- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2014

When President Obama announced last year the easing of U.S. sanctions on Iran in return for concessions on its nuclear program, he cautiously hailed the deal as a “real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement” with Tehran. But while both countries work overtime on thorny nuclear issues, fresh evidence suggests Iran continues to support the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, which went to war anew this summer with Israel.

U.S. and Israeli officials offer varying assessments on the depth of the current level of material support being provided to Hamas by Tehran, although sources in both Washington and Jerusalem say longtime Iranian assistance is what ultimately helped the Palestinian group build the thousands of rockets it fired at Israeli targets from Gaza starting in July.

And at least one influential Iranian official has appeared eager to stick a thumb in America’s eye in recent weeks, claiming Hamas was able to fire missiles into Israel specifically because of technology provided by Iran, and that Tehran should get serious about continuing to provide new assistance.

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“Palestinian resistance missiles are the blessings of Iran’s transfer of technology,” the secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, Mohsen Rezaei, told Al-Alam, the Arabic channel of Iran’s state TV, on Aug. 4. “We need to transfer defensive and military technology to Palestinians so that they can build weapons under the blockade and defend themselves.”

According to a report on his comments by The Associated Press, Mr. Rezaei publicly called on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to provide air defense systems to Hamas to protect against airstrikes on Gaza from Israeli forces.

What remains unclear, according to U.S. officials who spoke with The Washington Times, is the extent to which Mr. Rouhani, who has played an essential role in pursuing a warming of relations with Washington during recent months, heeded Mr. Rezaei’s recommendation.

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The officials said there is substantial evidence Iran has provided weapons and missile-building know-how and technology to Hamas over the past decade, even as the extremist group was building on its own the vast majority of rockets that it fired into Israel over the past two months.

Hamas has been working on rocket technology for over a decade, and most of the rockets used in the recent wave of attacks against Israel appear to be homemade,” said one U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity with The Times due to the sensitive nature of information relating to Hamas‘ inner workings.

The comments come against the backdrop of cooled relations between Iran and Hamas over the past two years, following the latter’s decision in 2012 to oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad, a close Iranian ally.

While Israeli sources who spoke with The Times agreed the majority of the rockets fired from Gaza during the latest round of violence were actually homemade by Hamas, they say at least a small number were actually long-range M302 rockets believed to have been made in Syria but provided to the Palestinians by Iran.

“Based on findings from the points of impact, the long-range rockets that were being used were M302s,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the top spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces.

More than 60 Israelis and 1,800 Palestinians have died in this summer’s clashes.

Lt. Col. Lerner said in a telephone interview Monday that it was not clear exactly how many M302s were fired, nor was there certainty over exactly how long the rockets have been in Hamas‘ possession in Gaza but that “the sense is that they got there from the Iranians.”

The M302s have a range about 10 times longer than what existed in Hamas‘ prior arsenal, making such rocket attacks more threatening to Israel’s civilian population.

Israeli officials have asserted that Iran has attempted to ship long-range M302 rockets to Hamas over the past two years — despite the perceived cooling of relations between Tehran and Gaza and the geopolitical risks associated with such activities in the shadow of high-stakes nuclear talks with the United States and other international powers.

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