Analysis: Is Hamas returning to the embrace of its Iranian and Syrian sponsors?

After a period when ties between Hamas and Iran were cut due to the Syrian civil war, the attempt to smuggle arms yesterday may indicate that relations are on the mend.

Navy in action during Iranian arms ship seizure (photo credit: IDF)
Navy in action during Iranian arms ship seizure
(photo credit: IDF)

Three main lessons can be learned from Wednesday's IDF interception of a ship that frustrated the smuggling of missiles from Iran to Gaza.

First, the navy proved its capability to act far from Israel's shores. But that is not something new. The navy has operated this way successfully for more than a decade, assisted by its fleet of submarines, missile boats and the navy commandos. What is most impressive in yesterday's operation is the intelligence that led to the ship's capture which was precise and which demonstrates the impressive capabilities of the intelligence network: The Mossad, IDF Military Intelligence, the intelligence arms of the IAF and of the Navy, the network of satellites, who all concentrated their efforts on the Iranian weapons supply highway.   

It is not clear who the intercepted weapons that were seized yesterday were meant for. There is a high probability that they were meant for tne Islamic Jihad organization that is thought to enjoy Iranian sponsorship, but the possibility that the weapons were meant for Hamas should not be ruled out.  If Hamas was the address for the weapons this could be a hint, that the ties between the Islamic movement and Iran are slowly returning to normal after three years of cut ties. This inference is further strengthened by the sophistication of the weapons.  

Iranian-Hamas relations have been cut since the civil war began in Syria. Hamas has become isolated in the last year since the military in Egypt overthrew the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who was sympathetic to Hamas. But the attempted weapons smuggling may indicate that Hamas is returning to the embrace of its Iranian and Syrian sponsors.

The third lesson from the ship's interdiction, is that Hamas, despite the hard knocks it took in the fighting with Israel in 2009 and 2012 is beginning to arm itself and rehabilitate its capabilities.

Hamas has taken a page from Hezbollah's playbook and is preparing for the next round with Israel. Like the Lebanese Shi'ite organization, Hamas also understands that just about the only way to make Israel bleed is to strike its citizens on the home front. To achieve this aim it is attempting to arm itself with more sophisticated longer range weapons that are more precise and that have larger payloads. The M-302 missiles that the IDF seized yesterday have all of these qualities. The Chinese  missile is manufactured in Syria. Hezbollah fired a number of these missiles at Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

We can assume that Hamas already has M-302 missiles that were successfully smuggled into the coastal territory. In the final analysis, Israel is targeted by a network of 170,000 rockets of all types and from all fronts: north, south (Gaza, Sinai) and east (Iran).   

(Translated by Nathan Wise)