In a development that has caused serious concern in Israel, dozens and perhaps hundreds of Hamas members have traveled in the recent period from the Gaza Strip to Iran in order to undergo a series of military training courses, modeled after the training that Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon have received over the past few years. The training could greatly improve the fighting capability of the Hamas members in case the IDF is forced to confront them face to face inside the Gaza Strip territory.
The massive training being undergone by the Hamas operatives is a new and significant stage in the support being extended by Iran to Hamas. It should be noted that in the past, despite Iran’s support of Hamas in principle, the relations between the Palestinian organization and the Persian Gulf country were chilly. Among other reasons, this is due to the fact that Hamas is a movement that belongs to the Sunni stream of Islam, while Iran is a Shiite country. However, according to information that has been building up in the security establishment, over the past weeks all the barriers have been removed, and the aid that Iran extends to Hamas is becoming almost as massive as the scale in which Iran funds Hezbollah’s activity in Lebanon.
An expression of these improved relations could be seen last week, when the Palestinian prime minister from Hamas, Ismail Haniya, visited Tehran and declared that that “Iran is our hinterland.” And indeed, the Iranians are funding Hamas on a scale of tens of millions of dollars, and the fact that Haniya was forced – at Israel’s demand – to relinquish a suitcase with $35 million that he had received from the Iranians in order to pay his men salaries, only illustrates this.
Beyond the economic and moral support given by Iran to Hamas, the security establishment has been concerned in recent days mainly by the military aid. According to the information that has been gathered, Hamas is taking advantage of the fact that a cease-fire has been declared in the Gaza Strip to prepare for a confrontation with the IDF, which both sides believe will take place sooner or later, and probably sooner. As part of its preparations, Hamas is working on improving the precision and firepower of the Kassam rockets in its possession, and is manufacturing a stock of hundreds of Kassam rockets. Now the new and worrying development has arrived, in which many of the organization’s members are traveling for basic training courses in Iran.
In the past, only a few Hamas operatives were trained in Iran. This is as opposed to hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Hezbollah guerrilla in Lebanon who underwent long courses in Iran. In these courses, they trained and gained experience in firing anti-tank rockets, staging ambushes against IDF forces and conducting urban warfare. The large core of fighters that trained in Iran passed on its knowledge to Hizbullah guerrillas who did not undergo this training. The IDF attributes the high level of combat displayed by the Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon, to a large degree, to the training they received on Iranian soil or from Iranian experts in Lebanon. Therefore, Israeli officials are now very concerned at the possibility that hundreds of Hamas members will undergo similar training. According to assessments, Hamas has taken advantage of the fact that Israel no longer controls the crossings at the exit from the Gaza Strip in order to send its men to training in Iran via Egypt.
While Hamas is already training its operatives, the special training planned by the IDF is still on paper. Security sources believe, “the more time Hamas has to prepare for a confrontation that could take place deep inside the Gaza Strip, the harder it will be to fight against it. Hamas is trying to emulate the Hezbollah model in Lebanon with precision.”
©The Bulletin 2006