Iran using Palestinians to test Israel’s missile defenses

Palestinians are being used as pawns to test Israel’s military strength and divert attention.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, recently returned from his visit to Tehran where he was given a head of state's welcome. The prospect of attack by Israel coupled with the threat of increased sanctions is spurring Iran’s Ayatollahs to find alternative methods of gaining traction in the Middle East. With Damascus teetering on the brink, Hamas seems to be the new player stepping in to partner with Iran.
The Ayatollahs new policy of strategic entrenchment entices Hamas with the promise of long-term benefits. The relative calm in the Gaza Strip has allowed Haniyeh to reinforce his grip on the territory and bide his time with the hope that eventually Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will leave the playing field and control over the West Bank will be transferred to Hamas. 
The Iranian leadership advised Haniyeh that even if Hamas itself was not yet prepared to be exposed to Israeli retaliation, it would be wise to allow less scrupulous militants - belonging either to the  popular resistance movement or Islamic Jihadists – to fight the Palestinians’ battle instead. The Jihadists constant challenging of Haniyeh’s authority and his perceived leniency against the Zionists have made them a particular thorn in Haniyeh's side. Iran, meanwhile, is encouraging Haniyeh to utilize their militancy for the greater good. In this fashion, Iranian interests would still be served but Haniyeh would not have accountability in the event of an attack.
So what does Iran stand to gain if the Jihadists or popular resistant movement attack Israel? First, any attack from Gaza would serve as a test case to evaluate the strength of Israeli defense missiles and determine if Iran’s ballistic system could indeed be paralyzed by Israeli missiles.   
Second, kindling flames on the Gazan border has in the past proved to be a foolproof tactic for damaging Israel’s relations with the US and Europe, as was demonstrated prior to Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. If Iran can orchestrate a diversion between Gaza and Israel, the Iranian threat would be relegated to the background. Every time Israel is embroiled with attacks from Gaza, the Arab world unites against it and Israel’s actions further aggravate the Left in the West. 
Lastly, Iran would like to see Israel becoming the center of world condemnation again, as was the case with the Goldstone Report. This would serve the twin purpose of once again drawing attention away from Iran while also alleviating the pressure on Syria – Iran’s crucial ally in the region. According to the testimonies given by Syrian refugees, operatives from both Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have joined the country’s massacre-fest. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for Iran which must preserve its alliance with Damascus while avoiding any more global condemnation.
The dice have been rolled in Tehran. They have landed on the unwitting Palestinians, who are once again being used as pawns in this sick game. From the Palestinian perspective, sacrificing lives in clashes with Israel will mean increased military funding from Iran and also enable the latter to draw valuable lessons about the Jewish State’s own military tactics. In this vein, Hamas, Jihadists and all their cohorts can be better prepared for the next attack once the Iranian puppet-masters say the word.
The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem  and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.