Tehran’s West Bank ambitions

With the U.S.-brokered Middle Eastern peace talks and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations underway, a recent Stratfor report has revealed that there are increasing indications that the Islamic Republic of Iran is attempting to spread militancy in the Fatah-controlled West Bank by building up military capability in the region. Although Iran has previously shipped weaponry (including the medium-range Fajr-3 and the long-range Fajr-5 missiles) and sent its military technology to Gaza, this recent move by Iranian leaders and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to establish new weapon caches, build up military and weaponry arsenals and send missiles into the West Bank is a geopolitically intriguing operation.

Iranian leaders have been using proxies, including the Syrian intelligence agency Mukhabart, its military and Hezbollah to send Iranian weapons and military technology to the West Bank. Primarily, the weapons are being smuggled into the region through Jordanian supply routes. Jordanian authorities have recently reported that they were successful in catching several groups of weapons smugglers traveling from Syria. The groups were attempting to transport surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles and assault rifles.

Prior to this incident, Iranian leaders had been charged for sending weapons, including rockets, to Gaza through a network of smuggling tunnels reportedly located under the 15-kilometer border between Gaza and Egypt. In addition, semiofficial Iranian news agencies, such as the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), have publicly quoted Iranian military high generals including the commander of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari, as saying that Tehran has supplied either weaponry or military technology to Gaza. Furthermore, Iranian leaders have not refrained from publicly stating that these militant technologies would indeed facilitate missile production.

Conversely, the late decisions and military actions on whether to send or smuggle missiles, rockets, advanced weaponry and weapon-building technology to the West Bank taken by not only the Iranian leaders, military and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps but President Bashar al-Assad’s military apparatuses as well, send several indications about Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and geopolitical influence in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, along with the Middle East and North Africa as a whole.

Iran and Hamas, a strained relationship

Firstly, Iran’s political relationship with the leaders of Hamas has recently suffered and been strained because of Tehran’s and Hamas’s opposing geopolitical and strategic positions on Assad’s regime and the civil war in Syria. After various parts of Syria erupted in protest and violence, Tehran’s and Hamas’s stance on Damascus and the Assad regime diverged. While Iranian leaders insisted on supporting Assad’s regime financially, militarily, politically, and through an advisory role, Hamas condemned Assad’s brutal crackdown and proceeded to side with Syrian opposition groups, including the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups.

Iran’s political relationship with the leaders of Hamas has recently suffered because of Tehran’s and Hamas’s opposing geopolitical and strategic positions on Assad’s regime

Majid Rafizadeh

In response to Hamas’s position on Syria, Tehran proceeded to suspend millions of dollars of monthly aid to the organization in recent months, merely because Hamas did not support and stand by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria— Iran’s ally and patron— in his battle and struggle against rebel forces. Iran’s relationship with Hamas was further strained as Hamas leaders shut down their operation centers in Damascus and moved out of Syria.

As a result, Iran’s political influence in Palestine, particularly in Gaza, waned due to its political strains with Hamas. In order to restore geopolitical influence and retain military power in Palestine, Iranian leaders have been seeking alternatives to compensate for the challenges they are confronting with Hamas, and their presence in Palestine and Gaza. The Fatah-controlled West Bank has become a military and strategic alternative for Tehran, capable of spreading militancy and building up military caches.

The recent military moves by the Islamic Republic of Iran to further spread militancy (and build up supplementary military caches in different parts of the Arab world) reflect the growing concerns among Iran’s ruling clerics on the nation’s declining geopolitical, economic and geostrategic influence in the region. The Iranian leaders see the uprisings across the Arab world as empowering to the predominantly Sunni-backed Islamic parties, raising tremendous concern in Tehran over maintaining an ideological and political Shiite influence in the region.

Waning influence

Moreover, Iran’s influence in the region has been suffering due to the severe weakening of its closest ally, the Assad regime, which is entering its third year of political turmoil and civil war. Not only has the Iranian-Syrian leverage in the Middle East been declining as a whole, but also, Tehran is facing unprecedented international and economic sanctions, further isolating Tehran’s ruling clerics from true international power. In addition, Tehran’s unconditional support of Assad’s regime, has worked to further damage its reputation in region, even among the Arab communities and Syrian people who once supported Tehran.

For the Islamic Republic of Iran, restoring the nation’s military, ideological, and political influence, as well as mending its regional image, repairing its relationship with Hamas in order to tip the balance of power in their favor, and pursuing regional hegemonic ambitions have proven to be more crucial political objectives than addressing Tehran’s internal economic crisis. As Ali Larijani, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) stated “we may have inflation, unemployment and other economic issues in our country, but we are changing the region, and this will be a big achievement.”

As average Iranian citizens are struggling to cope with the rising inflation rate, shrinking economy, growing food prices, and high unemployment rate, Iranian leaders have placed regional hegemonic ambition, achieved through building new weapon caches and using military and political proxies to smuggle weaponry and military technology to strategic locations in the Middle East, as their geopolitical priority.

 


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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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