October 21, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

How Iran keeps the initiative in attacks on Israel, US in MidEast

Iran’s foreign minister went to Qatar and met with the Hamas leadership in the first week of the war, pledging cooperation with Hamas.
October 21, 2023 | The Jerusalem Post

How Iran keeps the initiative in attacks on Israel, US in MidEast

Iran’s foreign minister went to Qatar and met with the Hamas leadership in the first week of the war, pledging cooperation with Hamas.

The October 7 attack by Hamas was unprecedented in its size and its attempt to commit genocide against Israeli communities. Following the attack, Iran has been cooperating with Hamas and other regional proxy groups to keep up the initiative against Israel and expand attacks against the US.

It is important to understand how Iran has continued to create new threats after October 7. Much of this is designed to prevent Israel from going after the perpetrators of the Hamas massacre and also to prevent a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip that might threaten the Hamas leadership.

The first thing Iran did after the attack was to mobilize Hezbollah to threaten Israel with a war in the North. Tehran has been seeking to “unify” many fronts and arenas against Israel in recent years, including increasing the threats by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank since last year.

Hezbollah began threats on October 8. In the first week of the war, there were a variety of threats along the northern border, including an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon near the Israeli border community of Arab el-Aramsha. Hezbollah also has drones, rockets, and armed men, all of which were put into motion on October 8.

Hamas also sent its foreign minister to Qatar to meet with Hamas’s leadership. According to Amwaj media, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar and has been backed by Doha for many years, was planning a trip to Iraq.

That trip was cut short by the October 7 massacre. Iran’s foreign minister went to Qatar and met with the Hamas leadership in the first week of the war, pledging cooperation with Hamas. This cooperation was already there, but the meeting was meant to showcase public support in Qatar, which is a US ally, and demonstrate that Hamas and Iran can, and will, meet openly to plan genocidal attacks on Israel.

At the same time, Time magazine reported in the first week of the war that “hacking groups, including some tied to Russia, are attacking Israeli government and media websites, allying themselves with” Hamas after it launched a series of deadly strikes on the country.

Russia takes a side

Russia is a key partner of Iran and has acquired drones from Iran. Russia, Iran, Turkey, and China all have condemned Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack, but they have not condemned Hamas for the massacre. Instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin went to Beijing during the first week of the war for a meeting of the Belt and Road Initiative. The cyberattacks would continue, and on October 21, a report said there had been cyberattacks on Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

Iran’s foreign minister also went to Lebanon during the first week of the war to meet with Hezbollah. At the meeting and in Iranian messaging, Tehran said the war could spread to the region if Israel continued airstrikes in Gaza.

The Iranian threat to push Hezbollah into the war spurred the US to send two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean. Foreign Policy called this a “keep out” sign being deployed by the US to deter Iran and Hezbollah.

Iran and Hezbollah decided that the best strategy for keeping Israel distracted in the North, and presenting a constant threat of escalation, was to increase attacks along the northern border. The second week of the war saw a major increase in rocket and anti-tank fire from Hezbollah.

Prior to October 7, any one of these instances would have been major news and possibly resulted in a war. Now, Iran was able to rewrite the rules in the North and make the attacks normal. Israel responded by evacuating 28 communities on the border on October 16.

By Friday, Israel also evacuated Kiryat Shmona. This was in addition to the evacuation of communities on the Gaza border and the evacuation of 30,000 people from Sderot. In all, some 200,000 people may have been evacuated. This is unprecedented in Israeli history; many of these communities had not evacuated despite terrorist threats in the 1950s or 1970s.

ON OCTOBER 17, a rocket fired from Gaza landed near the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Hamas decided to create a false story about the incident, claiming that 500 people had been killed by an Israeli airstrike. This was immediately picked up by pro-regime media in Iraq and Turkey, and it spread to the region and the West.

Iran exploited this report to operationalize proxies in the region. In Iraq, pro-Iran groups began to target US forces with drones overnight on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Our missiles, drones, and special forces are ready to direct qualitative strikes at the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this battle,” Iran-backed proxy Katai Hezbollah in Iraq said.

On Thursday, the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen opened a new front, launching drones and cruise missiles. The threat was intercepted by a US warship in the Red Sea over a period of nine hours. The warship shot down four cruise missiles and 15 drones.

At the same time on Thursday, Iran got proxies in Syria to attack US forces.

“Iran-backed groups blew up a gas pipeline in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled northeast near a US base Thursday, a war monitor said, as regional tensions grew following Israel’s war with Gaza-based militants,” Voice of America radio reported.

While Muslim Brotherhood-aligned groups had increased anti-Israel activity in Turkey and the West, Iran began to push for more protests on October 18. Its media shifted from reporting about claims of a “massacre” at the hospital in Gaza to encouraging protests against Israel across the region and in other countries in Asia where it has influence.

Protests were increasing “from Baghdad to Jakarta,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

Iran also stressed its message in a Chinese TV interview, clearly trying to draw Russia, Turkey, and China into its campaign. On Saturday, Iran continued its coverage of the war against Israel, with Tasnim News Agency bragging about Israeli casualties.

Iran has also sought to push Iraq to be more involved, including having defense officials speak with their Iraqi colleagues. Pro-Iranian Al Mayadeen TV also highlighted further attacks by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border.

It appears Hamas has also entrenched itself in Lebanon, and Iran is using Hamas in Lebanon to threaten Israel as well. This is the “unity” of fronts that Iran has been talking about over the last several years. Iran also continued to threaten the US on Saturday, warning that Israel would suffer “revenge” and that US support for Israel would not go “unanswered.”

All of this has been accomplished by Iran in two weeks. It has enabled Hezbollah to attack Israel daily, while Hezbollah suffers only a proportional response. It remains to be seen if Iran can now use Hezbollah to attack whenever it wants from the North. This is becoming a new norm, with Israeli communities evacuated each time.

Furthermore, it appears Iran also got Hamas to release two American hostages on October 20, in an agreement brokered by Qatar, which hosts Hamas leadership. This empowers Hamas, Qatar, and Iran by enabling them to continue to use the hostages as a threat to stop a ground operation. A ground operation would harm the hostages, Tasnim reported Saturday, which is clearly another threat by Iran.

Iran has successfully kept the initiative since October 7. It has pushed Hezbollah to conduct daily attacks and create the possibility of a two-front war. It has inflamed Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen and mobilized proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to carry out attacks.

Tehran has driven this conflict, and it remains to be seen if its initiative will be interdicted at some point. 

Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D., is the author of “Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future.” He has more than 15 years of experience covering conflict and security issues in the Middle East, as a correspondent and analystand is an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). 


China Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Russia Syria Turkey