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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Gaza as a Military Testing Ground for Iran

Filed under: Iran, Israel

Gaza as a Military Testing Ground for Iran
A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard photographed in southern Lebanon several years ago. He wears a Hizbullah tag on his uniform. (Twitter)

Whoever thinks that the last campaign between Israel and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad was a geographically limited campaign on a limited battlefield is wrong. Upon examining the course of the 11-day war, we cannot help but understand that it was a rehearsal for what is expected on Israel’s northern front. This war in the Gaza Strip was nothing more than a military testing ground for Iran and Hizbullah. They were able to measure Israel’s firepower, its interception capability, and its limitations of power as expressed by the almost irrational care of avoiding harm to population centers. Israel’s concern for innocent lives was borne out of the fear of the world’s reaction and being accused of crimes against humanity, its dependence on the United States, and the drift that undermined Israel’s position in world public opinion, especially among the U.S. Democratic Party, the party of President Joe Biden.

Decision-makers in Israel, as well as politicians, army officers, and academics often repeat a statement attributed to the Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He allegedly said after leaving his bunker following the 2006 Second Lebanon War that had he known that his decision to provoke Israel would cause such destruction, he would not have started the war at all. Accordingly, analysists conclude time and again that the lack of Hizbullah’s military action against Israel and its hesitancy to do so in the foreseeable future stems from Israeli deterrence. Accordingly, analysts conclude time and again that the lack of Hizbullah’s military action against Israel and its hesitancy to do so in the foreseeable future stems from Israeli deterrence.

In practice, since 2006, Hizbullah has embarked on an unprecedented reorganization and re-arming effort with Iranian funding and training while accumulating a rocket arsenal of more than 140,000 missiles, some of which with extremely high accuracy. [By contrast, Hamas in Gaza had an estimated 15,000 rockets when it launched its war in May 2014.] Hizbullah analyzed Hamas’ battles against the IDF and will adopt a doctrine of warfare adapted to the new reality. Hizbullah also publicly announced its plan to capture the Galilee by mobilizing its elite units – the Radwan units – for the construction of a network of underground assault tunnels, command bunkers, and an extensive maze of fortifications of which only a fraction was exposed some two years ago on the Lebanese border and subsequently neutralized by the IDF. Hizbullah has developed its drone corps and naval units that are prepared to attack Israel’s gas rigs southwest of Lebanon’s coast. In addition, as Iran’s proxy force in the region, its combat units have gained valuable operational experience in urban warfare following battles in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, where it was sent to fight by its commanders in Tehran.

Iranian caricature
“Fulfilling our promise.” Iranian caricature in a publication close to the Revolutionary Guards. (Tasnim, May 23, 2021)

All of the above elements have been implemented in the Gaza Strip by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It is, therefore, no wonder that Iran is behind the Palestinian war effort. Ramez Halabi, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was interviewed on Iraqi television on May 8, 2021. He explained that every weapon in his organization’s possession was purchased with Iranian funding and that all his men were trained in Iran. Mocking Israel, he added that every missile bears the signature of the late Qasem Suleimani. What a wonder that after the fighting subsided, Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who resides in Qatar, thanked Iran for the financial assistance and weaponry it has extended to Hamas!

From the Palestinian perspective, the war proved that the “Israeli demon” was not as frightening as it used to be. In fact, Israel’s last military victory was in 1982, which eventually resulted in the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 under Hizbullah’s military pressure. The result of the war in 2006 was seen as Hizbullah’s victory over Israel, while 2014 demonstrated the extent to which Israel refrains from initiating a massive ground entry into the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s policy of divide and rule between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has boomeranged. The weakening of the PA eventually led to the strengthening of Hamas and its becoming the dominant factor vis-à-vis Israel. Furthermore, Hamas realized that Israel had wrongly assessed – until the last minute – that Hamas lacked interest in a military confrontation and was deterred. This assessment is paired with the constantly reiterated statement that Israel has no interest in a ground attack on Gaza in order to bring down Hamas. Thanks to the “Iron Dome,” the assessment continues, Israel can be satisfied by action against Hamas from outside of Gaza boundaries.

Fear that Inhibits Bold Actions

However, these statements are rooted in the Palestinian perception inherent to Israel’s weakness: a reluctance to introduce its forces into Gaza for fear of casualties and refusal to control another two million Palestinians. These conclusions are chronicled in Tehran and Hizbullah because the parallel to the situation in Lebanon is self-evident!

It does not bode well for Israel that its weaknesses were apparent not only to the Palestinian public but especially to Hizbullah and Iran, who studied Israel’s behavior during the 11 days of fighting.

The war in Gaza must serve as a very loud wake-up call and cause Israel to rethink its policy toward its enemies in the Arab world. The rising situation requires a drastic change in Israel’s reactions: no more restraint, which is the source of all evil.

Continuing the same policy of restraint and the hesitation to use force may encourage Iran and Hizbullah to continue their plans to surprise Israel on other fronts. This is possible should they conclude that Israel will strive to avoid any frontal confrontation with Hizbullah and a ground incursion that could result in significant casualties by exposing Israel’s homefront to significant attacks.