Iran Update, October 9, 2023
Iran Update, October 9, 2023
Ashka Jhaveri, Annika Ganzeveld, Johanna Moore
The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more on developments in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.
Hamas is expanding its incursions into southern Israel as Palestinian militias in the West Bank and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) clash with Israeli security forces in the northern province of the country. The situation could expand the war to a second front. Hamas launched a surprise ground and air attack into Israel on October 7 which included sending hundreds of fighters into Israel to attack nearby border posts, military sites, and residential areas. Israel is conducting airstrikes in Gaza to retaliate. Iran’s Axis of Resistance is aligning itself with Hamas’ operation, however.
- Hamas’ militant wing the Al Qassam Brigade launched an attack into the Israeli town of Rahat, which is approximately 30 kilometers east of Gaza on October 9. The Al Qassam Brigade also fired rockets into Israeli territory on October 9, including into Jerusalem as Hamas called on people in the city to attack Israelis and be at the forefront of resistance.
- Palestinian militias conducted attacks against Israelis in the West Bank on October 9 in response to calls from The Lions’ Den (TLD), a West Bank militia that Israel Hayom claims is receiving funding from Hamas. These attacks are consistent with Hamas’ stated objective for the Al Aqsa Flood Operation to extend to the West Bank.
- The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted airstrikes on more than 500 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)-affiliated positions, including operational headquarters in Gaza on October 9. The Israeli defense minister imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza, which cut off over two million people from electricity, food, water, and fuel. Israel has mobilized 300,000 military reservists in Israel amid reports of preparations for a ground incursion into Gaza.
Members of the Axis of Resistance have issued threats that may lead the war between Israel and Palestinian militias to expand into the region. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani said separately on October 9 that Iran would give a “devastating response” to any Israeli attack on Iran. This follows a warning from an unidentified Iranian official that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack on Iran with missile strikes from across the Middle East. ISW previously assessed that LH and Palestinian militia attacks could expand Hamas’s war with Israel into a second front.
- An unidentified Iranian official told Western media on October 8 that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack with missile strikes on Israel from Iran, Lebanon, and Yemen. Missile strikes from Lebanon and Yemen would require the Iranian-backed militants in these countries—LH and the Houthi movement, respectively—to conduct the strikes. The official added that Iran would send fighters into Israel from Syria to attack northern and eastern Israel.
- Head of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization Hadi al Ameri threatened to attack US forces if the United States intervened in the war to support Israel. Ameri’s statement came after the United States announced it would send a carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to support Israel and supply Israeli forces with military equipment and ammunition. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq attacked US forces in Syria in March while Ameri advocated for diplomatic engagement with the United States to resolve issues in Iraq.
- LH conducted artillery strikes into Israel for the second consecutive day and at least six PIJ members attempted to cross into Israeli territory from southern Lebanon. The Israeli government threatened to attack LH with the assistance of the US carrier strike group if LH continued to engage in the war with Hamas. Israel also warned that it would consider striking Damascus, Syria.
The war in Israel is the focus of international attention, and Iran may exploit the situation to advance one or more of its strategic objectives. The table below lists some of Iran’s strategic objectives, their status, and how Iran could advance them.
The Iranian regime is categorically denying Iran’s involvement in Hamas’s ground and air attack against Israel. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 8 that Iran helped plan the Al Aqsa Flood Operation in meetings with representatives from Hamas, LH, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Beirut since August 2023. Iran’s Mission to the United Nations emphasized Iran’s “unflinching support” for Palestine but denied any Iranian involvement in the Al Aqsa Flood Operation in a statement on October 8. Political advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei Ali Shamkhani similarly described the Palestinian resistance movement as an “independent movement” on October 8. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani responded directly to the Wall Street Journal’s allegations on October 9, describing them as “based on political motives."
- US and Israeli officials have responded cautiously to reports of Iranian involvement in Hamas’s attack. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated on October 8 that the US government has not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind the October 7 attack. Blinken noted, however, that Iran and Hamas have a “long relationship.” Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Daniel Hagari stated on October 9 that the Israeli military cannot yet determine whether Iran was involved in planning or training for the attack.
- Iran and Hamas improved relations in 2014 following a series of disagreements on regional developments in the early 2010s. Iran has since then provided extensive material and financial support to Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed in April 2023 that Iran annually sends $100 million to Hamas, $700 million to LH, and tens of millions of dollars to PIJ.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) deployed forces to the southwestern Syrian border on October 9, however. Iran has built up a large military footprint in Syria to include weapons storage facilities, headquarters, and barracks to house its affiliated militias. The Iranian and LH-directed deployments are consistent with the scenario in which the Gaza War expands into a multi-front war surrounding Israel.
- Iran instructed the IRGC in eastern Syria to deploy militants to Quneitra Province on October 9. The IRGC transferred 50 foreign fighters to Damascus on October 9 who are capable of using anti-aircraft missiles and rockets.
- An IRGC officer oversaw the deployment of Syrian Arab Army and IRGC deployments to the border strip with Israeli territory from Sayyida Zeinab which Iran uses as an operational headquarters. The LH Radwan Unit, which is a special unit focused on infiltrating Israeli territory, arrived in Syria to spread out along the border with Israel as well.
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