The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas once again has launched a lethal campaign against Israel, its fifth major offensive and the most catastrophic since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007 following Israel’s withdrawal.
Once again, Hamas has perpetrated a double war crime by hiding behind civilians in Gaza while savagely attacking civilians in Israel. But this time, Hamas also was able to penetrate Israel’s border defenses Oct. 7 through coordinated surprise attacks launched by land, sea, and air.
These attacks would not have been possible without Iran’s extensive support in providing arms, training, logistical support, and funding. A senior Israeli official told reporters that Iran pushed Hamas to act and has ordered Hezbollah, a larger terrorist group based in Lebanon, to be ready to participate in an expanded conflict.
By triggering the Israel-Hamas war, Iran seeks to derail Israeli-Saudi normalization negotiations; distract Israel and the United States from its advancing nuclear weapons program; distract its own rebellious population from the Islamist regime’s corruption, mismanagement, and repression; and incite Arabs and Muslims against Israel, the United States, and Arab governments that have made peace with Israel.
Tehran also has mobilized and deployed soldiers of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hezbollah terrorists, and Syrian militias in southwest Syria near the Israeli border in preparation for additional attacks against Israel. Hezbollah also has launched multiple attacks from Lebanon against Israel’s northern border.
Enabled and emboldened by Iranian support, Hamas terrorists managed not only to kill over 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians, but also seized 222 hostages, according to Israeli officials. At least 30 Americans have been killed and at least 10 are still held as hostages after the release of two American women Oct. 20.
The kidnapping of hostages is right out of Iran’s playbook, which is not surprising given Iran’s decades of support for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian proxy group that serves as Hamas’ junior terrorist partner in Gaza.
An estimated 500 terrorists belonging to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad reportedly received specialized combat training in September inside Iran from the Quds Force, the special operations unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Probing Iran’s Role in Attack on Israel
It also should not be a surprise that Iran played a key role in helping to plan and support the Oct. 7 attacks. The Wall Street Journal reported the next day that senior officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had worked with Hamas since August to plot the attacks and gave a green light for the operation against Israel at an Oct. 2 meeting in Beirut.
Three other Iran-backed terrorist groups participated in the planning sessions along with Hamas: Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both based in Lebanon, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which operates in Gaza and on the West Bank.
Iran’s dictatorship bankrolls Hezbollah with an estimated $700 million annually and provides about $100 million annually to Hamas, in addition to supporting the two smaller Palestinian terrorist groups.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers reportedly set up a joint military operations center in Beirut that coordinated the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas during the 11-day mini-war triggered by Hamas in May 2021.
The current conflict has been much more destructive and is likely to become more painful and drawn out than past Gaza conflicts because of the hostage crisis. Israel is unlikely to halt military operations until it has freed the hostages through special operations raids or obtained their release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
But Hamas considers the hostages to be its trump card. The terrorist group, which governs Gaza, is unlikely to free many of the hostages unless it extracts an exorbitant and humiliating price from Israel.
Although it has freed four female hostages at this writing in a bid to delay Israel’s ground offensive and encourage international pressure to restrain Israel, Hamas is likely to prolong the crisis by retaining the hostages as human shields. It also has threatened to execute the hostages in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
Biden’s Troubling Record on Hostages, Iran
President Joe Biden has taken a risky and shortsighted approach on hostage issues.
In August, the Biden administration negotiated a dangerous deal to pay Iran $6 billion for the release of five Americans held hostage there.
The deal rewarded Tehran with a record-setting $1.2 billion ransom payment for each hostage, which undoubtedly incentivized outlaw regimes and terrorist groups to take more hostages.
This dangerous precedent also has backfired spectacularly now that Americans reportedly are among the scores of hostages seized by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The Biden administration also made a bad situation worse by failing to enforce sanctions on Iran since it came to office in a misguided effort to revive the Obama administration’s flawed 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamist regime. That policy gave Iran’s predatory regime more oil revenue to finance its network of terrorist proxies, including Hamas, and reduced pressure on the regime to halt its threshold nuclear weapons program.
The Biden administration also failed to respond adequately to 83 drone and rocket attacks that Iran and its proxies launched against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria between January 2021 and this past March. U.S. forces weakly countered with only four operations.
After the Hamas terrorist offensive in Israel, U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted by 13 drone and rocket attacks launched by Iran’s proxy militias between Oct. 17 and Tuesday.
Although air defenses prevented the killing of Americans, it is only a matter of time before such attacks inflict a death toll. Yet the Biden administration has not responded effectively.
Don’t Feed the ‘Octopus’
Biden’s complacent approach to Iran-backed aggression allowed Iran’s Islamist regime to get away with murder by hiding behind proxy groups.
Israel is unlikely to make the same mistake. In 2022, Jerusalem adopted the so-called Octopus Doctrine, a strategy that then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described as retaliating “against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against the arms as was done in previous decades.”
Now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling a counteroffensive against Hamas’ tentacles as well as the head of the octopus in Tehran.
The United States should back Israel to the hilt. The Biden administration should ensure that Israel has the military assets to win its current war, as well as the diplomatic cover to withstand inevitable criticism from the international community.
But equally important, the Biden administration should halt shortsighted efforts to appease Iran by easing sanctions in a dangerous push to reach an illusory nuclear deal.
It makes no sense to feed the “octopus” while Israel, the United States, and other Middle Eastern allies are being attacked by its tentacles.
James Phillips is the senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He has written extensively on Middle Eastern issues and international terrorism since 1978.
This article was first published by The Daily Signal.