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23/10/2023 | In entering Gaza, the IDF will face not just Hamas, but Iran’s ¨Axis of Resistance¨

Joseph Fitsanakis

ARGUABLY NO COUNTRY BENEFITED more from the American invasion of Iraq than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

In a war that lasted over a decade, Washington spent over $2 trillion of its own funds to eliminate one of Iran’s most powerful regional adversaries. In the process, the invasion facilitated the rise of Iraq’s militant Shia movement, which today forms the core of the Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Although it is technically an auxiliary branch of the Iraqi security forces, the PMF regularly looks to Tehran for guidance.

The PMF belongs to what Iranian leaders refer to as the ‘Axis of Resistance’ (mehvar–e moqâvemat in Farsi), a term that denotes the extraordinary expansion of Iran’s influence in the Middle East and Central Asia in recent years. In addition to the PMF in Iraq, the Axis of Resistance incorporates an international coalition of dozens of armed groups, militant factions, Shia tribes, and political parties. They range from the Houthis in Yemen and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, to entire branches of the Syrian Armed Forces, and even Shia militias in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain. The coalition also includes a complex mosaic of armed Palestinian groups, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and —increasingly after 2018— Hamas.

These actors are certainly disparate, and often contrast with each other. For instance, relations between Hamas and the Syrians have been strained for years. All of them, however, are united in their common anti-Western stance and contempt for pro-Western states in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Israel. Moreover, their ties under the Axis of Resistance umbrella remain informal and relatively loose. However, they all receive support —including funding and training— from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces that protects and promotes the ideological inheritance of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Since 2011, the IRGC has viewed the Axis of Resistance as a vital element of its asymmetric military strategy. Its purpose is to help Iran successfully confront its much stronger adversaries, two of which —the United States and Israel— are nuclear-armed. That is precisely why Tehran has invested nothing short of a fortune to transform Hezbollah into what experts describe as “a force multiplier” that can give Israel a run for its money. In 2014, Tehran launched a similar effort in the Gaza Strip, initially with Palestinian Islamic Jihad —a group that, very much like Hamas, emerged out of the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood in the 1980s.

The financial arrangement between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Iran alarmed Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2008. Over time, however, Hamas too began to flirt with Iran’s Axis of Resistance, enticed by the lucrative funding and training opportunities offered by Tehran. By 2020, Hamas was actively engaging with the IRGC under the Axis of Resistance umbrella. To a significant extent, the operational sophistication of the October 7 attack on Israel, which was jointly led by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, provided clear evidence of Iran’s patronage of these two militant groups. Because of Iran, the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza are today better-armed and better-trained than at any time in the past. They will likely demonstrate that in the coming days or weeks, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) begin their ground offensive on Gaza.

The big question, however, is how the other components of the Axis of Resistance will respond to the impending IDF attack. Experts are quick to point out that neither Iran nor Hezbollah are particularly excited at the prospect of joining a bloody and likely protracted war with Israel. The crumbling Lebanese state and the deeply divided Iranian society seem incapable of withstanding —let alone surviving— a major war. However, it seems unlikely that Hamas and its Gaza Strip allies would have launched such a devastating terrorist attack on Israel, with predictable far-reaching consequences for the entire Middle East, without prior coordination with the IRGC —and, by association, leading elements of the Axis of Resistance. In other words, Iran was aware of the Hamas attack and almost certainly promised Hamas that it would not face the ensuing IDF onslaught alone.

As the IDF is preparing to enter Gaza, Hamas leaders are acutely aware that their only hope to successfully beat back the impending Israeli onslaught is the emergence of a second front in the war, along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Only Hezbollah can make that happen, with Iran’s implicit approval. The United States was quick to send two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean, effectively signaling to Hezbollah that it will not hesitate to enter the conflict should the Lebanese militant group open up a northern front in the war. US President Joe Biden’s  unprecedented wartime trip to Israel was a clear attempt to send a similar message to Tehran.

Will these messages suffice to convince the Iranians to keep their distance from the war, and thus throw Hamas under the proverbial bus? Perhaps. However, abandoning Hamas to its fate would create divisions in the Axis of Resistance, which Tehran has been meticulously curating for over a decade. Iranian leaders cannot afford to lose command of the Axis of Resistance, which they view as a crucial weapon in their confrontation with the United States and its allies. As one commentator noted recently, “the war in Gaza represents the first significant test event of the cooperation between the elements of the Axis of Resistance” under the leadership of the IRGC.

Most observers agree that, at present, there is no evidence that Iran intends to broaden the conflict —which is likely bad news for Hamas. However, wars are by nature unpredictable, and Tehran has already started issuing dire-sounding threats, saying that it will “not remain a spectator” if the IDF enters Gaza. Should Iran’s threats materialize, it is unlikely that Russia and China will remain on the sidelines. The specter of a broader regional conflict lurks ominously in the background.

https://intelnews.org/2023/10/23/01-3313/#more-22348

Intelnews.org (Estados Unidos)

 



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