Commentary Magazine


Iran’s Gaza Missile Gambit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset today that recent missile attacks on southern Israel from Gaza ought not to be regarded as a separate struggle from the international focus on halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. He laid the primary responsibility for the violence squarely on Tehran, saying, “Gaza is Iran.” The allusion was to the fact that the groups that launched the barrage, including Islamic Jihad, are directly linked to the Iranian regime. While some of Netanyahu’s Palestinian critics understand he is right about Iran being behind the terrorist groups who are most interested in heating up the conflict, they still reflexively blame Israel for the incidents. They claim there was something wrong about efforts to interdict terror squads as they are launching missiles or other attacks. This is not only morally obtuse in that it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate but also helps to obscure both the immediate and underlying responsibility for the flare up.

As Jonathan Schanzer writes in Foreign Policy, the latest terror offensive that led to more than 200 missiles being fired at Israel was the brainchild of the Iranians. By starting the fight that the Israelis finished, Iran’s terrorist proxies were not just seeking to burnish their image by seeking to kill Jews; they were also punishing Hamas for walking away from its long alliance with Tehran:

As the Iranians see it, Hamas has outlived its usefulness.… The Iranian leadership also has its own reasons for wreaking havoc in Gaza now. For starters, it deflects international attention from Tehran’s nuclear activities. With Israel on the brink of war with the Palestinians, the international community’s Pavlovian response is to rein Israel in and call for calm on both sides. The United Nations is now rushing to avert a war in Gaza instead of looking at new ways to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.

Moreover, any unrest in the region reverberates in the oil markets. Traders don’t like to see violence near their energy sources — just look at the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, which drove oil prices up almost 15 percent, despite the fact that Lebanon is not an oil exporter. Causing spikes in oil prices is the easiest way for Iran to circumvent sanctions: The more oil costs, the more cash Tehran can raise as it takes those last fateful steps toward the nuclear threshold.

Schanzer is spot on in his diagnosis of the way the Iranians have been able to manipulate their terrorist proxies. In doing so, not only has Hamas been embarrassed, but the violence also helps exacerbate the split between its various factions, thereby making the Gaza region it rules unstable.

But the problem goes deeper than that. As Schanzer notes, though Hamas may be trying to wean itself from its Iranian sponsor, the “martyrdom” culture it helped cultivate, weapons tunnels it helped build and maintain, and small but lethal terrorist groups it continues to finance,” roils the region.

However, Iran doesn’t deserve all the blame for the “culture” of violence it helped finance for years. The process by which any group, no matter how bloodthirsty, can be outflanked in the way that Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committee are doing to Hamas, is the fault of a Palestinian political culture that always rewards those who commit violence against Jews.

Apologists for the Palestinians will continue to try to blame all this on Israel alone or on the Jewish state and Iran. But the reason why Tehran is able to exploit this situation is that Palestinians are always ready to start killing at the drop of a hat. As much as Netanyahu is right to assert Iran’s responsibility in this episode, were the Palestinians not as besotted with bloodletting, such efforts would never succeed.