The lessons Iranian analysts have drawn from the 50-day Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip (July 8-Aug. 26) have been integrated in Tehran’s Middle East policies, and will strongly influence the course of Iran’s negotiations with the six world powers for a comprehensive nuclear deal.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and Iranian sources report exclusively that three separate Iranian teams were tasked with analyzing the Gaza conflict. Their final conclusions were submitted to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday Sept. 2.
Two of the papers, drawn up by the intelligence branches of the Iranian army and the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), studied Israel’s military steps against Hamas. The third research project, entrusted to the Supreme Security Council and signed by Khamenei’s senior foreign affairs and security adviser Ali Shamkhani, was broader in scope.
It offered an analysis of US and European conduct in relation to the Israel-Hamas conflict as against their responses to the Ukraine crisis. Arab government reactions to the Gaza conflict were also put under a microscope in the context of the wars in Iraq and Syria.
Khamenei gave the three teams two guidelines when he assigned them their tasks:
Arm Hamas for a second front against Israel from the West Bank
First, they were instructed to apply the consequences of the Gaza conflict to formulating new tactics for the ongoing nuclear talks, whose deadline has been extended to Nov. 24.
Bilateral US-Iranian talks began in Geneva Thursday, Sept, 4, their second round since the main forum failed to resolve its differences in time to meet the July 20 deadline.
Second, a way must be found to smuggle weapons to Hamas’ West Bank branches, arming them for a coup against Ramallah. The plan is to overthrow the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and open a second front of violent hostilities against Israel in sync with the resumption of its attacks from the Gaza Strip in a month or two.
Iranian strategists reckon that the Egyptian-brokered indirect talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term truce, due to begin later this month, will founder quickly. Israel will never agree to meet the Palestinian extremists’ minimal demands, and their political chief Khaled Meshaal will not settle for crumbs.
At a peak moment in the Gaza fighting, Khamenei ordered planning to start for arming “the forces of resistance” on the West Bank.
Subjecting Israel to a dual Hamas threat would, he believes, sharply reduce the chances of Israel resorting to military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Last week, Iran’s defense minister Hossein Dehqan claimed that smuggled Iranian weapons had started arriving in the West Bank. This claim was unfounded. At present, the Iranians have only got as far as laying the groundwork for obeying the supreme leader’s injunction.
Iranian-made rockets failed Hamas as its main weakness
Our exclusive sources reveal six high points of the three Iranian studies:
1. The Hamas-Islamic Jihad war effort against Israel was crippled by their rockets’ inaccuracy and weak drive. The bulk of the 4,900 rockets fired in the course of the conflict went off course and therefore caused few casualties and little damage. But the Iranian researchers point out that at least one third of those rockets were of Iranian origin and smuggled into the Gaza Strip; the rest were manufactured at local workshops using Iranian equipment and technology.
The military intelligence research teams followed this finding with two recommendations:
a) Improve the targeting precision of the Palestinian rockets. One way is to give Hamas and Islamic Jihad better technology;
b) Upgrade smuggling routes to the Gaza Strip to facilitate the transport of heavy rockets.
c) Commission foreign missile experts to find answers for Israel’s Iron Dome interception system, which blew Hamas rockets out of the sky before they hit built-up areas.
2. All three teams ended their reports with the same conclusion: The fundamental strategy for deterring Israel from attacking Iran by subjecting the Jewish state to a massive rocket blitz had failed – in the same way as the second Lebanon War triggered by Hizballah eight years ago. Instead, they recommended a protracted war of attribution to undermine Israeli military and civilian morale and keep Israeli politics in turmoil.
High Iranian praise for Hamas mortar tactics and military tunnels
3. Hamas was awarded high Iranian marks for switching the emphasis of its attacks in the last two weeks of the war from rocket to mortar fire. This change raised the number of Israeli casualties and, if it had been allowed to continue, might have enhanced Hamas’ situation to the point of claiming victory.
4. The military tunnels employed by Hamas also won praise for their effectiveness in keeping key command personnel safe from the large-scale casualties that would otherwise have been caused by the massive Israeli fire power.
At the same time, the Iranian analysts found the terrorist tunnels running under the Gaza border for carrying the war behind Israeli lines had failed in their purpose, for lack of sufficient commando squads trained in their use. The IRGC analysts recommended that Hamas invest more time and resources in building a substantial special operations force for tunnel warfare.
5. All three reports gave a failed mark to the Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian group which the IRGC had trained and taken under it wing as a potential rival for Hamas. This group fell apart in the first week of the war. They advised Khamenei to charge a special inquiry panel with finding out what happened and decide whether the Islamic Jihad should survive or be written off.
Iran need not fear Israeli or Western military attack on its nuclear sites
6. Israel’s acceptance of a final ceasefire for ending its campaign, rather than staging a major ground operation to liquidate Hamas and win the war, was taken by the Iranian analysts as evidence that Israel is neither willing nor able to carry out a military strike against its nuclear program in the event of international nuclear policy going nowhere. Tehran can therefore carry on developing its nuclear bomb program without fear of an impending Israeli attack.
This deduction, reached by the IRGC regarding the Israeli military threat, tied in with Ali Shamkhani’s conclusion that the US and the West at large lack the military will for a showdown with Russia over Ukraine or for direction intervention to check ISIS advances in Iraq and Syria. Still less, would they be ready to launch military action against Iran if nuclear diplomacy ran aground.
DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources report that the three teams’ consensus on the disinclination of the West and Israel to engage in direct warfare gives Ayatollah Khamenei strong grounds for playing hard ball with the world powers over Iran’s nuclear program.