Iran’s Strategic Influence: Strengthening Hamas’s Operational Capabilities in the ‘Axis of Resistance

Hamas has been overlooked as a global terrorist threat due to its intent and capabilities. Israeli intelligence agencies misunderstood Hamas’s motivations, believing they were content with economic benefits and had little desire to fight. This was reinforced by Hamas’s involvement in the recent West Bank conflict and limited capabilities, as their rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

However, Hamas was able to stage a complex terrorist attack on October 7, killing more than 1,400 Israelis and wounding hundreds more, thanks to Iranian support. The highly choreographed, multipronged operations and incursion into Israel required months of planning and training that only Iran and Hezbollah could have provided. The long history between Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas shows that after Israel deported over 400 Hamas figures to Lebanon in 1992, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and Hezbollah worked closely with Hamas fighters, training them on how to build and deploy suicide bombs. Cooperation between the triumvirate continued through the Second Intifada (2000–2005) when suicide bombings became a hallmark of Hamas attacks against Israel.

Iran has long supported a network of proxy groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Iraqi Shiite militia groups known as Hashd al-Sha’bi. However, the extent and impact of training provided by Iran through Quds Force was not apparent. Iran has helped develop Hamas into a formidable organization, growing it from a rag-tag militia to a force with 40,000 fighters, a naval commando unit, and cyber warfare capabilities.

Hamas’s high-level operational security and extensive intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for the attack point to the effectiveness of Iranian hands-on training, which would be impossible to acquire remotely. The head of the Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, has been actively coordinating amongst Iran’s “axis of resistance” by organizing meetings with the leaders of various militant groups under Tehran’s umbrella.

Qaani, the commander of the Quds Force, aims to push Hamas and Hezbollah to confront Israel more aggressively, as Iran perceives domestic political turmoil as weakness. The unification of Iran’s proxies under Qaani’s control has strengthened Iran’s “unity of fronts” strategy. Hamas’s political leader, Ismael Haniyeh, has openly admitted that Iran provides approximately $70 million per year to his group and has also provided logistical support for weapons development.

Hamas-Iranian cooperation has been a long-standing relationship, despite ideological differences arising from the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict in the Middle East. The Hamas-Iran relationship has been strained in recent years, with Hamas supporting the Sunni Arab opposition in Syria and Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, but regained momentum in 2017 with Yahya Sinwar leading Hamas in Gaza.

Despite Iran’s involvement in funding and training Hamas, the Iranian leadership does not micromanage Hamas attacks. The Quds Force prepares Iranian proxies with the necessary tools for high-profile terrorist attacks, but leaves the details to operational commanders. Hamas has a better understanding of the terrain and potential vulnerabilities in Israel’s defense than Iran does.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel may be just getting started, as Israel prepares for an imminent ground invasion. Given Hamas’s improved capabilities, the group is expected to use asymmetric tactics, including improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide drones.

The “Gaza Metro” tunnels, Hamas’s subterranean network, will pose a significant challenge to Israel’s defense forces.Israel plans to eliminate Hamas, but this would be costly and potentially lead to Iranian proxies joining the conflict, prolonging it and increasing the risk of regional conflagration.

HamasIranIran's Strategic Influence: Strengthening Hamas's Operational Capabilities in the 'Axis of Resistance