Is Israel's Gaza Campaign Laying the Groundwork for an Attack on Iran?

From Operation Pillar of Cloud to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program

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Amir Cohen/Reuters/The Atlantic

A close observation of the recent developments in Gaza might reveal broader implications for the region: Israel's operation Amud Anan ("Pillar of Cloud") in Gaza could be preparation for an Israeli strike on Iran.

The story begins late October when a mysterious blast destroyed the Sudanese military base Yarmouk on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. The Yarmouk was a base camp to receive arms shipments from Iran and stolen weapons from Libya that were smuggled continentally to Hamas and the Iranian terror proxy in Gaza, Islamic Jihad. The Sudanese authorities hurried to accuse Israel, which remained silent. Satellite images of the site indicate that the bombing of Yarmouk was executed from the air. As The Atlantic reported at the time, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is the only one in the region with the capabilities to execute such a strike.

The immediate impact of the Yarmouk's destruction on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza were the cutting of a planned shipment of additional arms, primarily the Iranian-made Fajr 3 and Fajr 5 artillery rockets that can cover a range of approximately 47 miles and easily reach Tel Aviv. These are the exact rockets that Hamas has recently launched at the vicinities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Operation Pillar of Cloud is not aimed at destroying the Hamas regime in Gaza, but rather at paralyzing it militarily.

The operation in Sudan, assuming that it was an Israeli one, sent two clear messages to Tehran: First, that the Israeli intelligence follows Iran's whereabouts in the region, even deep into Africa. Second, that if the IAF can safely reach and destroy a target some 1,120 miles from Israel, it can make the 1000 miles journey to Iran's nuclear facilities. To be sure, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be infinitely more complex than the Yarmouk operation. But it can be interpreted as a possible rehearsal for a long distance strike similar to one that would be required to attack on Iran.

Operation Pillar of Cloud is not aimed at destroying the Hamas regime in Gaza, but rather at paralyzing it militarily. Aside from the immediate respite it would provide southern Israel from rocket fire, this would also ensure that Hamas and Islamic Jihad stay out of the conflict in case Israel strikes Iran. It undermined Hamas's command structure by starting its operation this month with the assassination Ahmad Jabari, chief of Hamas's armed forces. Shortly after, the IAF destroyed most of Hamas' Fajr missiles. With both the Yarmouk facility and most of the Fajr missiles eliminated, Israel has severely limited the capability of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to fire beyond southern Israel and threaten high population concentrations around Tel Aviv.

Presented by

Moran Stern is a lecturer at Georgetown University's program for Jewish civilization in the School of Foreign Service.

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