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Fact Sheets: Iran’s Interest in Gaza War

(Updated January 2009)

One of the most serious consequences of the Gaza war has been the world’s distraction from the broader strategic threat posed by Iran. While international attention focuses on Gaza, Iran continues to work illegally on its nuclear program. This is one good reason for Iran to discourage Hamas from accepting a cease-fire.

According to a report submitted to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the last days of 2008, Iran will be a member of the nuclear club by the end of 2011, at the latest, and 2009 may be the last chance to prevent Iran from developing a bomb (Asharq Al-Awsat, January 7, 2009). The CIA also believes Iran is progressing toward a bomb. Outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden said, “I’m amazed Iran is willing to run the costs they are running if they are not trying to keep the option open for a nuclear weapon” (AP, January 16, 2009).

Ending the fighting in Gaza will not slow Iran’s steady progress toward joining the nuclear club. The outcome of the war may, however, influence how determined the Arab states will be to resist the Iranian nuclear program and whether they will have faith in America’s commitment to its allies, and President-elect Obama’s stated intention to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb.

Iran shares the Hamas goal of destroying Israel and has provided the group with weapons (the advanced Grad rockets now allowing Hamas to target major cities such as Beersheva), training (in Lebanon, Syria and Iran) and money ($20-$35 million annually). It was partly due to this support from Iran that Hamas was able to stage a coup and take over Gaza from its rivals in Fatah.

While some members of Hamas are seeking a halt to the current violence, the Islamic Republic has threatened that any cease-fire agreement will end Iran’s financial and military support of Hamas.

Besides diverting attention from its nuclear program, Iran wants to prolong the fighting in the hope of winning the type of public relations victory over Israel it believes it achieved in Lebanon. The Iranians believe that Israel’s international standing will suffer from the bad publicity it receives as casualty figures mount, and hope the Muslim world can be mobilized against Israel. If in the end Hamas can claim victory, it will enhance Iranian prestige in the Arab world.

During the Cold War, Henry Kissinger understood it was vital that Israel, as America’s ally, defeat the clients of the Soviet Union. This showed the Arabs that aligning with the Soviets would not help them achieve their aims. It also demonstrated the superiority of American weapons and the value of friendship with the United States.

The Gaza war represents a similar opportunity to show the Arab world that it is far better for them to be aligned with the United States than Iran, that radical Islam is not on the march and that the spread of Iranian influence can be retarded.

This is why U.S. support for Operation Cast Lead is so vital. If America backs Israel’s demands for ending the war, it will strengthen the anti-Iranian forces throughout the region.

The Iranian government does not want to see any deal in Gaza that restricts its ability to send weapons and money to Hamas. Israel understands this must be prevented or its troops will inevitably be forced to return to Gaza again. A cease-fire must guarantee an end to weapons smuggling.

As in Lebanon, the people are the principal victims of the Iranian agenda and the terrorist tactics they support. Hamas, like Hizballah, put its own interests and the lives of its leaders ahead of the welfare of the people around them and has brought them only misery.

The lives of the Palestinians in Gaza will only improve when they resolve to say no to terror and yes to peace, reject the radicalism of Hamas and support new leaders who are interested in negotiating a two-state solution with Israel.

Palestinians also will not be safe if Iran is allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. The former president of Iran, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, explicitly said he wasn’t concerned about fallout from an attack on Israel. “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in [its] possession,” he said “the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel....” As one Iranian commentator noted, Rafsanjani apparently wasn’t concerned that “the destruction of the Jewish State would also mean the mass killing of the Palestinian population as well” (Iran Press Service, December 14, 2001).