TEHRAN (The Thursday Times) — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has informed Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas, that Iran was caught off-guard by Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and would not engage militarily on their behalf. This was conveyed as a clear stance to Hamas during a recent meeting in Tehran, according to three Iranian and Palestinian senior officials familiar with the discussions.
Iran, a longstanding supporter of Hamas, reaffirmed its commitment to providing political and moral backing to the group. However, Khamenei emphasised that Iran’s support would not extend to direct military intervention. This message resonates with Iran’s strategy in the region, where it has often employed indirect means to assert its influence.
The encounter between Khamenei and Haniyeh underscores the delicate balance within the ‘Axis of Resistance,’ a coalition Iran has nurtured over four decades to counter Israeli and American influence in the Middle East. This alliance includes various groups like Hezbollah, Syrian government forces, and militant factions from Iraq to Yemen, each with its own set of priorities and domestic challenges.
The recent Hamas attack that resulted in significant Israeli casualties caught many in the Axis of Resistance unprepared, including Hezbollah, which reportedly had to rapidly mobilise its forces. The incident marked the first instance of the Axis mobilising on multiple fronts simultaneously, signifying a new phase in the region’s complex geopolitical landscape.
Mohanad Hage Ali, an expert from the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that Hamas’ unilateral action has put its allies in a challenging position against an adversary with superior firepower. The response of the Axis members is now a subject of close scrutiny, as they navigate their roles in this escalating conflict.
Iran’s strategy, as outlined by officials familiar with Tehran’s thinking, appears to be focused on maintaining solidarity with Hamas through indirect means, such as supporting allied groups’ rocket and drone attacks against Israeli and American targets. This approach is intended to extend support to Hamas while avoiding a direct confrontation with Israel that could potentially involve the United States.