MESOP : Does Iran benefit from Gaza crisis? / AL MONITOR

AL MONITOR 4.8.2014 – Suleimani​ praises Hamas – On July 30, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Commander Qassem Suleimani, praised the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, “the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and all the resistance groups.”Suleimani’s praise for Hamas is noteworthy.

There had been a chill in Iran-Hamas ties since Hamas broke with Syria, and by extension Iran and Hezbollah, in 2012. Hamas, which has since been isolated in its regional alliances, had sought to restore ties with Iran even prior to the current war in Gaza. All this sets the table for Tehran’s leaders, who see opportunity in the Gaza crisis to expand Iran’s regional influence. Adnan Abu Amer reported from Gaza last month on Iran’s role in assisting Hamas in developing its indigenous rocket capability.

Iran’s role in Gaza illustrates a trend that this column first noted during the last round of fighting in November 2012. At that time, we wrote:

“Iran revealed that it has the wherewithal to shift the equation and provide some payback, even in those areas where its adversaries allegedly hold sway and hegemony. The fighting in both Gaza and Syria shows Iran’s capabilities to play on two fronts, simultaneously. For those who believed the trend is ‘Sunni leaders gaining clout,’ Iran is saying think again.”

Adnan Abu Amer reports this week of that while Hamas’ ties to Iran remain strained, the shifting regional politics may have negative consequences for Israel, despite some reports that Israel may be a “beneficiary” of the conflict in its own Middle East alignments:

“The counterproductive effect, as far as Israel is concerned, of restoring the broken ties between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. All three, despite the objections from Damascus, sense an opportunity to seize the regional circumstances and renew alliances. According to a Palestinian official based in Lebanon who has taken part in talks to revive ties between Hamas and Hezbollah, this also comes amid the flirtation between Qatar and Iran that may expedite the restoration of an alliance with Hamas, albeit still plagued by a number of problems.”

Netanyahu’s Iran distraction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fixation on the threat from Iran may have distracted him from the threat from Hamas, including the expansion of Hamas’ tunnel networks.

Shlomi Eldar writes, “For years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu funneled all his energies and hundreds of millions of defense system dollars into a war against Iran’s nuclear project. Israelis heard at every possible opportunity that Iran threatened the existence of their country. According to foreign sources, Israel undertook serious preparations for an aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. … Thus, just when Israel concentrated its greatest efforts and resources on the Islamic Republic, Hamas initiated its massive tunnel enterprise. While the tunnel threat does not compare to a nuclear attack on Israel, it turned out that the dangers posed by the tunnels were much more tangible and concrete.”

The network of tunnels has so far frustrated Israeli efforts to inflict serious damage on Hamas’ leadership or infrastructure.

Ben Caspit argues that this lack of a decisive victory distinguishes the conflict from previous rounds:

“One of the byproducts of this situation is that Israel did not plan the events. Let’s compare it to the two previous rounds, which were meticulously planned. Operation Pillar of Defense began with the killing of Hamas’ chief of staff, Ahmed Jabari, on Nov. 14, 2012. There’s your victory photo right off the bat. It worked out because it was planned well in advance. Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 started with a broad, surprise attack by the Israeli air force on 12 Hamas bases, during which 220 of its militants were killed during the first airstrike. That, too, is your victory photo. In today’s Operation Protective Edge, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are still looking for their victory photo. Hamas leaders do not raise their heads out of their bunkers. Its fighters emerge out of the tunnels or withdraw into the inner parts of Gaza City. Hamas is harassing the IDF with booby-trapped buildings, anti-tank missiles and explosive tunnels.”