Shin Bet chief: Hamas setting up in Lebanon with Iran’s support

Nadav Argaman says the Gaza-based terror group is ready for renewed conflict with Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting at the Knesset on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting at the Knesset on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Shin Bet security service said Sunday that Hamas is setting up a base in Lebanon with Iranian support as part of its ongoing efforts to deepen its connections with the Islamic Republic’s “Shiite axis.”

Speaking to ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, Nadav Argaman warned that the Palestinian terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip, has “continued to invest considerable resources in preparation for a future conflict, even at the cost of its citizens’ welfare.”

According to the Shin Bet chief, Hamas, more than three years after the previous round of hostilities, is “ready for a conflict with Israel.”

However, he said, the group is also in “strategic distress,” caught between trying to maintain its truce with Israel, placate its population and rearm itself.

Argaman noted that the past three years since the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, have been the quietest in “three decades.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured here in Tehran with Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, leads the world’s largest Shia country. (photo credit: AP)

Though it started as an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has maintained a relationship with Iran and its allies over the years and “continues to deepen its strategic ties with the Shiite axis,” Argaman said.

Last month, the new leader of Hamas in Gaza said it has restored relations with Iran and is 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 said that with Iran’s help, Hamas is 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, but he also stressed that it 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… is strategic,” he added, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era.”

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri (L) meets with Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Lebanon on August 1, 2017 (screenshot)

The Shin Bet chief did not say specifically where the alleged Hamas base in Lebanon was being constructed, though a senior Hamas terrorist, Saleh al-Arouri, has been spotted in Beirut. Al-Arouri moved to Lebanon after his expulsion from Qatar in June, and is being hosted by the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah terror group in its Dahieh stronghold, Channel 2 reported in July.

Lebanon is largely seen as weak and open to foreign influence, especially from Iran, whose proxy Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese parliament.

For instance, Iran is reportedly constructing at least two underground facilities in the country for manufacturing missiles and other weaponry for Hezbollah.

In March, the Kuwaiti al-Jarida newspaper reported that Iran had established multiple facilities some 50 meters belowground and protected them with several layers of defenses from potential Israeli aerial bombardment, citing an unnamed deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot speaks with new recruits to the army’s Golani Brigade at the Tel Hashomer base on July 23, 2017. (Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said in June that Israel is in the midst of a major campaign to thwart attempts by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to arm themselves with increasingly accurate missiles.

Addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, Eisenkot said that the primary concern for Israel was what he called the “accuracy project” — efforts by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to equip themselves with precision missiles.

“We are engaged in a whole campaign against the accuracy project and it is our top priority,” he noted.

In June, at the Herzliya Conference, IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi said that “Iran has been working for the past year to set up indigenous infrastructures for producing precise munitions both in Lebanon and Yemen. We can’t ignore that, and we won’t.”

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