As the US administration prepares to roll out its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century,” Iran appears to be increasing its efforts to help its allies in the region try to thwart the plan.
Recently, Iran seems to have stepped up its political and military support for radical Palestinian groups that are staunchly opposed to any peace agreement with Israel. These groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, do not recognize Israel’s right to exist and are publicly committed to its destruction and replacement by an Iranian-backed Islamic state.
Iran, of course, has long shared the same ambition of destroying Israel and has never hesitated to make its position known to the world. In several statements during the past few decades, Iranian leaders have been frank about their wish that Israel be “a one-bomb country.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has several times referred to Israel as a “cancer” and threatened to “annihilate” the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. He has also taken to Twitter to denounce Israel as a “barbaric, wolf-like and infanticidal regime.” Israel, he added, “Has no cure but to be annihilated.”
Earlier this year, the chief of Iran’s Air Force, Gen. Aziz Nassirzadeh, was quoted as saying that his forces are “impatient and ready to fight against the Zionist regime to wipe it off the Earth.”
Such threats by Iranian leaders and officials are not uncommon or new. In fact, they accurately reflect Iran’s long-standing policy of incitement against Israel and recurring threats to “annihilate the Zionist regime.”
To achieve their goal, the leaders of Iran have been providing financial and military support to their proxies in the Middle East, specifically Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah — three groups committed to Israel’s obliteration.
Now, the Iranians are focusing their efforts on foiling US President Donald J. Trump’s peace plan. The Iranians also appear to be angry with some Arab countries for allegedly colluding with the Trump administration to facilitate the implementation of the “Deal of the Century.”
On May 29, Khamenei told a group of university professors, academic elites and researchers that some Arabs were committing an act of treason by collaborating with the Trump administration. Although he did not mention the countries by name, it is clear that he was referring to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Referring to the “Deal of the Century,” Khamenei said: “Of course, it will never be accepted and it will never be realized. The US and its cohorts will certainly face failure on this matter.”
The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip are now offering themselves as a weapon in the hands of Iran to foil Trump’s plan.
“No one should blame us for thanking Iran,” said Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.
“It is our duty to thank anyone who supports the goals of our people. Without Iran’s support, we would not have such military capabilities. We will continue to develop our weapons to face the occupation. Iran has provided us with rockets and money and helped us develop missiles that hit Tel Aviv. Those who support the resistance and Jerusalem are our friends, while those who want to sell Jerusalem are our enemies.”
Last year, Iran announced its decision to “endorse” all the families of Palestinians killed and injured in the weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border. The protests, called the Great March of Return, were launched in March 2018. The endorsement means that Iran will provide financial aid to the families.
Walid Awad, a senior official with the Palestinian People’s Party, formerly the Palestinian Communist Party, praised the Iranian financial aid to the families. “We salute Iran for standing with the Palestinians and Arabs,” he said. “The option of resistance is needed to foil the Deal of the Century.”
Sources in the Gaza Strip revealed this week that Iran is also planning to provide financial aid to Palestinian employees who stopped receiving salaries from the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the past few months, the Palestinian Authority has cut the salaries of hundreds of employees in the Gaza Strip, including physicians and schoolteachers. The punitive measure comes in the context of the Palestinian Authority leadership’s efforts to undermine its rivals in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Iran’s increased financial and military support for radical Palestinian groups is hardly the result of love for the Palestinians: rather, it is out of a desire to advance its own goals in the region. These include not only foiling Trump’s peace plan, but also seeing Israel destroyed. That is why it is supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two Gaza-based groups that are committed to the annihilation of the “Zionist entity.” Iran is also supporting radical Palestinian groups because it seeks to undermine the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his regime in the West Bank, whom they consider traitors for their perceived moderate policies towards Israel.
Iran’s support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad also needs to be seen in the context of Tehran’s effort to undermine Arab states that have close relations with the Trump administration. Iran and its Palestinian allies are worried about the apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries.
Nasser Abu Sharif, the Islamic Jihad representative in Iran, said this week that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have become enemies of the Palestinians. Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” he added, “aims to pave the way for normalization” between the Arabs and Israel.
The Trump administration is planning to unveil the economic portion of the “Deal of the Century” during a “workshop” in Bahrain in late June or “when the timing is right.” The Palestinians have called on all Arabs to boycott the US-led “workshop” on the pretext that it is part of a scheme to “eliminate the Palestinian cause.”
This view is shared by the leaders of Iran, who are now calling on the Arabs to boycott the “workshop” and the Trump administration. “Regrettably, a number of Persian Gulf states are cooperating [with the US] because they are hoping that America will protect them in return for their betrayal of the Muslims,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
By boycotting the US-led conference in Bahrain, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have placed themselves in the same league as Iran — a country that despises them, deems them traitors and bankrolls their rivals, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in the Gaza Strip.
Even so, Abbas and Palestinian Authority officials match Iran’s incendiary rhetoric of violence at the US administration and its “Deal of the Century” by denouncing it as a conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims.
The Palestinian Authority’s actions and words serve to support Iran’s self-appointed task of meddling in Palestinian affairs and strengthening radical Arabs and Muslims in the region. Iran’s leaders have every reason to be satisfied with Abbas, whose every remark indirectly bolsters the Ayatollahs in their campaign to undermine any Arab and Muslim who wants to work with the US or make peace with Israel.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.