Some of the dozens of mortars and rockets fired into Israel by Gaza-based terrorists on Tuesday were made in Iran and smuggled into the Strip, the army said.
In a statement, the army said that during the day more than 70 mortars and rockets were fired, with many intercepted. “Among the munitions fired at Israel were also rockets manufactured in Iran,” it said. It gave no details on the types of rockets.
IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said in separate comments that some of the mortar shells appeared to be an Iranian-made variety that had been smuggled into the coastal enclave.
Israel and Egypt impose a blockade on Gaza to try and prevent the terror groups there smuggling in arms. In particular, Israel wants to avoid a repeat of the situation in Lebanon where Iran managed to supply Hezbollah with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. Hezbollah is reported to have some 140,000 rockets and missiles, including precision-guided missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.
Iranian-made rockets of the kind held by Hezbollah are more sophisticated, with a far greater range and accuracy, than the home-made Kassam rockets manufactured in Gaza by Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The IDF’s revelation that Gaza terror groups are using Iranian-made rockets came after the new Gaza leader of Hamas said last month it had restored relations with Iran and was gearing up for future hostilities with Israel.
Yahya Sinwar told reporters that Iran is now “the largest backer financially and militarily” of Hamas’s armed wing. He was speaking at his first meeting with journalists since taking up his post in February.
Sinwar said that with Iran’s help, Hamas was accumulating military power in preparation for a battle for “the liberation of Palestine.”
Hamas is “developing our military strength in order to liberate Palestine,” Sinwar said. He added that Hamas does not seek war for now “and takes every effort to avoid a war… At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it.”
“The Iranian military support to Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic,” he noted, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era.”
“Every day we build missiles and continue military training,” Sinwar added, saying that thousands of people were working “day and night” to prepare for the next conflict.
Iran was once Hamas’s largest backer, but relations cooled after Hamas refused to back Iran’s close ally Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war.
Earlier in April, a high-level Hamas delegation traveled to Iran to attend the inauguration of reelected President Hassan Rouhani, and to “turn a new page in bilateral relations” between the two sides.
It was the first visit to Iran by Hamas officials since the group elected new leadership earlier in 2017. The rapprochement between Hamas and Iran is reportedly being facilitated by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran.
The Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, which is Saudi-influenced, reported at the time that Hamas officials representing the terror group’s military wing also met with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary force that answers directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and discussed “common issues.”
According to the report, Iran was keen to restore ties with Hamas after Ismail Haniyeh was elected as head of Hamas’s political bureau and Sinwar as the group’s Gaza chief. Both are considered to be more open to reconciliation with Iran than was Khaled Mashaal, the former political leader of Hamas.
The group is in sore need of funds and backing as its current top patron, Qatar, is under fire from Gulf allies for supporting it.
During the Hamas delegation’s visit in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Palestinian issue remained a top foreign policy priority for his government, which was “ready to put aside all disagreements [with Hamas] for the sake of supporting Palestine and the Palestinian people as well as the unity of the Muslim world.”
Islamist terror group Hamas seized Gaza in a near civil war with forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. The two factions have been at loggerheads ever since.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, tunneling under the border and firing thousands of rockets into Israel, and is committed to destroying the Jewish state.
Agencies contributed to this report