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"Iran and the Israel-Hamas War": Webinar with Raz Zimmt

As the war between Hamas and Israel continues, Iran's next moves remain unclear. To better understand Iran's motives and potential future actions, Wikistrat CEO held an exclusive webinar with Raz Zimmt, one of the world's leading experts on Iran and its policy toward Israel.


This webinar was held during an ongoing event and as such, the analysis is relevant to the time in which the conversation took place - October 20, 2023.



Raz Zimmt is an expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and a Research Fellow at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel-Aviv University. His research interests include Iranian society, politics, and foreign relations. He has written extensively in his field, authoring publications such as “Whither Iran and China? A Limited Partnership, yet Deep and Durable.”



Full Transcript:


Oren Kesler:

Okay, so welcome everyone. This is a Wikistrat webinar in which we are going to be discussing about the Israel-Hamas War and the Iranian angle with our expert Mr. Raz Zimmt, who is going to be basically providing us his analysis both about the Iranian's decision-making and also about the Iranian situation and how they're basically being impacted by it. The way in the format this webinar is going to be conducted is similar to other webinars we have done in the past. One, this is being recorded, so just for you to know, we will have a transcript of it and share it with the participants later and also with the wider community. Two, we have asked you before registration to this webinar to send us a list of questions, which you have done, and we are going to start with some of those. But of course you can also send questions via the chat and then I will moderate those questions to Raz as this webinar continues.


The format in terms of structure is going to be a 10 minutes introduction, maybe 15 by Raz itself is going to talk about the main points that he's basically going to touch on. And then we're going to open it for a Q&A, starting from the questions we have received, but also during the chat. So I think it's good to ask questions while Raz is talking to make notes to yourself and formulate short specific questions that we can ask Raz and then put it in the chat. And basically that's it. So Raz, the floor is yours and I would like to ask everybody to please maintain your microphones on mute. That's important. And that's it. Thank you. Raz, floor is yours.


Raz Zimmt:

Thank you, Oren, thank you for the invitation. It's always a pleasure to participate in Wikistrat's events. I would like to start with two general observations concerning Iran and the current situation in Gaza and Israel, which I think could provide us with an important conclusions concerning where Iran stands right now in light of the confrontation in Gaza. My first observation actually does not concern just the relationship between Iran and Hamas, but concerns the issue of the relationship between Iran and other partners or proxies or allies if you want in the Middle East. And I would like to start by saying a few things about this so-called network, Iran's threats network or Iran proxy network because it's very important to say a few words about this network before we get into the relationship between Iran and Hamas before the vicious attack of 13, 14 days ago and what's going on today.

So my first remark is that we have to remember that this network of proxies or partners is not a centralized network. By the way, even before the assassination of the commander of the Quds force of the IRGC in 2020 of Qasem Soleimani who certainly had the ability to somehow manage this network more successfully. This was never a centralized network. It was always a kind of Iran's involvement and Iran influence on the different members of the so-called Axis of Resistance, but without direct command and control.


Which brings me to another element of this network. This has never been and still not an hierarchical network, which means that there were different reports over the last week or two weeks concerning the extent of Iran's involvement in the attack carried out by Hamas. And I think it's important to distinguish between Iranian support to the Hamas, and I would certainly say that Hamas could not have carried out such an attack without Iran's support of technology, of weapons, of know-how, of capabilities, of trainings. So that's part of the issue as well as ongoing coordinations between Iran and the different components of this Axis of Resistance, mainly Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the PIJ, Hezbollah and the IRGC.

On the other hand. One has to remember that this is not a network characterized by command and control. So while Iran and Hamas, for example, certainly has overlapping interests, this has never been a situation in which Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar or Sinwar in Gaza are awaiting for a phone call from the commander of the Quds Force or the commander of the IRGC to tell them exactly what to do and when to do that. So that's another important thing about this network.


And my last comment about this issue of the relationship between Iran and this network of proxies, and it's very important for what I'm going to say later on is that one had to remember that not all components of this Axis of Resistance enjoy the same position vis-a-vis Iran.

So Hamas for example, has always been keen to maintain its independence vis-a-vis Iran. We even had some clashes of interests in the last decade between Hamas and Iran, for example, following the Civil War in Syria in 2011 when Hamas supported the Syrian opposition against President Assad or following the Saudi military attack on Yemen after which Hamas adopted a pro Saudi position. And that certainly caused us a temporary certain crisis between Iran and mostly the political leadership of Hamas. So that Hamas is certainly not the same as Hezbollah. And I would also say that Hamas is not as important to Iran and to the Axis of Resistance in comparison, for example, to Hezbollah, which is much more important and strategic element for Iran. And certainly its commitment to Iran and Iran's commitment to Hezbollah is much higher. So that's an important point, and I'll go back to it in my second remark.


And my second issue concerns what I have been referring to over the last few days as the Iranian dilemma. And I'll explain what I mean. I don't always believe what the Iranian officials are saying, but I do believe Iran's Foreign Minister Abdollahian saying over the last week or so that Iran's main objective right now is to achieve a ceasefire and stop to the confrontation in Gaza.


Now, the fact that Iran wants this confrontation to end right now, or actually a few days ago, is not because Iran is really concerned with what's going to happen in Gaza or to the Palestinians. From the Iranian perspective, 365 days of Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in Gaza is something which Iran could be happy with. The problem is that Iran knows that this confrontation is not going to end at a point where Israel has suffered a major defeat. If this confrontation, if this war ended a few days ago, then Iran would certainly come and say this is another proof, this is another evidence for the defeat of Israel, for the victory of the Axis of Resistance. But the problem for Iran is that this war is not going to end tomorrow or even in the next few days or weeks. And that might face Iran with a very difficult dilemma. And I would like to say a few words about this.


Iran, at certain point, will have to make a decision whether it's ready to risk and compromise the most important element of the resistant, meaning Hezbollah in Lebanon, and to so-called waste all its assets and all its capabilities for the sake of the Palestinian Hamas. Now for years the conception in Israel, and I know that it's very difficult to talk about conception [inaudible 00:12:47] and we have to be very modest about that, but the conception in Israel, not just in Israel, for many years has been that Iran has actually built up Hezbollah at its main front arm to deter Israel and then to retaliate against a possible Israeli attack against nuclear facilities inside Israel. And therefore our assessment has been, and in a way it still is, that Iran will think twice before it engages Hezbollah in a full-scale confrontation against Israel for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of Hamas. It doesn't want to waste capabilities of Hezbollah.


And some of you might remember the fact that Iran was certainly not pleased with the decision made by Hezbollah in 2006 to open up the second Lebanese war against Israel just for the sake of a few prisoners of Hezbollah in Israeli jails. And the reason Iran was against this was because it understood that that was, from the Iranian point of view, a waste of Hezbollah's efforts for the sake of some prisoners.

And therefore I think that in case that the Israeli operation, mainly the ground operation, is going to be successful in a way that it might impose a real threat to the ability of Hamas to maintain its control in Gaza. If this Israeli operation will come to a point where Hamas could actually lose its control over the guard, and most of its political and military assets, then Iran will have to decide between two very bad obstacles.


On the one hand it would say, okay, we are not going to do anything other than perhaps using some pro-Iranian militias from Yemen or from Iraq or from Syria, perhaps certain escalation with Hezbollah, but without engaging Hezbollah in a full-scale confrontation with Israel, by that we might save Hezbollah. But then the significance of that might be that Israel will be able to continue and concentrate on crushing Hamas. It'll also show that the so-called consolidation of fronts, the Iranian narrative of this consolidation of front is actually not working.

On the other hand, Iran to decide to put Hezbollah into the fight, into the confrontation. But then the risk is of course that Iran might lose not only Hamas, but also Hezbollah.

So I have to say that at this point I have really no idea what exactly the Iranian decision would be at this point, but I have to tell you that it'll be a very difficult decision for Iran. So if today the situation in Iran is that Iran certainly considers the current situation as the victory to the Axis of Resistance, Israel was defeated. Iran has not paid any real price. Hezbollah has not paid a real price other than a few Hezbollah members being killed. Hamas has still not paid the real price, which could not be rehabilitated in the future.

But if this war continues, if this war escalates, and again, if there is a real challenge to the stability of Hamas and to its existence as a political sovereign in Gaza, that might face Iran with a big dilemma. And therefore, I would say that at the present fate, it's more likely to see Iran trying to avoid engaging Hezbollah in a full-scale confrontation. And they might use, as we saw just yesterday, other pro-Iranian militias, for example, the Houthis to launch missiles against Israel or the pro-Iranian militias acting against US forces or against Israelis from Syria and Iraq. And it'll probably use Hezbollah, if at all, only in the next few stages of the Israeli confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. I'll put a point here and let's move to the Q&As.


Oren Kesler:

Thank you, Raz. So I'll split those questions a little bit as you touched a lot of them. What is the Iran's most likely course of action considering an Israeli land incursion into the Gaza Strip in your opinion?

Raz Zimmt:

So in my opinion, the beginning of an Israeli ground offensive on its own will not be considered by Iran as a red line. Meaning if we try to look and explain what are the red lines defined by Iran to escalate things even further, I think that a ground offensive by its own might encourage Iran to take the next stage. For example, again using some of its pro-Iranian militias, mostly it's Iraqi Shia militias from Western Iraq or from Syria, to launch drones, to launch rockets or missiles against Israel. That could certainly be the next escalatory step used by Iran. I don't think that the ground offensive will urge Iran to use Hezbollah in a full-scale confrontation in Israel.

By the way, my sense is that Iran will try not to be directly involved in a direct military confrontation in Israel whatsoever. This is not the way Iran has been dealing with Israel. It has always tried to do that through the use of proxies. So the possibility of, for example, Iran's launching missiles from Iran to Israel seems to be very, very unlikely, even in the next stages of escalation.

Now I think we have to look deeper to what the Iranians have been saying over the last few days. And I would say that on the one side you can certainly see the Iranians making more and more threats against Israel if this war continues, if the Zionists continue committing crimes against Gaza, we'll certainly use all our capabilities and those of the resistance camp to retaliate against Israel. But I think that there will have been at least two or three statements, which in my view were very important to see that Iran does not necessarily refer to Hezbollah as the only way of retaliation.

So for example, Foreign Minister Abdollahian a few days ago when he gave his very lengthy interview to the Iranian television, he said, "Well, when we discuss the issue of resistance in the region, we do not necessarily speak about Hezbollah. There are other elements of the original resistance which could be used against Israel." And day later, the spokesperson of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he also said that, "When we speak about the resistance, this Axis of Resistance is not just about Hezbollah. There are other elements which we could use." And as we saw yesterday, they certainly have other options on the table other than Hezbollah.

So again, to sum up this issue, I think that Israeli ground offensive could certainly bring another step forward when it comes to attempts by Iran to escalate things even further. But I doubt it if the next stage would be to engage Hezbollah in a full-scale confrontation with Israel.


Oren Kesler:

I'm going to move to a question by Joel Koslky, which relates to what you just said, which the question is how effective is US current deployment and how useful it is as a deterrent against Iran in the current conflict?

Raz Zimmt:

I think that the US deployment is very important. I'm not sure that this deployment is aimed necessarily to use all the military US capabilities against either Hezbollah or Iran. But I think even the sending of those two aerial carriers to the Mediterranean, to the East Mediterranean is something which has to be taken into consideration in the Iranian and Hezbollah calculus.

Now, again, this is part of the calculus. It doesn't mean that when the Iranian Supreme National Security Council or the IRGC or Hezbollah in its coordinations and its consultations with Iran will say, "Okay, the Americans are here. That is the main issue for us to decide upon whether we are deterred or no." There are other elements. For example, Hezbollah has to take into consideration the fact that an Israeli operation against Hezbollah might risk most of its strategic capabilities. Hezbollah also has to take into consideration some kind of Lebanese internal constraints, for example, the Lebanese economy or the position of the Lebanese government. But this is certainly part of the calculus.

So I think that the unwillingness of Iran to put the Americans too involved in this confrontation, especially direct US involvement, I think it has a point. And of course the US deployment has other military advantages. We just saw yesterday that the missiles launched by the Houthis from Yemen were intercepted by the Americans. So that's one point of the issue. But again, the main issue I think is that it certainly serves as another deterrent against Iran and Hezbollah, but not the only one.


Oren Kesler:

Thank you. I'm moving to another question here about, we have seen after some of the airstrikes, and specifically the event with the hospital, which has been feuded already as an Israeli strike, which was caused by Jihadi Islamic missile, but we have seen mass protests in Lebanon, in Jordan as well, to Tunisia. So one of the questions here is when it comes to leveraging that, in order to increasing that, one, to increase that as the grounding incursion happens, do you see Iran moving into information operations campaigns and agents on the ground and also to see more and more of those destabilization protesting within those Arab countries from Iraq, Jordan to Lebanon and so on? And do you see that as something being used by Iran in order to gain more control and influence than before? So how do you see those dynamics going on on the Arab streets and how much are they being guided by Iran and in their operations?


Raz Zimmt:

So Iran will certainly do its best to use any opportunity to inflame the Arab and the Muslim public opinion against Israel and in favor the Palestinians. It doesn't really matter who is to be blamed in this situation. Just this morning we had another statement coming from the Iranian Foreign Ministry accusing Israel of responsibility for attacking a church in Gaza's streets. And that certainly helps Iran to do that.

But I have to say that with all due respect to the Iranian influence in the region, it certainly has an impact on some sections within the Muslim world and the Arab world, perhaps more among the Shia in Iraq or among the Shia in Lebanon. But overall, I would say that unfortunately the majority of the Arab public opinion and the Muslim opinion, they don't really need Iranian encouragement to go to the streets and demonstrates in favor of the Palestinians and against Israel. They would probably do that anyway.

So yeah, sure, it gives Iran another leverage. Iran has certainly been presented or tried to present itself as the only, not Arab, as the only Muslim country which still holds this flag of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian in a time when most of the Arab states are engaged in some kind of normalization efforts with Israel. But again, I think that we should not overestimate the Iranian influence on the Arab street. At the end of the day, most Arabs, even those who are certainly not fans of Israel and those who support the Palestinians are not necessarily supporters of Iran. They consider Iranians the strangers, the Persians working to destabilize the Middle East.

And by the way, it's not just a matter of Sunnis versus Shia, where some of you might remember the fact that only a few years ago there were mass demonstrations in Southern Iraq, in Basra and Karbala, in which Shia Iraqis demonstrated against Iran and even told Iranian consulates and representatives in Southern Iraq, not because they're necessarily against Iran, but because they did not like the idea of Iran's involvement in the domestic politics in Iraq. So there is a limit to what the Iranians are doing, and this anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian atmosphere would probably continue regardless of what Iran is doing or not doing.


Oren Kesler:

For the next question, I'm going to kind of combine a few, it's related to the influence China has on Iran and the current mediation, so-called mediation efforts by China to become a mediator. So within the perspective of the Iranian and Chinese relations, how much do you think any kind of Chinese involvement as a mediator could be effective, and how much do you think would Iran be influenced by any Chinese request to deescalate the current situation?


Raz Zimmt:

The short answer is that I think it has no role to play. China, with all due respect, and I know that following the Chinese successful efforts to involvement in the Saudi-Iranian deal last year, there were some assessments concerning the rising position of China as a mediator. We have to remember that China played not a very significant role in this deal as well. Most of the efforts were made by Iraq, and then only in the last stage, China became involved. China has no real role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. And it's not about Iran. I mean Iran is certainly playing a role in supporting Hamas, in supporting Hezbollah, in coordinating between the different components of the Axis of Resistance. But at the end of the day, if and when we'll get to discussions over the political settlement of attempts to perhaps redesign the political scene in the Gaza Strip, I have to say that not only I don't see any role given to Iran, but also not to Qatar.


This will probably be an attempt to redesign the political scene in Gaza with the help of the so-called more pragmatic moderate players within the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, perhaps with some kind of international assistance of the US, the UN, Europe. This is a war between Israel and the Axis of Resistance with a very clear aim of Israel to, I wouldn't say destroy Hamas because it's very difficult to destroy Hamas as a movement in Gaza, but certainly to deny Hamas from its ability to continue its control over Gaza. And if this aim is [inaudible 00:30:15], then there's going to be no role certainly for Iran whatsoever in Gaza. And again, China in this way might play some economic role, but again, I don't see China investing itself in Gaza certainly after such a lengthy and difficult war in that area.


Oren Kesler:

In your introduction, you have talked a little bit about how the Hamas decision-making process is quite independent regardless of Iranian support. Considering that and looking at what was going on between Israeli-Saudi normalization, how much do you think the pressure from Iran to act was one of the motivations for this action? And how much do you think does it have also as a consideration looking forward for future actions or for a continuation of Hamas's strategy and policy as of now?


Raz Zimmt:

So I think we have to distinguish between two things. One is the operation itself, which as we know by now has been organized and planned for at least one to two years. So that was long before anyone discussed the possibility of Saudi-Israeli normalization. And the other thing is of course the timing itself. Now, when it comes to the timing itself, I can't rule out the possibility that the Israeli-Saudi normalization talks could have been one of the reasons for Hamas to carry out this attack at this point. I'm not sure, by the way, that this was the only reason. There are other reasons for Hamas to carry out its attack in this certain period, for example, the Hamas willingness to put the Palestinian issue back on the international and regional agenda, regardless of what's happened between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Of course the policy carried out by the current Israeli government, including what happened over the last few months in East Jerusalem and the way Israel, at least some of the Israeli ministers try to fulfill the goal of annexation of the West Bank.


But again, my sense, and it's very, very difficult to get that precise picture of what happened based upon open sources, but my sense is that the timing was actually not decided by the Iranians. So again, as I said, there are some overlapping interests between Hamas and Iran and certainly Iran could have been quite satisfied with this operation, it certainly assisted to this operation, even if not directly, then by supplying all these capabilities and technologies and training to Hamas. But I'm not sure that the time was decided by Iran. It was decided probably by Hamas in Gaza. So I'm not sure that the timing of the decision was a part of Iran's decision to try and hinder the Saudi-Israeli talks by that operation. I think it was mostly a Palestinian story, of course with the assistance and certainly involvement by Iran.


Oren Kesler:

As part of the negotiations between Iran and the US, part of it's because of the hostage release and so on, there is as discussion about the basically unfrozen some of their financial accounts around the world, which the process should be taking into effect, I think starting the beginning of November, if not already started. How much do you think the current crisis had an impact in it, if it does any impact on it at all?


Raz Zimmt:

So we could address this question from two angles. One is whether the release of the Iranian assets contributed to Hamas's operation, and my answer is certainly not. Again, this plan, this operation was planned for a very long time. And so the money, which by the way is certainly is very much under certain limitations, so Iran could use this money only for human humanitarian aims. That doesn't mean by the way, that Iran cannot, as a result of the release of those funds, to use other funds in its disposal for other objectives including supporting terrorism and its strategic military capabilities. But Iran could not have used this specific money from Qatar to finance this operation. So that's one part of the question.

The other part is whether the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and Hamas and the Iranian support given to the Hamas could have an impact on the unofficial understandings between Iran and the United States. And my answer is that there could be some impact in one or two ways. One, we already see that the US is dragged into this confrontation after months of an unofficial ceasefire between the US forces in both Syria and Iraq and the pro-Iranian Shia militias. Those militias resumed their operation against US forces in the last few days. So according to some reports, those understandings between the US and Iran did not only concentrate on the nuclear issue and the prisoner issue, but also it involved certain Iranian pressure put on the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Eastern Syria to stop acting against US forces. So that certainly might have an impact. If the US is dragged more and more and being more and more involved in this confrontation, then it might have some more impact on both the Iranian position towards the United States and the US response, including the possible limits on the assets being released.


Oren Kesler:

And other questions were received and that relates to, again, to the possibility for a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. The question is, one, what is the likelihood of such a direct confrontation? And two, the question that I also received is what is the likelihood of Israel already using this situation in order to attack Iran's nuclear facilities? Is that something that could be even considered by Israel? And if so, is that something that there's some likelihood for it to happen in the meantime?


Raz Zimmt:

So my answer to both question is practically no. The first question, as I said before, it's not that Iran was not engaged in direct operations against its rivals in the region. We all remember the September, 2019 attack from Iran by the Revolutionary Guards against Saudi Arabia, and then there were some minor incidents of IRGC members in Syria launching some rockets against Israel after Israeli attacks in Syria. But this is not the way the Iranians are usually working. The Iranians, as I said, prefer to work through proxies, to maintain a kind of ambiguity and to refrain from direct full-scale military confrontation with Israel. It doesn't want to get there. So I would say that we have three or four steps to go through before we reach the possibility of Iranian-Israeli direct confrontation.



The first stage is what's going on right now, which means mostly major confrontation between Israel and Hamas with some limited confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel. So this is the current stage. The second stage could be the engagement of Iranian militias, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Yemen against Israel, and then perhaps the last stage could be a direct confrontation. I think that even in case of Israeli success to eradicate Hamas, we'll not get there. We'll stop at the stage of full-scale Hezbollah confrontation used by Iran.

Considering the second question, there are some voices in Israel, my sense is that they are not significant, certainly not within the decision-making echelons in Israel, saying, "Okay, we should perhaps use this opportunity to target not just Hamas, but also Hezbollah strategic capabilities and even the Iran nuclear facilities." I think it's very, very unlikely. I think that everyone knows that the Israeli main objective right now is to try to change reality in Gaza. This by itself is a very, very complicated, far reach objective. I think we could do that, but it'll take time. It'll take much time. It'll take many resources. It might have a huge price to Israel. And I think before Israel we consider to try and redesign the strategic situation in Lebanon and then in Iran and to get rid of all the threats around Israel, this is very unlikely in my view.

Again, we might get to the point where, even if Hezbollah and Israel don't really want to be engaged in a full-scale confrontation, due to some kind of miscalculation, we could get there. But even then, the most severe scenario I could think of is a confrontation between Israel in two fronts, one in the south, one in the north, and I think that any attempt to expand this confrontation into Iran itself will put too many restraints on Israel and that might endanger our main objective right now, which is to get rid of Hamas.


Oren Kesler:

A question from Home that we receive before this webinar was about what are the attempts Iran is making in order to influence the decision-making process in Israel? And vice versa, what are the attempts Israel is likely to be making in order to influence the Iranian decision-making in Tehran?


Raz Zimmt:

I'm not aware of any direct efforts by Iran to influence decision-making in Israel, other than of course with all those threats, which in my view have no real impact on decision making in Israel. We have seen continued and more and more efforts by Iran to influence Israeli public opinion by using this crisis in Israel to spread fake news, for example, through the social media, social networks, to use this opportunity to try and deepen, again, the division within Israel society after finally we managed to somehow unite ourselves against the external enemy. So that's what Iran has been doing.


There were some reports about the possibility of resuming the cyber warfare between Israel and Iran. There was a certain report two days ago, which was, according to my knowledge, we had nothing like that, but there was a report about an Israeli cyber group which threatened to target the Iranian electricity network in Tehran. Again, to the best of my knowledge, it didn't happen. But this is something which could happen. I mean, a cyber attack is something which both countries could be engaged with, but again, I think we should not overestimate the significance of those kind of confrontations between the two states. The bigger concern right now in Israel is the possibility of expanding this southern conflict to the north as well to engage Hezbollah in much more than it has been doing there until now. This is the main concern and I think that most Israeli resources and capabilities are going to be directed at this issue.


Oren Kesler:

I'm going to take a question that was asked about the options Israel is considering for post-Hamas governance in Gaza, because our focus here is Iran, so I'm not going to make it into a scenario one. In a post-Hamas governance in Gaza situation, whatever that would be, Palestinian Authority or military controlled by Israel or a third state, what would be Iran's reaction to something like that? Would they try to reestablish a Hamas exile government? Will they try to build a new network in Gaza? How do you see Iran responding to a post-Hamas government in Gaza?


Raz Zimmt:

So I think it really has to do with the extent of how Israel is successful in achieving its goals. I mean, if God forbid we fail and Hamas is not eradicated and still maintains some of its strategic capabilities, some of its political leadership, some of its military leadership, then of course it will be much easier for Iran to try and rehabilitate Hamas.

Let's assume that Israel is successful and that the post-Hamas era in Gaza, Hamas can no longer maintain its position as the sovereign in Gaza, in this case I think that the Iranians might do two things. One is to continue their efforts and their cooperation with the political leadership of Hamas outside Gaza. Again, I'm not sure what will happen with this leadership residing right now in Qatar, but assuming that certain elements within the political leadership of Hamas continue to reside outside Gaza, Iran might have some context with this kind of leadership.

Iran could certainly work with the remains of what is left from the Hamas inside Gaza. We have to remember that over the last few years, mostly in the last, I would say two years, Iran has been engaged in attempts to increase its influence and its involvement in the West Bank as well. So that shows you that it doesn't necessarily need a situation where Hamas has full control over certain area. It could work with elements of the Hamas, it could try to look for other elements. We still don't know what's going to happen with the PIJ, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is actually more dependent and more committed to Iran, and we still don't know whether the operation against Hamas, what impact it'll have on the PIJ. So the PIJ could, in a way, become Iran's... some kind of way to work within Gaza.

But basically I would say that in a situation in which Hamas loses its control, in a situation in which there are other elements controlling Gaza, I hope it was the Palestinian Authority, but I have to say very realistically that I find it very difficult to believe that, at least in the near future, the Palestinian Authority will be able to replace Hamas. If we have a kind of an international regional Palestinian control over Gaza, this would certainly restrain Iran. If there is a situation of chaos in Gaza, this would certainly help Iran in trying to maintain some of its influence in Gaza and therefore I do hope that the post-Hamas era, if and when we come to that stage, will not make Gaza another version of Yemen or Somalia because chaos and instability is certainly a situation in which the Iranians could use to influence.


Oren Kesler:

A question received from actually one of the oil analysts we are in contact with about the potential of some sort of friction or limited action of the Iranians against US or other movements of ships in the Strait of Hormuz as part of the attempts basically to limit Israel in its actions. How likely do you see something like that happening? How likely do you see something like that escalating into something like this?


Raz Zimmt:

Again, I think it depends on the extent of US involvement in this confrontation. As long as it remains the limited US involvement through the use by Iran or the encouragement by Iran of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq or in Eastern Syria to operate against the US targets, then I don't think it'll have a major impact on what's going on in the Persian Gulf. But if the US is dragged more to this confrontation, then I certainly see an option where this confrontation could escalate even further to include Iran and the US. But again, I think that it's more likely that this confrontation will remain, at the worst or the best, limited to Israel, Hamas, perhaps Hezbollah, with some kind of US involvement in case Hezbollah is engaged in a full-scale confrontation. Other than that, at least at this point, I don't think it will have a major impact on what's going on in other areas. Iran is involved Persian Gulf, the nuclear issue, its relations with Russia, and so forth.


Oren Kesler:

You did mention that you don't think that it's in Hezbollah's interest to currently engage Israel in a full-scale war as part of what's going on in the Gaza Strip, but one of the questions we have is what do you think could lead to a Hezbollah full-scale war with Israel? What could kind of events on the ground that could lead to such escalation, even though it may not serve the interest of Hezbollah or Iran in this case?


Raz Zimmt:

The most likely scenario would be a kind of miscalculation, meaning if there's limited incidents between Hezbollah and Israel, which has become, we have several times a day certain incidents between Hezbollah and Israel and one could certainly assess that some of those incidents could evolve, could escalate into a situation which nobody really wants. I mean, if some of those rockets hit Israeli civilians, if Israeli retaliation hits a civilian hospital or a school in Lebanon, we could certainly lose control. If it's a decision to be made by Hezbollah, of course together with the Iranians, to escalate with their initiative, not as a result of miscalculation, then I think that the only scenario in which they might, as I said before, have to decide on between two bad option is if and when Hamas is facing a kind of an existential threat to its stability. Because then mostly Iran will have to decide whether it's ready to give up on Hamas and to lose Hamas or it's ready to try and help Hamas and perhaps do something in order to prevent this from happening by using Hezbollah.

But again, right now my sense is that even if this stage arrives, it will be very difficult to Iran to make such a decision because Hezbollah is still considered as the most important element within the Axis of Resistance. So to try and waste all those capabilities for the sake of Hamas, I'm not sure. But I have to say I'm less confident than I was a few weeks or a few months before, not just because of the collapse of the conception we had concerning Hamas, but because this might be the first time when there is a real risk for Iran and the resistance front to lose one of its members. It's not like the previous rounds of warfare between Israel and Hamas in which the end result was a weakened Hamas, which could be rehabilitated by Iran. This time, if Israel goes until the end and Hamas is eliminated, then this will be certainly a big loss for Iran and Hezbollah. But this is still too early, I think, to say what the calculus of Iran and Hezbollah might be at this critical stage.


Oren Kesler:

As we are entering the final 10 minutes of this webinar, a few questions looking forward. Considering that this conflict will end up with an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip and some sort of demilitarization or demolishing of the Hamas regime, looking forward two, three years to five years ahead, where do you see the region from this perspective, from the Iranian angle? How are they going to look at it? You talked a lot about the Resistance Axis, you talked about a lot about losing the asset. Assuming that that is going to be the case, five years from now, is that going to push them more into normalization with the Saudis? Is that going to push them more in establishing relations? Is that going to push them more into spinning up their nuclear program in order to go public with it, so to speak and go that final step? Are we going to see a more hawkish or dovish Iran? What do you see this event, if anything, have on the Iranian leadership decisions? From a strategic regional perspective?


Raz Zimmt:

It's very difficult to answer this question because there are so many inputs which could play a role. I mean, we still don't know what's going to happen in Gaza and there is a very big difference between situation in which there is a chaos in Gaza, a kind of PA [inaudible 00:56:32] Gaza, a kind of international regional coalition ruling Gaza. We still don't know what will be the impact of that on Hezbollah. There is of course other developments which will have an impact. For example, what will be the position of Saudi Arabia after this war, whether it will resume its talks to normalize relations with Israel or not. Basically, I would say that again, if Israel really succeeds to redesign the political situation in Gaza, this might have a negative impact on Iran's position.


But, and that's a very big but, it's not that Iran has any other options on the table. I mean Iran is the coordinator, the leader of this resistance camp. It's not going to change its revolutionary ideology. It's not going to become more moderate in its position towards Israel or towards the Palestinians. And the nuclear issue is something, which in my view is separate. Iran has already become practically a threat nuclear state. So the only decision right now to be decided by Iran is whether it wants or not to cross the line, meaning to break out to nuclear weapon. I'm not sure it's going to do that anyway, regardless of what's going to happen in this war.


I think that basically when Iran has calculated its role, certainly over the last few years, and even in recent year, I would say that Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran and the Iranian leadership were quite satisfied. They had major positive developments from domestically succeeding in crushing the protests in Iran regionally, mostly in its ability to resume its relations with Saudi Arabia and to improve its relation with other Arab states, including the UAE and perhaps even Egypt. In the global region, the partnership between Iran and Russia has become stronger since the war in Ukraine. That is the first time when Russia in need of Iran more than Iran needs Russia and that has certainly played a role in strengthening. This coalition. So yes, the post-war situation could certainly have an impact on Iran's position and what it can and can't do. But it's too complicated because there are numerous options which depends not just on what Iran will do, but what the other players in the region, including Saudi Arabia, including the Palestinian, including Turkey, including Egypt, will do and that would certainly have an impact on Iran's decision.


I end up by saying that Iran has been very good in turning threats into opportunities. So even when Iran was faced over the last decade with two major challenges, one was the civil war in Syria and then the second one was ISIS, eventually it managed to turn those threats or challenges into opportunities to increase its involvement. So it will certainly try to use any opportunity in the post-war era to do the same. The question is how successful it is.


Oren Kesler:

We are three minutes from conclusion, but I think this is a good time to kind of wrap it up. So I want to thank you, Raz. Thank you so much for attending this webinar, answering questions about the Iranian angle. I know there's a lot of open questions some of you have and Raz wasn't able to answer them as well. I guess nobody knows, including the actors themselves. Depends on events and how liquid and fluid they are on the ground. But definitely this has been very insightful in terms of the Iranian angle and the Iranian mindset and their interests into this conflict and what they're aiming to achieve and what they would like to see.

At this point, I would also like to thank everybody who participated in this webinar with the questions you asked us. We will be issuing some reports in the upcoming weeks as the situation continues. We have been doing those briefings such as this one on a regular basis to our clients. Some of them have been logging on today to different topics, not just Iran, but also other topics. So we welcome you also to contact us if you're interested in more briefings such as this and other things as well. I want to thank everybody for joining us on this Friday afternoon here, morning in the US and late evening in Asia. Thank you so much everybody, and have a good weekend.

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