Iran’s foreign minister H.Amirabdollahian has been an important player in diplomacy surrounding the Israel-Hamas war
‘It is highly likely for Iran to entangle in a direct confrontation with Israel, but this does not negate the possibility of a low intensity war escalating into a real regional conflict.’
Military theorists have been speculating Iranian involvement in Hamas brutal attack against Israel over the past week — identifying any possible connection/some even speculating the Islamic Republic’s direct engagement or best through its regional proxies, for a possible second front in the Israel-Hamas War.
Tehran denied any involvement at the planning stage, but the nation’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the attackers, pointing towards a different connotation altogether, and to some, the best case of a confession. During his speech, Khamenei blamed Tel Aviv’s previous actions to be blamed for this disaster, but refrained from making any comments on Hezbollah’s hurled attacks from Lebanon or Muslim Brotherhood’s indirect involvement from Egypt.
Though Iran and Israel have been engaged in a war of words since the onset of 1979 Iranian revolution, there has never been a direct military engagement between the two. That said, Iran enjoys greater influence in the region through its proxies, including Hezbollah, the Shi’a Islamist militant group in the Southern Lebanon, which may open a second front from the Southern Lebanese border (rests majorly on Israeli miscalculation in Gaza or Hamas being dangerously cornered threatening existence), it remains unclear whether the group will take steps beyond skirmishes. Rockets were fired at the Shebaa Farms from southern Lebanon whereas Israeli Defence Forces confirmed that Hezbollah was targeting electronic reconnaissance systems.
Does Tehran provide means and resources/materials or technical expertise to Hamas in addition to training and financial support? The author interviewed numerous experts who did not outrightly see Tehran’s involvement but highlighted inadequate evidence pointing towards the same. That said, Tehran’s model of proxy support exists as a failsafe to camouflage its direct links in a conflict, one such being Hezbollah. That said, Shi’a proxy militant groups work in consensus (Shi’a Islam being the common factor) and groups such as Fatemiyoun Brigade in Syria or the Badr group in Iraq, along with Houthis in Yemen, are organizationally/functionally integrated to fulfil Tehran’s expectations in the region, painting October 7 attack with Tehran’s fingerprints.
That said, it will not be incorrect to state Hamas’s relationship with Tehran as a bit complex. It is the only Sunni group that enjoys Tehran’s support (all proxy groups supported by Tehran are Shia) with a certain share of disagreement on Tehran’s decision to back the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War of 2011. That said, certain proxies such as Houthis in Yemen, have demonstrated some level of contradiction (at the policy level) delivering expectations in-different to that of their benefactor, even then such a contradiction has never occurred in the history of a non-state actor as demonstrated by Hamas.
Although it is highly likely for Iran to deploy conventional resources against Israel with an intent to strike, the possibility of a regional conflict remains very much alive. Taking the note of likelihood to the context of regional conflict, Iran has more to lose if it does make a kinetic move against Israel.
Iran-Israel ties: Tracing history
In one course of history, Iran and Israel enjoyed strategic/economic ties; Before Iranian Revolution of 1979, Tehran bought Israeli weapons for its military, with Tel Aviv accessing oil from the Shahs. Both nations benefited from greater engagement with the US, considering the fight against communism (the then Soviet Union as just) containing the spread of communism as part of their foreign policy.
That said, the rise of Shi’a government after 1979 considered Israel as territorial ambition under the influence of West and usurpers with an illegal claim to the Muslim land — branding the West, in particular the US sole instigator. For some (Khomeini followers/hard liners Israel was a meagre colonial outpost of the West, spreading Zionism (interpreting to medieval imperialism). Then, regional neighbours outrightly questioned and rejected the right for Jewish state to exist, with hardliners opposing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, creating a cult of like minded individuals/nation states rejecting Israel’s existence.
In the same year, Islamist factions such as the Hezbollah came to existence in Lebanon and Hamas on Palestinian soil, with an intent to counter Israel but also spread awareness of their anti-Israeli cause at the grass root level. Hezbollah, on the end, began series of campaigns (to build pressure) within the government machinery with an intent to gather support for anti-Israeli stance, not because of an Israeli invasion of 1978 or 1982, instead to consciously influence key political officials/decision making institutions due to a weak government after two decades of sectarian civil war.
This resulted in Hezbollah not just striking US and Israeli targets in the country, the group began series of humanitarian activities by providing necessities and support to poor Shi’as living south of Beirut; which was curated into a national programme under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah, who began investing heavily in social programmes winning massive support for Hezbollah in the region. Besides operating as an Islamist militant faction, Hezbollah’s representation in Lebanese parliament makes its contribution to the region’s political future legitimate, though many argue on a declining popularity unlike before.
Since its formation, Iran has been providing funds, materials, training and men, and the relationship has been studied, documented by roughly every major government research institution in the West, as Tehran uses such factions to expand influence in the Middle East. The relationship between Tehran and Hamas is not explicit like Hezbollah; though both continue to provide training, financial support, heavy ordinances, weapons caches to Hamas, Tehran has no organizational stake/control over its architecture, decision making or operational engagement, nor Hamas engage with Tehran administratively or for operational consultations.
To simply put, Hamas enjoys a closer relationship with Tehran, as the group benefits majorly from the latter sponsored training, finances, and other means of support. But there is no evidence that points towards Hamas consulting with Tehran over the October 7 attack, especially given the deeper access of Israeli intelligence service inside Tehran. Any coordination, even at best some consultation would have seriously jeopardised Hamas’ plan.
Did Tehran planned/participated or contributed to the planning of the October 7 attack?
It is highly likely it did not. This is because Tehran has more to lose than to gain from October 7 — especially access to financial assets worth $6 billion as part of the deal resulting in the release of five imprisoned Americans, which is temporarily on hold subject to investigation on Tehran’s role in Hamas October 7 attack against Israel.
To the question of whether Tehran is directly involved, taking note of a scenario ranging between less likely to highly probable, the chances are less likely than assumed. But it may not stop Tel Aviv to strike within Tehran, if it identifies a single probable cause or ounce of collaboration or even a direct threat to its national security, not only drawing Israel but the entire region, predominantly the Gulf potentially into conflict.
Taking a closer look at Israeli operations within Iran, Tel Aviv has been the most offensive instead of Tehran. Looking at some of the covert operations conducted by Israel in Tehran — and overt missions it has conducted against Iranian nationals in Syria — the force projection has largely been on the Tel Aviv side with Tehran cornered, forced to count its losses. Israel’s upper hand can be well understood from its cyber-attacks against key Iranian infrastructure (including the Stuxnet attack against Natanz nuclear material enrichment facility) and assassinations of senior military leadership and key scientists.
In the context with the Gulf, regional economies including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have taken progressive decisions to ease tension with Iran, charting the trajectory of de-escalation; risking measures such as these just to target Israel, appears irrational.
Many scholars have rather interpreted Hossein Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister’s meeting with senior leadership of Hezbollah and some Lebanese officials in Beirut as a ‘roundtable of axis of evils,’ but to this author, this engagement during a war in the backdrop of growing de-escalation efforts among larger regional partners of the Gulf towards Tehran, does not convey a full picture. What appears to be highly likely, at least according to this author, is loosely connected groups ideologically like Tehran, some with Palestinian affiliates operating in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, using chaos to its advantage and target US ships or troops in the region. Till date there have been no reported attacks against the US forces in either Syria or Iraq but if Washington decides to indefinitely suspend/freeze US $6 billion in assets held in Doha— that could lay some foundation for Tehran to bolster likeminded proxies on targeting US forces in the region.