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Operation Cast Lead: Who Expects to Gain from the Fighting? INSS Insight No.

88, January 12, 2009

Schweitzer, Yoram

Behind the scenes in the war underway between Hamas and Israel, there is a party
playing a key role that aspires to be the big winner in the fighting – Iran. As in the
Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hizbollah, Iran is gaining precious time to
promote the leading strategic goal of its policy in recent years: attaining nuclear
weapons capability.
While intensive international criticism has been hurled at Israel, the major part
played by Iran in inciting warfare in the Middle East has attracted little public attention.
Iran, which has exerted massive efforts in training, supplying, arming, and financing its
proxy organizations in the Middle East, has managed to skirt any real criticism. Iran’s
benefit from inciting acts of violence is twofold: first, it helps prepare local forces for
battle, while the subsequent fighting diverts international attention to areas far away
from Iran. Second, Iran is called upon to help rebuild the non-sovereign forces that
serve its interests. Iran has avidly fulfilled this role, arming and supplying these forces
again in preparation for a possible further round of fighting.
Since the theocrats assumed power (waliat-e-faqih) in Iran, the regime has used
terrorism as an effective tool for advancing its political goals. In its first two decades,
the Iranian regime used terrorism directly and crudely through its intelligence agents,
whom it sent to liquidate opponents of the regime in Iran and abroad, including those
residing in Western countries, with no scruples about violating the sovereignty and law
of those countries. At the same time, Iran sent its proxy organizations into action, which
likewise liquidated opposition figures (for example, the 1992 assassination of Kurdish
party exiles in Berlin). Iran also escalated its operations against targets in Western and
Arab countries whose policies countered the interests of the regime.
In recent years, Iran has shifted its policy to the indirect use of terrorism, with a
focus on boosting the military capabilities of its full and partial proxies by supplying
them with equipment and armaments of extremely high quality and providing advanced
military training on its sovereign territory. This policy is designed to enable Iran to
harass and even confront its enemies militarily, first and foremost Israel. Thus Iran
trained many Hizbollah personnel and supplied the organization with superior
equipment and armaments, until Hizbollah reached a military level equivalent to that of
regular armies in sovereign countries. This capability was demonstrated in the Second
Lebanon War and, as expected, served the interests of Iran.
Over several years Iran has adopted a similar policy towards Hamas, although
relations between the two differ than those with Hizbollah. For Hamas, it is a marriage
of convenience that it espoused in the absence of other patrons. Iran is the party
supplying Hamas with long range rockets that target southern Israel and are even liable
to reach the outskirts of central Israel. Iran has also helped Hamas (as well as Islamic
Jihad, which was responsible for much of the shooting at southern Israel that led to the
end of the ceasefire and which is probably also a part of the current bombardment of
Israeli cities) by training a large part of its fighting force. In recent years Hamas
members have undergone military training at facilities in Iran, ranging from basic six-
week courses to advanced 18-month training. Iran thereby provided Hamas with a high
level of military and command training, and equipped it such that it grew from an
organization dispatching terrorist squads to a hierarchal military power trained and
equipped to fight against Israel.
Before and during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas’ military doctrine and reasoning
– like Hizbollah's – was based on Iranian military doctrine. This doctrine relies on
launching rockets against Israeli cities in order to put more and more civilian areas into
the range of fire with the goal of leveling indiscriminate physical damage, arousing
anxiety among Israeli civilians, and exhausting them to the point of disrupting their
For its part, Iran is waiting patiently for what it anticipates following the
campaign in Gaza. With Israel striking Hamas’ civilian, economic, and military
infrastructure heavily, it is clear that after the fighting is over the organization will need
thorough rebuilding, a renewed supply of equipment and armaments, training of new
forces to replace those that were hit, and of course substantial financing. The available
and willing partner to provide support and aid is Iran. Iran stands decidedly as Hamas’
principal supporter, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, which object, albeit
some only verbally, to Hamas’ policy of terrorism that eventually led Israel's harsh
In the struggle against Iran, Israel currently has many potential allies among
both Western and Arab countries. These countries regard Shiite Iran as a rising and
negative power that threatens the stability of the global and regional order through both
nuclear proliferation and terrorism. While Iran seeks to remain behind the scenes but
continue to fan the flames of discord and incite violence in the Middle East, Israel
should fully illuminate this policy and expose Iran’s negative role.
US president-elect Barack Obama has declared his intention of entering into
dialogue with Iran in order to test its willingness to change its nuclear policy and refrain
from active efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. In addition to this important issue, it is
necessary to thwart Iran’s efforts to ignite the Middle East. Iran should be confronted
with a demand to stop its active support of Middle East organizations, principally
Hizbollah and the Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which act
with Iranian support to disrupt any moves towards peace between Israel and Lebanon
and between Israel and the pragmatic Palestinian camp. This demand, if accepted by
Iran, is likely to help the Obama administration promote possible understandings and
political arrangements in the Middle East.
Until the Obama administration’s success in changing Iran’s ways has been
tested, Israel must expose to global opinion makers – including those that severely
criticize what they deem as a policy of disproportionate response against its attackers
from the north and south – the role of Iran as a habitual inciter of violence in the region
and the principal beneficiary of that violence. These benefits lie in several areas:
diversion of the international community’s attention from the nuclear issue to the
outbreak of violence in the region and the need to invest efforts in solving it; attrition of
Israeli society in an ongoing struggle; engagement of the IDF and diffusion of its
efforts; and solidified and strengthened Hamas dependence on Iran, which thereby
encourages Hamas to serve as an Iranian instrument and entrenches its obligation to