The proxy war goes on. “Palestinian group Hamas admits that its fighters are trained in Iran,” by Marie Colvin for the Sunday Times:
The Palestinian group Hamas, blamed for last week’s massacre of eight students at a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, has revealed that hundreds of its fighters have been trained in Iran.
A senior commander interviewed by The Sunday Times said 300 of the group’s “best brains” had been secretly sent to Tehran.
Half are still being trained by Revolutionary Guards. They are learning how to make explosives from everyday items and produce deadlier rockets.
The rest have already returned from a Revolutionary Guard base in Tehran. Some have been trained as snipers. Others have learnt to use tunnels in attacks on Israeli forces.
“Iran is our mother,” the commander said. “She gives us information, military supplies and financial support.”
Seven separate groups of Hamas militants have spent up to six months in Tehran since the training began in 2005.
The scale of Iran’s operation exceeds Israeli intelligence suspicions that Hamas had dispatched “tens” of fighters to Tehran. Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, said last week: “I see this as the strategic danger, more than any weapons smuggled into Gaza.”
Israeli officials believe that Iran is waging a “proxy war” against their country on two fronts — through Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Hamas commander said Iranian-trained instructors had also taught more than 700 fighters at a base in Syria.
More from Colvin, in “A Hamas leader admits hundreds of his fighters have been travelling to Tehran,” also for the Sunday Times:
The Hamas commander was in a hurry. Hunched forward in a navy-blue parka, with the wind-chapped skin and drawn eyes of someone who had been outdoors all night, he had just returned from the front line with Israel. The whine of drones overhead signalled that his enemy was hunting for blood. […]
He is in the vanguard of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas which is growing into a disciplined army, trained to fight for victory rather than be consigned to the “martyr’s death” of the suicide bomber.
Israel has long insisted that Iran is behind this training. Last week Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, said as much when he claimed that Hamas had “started to dispatch people to Iran, tens and a promise of hundreds”. He provided no evidence.
The Hamas commander, however, confirmed for the first time that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been training its men in Tehran for more than two years and is currently honing the skills of 150 fighters.
The details he gave suggested that, if anything, Shin Bet has underestimated the extent of Iran’s influence on Hamas”s increasingly sophisticated tactics and weaponry. […]
“We have sent seven “˜courses” of our fighters to Iran,” he said. “During each course, the group receives training that he will use to increase our capacity to fight.”
The most promising members of each group stay longer for an advanced course and return as trainers themselves, he said.
So far, 150 members of Qassam have passed through training in Tehran, where they study for between 45 days and six months at a closed military base under the command of the elite Revolutionary Guard force. […]
According to the commander, a further 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria under instructors who learnt their techniques in Iran. Sixty-two are in Syria now.