Iran’s Gazan Proxy War

Iran’s Gazan Proxy War

By Peter C. Glover

While the Israeli-Hamas cease-fire holds and the TV pundits argue over who initiated the recent Gazan spat, the evidence for an Iran instigated proxy war is overwhelming. Iran’s fingerprints are all over Hamas’ weaponry. For Iran, it’s essential, in the face of a potential ‘nuclear’ showdown, that Israel remains occupied on its border with Teheran’s proxies: Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. It’s a strategy confirmed by the Arab worlds’ most-read newspaper.

The long-range rockets currently being fired towards Tel Aviv are Iranian-manufactured Fajr 5 missiles. The IDF (Israeli Defence Force) website cites Sudan as assisting in the transit of these weapons. That was the reason an Israeli airstrike was launched against the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility in Khartoum in October killing two people. According to the IDF website, the weapons are ultimately smuggled through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza where they are assembled for use.

Moreover, on November 19 Israel’s DEBKA media website broke the story that a 150-ton freighter had left Iran’s Bandar Abbas port the day before carrying a cargo of 220 short-range missiles and 50 improved Fajr long-range rockets. Iran is known to have supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah with its Fajr rockets during the country’s war with Israel in 2006. DEBKA explains how, in an attempt to outwit Israeli intelligence and skirt US sanctions, the Iranians renamed their freighter Cargo Star and registered it under the flag of Tuvalu, a small Polynesian island largely subsidized by Iran. DEBKA intelligence sources have since reported that four large Sudanese ships sailed out of Port Sudan early on Monday November 19 to await offloading from the Cargo Star in mid-sea. The missiles would eventually be unloaded in a quiet inlet on the Sinai Peninsula from where they could be smuggled through tunnels to the Gaza Strip.

As recently as November 20, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast openly called for Hamas to be “equipped” to fight against Israel. He declined to be drawn, however, on whether Iran was already supplying Hamas. Last month, an attempt by the Iranian Parliament to question President Ahmadinejad over his handling of the economy under sanctions was vetoed by Ayatollah Khamenei. Clearly with the nuclear end game finally in sight, the Ayatollah is determined to present a strong sense of national unity to the world – and with good reason.

Speaking to the UK’s Channel 4 News, Jane Kinninimout, senior research fellow at the British foreign affairs think-tank Chatham House, said that in recent months Qatar, Jordan and other Gulf state governments have been trying to prise Hamas away from their allegiance with Iran. The quid pro quo being stronger support from Arab states generally. By fomenting violence in Gaza the Iranians have not only been able to keep Hamas ‘on side’ by providing them with a key local border from which to strike at Israel, but they have also succeeded in diverting world attention from President Assad’s activities in Syria – another key ally. Should Assad lose power, Iran could no longer count on support from what would become a Sunni Muslim regime only too pleased to see Shia Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions thwarted. Keeping Assad in business means another key Israeli border at its ‘disposal’. Apart from diverting Israel and the world’s attention from the critical issues of Teheran’s nuclear developments, the Iranian regime has also effectively sponsored a full-scale test of Israel’s much-vaunted Iron Dome defense system.

It’s a strategy that has recently been spelled out in an editorial in the Arab world’s largest audience newspaper, al-Sharq al-Awsat. They not only blamed Iran for instigating the current violence, but also implicated President Assad’s Syrian regime – Iran’s only real regional Shia Islamic ally in the region. The papers’ editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed is in no doubt that Teheran and Damascus colluded to escalate the violence on the Israel-Gaza border. With time for Assad fast running out, and in an attempt to draw Israel into a wider conflict that diverts attention from Iran’s nuclear threat, Alhomayed believes the Iranians and Syrians have decided to shift attention to the Gaza Strip.

According to Alhomayed, to the Iranians the Gaza Strip is a mere “punching bag that can be used for training and muscle flexing” while having the more specific immediate purpose “to save al-Assad”. The editorial adds that the current conflict is partly designed to “ensure that the cost of toppling him [Syria’s al-Assad] will be greater for everybody”. But Alhomayed is specific regarding who pulls the regional strings in many of these conflicts. “Unfortunately, wars in our region have become like a race, so each war is to cover another one” and “The greatest architect of such wars is Iran.”

As we have pointed out in numerous articles, Iran’s nuclear agenda is of as much concern to its Sunni Arab neighbors as it is to Israel.  The point being, the current conflict in Gaza has very little to do with ‘local’ politics. The tragedy for the Palestinians of Gaza is that while Hamas and Islamic Jihad may believe Iran sending missiles and urging conflict are the acts of a close ‘ally’, the reality is quite simple: Palestinians in Gaza are rather naive pawns in Iran’s greater strategy: achieving nuclear-armed superpower status.

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