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For a country that claims it had no direct involvement in planning the Hamas massacre against Israel, Iran appears to be doing its level best to escalate the conflict well beyond the confines of Gaza.
In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s barbaric assault on Israel on October 7, there was much speculation that such a sophisticated operation could not have been carried out without recourse to Iran’s renowned expertise in the realm of global terrorism. But after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied that Tehran had any involvement in the attacks, Western intelligence officials were forced to concede there was scant evidence of direct Iranian complicity.
The only suggestion that Iran, and its Hezbollah allies in southern Lebanon, had helped with the planning of the assault was the admission by Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, that the money the terror group had received from Tehran had been central to its ability to develop the terrorist infrastructure that was used to devastating effect against Israel.
But Tehran’s reticence about claiming the credit for organising the worst terrorist attack the Jewish state has suffered in its history certainly does not apply to its other activities in the region. They appear to be a deliberate attempt to provoke a broader escalation in the conflict.
Apart from maintaining its financial support for Hamas, which is said to be worth $100 million a year, Iran has been accused of instigating border clashes in northern Israel between Hezbollah and the Israeli military. Iran’s efforts to maintain its supply lines to Hezbollah through the network of military bases it has established in neighbouring Syria has led to Israel conducting a series of air strikes against Iranian targets in the country.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have been accused of attacking bases held by the US and its allies, while attempts by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen to open a new front prompted the US military to shoot down a number of missiles and drones directed towards Israel.
And, in the latest example of Tehran’s determination to deepen the pressure on Israel, pro-Western Arab security officials claim that Iran has set up a complex network to smuggle weapons into the West Bank, with the aim of opening up a new Palestinian front against Israel’s security forces.
All this activity was taking place while the country’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, was warning Israel earlier this week that the Middle East could spiral out of control if it does not stop strikes on Gaza.
The reason that Iran has been so busy encouraging its complex network of militias and terrorist organisations to target Israel and its allies is that Tehran knows it cannot afford a direct confrontation with Israel. To do so would risk the Israelis implementing their long-held plan to destroy Iran’s prized nuclear assets, which most Western intelligence experts believe are aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
For all the ayatollahs’ bluster, they realise that they are no match for Israel’s military might, especially at a time when Washington has deployed two powerful aircraft carrier battle groups to the region as a gesture of solidarity with its Israeli ally. Instead, they have turned to the terror groups they sponsor throughout the region – groups that the West has allowed to flourish despite having tangible proof of Tehran’s malign intent.
During Britain’s military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, Iran actively supported terror cells charged with killing and maiming British troops. And yet, rather than holding Iran to account for its actions, little was done for fear of upsetting the delicate negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Here at home, this reluctance to confront Tehran has even resulted in our security services failing to curb the activities of Iranian terrorist sleeper cells in the UK. The authorities were unable to prevent an Iranian opposition channel being forced to relocate to Washington earlier this year because of the constant death threats its staff received.
With Iran actively seeking to exploit the current crisis in the Middle East for its own nefarious ends, it is vital that Western powers, rather than seeking to avoid a conflict with Tehran, demonstrate that they will no longer tolerate Iran’s attempts to wage war through its many proxies.
This time there is a real danger for Tehran that it is overplaying its hand, evident when US warships shot down Houthi missiles aimed at Israel. Other Western powers, including the UK, should likewise deploy military assets to thwart efforts by Iranian-backed terrorists to hit Israel and its allies.
In London, the Government should implement a long-overdue ban on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls Tehran’s terrorist network. Limiting Iran’s ability to provoke further would certainly help to prevent the conflict between Israel and Hamas from escalating into a far larger, and immensely more dangerous, Middle East war.