Iran warns Hamas not to waver

In case anyone wonders who pulls the strings with Hamas, the latest from Tehran should make it clear.  The Iranians sent a delegation to Damascus as soon as they heard about the Franco-Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire — to warn Hamas leadership of the consequences of accepting it.  But does Khaled Mashaal have any effective control over what remains of the Hamas command structure in Gaza?

Iran is exerting heavy pressure on Hamas not to accept the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel, an Egyptian government official said on Sunday.

The official told The Jerusalem Post by phone that two senior Iranian officials who visited Damascus recently warned Hamas leaders against accepting the proposal.

His remarks came as Hamas representatives met in Cairo with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Gen. Omar Suleiman and his aides to discuss ways of ending the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas representatives reiterated their opposition to a cease-fire that did not include the reopening of all the border crossings into the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesmen said on Sunday.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s sources, Iran threatened to cut off all support for Hamas and other Palestinian factions (presumably Islamic Jihad) if Hamas accepted the cease-fire.  They want war with Israel, but without getting their own hands dirty.  The Egyptians, for one, are unimpressed with Iran’s courage, pointing out that Iran hasn’t fired a bullet against Israel themselves and won’t allow volunteers to join Hamas.

Why do they want Hamas to keep provoking Israel?  The Egyptian official speaking with the Post believes they want to distract the world from their nuclear program, but I’d bet the Iranians have Israel specifically in mind.  The rest of the world won’t stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons, but Israel probably will, if given the chance.  Iran wants Hamas to fight an open war with Israel to keep the IDF from attacking its nuclear sites in the near term.

What does that mean for Iranian nukes?  It suggests that the Iranians are closer to actual production than people have estimated prior to now.  Hamas’ sudden desire to lift the cease-fire in late December, using a November 4th incident as the supposed provokation for their rationalization, makes a lot of sense in that context.  The Iranians would worry most about covert strikes as they near completion of their effort, and they need Israel tied up for months, not weeks, to keep them distracted.

Will Israel attack Iran anyway?  This would give them a cassus belli all by itself, a way to impose some cost on Iran for its war-by-proxy on Israel.   But if they do attack, they’d better be sure they get enough of Iran’s nuclear program to make it count.