Jerusalem, 18 April, 2023 (TPS) — Hamas is tightening its terror coordination with Iran, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Lebanon, raising new challenges for Israel.
Known as the “Jerusalem Axis,” this alliance of Iranian-backed terror groups is Iran’s counterweight to the Abraham accords. This axis finds support in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
A barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon during the Passover holiday was part of Iran’s “dispersal of burdens” strategy. This emerging strategy is developing under the command of the Quds Force, an elite branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Force.
The Quds Force is responsible for extraterritorial and clandestine operations. It oversees Iran’s relations with terror proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Iraqi militias by providing weapons, money, training and other forms of support. It has also been linked to plots against Israeli interests in far-flung locations such as Colombia, Cyprus, India, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Turkey, Kenya and more.
Now the Quds Force is tasked with building up Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad capabilities in Lebanon.
Statements by senior Hamas figures suggest that the next conflict with Israel is expected to be a “regional campaign” fought with other members of the Jerusalem Axis on multiple fronts.
Hamas’s decision to turn to the “Jerusalem Axis” was made last year after an unusually long internal debate. Supporters pointed to the Iranian weapons and training that would come while opponents fear burning bridges with moderate Sunni Arab states.
In recent years, Iran has leveraged its financial support for Hamas to turn Hamas into an Iranian proxy arm, and to operate it at times contrary to the terror group’s own interests.
As the “Jerusalem Axis” gets stronger, the appearance of calm in the Gaza Strip becomes more and more problematic for Israel. It should be emphasized that Iran has no problem with violating the Gaza truce, which would counter Hamas’s interest in rebuilding the Strip. Sometimes, Iran even takes advantage of its relations with PIJ by encouraging it to act independently of Hamas, or by favoring it with money or weapons.
Palestinian sources have suggested to the Tazpit Press Service that both Hamas’s leadership outside Gaza and groups within Palestinian Islamic Jihad “underestimate” the benefits of the current calm.
Three key figures have emerged as point men connecting the Palestinians to the Jerusalem Axis.
One is Salah Arouri, one of several senior Hamas leaders based in Turkey and is regarded as the overall commander of Hamas in Judea and Samaria. It is widely believed that he masterminded the the 2014 kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers, which led to a six-week war in Gaza.
Another is Saeed Yazidi, an Iranian based in Lebanon who manages the “Palestinian branch” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Sources tell TPS Yazidi has twice visited Gaza, entering from Egypt through the Rafah crossing with fake Palestinian documents. Yazidi has an intimate relationship with PIJ leaders both inside the Strip and in Damascus.
Yazidi’s tasks include driving the cooperation among the various terror groups in the Jerusalem Axis while also smuggling Iranian weapons into Lebanon and Syria.
The third figure is Ali Marshad Shirazi, an Iranian who heads Yazidi’s bureau. He heads a Revolutionary Guards surveillance and control unit responsible for carrying out all military plans in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
Under Izadi and Shirazi is a cyber unit providing special services to both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. This unit’s responsibilities include helping Hamas extract information from the cell phones of Israeli soldiers.
Hamas is taking advantage of the calm in Gaza to strengthen itself while expanding the conflict into the Lebanese arena.
This fact, along with the relationship within the Palestinian unit in the Revolutionary Guards, reveals the importance Hamas places on maintaining calm in Gaza for now.
The close relationship between Iran and Hamas and to a certain extent, the Palestinian Authority too, indicates that the lifting of sanctions over the peace talks will also directly affect the intensity of terrorism in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.