The “Shield and Arrow” operation constituted the first round of escalation at a time when Iran portrayed Israel at the depth of its weakness and the Resistance Camp at the height of its strength. The end of this round actually exposed Iran in its weakness.
Iran’s President Ibrahim Raisi visited Syria on May 2-3, 2023, just two weeks before the latest fighting, where he met with “commanders of the Palestinian Resistance,” Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Ziyad Nakhalah, and senior Hamas member Khalil al-Hayya. “Today more than ever,” Raisi declared, “the unity and cohesion of the resistance forces, the region, and the Islamic world are necessary to accelerate the defeat of the Zionist regime (Israel) and…the sovereignty of the Palestinians over their destiny.” Raisi declared, “We consider the collapse of the Zionist regime, whose effects are visible, to be very close.” Raisi urged Muslims to “use all their capacities to achieve the violated rights of Palestine and the freedom of the holy Quds (Jerusalem).”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iran’s favorite protégé, failed to receive any significant assistance beyond verbal support from Tehran or other members of the so-called “Resistance Camp,” and its military leadership suffered a severe setback during the operation.
Iran expected the other elements of the Resistance Camp (mainly Hamas) to join the PIJ in launching missiles at Israel. The hardline Kayhan newspaper even explicitly criticized Hamas that “in the absence of more powerful rockets from the rest of the Resistance Front, those weapons fired at Israel were mere mosquito bites for the Zionists.”
At the same time, Iran tried to mobilize Muslim countries to provide immediate aid to the Palestinians, to “enhance the end of Israel,” and go beyond empty statements. During a speech commemorating the seventh anniversary of Hizbullah senior commander Mustafa Badreddine’s death, the Secretary General of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, pledged full support to the Palestinians. However, in the current round of escalation, Hizbullah did not involve itself in any way, perhaps in light of Israel’s pinpoint military response to Hamas launching 34 rockets from Lebanese territory on April 6, 2023.
Israel, which in recent months has been presented as weak in light of the internal crisis (which Iran continues to echo in the headlines in the written and broadcast press), exacted a heavy price on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad military leadership. Moreover, Israel’s impressive display of intelligence and potent operational capabilities during the operation bolstered its military reputation in the eyes of Arab countries, potentially paving the way for further future regional cooperation against Iran.
Iran exerted pressure on the external leadership of the Islamic Jihad, particularly Secretary-General Ziad al-Nakhleh, to keep fighting until the very end. During the operation, an IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency reporter in Gaza boasted that the PIJ had responded to the Egyptian ceasefire initiative by attacking Tel Aviv. Iran hoped that the continuation of “Shield and Arrow” and the escalation of the crisis in Gaza would attract more support from additional elements in the Resistance Front, but this expectation was not fulfilled. Eventually, the Islamic Jihad Secretary-General succumbed to the Egyptian mediation initiative and agreed to a ceasefire, despite the pressure exerted by Iran.
Iran appears willing to continue using Palestinian lives to achieve its objectives and increase its regional influence.