Iran’s destabilizing role has been exposed in Gaza

Rockets fired from Gaza City
Getty Images

While it appears that the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza is holding, the latest eruption of violence between Israel and Gaza was just the latest illustration that this long-simmering conflict remains unresolved. It is a conflict that has deep roots in historical grievances and geopolitical fault lines, and would be challenging enough were it not for the encouragement and direct enabling of violence by a third party, one that has continued to escape accountability: Iran.

The almost surreal images of Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-rocket system engaging Hamas-fired projectiles masks the fact that Tehran is supplying Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups with technology, assistance, and materials, enabling these very groups to amass some 30,000 rockets and mortars. To be sure, these militant groups are assembling and manufacturing their own projectiles using everything from plumbing supplies to dud Israeli munitions, but the more advanced and more capable rockets are being supplied from Iran.

In May 2019, Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza acknowledged just how important Tehran has been to the militant group’s efforts, saying “If it wasn’t for Iran’s support, we would not have had these capabilities.” In a September 2020 video on Al Jazeera, members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the militant wing of Hamas, were seen collecting Iranian Fajr missiles, Kornet anti-tank rockets, and other munitions.

This should not come as a surprise, but must be acknowledged as a not insignificant obstacle to resolving the open conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Ayatollah Khamenei himself said, “Zionists understand nothing but the language of force, so the Palestinians must increase their power and resistance to force the criminals to surrender and stop their brutal acts.” A constructive partner for peace, Iran is most certainly not.

Iran’s involvement in the current crisis is barely concealed. Esmail Ghaani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, and successor to Qasem Soleimani — killed by the United States at the beginning of 2020 — is in close contact with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Iranian press reports that Hamas, likely with the assistance of Tehran, has increased the speed of rockets, as well as the volume and accuracy of the projectiles, in an attempt to thwart the Iron Dome system.

According to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency, “resistance groups have gradually increased the quality of their rockets and missiles by carefully studying the strengths and weaknesses of the Zionist Army Air Defense Organization and especially its Iron Dome system.” This is not something done in a backyard or a Gaza basement, but something done by professionals, almost certainly wearing IRGC uniforms.

Iran’s destabilizing influence is seen across the region from Yemen with its support of the Houthis to Lebanon with its support of Hezbollah, its backing and support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its attempts to undermine democracy in Iraq. Tehran seeks not stability, growth, or peace, but chaos and instability in the region, and it is proving effective in this pursuit. Iran’s policies in the Middle East have done nothing but bring ruin to the region, destabilize our allies and foment violence in areas that need assistance and support, not more arms and munitions.

Progress towards peace cannot be made in the midst of rocket barrages and counter-battery fire, and certainly cannot be made while Tehran is actively undermining the process, enabling its partners in Gaza to indiscriminately attack Israel. Iran is seeing to it that the violence continues by providing more advanced rockets and mortars, increasing Hamas’ capabilities and outright encouraging violence between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Until we recognize and call out Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, we will not be able to make any real progress on any of the litany of issues facing the Middle East. This was one of the most significant issues affecting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program — we rewarded Tehran by unfreezing assets and removing sanctions, only to get half-hearted promises that they would not pursue nuclear weapons further, all the while their irregular warfare campaign remained unaddressed. The Biden administration cannot go down this path again, pursuing an agreement with hopeful naivete that Tehran will moderate its policies or abide by any agreement. 

The cease-fire is a good first step, and one that we must work to ensure holds, but it is well past time to hold Iran accountable for its fomenting of this conflict and destabilizing role in the region. Failing to do so will leave this conflict, and so many others in the region, like open sores in which Tehran’s influence will continue to fester.

Mike Rogers is a former Republican representative in Congress who was a chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Follow him on Twitter: @repmikerogers

Tags Gaza Strip Gaza War Gaza–Israel conflict Hamas History of the Gaza Strip Iran–Israel proxy conflict Iron Dome Israeli–Palestinian conflict Palestinian political violence State of Palestine

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