Did Israel walk into another Tehran trap with current tensions? - analysis

In many ways, this looks like an Iranian script that was prepared with Hamas and with Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

 An aerial view of craters in the ground after Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City April 7, 2023. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
An aerial view of craters in the ground after Israeli airstrikes, in Gaza City April 7, 2023.

The rise of tensions between Israel and Hamas, which led to rocket attacks from Lebanon and Gaza as well as retaliation, appears to be yet another cycle of conflict that has its origins in Iran’s threats against the Jewish state.

In April 2021, a similar rise in tensions over Ramadan led to a similar round of fighting, which also included a 10-day war in Gaza and rocket attacks from Lebanon.

Key questions remain about how this round of conflict began. What is important to note is that in many ways, this looks like an Iranian script that was prepared in advance with Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

How do Iran/Hamas-Israel tensions bear resemblance to April-May 2021?

It’s worth looking at some of the background to see how this has similarities with the April-May 2021 tensions and how Iran exploited both of them.

In both cases, the tensions began in Ramadan. Iran and extremist groups have a history of using Islamic holidays, especially when they coincide with Jewish holidays such as Passover, to create tensions. The goal here is to create a narrative that al-Aqsa is in danger and then exploit those fears to create a conflict.

 Streaks are seen in the sky as rockets are launched from Gaza, April 7, 2023. (credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS) Streaks are seen in the sky as rockets are launched from Gaza, April 7, 2023. (credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)

In April 2021, the tensions began with attacks on visibly Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. Those attacks led to clashes between Jewish and Arab youth, and by early May a new crisis was developing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Hamas warned Israel on May 5 against developments in Jerusalem. Israeli police intervened on the Temple Mount and there were images distributed on social media showing a tree on fire near al-Aqsa, which led to more claims that people must “defend” the mosque.

This led to further ultimatums by Hamas, and the terror group fired missiles on May 10. A 10-day war followed.

Rockets were also fired from Lebanon, and a drone was launched by Iran from Iraq and flown into Israeli airspace. The conflict in May 2021 came after Israel’s elections in March and before a new government was formed in June.

THIS YEAR, the tensions also rose as Iranian rhetoric and threats grew. Iran and Syria accused Israel of several attacks in Syria over the past month. On March 19, Islamic Jihad accused Israel of targeting Ali al-Aswad in Damascus.

Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah also warned Israel against any retaliation for an infiltration attempt in March in which a man had planted an improvised explosive device (IED) near Megiddo junction.

 Syria’s regime claimed that Israel targeted a site at Aleppo Airport on March 19. On March 23, Iran used drones flown by proxies to target US forces in Syria. The US retaliated.

On March 30, the Syrian regime and Iran claimed Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus and also claimed there were more airstrikes on March 31 and April 2 near Al-Dab’a airbase in Homs. Soon after that, an aircraft, identified as a drone in foreign media, was brought down by Israel after entering Israeli airspace from Syria.

Reports said there were then cyberattacks targeting websites in Israel, such as universities and media.

Israel Police cleared Palestinian protesters from al-Aqsa Mosque in the early hours of this past Tuesday, leading to calls by Hamas and other Palestinian groups to “protect Al-Aqsa.” Hamas then fired rockets at Israel from Gaza.

Meanwhile, Iran was sending its top diplomat to Beijing for a meeting with Saudi Arabia on normalization. At the same time, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh was flying into Beirut. He met with Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This came as rockets were fired from Lebanon at Israeli border communities on Thursday. Rockets were also fired overnight from Gaza toward southern Israel. Jerusalem responded with airstrikes on Gaza and also on Lebanon.

THE ROUND of fighting that began on Thursday, or the day before, depending on how one defines it, clearly had aspects similar to what happened in 2021. It involved tensions over “al-Aqsa” and then plans by Hamas and other terror groups to threaten Israel from Gaza and Lebanon. This not only presented the threat of a multi-front conflict, but it also led to rioting in several Arab communities in Israel. This is similar to the communal clashes of May 2021.

It’s unclear if Israel walked into the conflict and into a kind of “trap” that Iran had put in place. However, what is clear is that the tensions in 2021 and now are similar and that Iran seeks to benefit from them. For example, Iranian media is bragging about the “resistance” targeting Israel.

The fact that Iranian-backed groups such as Hamas and PIJ are openly saying they are ready to confront the Jewish state is part of the rhetoric amplified by Iranian media. Hezbollah’s involvement is clear, because the Lebanese terrorist organization hosted the Hamas leader as the rockets were being prepared to be fired at Israel and also because the rockets were shot from an area Hezbollah controls. It killed an Irish UN peacekeeper last year in the same area.

Iran appears to be trying to increasingly threaten Israel from multiple fronts. Iran may want to increase Hamas’s strength in Lebanon so it can use the terrorist group as a proxy from Lebanon, rather than Hezbollah, to create plausible deniability for the latter.

The fact that the Hamas leader openly arrived in Beirut before the rocket fire indicates Iran’s advanced planning.

It’s unclear if Iran also planned the al-Aqsa tensions and also put out messaging for riots on Thursday, but it appears that Tehran did seek to heat up the region for a conflict on the eve of Passover.

This is not a coincidence. The timing is clear. Leaders of groups like Hamas don’t just show up in Beirut by mistake while their armed units are moving rockets into position to be fired.