Hamas is fighting a proxy war for Iran
There is much more about the Iranian training. Iranians have also been active in Gaza. Israel will eventually have to destroy Hamas and these fighters. If they wait there will be more fighters and more casualties to deal with. Israel can no longer let the lawyers run their operations against this lethal enemy.
The Hamas commander was in a hurry. Hunched forward in a navy-blue parka, with the wind-chapped skin and drawn eyes of someone who had been outdoors all night, he had just returned from the front line with Israel. The whine of drones overhead signalled that his enemy was hunting for blood.
For someone who had survived the fiercest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since 2000 and the deaths of scores of his fellow fighters, the commander, already a senior figure in his late twenties, appeared remarkably composed.
He is in the vanguard of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas which is growing into a disciplined army, trained to fight for victory rather than be consigned to the “martyr’s death” of the suicide bomber.
Israel has long insisted that Iran is behind this training. Last week Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, said as much when he claimed that Hamas had “started to dispatch people to Iran, tens and a promise of hundreds”. He provided no evidence.
The Hamas commander, however, confirmed for the first time that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been training its men in Tehran for more than two years and is currently honing the skills of 150 fighters.
The details he gave suggested that, if anything, Shin Bet has underestimated the extent of Iran’s influence on Hamas’s increasingly sophisticated tactics and weaponry.
Speaking on the record but withholding his identity as a target of Israeli forces, the commander, who has a sparse moustache and oiled black hair, said Hamas had been sending fighters to Iran for training in both field tactics and weapons technology since Israeli troops pulled out of the Gaza strip of Palestinian territory in 2005. Others go to Syria for more basic training.
“We have sent seven ‘courses’ of our fighters to Iran,” he said. “During each course, the group receives training that he will use to increase our capacity to fight.”
The most promising members of each group stay longer for an advanced course and return as trainers themselves, he said.
So far, 150 members of Qassam have passed through training in Tehran, where they study for between 45 days and six months at a closed military base under the command of the elite Revolutionary Guard force.
Of the additional 150 who are in Tehran now, some will go into Hamas’s research unit if they are not deemed strong enough for fighting.
Conditions at the base are strict, the commander said. The Palestinians are allowed out only one day a week. Even then, they may leave the base only in a group and with Iranian security. They shop and “always come back with really good boots”.
According to the commander, a further 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran. Sixty-two are in Syria now.
But what Hamas values most is the knowledge that comes directly from Iran. Some of it was used to devastating effect by the militant group Hezbollah against Israeli forces in Lebanon in 2006.
He said the Hamas military, which numbers about 15,000 fighters, was modelling itself on Hezbollah. “We don’t have tanks. We don’t have planes. We are street fighters and we will use our own ways,” he said.