Once again, Hamas has flexed its muscles. This time Iran is backing its show of force.
At the close of Ramadan and the onset of Eid al-Fitr (normally a joyous celebration for the entire Muslim world), Hamas made a brilliantly calculated decision and launched an offensive on Israel. This was far from an impulsive reaction. Hamas acted just as the Jewish nation began to emerge from the pandemic and as a fragile government almost formed cross-party alliances on the verge of uniting a coalition government between both Arab and Jewish Israelis.
Instead, framing the media narrative as “retaliation” for recent events at the Damascus Gate and the legal proceedings concerning the eviction of six Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas launched a violent offensive.
Hamas acted to hit Israel when it was most politically and economically vulnerable. It may also have acted as its puppet-master President of Iran Hassan Rouhani seems increasingly emboldened, reaching ever closer to the lifting of Iranian sanctions by the U.S. in resurrection of the stillborn Iran nuclear deal. Rouhani grows more confident sensing the Biden administration’s leniency toward Iran.
Today, the Hamas machine is far more than a mere foreign terrorist organization. It has evolved into a formidable military machine capable of challenging the most seasoned and hardened nation state militaries in the world.
Israel—and the world—are discovering Hamas has evolved into a much more aggressive predator. In the years since the last major conflict involving Hamas—2014’s Operation Protective Edge—Hamas has been continually evolving.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, then-CIA director Jim Woolsey cautioned the United States and the world during a 1993 speech to the Senate Committee on Intelligence. He warned that while a “dragon” had been slayed, the danger lay elsewhere in the form of myriad poisonous snakes. Unlike the dragon, the threat posed by elusive, serpentine threats would be much harder to contain.
Military analyst and anthropologist David Kilcullen in his 2020 book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, examines the very evolution we now see embodied in the recent conflict unfolding since Hamas launched six rockets from Gaza City directed at Jerusalem—the city considered deeply holy around the world for Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Claiming to “defend” Muslim Palestinians, Hamas instead desecrated the third holiest site in Islam and ignited sectarian tensions across the Jewish State and the disputed territories.
The intensity of the barrage of rockets Hamas fired in its initial salvos on Tel Aviv early last week equaled almost 17% of its entire arsenal fired in the 2014 Gaza War.
Since then, despite the blockade, Hamas has amassed arsenal, improved their range and precision. Understanding the Iron Dome can handle only a finite number of assaults simultaneously, Hamas seeks to expose the underbelly in the very robust Israeli defense systems and cause even more destruction.
Media reports describe these incoming Hamas missiles as “rockets,” misleading an uninformed public that the incoming fire is somehow minor, and can be dismissed as akin to troublesome Molotov cocktails lobbed by frustrated youths, or mere firecrackers easily nullified by the spectacular technology of the Iron Dome.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While suspicions are valid that Hamas is now not only stockpiling but manufacturing rockets inside Gaza City, which has been under siege since 2007, it is open about the source of its armaments, as Iran directs vast sums to sustaining both Hamas and Hezbollah. In fact, Iran has already announced increasing its monthly financial support of Hamas to $30 million since the conflict has begun. At a baseline, experts estimate Iran routinely supports Hezbollah annually with between $100 million and $200 million.
Iranian missiles have been widely used by Iran-backed Hezbollah operatives, some of which have warheads over 385 lbs. each, according to the RAND Institute, with a range of hundreds of miles. It is not inconceivable that a similar arsenal has now reached Hamas.
Iran long ago developed a fleet of reconnaissance drones used as artillery spotters in the Iran-Iraq War, later providing them to Hezbollah to surveil Israel. The finding of an armed, unmanned aerial vehicle—a weaponized drone—from Gaza is therefore no surprise.
In past years Iran has openly accelerated its missile program, now using both subjugated Syria and Iraq as missile manufacturing locations with Islamic Revolutionary guard Corps-manned missile systems trained on Tel Aviv and also Riyadh. Iran has made clear its missiles are trained on its staunchest enemies.
Today, Hamas reportedly manufactures its own arsenal inside Gaza City, some from salvaged plumbing pipes, others from Israeli munitions that landed in Gaza in the past and became ripe for jerry-rigging into new explosives.
The sophistication, structure, and maturity of Hamas as a terrorist entity is today much closer to a formal military force typical of nation states. Israel is facing not a ragamuffin terrorist group but a carefully honed military many nation states would be proud to harbor.
Recent retaliation strikes by Israel confirm the sheer depth of expertise within Hamas.
Israel has neutralized key leadership of Hamas within Gaza, including Bassam Issa, Gaza City Brigade commander; Jamma Tahla, head of Hamas Research and Development; a number of military intelligence leaders including the head of military intelligence security; the deputy head of military intelligence in counter-espionage; and several weapons-manufacturing experts including Jamal Zabedah, with a PhD in mechanical engineering and a sub-specialty in aerodynamics.
The depth of sophistication of Hamas is revealed by these personnel. Hamas is a deeply nuanced, strategic, and serious military army. It is heavily invested not only in armaments, arsenal, and infrastructure, but also in its strategic personnel.
This conflict is the opening engagement of Iran’s proxy war against Israel. Hamas is a formal military force deployed by Iran. Sympathizers and patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother ship of all Islamist terrorism. Turkey and Qatar are also engaged in undermining Israel through financial, infrastructure and logistical support of Hamas. Qatar is estimated to have provided $1 billion to Hamas between 2012 and 2018.
While Hamas is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, much of Europe, Israel, the UAE, Japan and other nations, its true character is increasingly departing from a paramilitary insurgent force to a formidable military machine.
While Palestinian children in Gaza are denied meaningful schooling, Palestinians in Gaza suffer in overburdened, under-equipped, and understaffed hospitals.
All this is as Hamas authorities failed to acquire adequate technology and medical equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic including COVID-19 vaccines for its population. While the world was consumed in defeating the pandemic and innovating vaccines, Hamas had been fine-tuning its war machinery.
While most Palestinians in Gaza lack economic opportunity and support, Hamas has systematically invested in extremely high-grade engineers, sophisticated military materials, and complex infrastructure. The mission is to amass, precision guide and deploy an exponential number of missiles in pursuit of their rigidly focused genocidal ambition. And that is to extinguish Israelis and destroy Israel.
Immediate punitive consequences must be placed not only on Hamas but on sovereign Iran. Iranian financing of its increasingly powerful Islamist proxy military Hamas must be choked at the source. Turkey and Qatar must be pressured to direct their financial support to Palestinians conditionally—and preferably through transparent third-party mechanisms—to exclude diversion to Hamas militant activities and militarization.
As the conflict stands, it is much wider than merely Hamas waging war on Israel or Israel defending its sovereignty currently under siege of Hamas rockets. This is an Islamist war ambition which threatens to spiral beyond Israel and the territories to become a multinational sectarian war of the Shia Islamist pseudo-democracy of Iran against the vanguard of Sunni Muslim nations that have long repudiated the Islamist terrorism among their own borders.
Hamas’s conflict is immoral on so many levels, and with Iran’s regional ambitions already encompassing and parasitizing Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, under the watch of a dangerously invertebrate U.S. administration sympathetic to Iranian hardliners, a much wider regional conflict is close to ignition. Immediate and escalating sanctions on Iran are a first step, terminating any rapprochement of the Iran nuclear deal is an immediate next step. If Iran remains defiant, diplomatic and economic pressures will soon be usurped by politics of other means—the waging of multilateral open war—not only on its proxies but on sovereign Iran by an international collation of seriously infuriated and aggrieved nations both in the region and the West.