Chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in front of the photos of late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian Revolution, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a mass gathering in Tehran, February 11, 2

Iran and ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ - a Major Player or a Mere Beneficiary?


Sat, 17-02-2024 01:50 PM, Aden

Sources close to the Houthis confirmed to ’South24 Center‘ that nearly two years ago, leaders within the group talked about an imminent military confrontation with Israel without providing details of its nature.

Ibrahim Ali* (South24) 

Although the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ operation has brought the Palestinian cause back in the regional security equation as a pivotal issue that can’t be overlooked, there are other beneficiaries too. They include Iran, which seeks to bolster its status as a main player in the regional structure. This is along with Iranian proxies in the region such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Houthis, in addition to other armed entities affiliated with Tehran in Iraq. 

The view that shows Iran as a beneficiary of ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘, while not being a main player, is based on the official accounts of both Tehran and Hamas regarding the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel. From the very beginning, Iran denied any prior knowledge about the operation. This was also confirmed by Hamas. 

Although Israel quickly accused Iran of being behind the operation, the United States issued reserved statements in this regard. For example, the ’New York Times’ cited American officials as saying that the US Administration had collected multiple pieces of intelligence revealing that key Iranian leaders were surprised by the Hamas attack in Israel. 

Moreover, the United States and key regional allies have not found evidence that Iran directly helped plan the attack, according to a US official and another official in the Middle East who spoke to the same newspaper. As an official confirmation, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken said that “We have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long relationship (with Hamas).”

However, there is another point of view about ‘Al-Aqsa Storm’ based on evidence and information which proves that Iran was a pivotal player in the Hamas attack. 

Thwarting the Normalization Process 

In this regard, some believe that the ’Al-Aqsa Storm’ attack is part of an Iranian escalation operation aimed at thwarting a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Weeks before the October 7 operation, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman confirmed that Riyadh is heading towards normalizing ties with Israel as it is an important country in the Middle East. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and ’Senior Advisor‘ of former US president Donald Trump, told ‘Fox News’ that the Saudis are angry at what Hamas did and they hope that “Israel can achieve its mission to destroy Hamas”. This came after his return from Riyadh where he met some Saudi officials.

US President Joe Biden directly accused Hamas of seeking to thwart the normalization process between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. He said that the attack launched by Hamas against Israel aims to stymie efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Saudi Arabia, without mentioning Iran. The same accusation was directed by the US Secretary of State at Hamas. He said: "It won't be a surprise that part of the motivation (for Hamas' attack on Israel) may have been to disrupt efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together, along with other countries that may be interested in normalizing relations with Israel.” Like Biden, Blinken’s statements didn’t include any mention of Iran. 

Before the Operation

The ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ was preceded by many escalation operations and statements related to Iran, the most prominent of which are highlighted below:

At the level of statements, Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi, in an interview to CNN on the sidelines of his participation in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2023, warned that efforts to normalize Israeli relations with Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, "will see no success, just like in previous cases”. 

Regarding moves outside Iran's borders, Ismail Qaani, Commander of the ’Quds Force’, affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), made an exceptional visit to Damascus on September 21, 2023, to conduct what were described as “joint military maneuvers”.

In Palestine, the ‘Islamic Jihad’ in Gaza announced qualitative military maneuvers five days before the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘. This had alerted the Israeli army to monitor the situation closely. It is worth mentioning that ’Jihad‘ as a path is closer to Iran than other Palestinian factions.

Around that time in Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis resumed their qualitative operations on the Saudi border, killing some Saudi and Bahraini officers in two separate attacks. 

Furthermore, the Houthis organized a huge military parade on September 21, their biggest since they held control of Sanaa in 2014. The militia displayed a new generation of long-range missiles and drones including the ’Toufan‘ ballistic missile. Prior to that on July 31, the Houthis held a military meeting of their naval commanders in Al-Hodeida. The Sanaa government’s Defense Minister Mohammed Al-Atifi, in a statement in August, warned that “the presence of foreign invaders in Yemen’s territorial waters will cost them dearly”. His warning came hours after the US Fifth Fleet said that more than 3,000 US military personnel had arrived in the Red Sea on board two warships. 

The Significance of the Name

Sources close to the Houthis confirmed to ’South24 Center‘ that nearly two years ago, leaders within the group talked about an imminent military confrontation with Israel, without giving details of its nature. However, it is remarkable that the group that coordinates with Iran in almost everything named one of its missiles as ’Toufan‘. This is the same name of Hamas’ big operation against Israel on October 7, 2023 --‘Toufan Al-Aqsa’ (Al-Aqsa Flood).

Toufan is the most dangerous in the Houthi missile arsenal. It is a long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile powered by liquid fuel. It is important to note that Tehran previously called a series of its home-made missiles as ’Toufan‘. However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS Institute) believes that “Toufan appears to be a rebranded Iranian Ghadr. The Toufan could have a 1,350–1,950 km range, potentially enough to place Israel within striking distance.” The name ‘Toufan’ given by the Houthis to the precision-guided missile is not a mere coincidence. This proves that Iran likely intervenes in such minute details, especially as dozens of IRGC experts are present in Yemen. 

It can be noted that in terms of range, this missile has the longest. This is an additional indication that its name is linked with the war against Israel.

After the Operation

Iran has exaggeratedly sought to deny its involvement in the ’Al-Aqsa Storm’. This was the focus of the speech by Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah, after the operation1. It seems that denial was the main aim behind his speech at a time when the Israeli accusation fingers were pointed at Iran. The denial was apparently an attempt to avoid an Israeli retaliatory military strike against Tehran.

This was repeated after the Red Sea operations and following the Houthi drone attack on a US base in north Jordan that killed three American soldiers and injured over 30 others on January 28, 2024. After the United States accused Tehran of being behind the operation and announced its intentions to carry out retaliatory military strikes, the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades, or Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah, in a statement denied any Iranian involvement in the operation. Moreover, the statement stressed that Iran had asked the party not to escalate. This is inconsistent with Iran’s military moves in the region following the October 7 operation.

During the same week, Houthi prominent leader Fadl Abu Talib denied Iran’s links to their operations against cargo ships in the Red Sea. This was during an interview with the ’Al Mayadeen‘ channel which is affiliated with Iran. Houthi media platforms issued news about the meeting and highlighted the same point. The aim of this denial was clearly to avoid an imminent US military strike against Iran. What confirmed the relationship between the denial and its timing is that Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam had previously admitted to Reuters that there was communication and coordination between the group and Iran.

However, the issuing of several statements by Iran’s proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine to exonerate Iran from supporting their operations raises suspicions. This also contradicts previous Iranian statements, including the one issued by Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on October 13. He said: “With the continuation of aggression, war crimes and the siege of Gaza, the opening of other fronts is a real possibility.” He added: “Some Western officials have questioned if there is an intention to open a new front against the Zionist entity. Of course, the continuation of war crimes against Palestine and Gaza will receive a response from the rest of the axis. And naturally, the Zionist entity and its supporters will be responsible for the consequences of that."

IRGC’s Confirmation and Denial 

One of the strongest proofs of Iran's extensive link with the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ is the statement by IRGC’s Spokesman Brigadier General Ramadan Sharif who said that the aim behind the operation was to avenge the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian top military and intelligence commander who was killed in a US drone strike in January 2020 in Iraq.

The IRGC later contradicted the statement, which was expected, and has been consistent with Iran's policy from Day 1 of denying any involvement in the operation to avoid military strikes against it. Nonetheless, one can't ignore the fact that the Houthis raised photos of former IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani on the Israeli ship ’Galaxy Leader‘, that was seized by the group in the Red Sea in November 2023.

Coordinated Response

Although Iran's escalation through its proxies in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon has taken more than one shape, it appears to have been well coordinated. This proves that it wasn't a spontaneous response but was previously devised. Hezbollah began with operations that suited it as a faction bordering Israel. The Iraqi factions also launched operations against American bases in Syria, Iraq and Jordan. The Houthis later headed to the Red Sea to target Israeli ships and vessels sailing toward the occupied Palestinian territories. These militia groups launched operations beyond their capacity which potentially reveals an extensive intelligence coordination with Iran. This is supported by evidence and information. For example, Iranian intelligence vessels were present in the Red Sea prior to the Houthi operations. Behshad, an Iranian cargo vessel believed to be a spying platform, was stationed in the Red Sea and left its location for the Gulf of Aden hours before the US and Britain launched a strike against the Houthis on January 12.

According to a source affiliated with the Yemeni Coast Guards, the Iranian vessels have served as an operations room to support the Houthis for carrying out their recent military attacks in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden. 

Beyond Hamas’ Capacity

The ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ represents the biggest military failure for Israel in more than 50 years. The success of Hamas’ sudden attack revealed the failure of its General Security Services (Shin Bet), Military Intelligence, and Mossad to monitor the planning, training and supplying operations that paved the way for this multi-pronged attack via land, sea and air. This pushed Tel Aviv to accuse Iran of being complicit in the attack, given that such a military and intelligence failure can’t be caused alone by Palestinian factions that have limited capabilities. 

The Israeli account is largely consistent with a report issued by the ’Wall Street Journal’ which claimed that “Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’ Saturday surprise attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut on October 2, 2023.”


It seems that Iran has probably achieved part of its main goal of thwarting the normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Reuters, on October 13, cited two informed sources as saying that “Saudi Arabia is putting US-backed plans to normalize ties with Israel on ice”.

According to Reuters, this move “signals a rapid rethinking of its foreign policy priorities as war escalates between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas”. However, Saudi Arabia has recently drawn a link between moving forward on the normalization deal with Israel and guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people. In response to statements by US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby following Blinken’s visit to Riyadh, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said that “the US administration was informed about the Saudi firm stance that it won’t engage in diplomatic relationships with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem (Al-Quds Al-Sharqiya) as its capital.” 

Based on the official statements by Hamas and Iran, it can be said that the ’Al-Aqsa Storm‘ is a purely Palestinian operation and that Tehran has exploited it to achieve gains for Iran and its proxies in the region. However, the opposite can also be concluded in light of the Israeli claims. It is difficult to reach a logical answer to the questions about the extent of Iran’s involvement in the operation based on the official statements by the relevant parties. For this reason, this analysis resorted to the evidence and data on the ground before and after the operation which suggests a strong Iranian presence in the October 7 operation. However, this conclusion doesn’t magnify the Israeli view which claims that Iran played a full main role in it. It also doesn’t endorse the other party’s point of view that denies any Iranian engagement in the operation. 

1 Nasrallah said that Al-Aqsa Storm Operation was purely Palestinian, and its objectives, planning, preparations as well as execution were all set and carried out by Palestinians themselves without external involvement.

*Ibrahim Ali is the pseudonym of a researcher specializing in armed groups’ affairs. He has requested anonymity for personal reasons.

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic.

IranHamasIsraelPalestineGazaAl-Aqsa StormHouthisHizbollahIRGC