Iran and the Al-Aqsa Flood
The October 7 attacks, dubbed the Al-Aqsa Flood by Hamas, which have already become a turning point in the history of the region, continue to be discussed in different dimensions. Israelis have compared the operation to the Holocaust in terms of the casualties and the shock it caused, and one of the most frequently asked questions is whether the operation was planned and executed by Hamas alone or whether other states were behind it. With this action, Hamas has significantly exceeded its past capabilities and surprised observers. Iran's relations with Hamas since its inception and recent statements of support from military officials in Tehran have naturally drawn attention to Iran.
Iranian interest in Palestine and links with Hamas are not new. In Khomeini's famous speech at the Fayziyeh Madrasa, which led to his arrest and exile abroad in 1963, he reacted to the Shah's White Revolution as well as the relations with Israel. Indeed, some of the cadres who later carried out the revolution had already received guerrilla training in anti-Israeli Arab countries in the seventies and some of them had carried out various actions inside Iran. One of the first leaders to visit the country after the revolution was Yasir Arafat, the legendary leader of the PLO, and the Israeli representative office in the country was allocated to the organization. However, with the Iraq war, the PLO's pro-Saddam Hussein stance brought relations to a breaking point, and the establishment of Hamas with an Islamic ideology in 1987 was welcomed in Tehran. Constantly developing relations deteriorated with the beginning of the popular revolution in Syria, but with the end of the civil war, relations were back on track.
What is the Axis of Resistance?
The close cooperation that the Iranians had developed with Lebanon and Syria since the beginning of the revolution was joined by Iraq after the invasion in 2003, thus creating what the Iranians call the Axis of Resistance, a set of generations and political structures. According to the theory often cited by Iranian political theorists, Iran is at the heart of the "Axis of Resistance" as the center of the Islamic world, the "Umm al-Qura", and the other states and structures in the axis constitute the front against the "Great Satan", the US and Israel. The takeover of power by the Zaidi Houthis in Yemen as a result of the post-Arab Spring developments has also made Iran more active in the Red Sea-Babul Mandab region, where it has traditionally been weak, and Tehran has sent many missiles and drones to the organization and even transferred technology to it, especially during the Saudi-Ansarullah war. Interestingly, the US policies towards the region over the last decade have weakened the countries it considered allies, while the "adversary" Iran has become a more influential actor in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean triangle than ever before.
Despite the fact that the Islamist ideology, which weakened after Khomeini, was gradually replaced by Persian/Iranian nationalism, and despite the significant repercussions of this situation on domestic and foreign policy, Iranian officials did not fail to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this geopolitical formation. The fact that the elements of the resistance belt all have Arab identities has created a space of opportunity for Iran, which knows how the Israeli issue resonates with the Shiite or Sunni Arab Street. Tehran has used this situation skillfully and has followed a policy of striking the maximum blow with the organizations that the US and Israel have put in front of it, paying the minimum price. Israel's efforts to prevent arms transfers in Iraq and Syria, its actions inside Iran, such as sabotage of nuclear facilities or the assassination of scientists, and Saudi officials' rhetoric that "we will now take the conflict inside Iran" have had certain results, but they have not been able to strategically set Tehran back.
Al-Aqsa Flood and Iran
The latest strikes have caused great jubilation inside Iran and have been presented as a development that supports the official narrative that Israel's days are numbered. Many Iranian figures interpreted this action as the end of "strategic patience" on Iran's part and a response to the Israeli and US attacks on Iranian targets over the last decade. Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian visited the "Axis" countries and met with Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar to show his country's initiative in the latest developments. However, from day one, Iranian officials have been careful in their statements in order not to create an excuse for any retaliation. Iranian officials, including the country's Supreme Leader Khamenei, have emphasized that the events are purely an internal planning and operation of Hamas and that they are only providing political support. Abdollahian's statements on behalf of the axis were particularly noteworthy after his meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. By making this trip only a few days after the events, the Iranian minister tried to send the message that Tehran is the main interlocutor at the negotiating table that will be set up after the end of the military conflict. He said that if the attacks continued, the resistance forces would act spontaneously and even take pre-emptive steps, and that all hands were on the trigger. Both the Minister and various officials in the country have frequently stated that the groups in question have made an autonomous decision and therefore Iran cannot do anything to stop them.
Looking at Iran's long-term regional strategy, it is seen that despite all the anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric, Iran is cautious not to confront these countries directly. So much so that when Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, who had been turned into the country's national hero, was killed in Baghdad in early 2020 in a US operation, Tehran kept its practical reaction extremely restrained, preferring to respond with propaganda activities. Today, Iranian officials have made it clear that Iran will not intervene militarily in Palestine and Gaza, no matter how severe the situation becomes, as long as the country is not subjected to a direct Israeli or US attack. However, the mobilization of regional proxies, particularly Hezbollah, is a serious possibility. Already, Hezbollah has launched more than ten attacks on Israel from its northern borders and lost around 25 militants. Similar small-scale attacks have begun to target the US presence in Iraq and Syria, and there have been reports that cruise missiles launched from Yemen at Israel have been neutralized by the US. In the event of a possible ground attack on Gaza, the reaction of proxy organizations, particularly Hezbollah, could be interpreted as a readiness for a large-scale regional conflict.
However, from day one, in the context of regional conflict, I think the aftershocks will not be as severe as the main tremor. Everyone has a lot to lose if the conflicts become widespread, especially US interests in Iraq and Syria. Biden administration has different priorities, from controlling energy prices, to returning to the nuclear deal with Iran, to the upcoming US elections, rather than supporting already unpopular Netanyahu’s military adventures, which will have very limited practical gains, but will fuel global anti-Americanism.
Washington's more insistent statements than the Tehran government that the incidents are not linked to Iran should also be seen as a sign that Washington does not want the conflict to spread.
Iran's regional policies, which came to the fore again with the October 7 attacks, are of great concern for Turkey. For 44 years, the country, which has been continuously chanting anti-US/Israeli slogans, has increased its regional influence to an unprecedented extent, especially thanks to the post-9/11 US policies. This has been particularly effective in filling the power vacuum created by the central governments weakened by the US. As a matter of fact, it is noteworthy that Iranian media and semi-official figures targeted regional countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia as much as Israel in the recent attacks, which clearly revealed Israel's vulnerability and weakness. The distance between Iran's stated and actual policies (elami and emali) raises questions about the direction of the country's possible regional policies in the near future.