Could Iran Get Involved With The Ongoing Israel Conflict?

Iran issued a warning about taking "preemptive" action against Israel on Monday.
This aerial photo show heavily damaged buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023.
This aerial photo show heavily damaged buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 10, 2023.
BELAL AL SABBAGH via Getty Images

Speculation that Iran could get involved in the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants Hamas is growing.

After Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel ten days ago and took almost 200 hostages, the militant group are said to have killed more than 1,400 people.

Israel declared war on Hamas after its massacre, and more than 2,700 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory air strikes.

Tel Aviv announced a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip last week, and ordered civilians in the north of the Palestinian territory to evacuate ahead of an anticipated Israeli ground offensive.

For now, the war is mainly between Israel and Hamas.

However, there are fears that other parties, particularly within the Middle East, may be pulled into the conflict. Iran, a known ally to Hamas, appeared to be hinting that it could join the war on Monday – but it wasn’t clear.

Here’s what we know so far.

What is Iran’s relationship to Hamas?

The Islamic Republic has supported the Palestinians since its 1979 revolution, and still claims to give moral and financial support to Hamas today.

The two sides did fall out over Syria – and Hamas is made up of Sunni Muslims, rather than Shia Muslims, like Iran – but their relationship appears to have improved since 2014.

And, following Hamas’ deadly attack, Iran’s UN mission released a statement which said: “The resolute measures taken by Palestine constitute a wholly legitimate defence against seven decades of oppressive occupation and heinous crimes committed by the illegitimate Zionist regime.”

It added: “We emphatically stand in unflinching support of Palestine; however, we are not involved in Palestine’s response, as it is taken solely by Palestine itself.”

An Iran-centric network called the Axis of Resistance – made up of political parties and armed groups from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestine – has also aligned itself with Hamas.

Experts at the US think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) speculated last week that Iran might get involved with the bloody conflict.

And, particularly if Iranian-backed militias, such as the Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthi rebels, get involved, the analysts believe it “could expand Hamas’s war with Israel into a second front”.

What has Iran said recently about joining the war?

Iran has warned of a “preemptive” strike against Israel if it launches a ground offensive into Gaza on Monday.

And Hezbollah – an Iran-backed militant group in Lebanon – and Israel have already been exchanging fire across the Lebanese-Israeli frontier for days.

According to Reuters news agency, after meeting with the Hezbollah leader Hassan Masrallah, Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state TV: “Leaders of the Resistance will not allow the Zionist regime to take any action in Gaza. ...

“All options are open and we cannot be indifferent to the war crimes committed against the people of Gaza.”

He added: “The resistance front is capable of waging a long-term war with the enemy (Israel)... in the coming hours, we can expect a preemptive action by the resistance front.”

He did not explain exactly what that may entail.

On Sunday, Amirabdollahian also told the Doha-based outlet Al Jazeera: “If the measures aimed at immediately stopping the Israeli attacks that are killing children in the Gaza Strip end in a deadlock, it is highly probable that many other fronts will be opened.

“This option is not ruled out and this is becoming increasingly more probable.”

An official from the group claimed last week that allies – like Iran – “will join the battle if Gaza is subjected to a war of annihilation”.

Hamas’ allies have already hinted that this is the case, as think tank ISW explained.

ISW noted that “members of the Axis of Resistance have issued threats that may lead the war between Israel and Palestinian militias to expand into the region”.

The think tank also pointed out how Iran’s Kanani said last Monday that the country would give a “devastating response” to any Israeli attack on Iran.

It noted that a different Iranian-backed organisation (Badr Organisation) has threatened to attack the US if it intervenes to support Israel, too.

The group has also sent troops to southwest Syria with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (on Iran’s orders), according to ISW.

The ISW analysts claimed: “Iran has built up a large military footprint in Syria to include weapons storage facilities, headquarters, and barracks to house its affiliated militias.”

The experts claimed that these deployments “are consistent with the scenario in which the Gaza War expands into a multi-front war surrounding Israel.”

Was Iran involved in the initial attack?

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Tehran had not been involved in the Hamas massacre on Israel.

The country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, also reiterated this Monday that Tehran supports Palestine’s cause – but that the resistance against Israel is independent.

Despite Iran’s denial, there were mixed reports about whether or not Tehran already had a hand in Hamas’ unexpected strikes at the weekend.

The Wall Street Journal claimed on Sunday that Iran had been helping to plan Hamas’ Saturday attack via meetings with militant groups since August.

However, Tehran has vehemently denied any involvement in Hamas’ attack on Saturday.

Iran’s foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanani, said the allegations were “based on political motives”, and claimed the Islamic Republic does not intervene “in the decision-making of other countries, including Palestine”.

But, according to previous analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, the US and Israel did not quite rule out the possibility of Iranian interference.

The US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the government hadn’t seen any evidence to suggest that Iran was part of the attack, but noted Tehran and Hamas have a “long relationship”.

Israel Defence Forces spokesperson, Brigadier General Daniel Hagari, also said Tel Aviv hadn’t yet determined Iran’s involvement.

Giant anti-Israel banners are hanged on buildings in Tehran.
Giant anti-Israel banners are hanged on buildings in Tehran.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

So, does Iran actually want conflict, or does it want to stay out of it?

Iran has made its allegiance with Hamas very clear over the last 10 days.

And, tensions have existed between Israel and Iran since Iran’s revolution back in 1979, although they’ve never actually triggered war.

The Guardian’s foreign affairs commentator Simon Tisdall also noted: “Khamenei and Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s hardline president, sense weakness as they watch an Israel convulsed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-democratic, hard-right policies.”

He claimed the trend of normalisation of relations between Arab states and Israel is “anathema to Tehran”, and threatened to isolate Iran on the world stage.

He speculated that Iran will have seen how the Hamas attacks united the Arab world against Israel again.

But, not everyone thinks it would be advantageous for Iran to get involved.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Iran would lose access to $6 billion (ÂŁ4.94 billion) in assets, which the US and Qatar have already restricted, if it were to go to war against Israel.

As experts told outlet Vox, Tehran may therefore avoid getting involved directly – and instead groups it has loose ties with try to use the instability to their advantage.

What about other countries?

There has been speculation of other nations’ involvement as well – but nothing has yet been proven.

Speaking to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly last Monday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted that Moscow could even be involved.

He said: “Iran can’t say it has nothing to do with what is going on in Ukraine if it sells Shaheds [drones] to Russia.

“Iran can’t say it has nothing to do with what is going on in Israel if its officials claim the support of what is going on in Israel.”

However, Russia has only said it is “extremely concerned”, and called for a ceasefire and peace talks.

On Tuesday, Moscow put forward a resolution to the UN Security Council which condemned violence and terrorism against civilians, but did not mention Hamas, and so it was rejected.

Four countries voted for it – China, UAE, Mozambique and Gabon – while four countries voted against – the US, UK, France and Japan.

The other countries abstained.

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