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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword
The Iranian Role

(October 7, 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

Iran is the principal financial backer of Hamas. It provides weapons and training for terrorists in Lebanon and Iran. Representatives of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) met with Iranian military officials in 2021. Some 500 fighters from the two groups were in Iran for military exercises in September 2023.

In the early days of the fighting, it was not clear what role Iran may have played in the planning and implementation of the attack on Israel. U.S. officials have insisted Iran was surprised by the assault. 

No one questioned the Iranian objective of forcing Israel to confront a possible multifront war with its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza or its incentive to derail U.S. efforts to negotiate a deal with Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel.

While denying any involvement, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised Hamas. “We kiss the foreheads and arms of the resourceful and intelligent designers,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi spoke to leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and “congratulated the Palestinian people on the victories of the resistance and emphasized Iran’s support for the people and the resistance.” Raisi added that “Iran supports the resistance and the Palestinian people, and that you bring happiness to the Islamic nation with this initiative.”

The Journal said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps helped Hamas devise the attack and that meetings had been held for weeks in Lebanon before final approval was given a few days before it was launched.

Israel blamed Iran, but the United States insisted it had no evidence of Iran’s direct involvement. Critics suggested the administration was reluctant to assign blame for fear it would prompt calls for action against Iran or undermine efforts to negotiate Iran’s return to compliance with the nuclear deal. Some still called on the president to cancel the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian assets that had been arranged in exchange for the release of American hostages. The administration subsequently declared that none of this money, which is in a Qatari bank, had been released.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a press conference on October 25 that “Iran directly aided Hamas before the war, with training, supplying weapons, money and technological know-how.” He added, “Even now, Iranian aid to Hamas continues in the form of intelligence and online incitement against the State of Israel.”

Hamas official Khaled Meshaal acknowledged that “Hezbollah and Iran supported us with weapons, expertise, and technology.”

Khamenei accused the United States of helping Israel. “The United States is in some way directing the crime that is being committed in Gaza,” he said, suggesting the hands of Americans “were tainted with the blood of the oppressed, children, patients, women, and others.”

A Hamas delegation met Iranian officials in Moscow.

On November 25, a Malta-flagged ship owned by an Israeli was attacked by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. The drone exploded, causing damage to the ship but not injuring any of its crew.

Speaking at the funeral for victims of an ISIS bombing, Iranian President Raisi said, “We know that ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’ operation will bring about the end of the Zionist regime.”

Israel continued to target Iranian officials and, on March 2, 2024, killed Rada Zarai, a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force, and two others in a strike in Syria.

Iran-backed Iraqi militias also launched attacks on Israel. In one instance, an Israeli navy base in Eilat was hit and damaged. In most instances, drone attacks from the Islamic Resistance in Iraq were thwarted.

On April 1, 2024, Israel dramatically escalated the fight with Iran when it bombed a building that Iranians claimed was a consulate. The strike killed Gen. Mohamad Reza Zahedi, who oversaw Iran’s covert military operations in Syria and Lebanon, two other generals, and four officers in the Quds Force. It would be unusual for IRGC officers to work out of a consulate rather than the embassy. Still, Iran may have believed the building would have been regarded as equally protected as a diplomatic office. Iran and Hezbollah vowed revenge and said Israeli embassies were no longer safe. Israel said it was prepared for any threat. On April 13, 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles were launched at Israel from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Israel, the United States, and other allies intercepted 99% of the threats. Only one Israeli, a young Bedouin girl, was injured, and only minor damage was caused to an air base.

As calls intensified for Biden to withdraw from the race because of fears about his ability to defeat Trump given his apparent mental decline, administration officials leaked to the New York Times the contents of the president’s phone conversation with Netanyahu after Iran launched its missile and drone attack on Israel on April 14. The intent was to demonstrate Biden was in command of his faculties. 

“Let me be crystal clear, if you launch a big attack on Iran, you are on your own,” Biden reportedly said. To Netanyahu’s argument that a strong response was needed to deter Iran, Biden replied, “You do this and I’m out.”

On July 9, 2024, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a statement disclosing Iranian influence on protests against the Gaza war in the United States. 

In recent weeks, Iranian government actors have sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza, using a playbook we’ve seen other actors use over the years. We have observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters.

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