The events in Jerusalem, including a rocket attack on Jerusalem that led to Operation Guardians of the Walls,peaked only four days after the speech on May 7, 2021, by the Iranian Supreme Leader, on International Quds (Jerusalem) Day1 on the last Friday of Ramadan. Khamenei stressed that the ”treasonous” agreements [the Abraham Accords] between several Arab countries with “the Zionist regime would never change reality, and the Palestinians will never forget their brave path.” He also emphasized, “Israel is weaker than ever… Because the balance of power has changed for the benefit of the Muslim world.” Khamenei even accurately “predicted” the events that took place afterward, saying that “the Palestinians in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank are one body.”2
In his Quds Day speech, Khamenei hailed the “Martyrs of Resistance” who sacrificed their lives on this path, in particular martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas); martyr Sayyid Abbas Musawi (Hizbullah); martyr Fathi Shaqaqi (Islamic Jihad); martyr Imad Mughniyeh (Hizbullah); martyr Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi Hamas; martyr Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis (Iraqi militia); and finally, the most prominent personality among the martyrs of Resistance, martyr Qasem Soleimani.
“Even after their fruitful and blessed life, with their martyrdom, each of these personalities exerted a deep impact on the Resistance …. Resistance martyrs have managed to increase the internal power of Palestinian jihad by a hundred times. One day, the Palestinian youth used to defend themselves by throwing stones, but today, they respond to enemy attacks with precision missiles.”
In this spirit, a few hours after the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, Khamenei issued a “victory message” on May 21 to Muslim countries to support the Palestinians in Gaza with military and economic aid to help rebuild the Gaza Strip. Khamenei also addressed the issue of Israeli Arabs in his speech on Iranian Quds Day (before the escalation broke out), and, after the end of the operation, he praised “the cooperation between the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeli Arabs for showing the path for the Palestinians in the future.”
Khamenei said he expects “Israel will now be weaker in light of the rising power of the Palestinians and the jihad organizations.” Khamenei called on the Muslim countries to donate money to rebuild Gaza and urged Muslims to pressure their governments to promote this assistance.3
The Iranian leader added. “Israel’s inability to deal with the Palestinians led it to act madly and caused a wave of hatred around the world.” Israel’s allies in the West, especially the United States, are also hated more in the world in light of their support for Israel.” Khamenei also called on the world’s courts to put pressure on Israel and indict it for its “shocking crimes.”
Tightening Ties between Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Iran
During the operation, senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders maintained telephone contacts with Iran’s top brass, including the Supreme Leader and the heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, during which they thanked their Iranian patrons for their support in general and particularly during the latest campaign. Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) and Ziad Nakhalah (IAP) spoke with Gen. Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who promised, on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that Iran would not desert the Palestinians and will stand by their side and support them with all the means at its disposal up until the last and soon to be the destruction of the enemy (Israel).”4
Gen. Esmail Qaani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, sent letters to the heads of the “commanders of the Palestinian resistance,” including Muhammad Deif, Hamas’ military wing commander, and Abu Mohammad, who heads Saraya al-Quds, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing. In a letter to Muhammad Deif, the “Living Martyr,” Qaani praised the resistance organizations’ deployment for the campaign and “preparing the tools necessary for the crushing victory” despite the harsh conditions. Qaani, in the spirit of the Supreme Leader’s remarks, also emphasized the cohesion of the Palestinian people, “the Muslims in Palestine – in Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinian cities occupied since 1948 (referring to the Arab riots in Acre, Lod, Ramla, Haifa, and Jaffa).” He stated that the Palestinians “demonstrated that they are a dynamic and living nation making its way towards victory.”
In his letter to the commander of the Islamic Jihad’s military wing,6 Qaani praised the organization’s firm stance that “destroyed the arrogance of the Zionist enemy and demonstrated that Jerusalem is not alone in the campaign and that it has weapons beyond the imagination of the Zionist enemy.” Qaani also addressed his predecessor Qasem Soleimani’s memory and contribution to the resistance front struggle, and he pledged that he would continue in his path. During the rocket barrages into Israel, the Islamic Jihad revealed an improved Qasem rocket (in memory of Soleimani).7 After the operation, Iran unveiled an unmanned aerial craft called “Gaza” and a radar system called “Quds,” showing solidarity and partnership in the Palestinian struggle.
The Islamic Jihad spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Abu Hamza, issued a statement at the end of the campaign in which he thanked Iran and the rest of the Axis of Resistance for helping to fight in Gaza with weapons as well as expertise and praising Iran as a substantial source of power, which brings strength and the ability to the resistance brigades (Makoma) both materially and technically. “We tell them,” Abu Hamza said, “You share our victory, and together we will enter victoriously to Al Aqsa.”8 Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General, Ziad Nakhalah, sent a congratulatory letter to the Iranian Leader for Iran’s support of the organization and its role “in the victory achieved.”9
Nasrallah warns: “Aggression against al-Aqsa or Holy Sites Will Lead to a Regional War for Al-Quds10
In a speech to mark the “Holiday of Resistance (in Palestine) and the liberation (of southern Lebanon),” Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah praised “leaders of the Palestinian resistance movements and their military wings” for their “brilliant moves” during the Guardian of the Walls operation. He linked it to the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000. According to Nasrallah, “the (final) goal is Palestine. “The resistance victory in May 2000 was dedicated to Palestine and was a strategic turning point in the future of the struggle with Israel. From now on, “we will celebrate two great victories in May – the 25th of the year 2000, and the 21st in 2021 – marking Gaza’s victory.”
[Nasrallah was visibly ill and suspected to be sick with Covid-19. In a previous speech on Quds Day (May 7), he explained that he suffers from bronchitis.]
Nasrallah stressed that the “dangerous activity in Jerusalem” pushed the leaders of the Palestinian resistance organizations to take a “historic, decisive, and new stance.” The war erupted as a response to “the foolishness of Israel’s leadership, its arrogance, underestimating the resistance, and miscalculations…. Gaza surprised [its] friend and enemy in its decision to fulfill its threat in response to Judaizing al-Quds.”11
Hizbullah’s secretary-general explained that “Gaza protected Jerusalem and its people. The people in Gaza were willing to make sacrifices for Al-Quds and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Nasrallah warned Israel, “The response to harming Jerusalem and the al Aqsa Mosque (from now on) will not be confined to the borders of the resistance in Gaza… The resistance groups in Gaza have created a new equation: Activity in al-Quds (Jerusalem) against Islamic holy sites versus regional war.”12
“When Israel recognizes that it faces this Al-Quds vs. a regional war, equation, it will realize that any step will lead to its elimination … When the holy places of Islam and Christianity are in serious danger, red and artificial lines no longer matter.”
In the spirit of Iran’s Leader’s messages about the unity of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank, and among Israeli Arabs, Nasrallah said that the whole world noticed during the last campaign that Israel was facing “one Palestinian people moving as one soul for one goal…. One of the most important achievements of the Al Quds Sword Operation was the mobilization of Palestinians inside 1948 lands, which terrified Israel. Nasrallah also stressed that Israel also failed to assess the response of “Arabs 48.”
Nasrallah referred to the sequence of rocket launches, the launch capabilities, and the improved rockets that caused insecurity among the Israelis and their desire to emigrate from Israel. Militarily, Nasrallah said that the latest campaign illustrated that “Israel is incapable of conducting a ground maneuver … This is a strategic failure… Another failure is lack of intelligence, particularly in preventing the rocket launches and discovering launching sites and getting to the inventory of missiles that have not been launched yet.”
The Hizbullah leader warned Israel not to make the same mistake it did in Gaza regarding Lebanon “Resistance in Lebanon is improving daily in terms of readiness and equipment … Do not err in your assessments of Lebanon as you did with Gaza and think that the situation (in Lebanon) is different … Resistance in Lebanon is at its peak.
Nasrallah “opened an account” with Israel with the “blood of the martyr Muhammad Tahan, who was “killed on the way to Jerusalem” (on the Lebanese border) during demonstrations in support of the Palestinians. “We will not forget him, and he will join the blood of the martyr Ali Kamel Mahsan, a Hizbullah operative killed in Syria in July 2020.
Nasrallah said that the “Sword of Jerusalem” had severely damaged the normalization process between Israel and the Arab states. “The ‘deal of the century’ collapsed and disappeared” since “Israel’s real face and its apartheid regime were exposed.” Nasrallah also stressed the steadfast stance of the Axis of Resistance in the various countries that constituted the “backbone that supported the victory in Palestine,” and particularly emphasized the support of Iraqi Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the Yemen Houthis’ contribution to Palestine, despite the ongoing siege over Yemen.
Hizbullah’s Deputy Secretary-General, Naim Qassem, also praised the Palestinian resistance during Operation Guardians of the Walls. According to Qassem, the May 2000 IDF withdrawal from Lebanon was a turning point in the struggle with Israel. The “Guardians of the Walls” campaign will play a similar role: “the (Palestinian) victory revived and restored the determination of the Palestinian people to fight and confront. This is a strategic juncture and a historic turning point. This is not a simple victory. This is an important foundation on which we will now base the struggle against Israel. This is a new stage whose characteristics were not previously clear.”
Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general also relayed messages from Tehran to the unity of the Palestinian people (regarding the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and 1948) and said it was a “blow to Israel.” He explained: ”Palestine has fought four wars in Gaza and succeeded. The last campaign maintains a special place in the history of Palestine.” Naim Qassam added that Hizbullah is in daily contact with the various organizations in Palestine and assists them as much as it can. As for their military capabilities, Qassam said, “The Palestinians have acquired an important production capability, and I am sure that the ability to smuggle missiles into Gaza is also at its peak. There are minds in Palestine that help in the production of various weapons and capabilities and who have been trained and in constant contact with the various components of the Resistance Axis. The aid will not stop but will intensify.”13
However, during the “Guardians of the Walls” operation, Hizbullah did not respond. It was satisfied with organizing demonstrations near the border fence with Israel and in several areas of Lebanon. Hizbullah also allowed limited and symbolic rocket fire into Israel to show support and solidarity with the Palestinians during Operation Guardians of the Walls, disturbances in Jerusalem, and violations of the peace in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. In this context, Qassem, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general, dodged a question about who fired missiles toward Israel, saying, “We are not interested in dealing with the issue of who fired and whether it was right to launch the rockets.”14
Hizbullah’s response reflects its sensitive and complicated situation in Lebanon following the massive explosion at the port of Beirut and the dire economic situation in Lebanon. Furthermore, the organization continues to be involved in some of the fighting areas in Syria and is subject to domestic criticism on this issue as well. An all-out confrontation with Israel over such an issue is impossible, of course, without a green light from Tehran.
Iran is currently in a round of nuclear talks in Vienna with the remaining signers of the nuclear agreement (4+1P) on the possibility of countries returning to the framework of the JCPOA deal. A round of escalation in Lebanon involving Hizbullah does not serve Iran’s broader interests now, especially since any sign of Iran’s negative involvement in the region would undermine the nuclear negotiations. Iran does not want to put the issue on the agenda during the nuclear talks and give the United States the option to disrupt the negotiations.
Hizbullah’s Lessons from Operation Guardians of the Walls
In addition to Hizbullah’s praise for the Palestinian organizations during the operation, and referring to Muhammad Deif as a “living martyr” comparable to Imad Mughniyeh, it is likely that the organization and Iran will draw lessons from the operation looking toward the possibility of a confrontation with Israel:
On the offensive level –
- Strengthening the rocket and missile arm and accelerating the guided-missile project. In the organization’s view, rocket and missile weaponry is a “tiebreaker” and changes the rules of the game against Israel by identifying Israel’s home front as a central weak point. This process is the continuation of the implementation of the Iranian doctrine of asymmetrical warfare.
- Disruption of Israel’s missile and rocket defense systems.
- Preparations for the occupation of territories in the Galilee, including the use of offensive invasion tunnels. In this context, it was recently reported that Hizbullah had established a network of tunnels of hundreds of kilometers, including command and control complexes, from Beirut to southern Lebanon, aimed at attacking IDF forces in the event of a ground maneuver in Lebanese territory.15In light of the damage to the Hamas tunnels during the vote, Hizbullah may be required to rethink their use during combat.16
- Damage to Facilities and Strategic Economic and Military Infrastructures.
On the defensive level –
- Designing a new deterrence equation vis-a-vis Israel: “Activity in Jerusalem will lead to a regional war,” warning Israel not to repeat “Gaza miscalculation” with Lebanon.
- Anti-aircraft systems. Hizbullah will conduct an effort with Iran to place improved and concealed anti-aircraft systems in Lebanon to deal with possible airstrikes in Lebanese territory on the day of the order.
- Protection against targeted killings of senior figures in the organization.
Where Are Hizbullah and the Quds Force?
Disappointment and criticism appear on social media criticizing the extent of Iran and Hizbullah’s support in the face of the powerful Israeli military operation. Several commentators ask: “Where is the Quds Force? Turkey, Iran, Hizbullah? (Using blunt language against the “Party of Satan” and the “Party of Idols”). “In light of the open and strong American support for Israel, where all those who pledged to Ismail Haniyeh to help.” In a critical speech about Hizbullah: “where is the Satan Party (Hizbullah) concerning Jerusalem, where is the Iranian Quds (Jerusalem) Force regarding Jerusalem. Hamas leaders sit in hotels in Qatar and the heroes (Gazans) in the arena (the battle).”
Aid Will Continue and Even Increase
Iranian aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad is a constant figure and flows all the time through various channels, regardless of the economic situation in Iran and Lebanon. The knowledge and weapons that Iran transfers to Hamas through the Qods Force and Hizbullah – as well as training in Lebanon, as Naim Qassem admitted, or on Iranian soil – have a decisive influence on the nature and theory of warfare by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This includes setting the objectives (strategic infrastructure and energy infrastructures), efforts to overcome the Iron Dome with Hizbullah’s support, and the activity in the maritime Middle East that was discovered in the latest conflict.
In this context, we need to mention the intentions of the Hamas naval force and attempts to damage the Israeli gas rigs in the Mediterranean. Here we see an attempt by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. with the support of Iran and Hizbullah, to imitate or copy the capabilities of the Houthis in Yemen in their activities against Saudi Arabia and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq against the United States – and against Israeli strategic targets. This is done using long-range attacking drones, GPS-guided unmanned exploding sailing vessels, long-range rockets, and missiles. The Houthis in Yemen are using these capabilities against oil infrastructure on- and offshore in Saudi Arabia and against civilian infrastructures such as airports and power and desalination facilities.
The Iranian objective is to duplicate military capabilities it develops from arena to arena (as in the case of IEDs that passed from Hizbullah in Lebanon and were used in attacks against coalition forces in Iraq). Yemen serves today as the largest testing ground in the region. Lebanese Hizbullah advisors serve as instructors in aerial weaponry (ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, uncrewed aircraft, and drones) as well as naval weaponry (unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), explosive boats, submarine platforms). These capabilities Iran seeks to develop and test in the military arena against Israeli civilian targets, strategic infrastructure, and military targets.
In this round of fighting, we have already seen Hamas attempts to launch drones, unmanned aircraft, and naval weapons alongside more traditional Iranian-backed techniques such as Kornet anti-tank missiles, which was supplied to the Gaza Strip by Iran) as well as “Sayyad” sniper rifles, based on an Iranian knock-off an Austrian sniper rifle, the Steyr HS.50.
Hizbullah, which totally refrained from involvement in the Guardians of the Walls operation, may, in the event of a flare-up of a comprehensive conflict in the north, bring capabilities similar to those of the Houthis in the air and sea in a campaign against Israel.
In the end, Operation Guardians of the Walls, like other operations in Gaza and Lebanon, constitutes “Divine events” for Iran that prove the justice of its ways, that Israel can be eliminated with patience, toughness, and armed struggle. These attributes strengthen and shape the belief and inner persuasion as a rationale for resilience and resistance vis-à-vis Israel and the West.
Iran’s Resistance and Revolution All Begin with Khomeini
The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s activist interpretation of Shi’ite Islam and the revolution in Shi’ism that he led are constantly being validated, especially for Iran’s current leaders, even in their difficult times. They connect Khomeini’s teachings to the successes in the Iranian-national dimension (confronting sanctions, surviving the Trump administration, maintaining an active military nuclear program, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the resuscitation of the Shiites in Iraq, “the victories” of the Palestinian organizations and Hizbullah over Israel (with Iran’s support), and the religious dimension (the “Mahdi hand” and the Divine intervention). All of these achievements strengthen and shape the beliefs of the righteousness of their path and the rationale to demonstrate resilience and continue the resistance.
Iran believes that the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the Palestinian resilience in Jerusalem and Gaza fulfill Khomeini’s previous “prophecies” about the collapse of the Soviet Union (Communism) and Saddam’s fall. They believe his prophecy of the destruction of Israel will eventually be fulfilled, and Iran has the power to bring it about. Iran’s current leader, Khamenei, follows in his predecessor’s footsteps. He stated in September 2015 that Israel would not exist in 25 years. In this regard, Khamenei’s recent Quds Day speech ahead of the escalation in Jerusalem and the subsequent Guardians of the Walls operation is touted as “prophetic” and demonstrates that the Supreme Leader’s prophecies of Israel’s annihilation are materializing. For Iran, “Palestine” is only one part of the complex strategy of building the Axis of Resistance from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon, aimed at Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon; each arena has its own blueprint, a toolbox of hostile insurgency actions, and the guidance of Hizbullah, the Quds Force, and well-trained militias.