Iran´s War in Gaza (FP) FOREIGN POLICY) BY JONATHAN SCHANZER 03/13/12)
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Israeli jets pounded the Gaza Strip on March 12 in the latest volley
of fire since violence broke out late last week. But they were not
fighting Hamas, Israel´s traditional bÍte noire in Gaza. Though
radical factions have now fired more than 200 rockets into Israel,
the self-described Islamic Resistance Movement has yet to claim
responsibility for a single attack. It may be the first time the
organization has refused to lead the charge to battle against Israel.
Hamas has a different fight on its hands. Iran, through the use of
its proxies, is fomenting instability in Gaza that it is ill-equipped
to handle. Indeed, Tehran is punishing Gaza´s de facto rulers for
leaving their long-standing alliance.
Rocket fire out of Gaza is rather common, of course. Before the
current spasm of violence, the Israelis had reported more than 50
attacks this year. This latest round began on March 9 after an
Israeli airstrike killed Zuhair al-Qaissi, the head of the Popular
Resistance Committees (PRC), a group with deep ties to the Iran-
backed Hezbollah. Israeli sources commonly report that the two groups
share a financial and logistical relationship. Tellingly, the PRC´s
logo -- featuring an arm brandishing an automatic weapon -- borrows
liberally from the Hezbollah flag (which in turns borrows from the
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). Qaissi, according to the IDF, was
on his way into Israel to carry out a terrorist attack.
Hezbollah condemned the attack from Lebanon, while Iran-backed
factions in Gaza fired rockets in retribution. The PRC launched at
least 85, by their own (perhaps inflated) count. Palestinian Islamic
Jihad -- whose primary patron is also Iran, according to the U.S.
intelligence committee -- reportedly launched more than 185. Groups
without ties to Iran accounted for a measly eight rockets fired on
Israel, according to Israeli government sources.
One Israeli outlet reported that Hamas has allowed other jihadi
groups to fire rockets with a wink and a nod. This is difficult to
confirm. Meanwhile, Maan News Agency, an independent Palestinian news
source, reported that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh engaged in intense
talks brokered by Egypt to bring a halt to the violence. Those
negotiations resulted in a cease-fire that went into effect Monday
night, although several rockets have already reportedly been fired
In fact, the last thing Hamas needs is a war. The militant faction
faces its greatest challenge since its creation in 1987: While it has
the hardware necessary to fight Israel, it lacks the foreign backing
to mount a sustained campaign.
Years of financial sanctions have hammered Tehran for pursuing its
illicit nuclear program, denying Iran the cash that it has long
provided to Hamas. And after a year of violence in Syria, Hamas´s
external leaders had no choice but to leave its longtime safe haven,
while Haniyeh denounced the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
After all, it´s hard to present yourself as a group fighting for
justice while your patron slaughters thousands of civilians in the
Numerous reports now indicate that Hamas is drifting from the Iran-
Syria axis. While Hamas has not ruptured its relations with Tehran in
the same manner that it abandoned Damascus, Iranian leaders are
clearly irked that the Palestinian faction has refused to stand by
Assad, a key strategic figure for Tehran in the region.
Whereas Iran once respected Hamas´s wishes and helped maintain a
modicum of calm inside Gaza, the gloves are now off. Iran is using
its smaller and less-expensive proxies, the PRC and PIJ, to create
unrest on Hamas´s turf.
As the Iranians see it, Hamas has outlived its usefulness. In the
aftermath of Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, during
which Israel delivered punishing blows to Hamas in retaliation for
rocket fire into southern Israel, the group has become more cautious.
Ideologically, it has not changed. But practically, it seeks less to
destroy Israel than to preserve its own existence.
The Iranian leadership also has its own reasons for wreaking havoc in
Gaza now. For starters, it deflects international attention from
Tehran´s nuclear activities. With Israel on the brink of war with the
Palestinians, the international community´s Pavlovian response is to
rein Israel in and call for calm on both sides. The United Nations is
now rushing to avert a war in Gaza instead of looking at new ways to
halt Iran´s nuclear drive.
Moreover, any unrest in the region reverberates in the oil markets.
Traders don´t like to see violence near their energy sources -- just
look at the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, which drove oil
prices up almost 15 percent, despite the fact that Lebanon is not an
oil exporter. Causing spikes in oil prices is the easiest way for
Iran to circumvent sanctions: The more oil costs, the more cash
Tehran can raise as it takes those last fateful steps toward the
The current crisis reveals that, for Iran, Hamas is expendable. But
even after the alliance has frayed, Iran has maintained influence in
Gaza thanks to a "martyrdom" culture it helped cultivate, weapons
tunnels it helped build and maintain, and small but lethal terrorist
groups it continues to finance. These groups now tempt Israel into
another war from which only Iran will gain.
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