to diminish the perception of Israel's power, destabilize the region, and distract the international "community" while enhancing its own stature, prestige and power in the region.
That Iran achieved its objectives in the First Israeli-Iranian War, former Israeli Defense Minister and Ambassador to the US Moshe Arens lamented,
The perception in the Arab and Muslim world has already been mentioned; they believe that Israel was defeated by a few hundred Hizballah fighters, not by a big, strong army comparable to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Some 1.25 million residents were forced to evacuate their homes in the North of Israel or to sit in bomb shelters for over a month...I believe that if the Israeli public were polled, the majority would conclude that we were defeated.
While the military might of the IDF certainly overwhelmed Hezb'allah, it was the Lebanese Islamists' resolve to keep the rockets firing and actually survive the massive and disproportionate offensive by Israel that, in spite of the military and strategic advantages Israel gained after the war, led Israel and the world to perceive the war as a loss.
Of course for Hezb'allah, the perceived outcome was just the opposite. General Secretary of Hezb'allah Hassan Nasrallah's popularity soared among the Muslim masses around the globe, with his picture being plastered in windows, on doors and t-shirts in the same way Bin Laden's was after 9-11. And even though nearly decimated by Israel, Hezb'allah and its leader became the region's new giant slayer, reviving hope that Israel could be defeated thus enabling Nasrallah to further consolidate power in Lebanon.
But as mentioned, the real prize went to Iran, which proved through its proxy war it was able to successfully divert attention from the nuclear issue, undermine the power and influence of the more secular Arab states namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia, bog Israel down in an unpopular war and prevent it from fully accomplishing its declared war objectives, destabilize the region further leaving a greater power vacuum (which it of course moved to fill), rally the United Nations to deploy forces ensuring further protection for Hezb'allah, and emerge as the de-facto leader of the Islamist movement dedicated to the messianic tenets of Israel's destruction and implementation of the Caliphate.
The current war between Hamas and Israel -- which may be the Second Israeli-Iranian War -- follows the same pattern as the 2006 war with Iran and its allies vying to produce a similar outcome. A perceived defeat for Israel and victory (simply by surviving) for Hamas and the Palestinians would certainly buy more time for Iran's nuclear development ambitions, continue to isolate Egypt, Saudi and Jordan from the larger Islamic community (as we are seeing), further destabilize the region by increasing Hamas' power, and bring more pressure to bear against Israel by the western nations for their "disproportionate" response and "inhumane" treatment of Palestinians, all of which -- Iran has certainly calculated -- move the Islamist ball further down the field toward the goal of Caliphate.