Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
A cursory glance at mainstream social media platforms in recent days shows the prevalence of an alarming tendency by online campaigners to whitewash the actions of Hamas – an internationally proscribed terror group.
No amount of glossy, emotive viral memes about ‘freedom fighters’ should mislead the general public from the incontrovertible reality that Hamas is a genocidal extreme Islamist terror group with advanced military capabilities.
Israel finds itself in an unenviable position – locked in a sad cycle of inevitable, periodic violence with a terror group embedded within a civilian population which actively seeks civilian deaths to harm Israel’s international standing. Burdened with these challenging circumstances, Israel has a right to self-defence, as reasserted by its Western allies, including the UK.
After all, Hamas rockets target Israelis of all ethnicities. Last weekend, one landed in the Arab Israeli town of Tayibe, while another exploded in a Palestinian village in the West Bank. And yet, anytime violence escalates in the region the Jewish state is faced with a level of contempt unseen anywhere else in the world.
Just as no moral equivalence can be drawn between the Hamas terror group and the democratic state of Israel, nor must any equivalence be drawn between events in Israel and Gaza and the UK’s Jewish community.
As a British Jewish MP, it was very painful to have to secure an Urgent Question this week about a series of deplorable anti-semitic incidents last weekend which culminated in that vile car convoy which paraded through Jewish areas of London threatening sexual violence, and reportedly even telling Jewish residents to “Go back to Poland”.
The involvement of Iran – the world’s most prolific state sponsor or terrier – in the tragic scenes unfolding in Israel and Gaza cannot be overstated. Simply, they have provided the critical financial and material support necessary for Hamas to fight round after round of these bloody and devastating conflicts.
One need look no further than Hamas’s own leaders to substantiate the close links between Hamas and its Iranian paymasters. Hamas’ leader, Yahya Sinwar, boasted in 2019 that “If it wasn’t for Iran’s support we would not have had these capabilities”.
The former leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force ,Qasem Soleimani ,was a lynchpin of this support. In one particularly colourful incident, a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, vividly recalled being given nine suitcases filled with $22 million in 2006 during a trip to Tehran following a meeting with Soleimani. It is little surprise that ordinary Iranians have increasingly taken the brave decision to speak out against their morally and increasingly financially bankrupt fundamentalist regime.
With negotiations ongoing in Vienna over last-gasp efforts to resuscitate the failed JCPOA nuclear agreement, one might expect Iran would be minded to keep its head – and that of its terror proxies – down.
Under the nose of the international community, the armoury open to Hamas has advanced significantly in the intervening period. Collectively, Gaza-based terror groups are believed to be in possession of 30,000 rockets. What started as crude directionless mortar and homemade rockets – still deadly but with limited explosive potential and limited range – has morphed into advanced rockets with large warheads capable of travelling 100+ miles with a worrying degree of accuracy. None of this would have been possible without the extensive input of Iran.
For years, Hamas’s ever improving inventory (from rockets to armed drones and Russian made guided anti-tank missiles) would arrive in Gaza via a weapons smuggling route that led directly from Iran through to Yemen and then across the Red Sea to Sudan where they would then begin their journey northwards via Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula with the aid of Bedouin smugglers.
Once at the Gaza border, they would be spirited into Gaza by one of the thousands of smuggling tunnels that used to be so prolific before Egypt’s military launched a major clampdown in recent years. The destabilising consequences of these weapons are, of course, one of the many reasons why Egypt retains its own blockade of Gaza to this day.
To boost its chances of safely receiving its deadly payload, Iran also helps Hamas to operate an additional smuggling route via the water. The IRGC are known to send weapons via the Suez Canal and then into the Mediterranean Sea where Hamas naval ‘frogmen’ will transport the weapons into Gaza off the Egyptian coast under the cover of darkness. Several major interceptions have been made by Israel over the years, uncovering tonnes of weaponry destined for the Strip, but it is clear that a whole lot more is going undetected.
As a result of growing disruption to these smuggling routes as well as punishing U.S. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities, Israel’s security officials believe that Tehran has adapted its strategy. An emphasis is now placed upon domestic production of rockets based upon Iranian missile designs. Hamas commanders are even understood to have visited Iran for fact finding missions alongside their IRGC overseers.
An Al Jazeera documentary about Hamas broadcast last year even showed its terrorists digging up old water pipes from Israeli settlements abandoned in 2005 for repurposing as rockets, and claiming to have sufficient material for another ten years of rocket production.
Hamas has shown itself capable in recent days of firing considerably greater numbers of rockets at any one time than it ever has before, and over a much greater distance. Its barrages have been intense, with 470 rockets fired in the first 24 hours, compared to a peak of 192 rockets fired in a single day in the last conflict in 2014. The tactic of firing 100 plus rockets from multiple directions in a single barrage in an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome missile defence system has proven surprisingly effective.
I have had the grim experience of holding the remains of some of these rockets in a visit to Israel’s southern town of Sderot: a town where the norm is to have as little as 10 seconds to find shelter in the event of a rocket or mortar attack. Little wonder that the town – which has a rocketproof train station and schools – is known as the bomb shelter capital of the world.
Ultimately, unless the international community belatedly wakes up to Iran and its involvement in Gaza then it will sadly doom yet more generations of Palestinians to ongoing conflict.
Israel wants peace. It has made past treaties with Jordan, Egypt and most recently, the United Arab Emirates. It’s worth remembering the Jewish state withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in August 2005. No peace will ever be achieved if the Iranian financed Hamas and Hezbollah continue with their all out war to try and throw Israel into the sea.