...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.
Speaking on the record but withholding his identity as a target of Israeli forces, the commander, who has a sparse moustache and oiled black hair, said Hamas had been sending fighters to Iran for training in both field tactics and weapons technology since Israeli troops pulled out of the Gaza strip of Palestinian territory in 2005. Others go to Syria for more basic training.
“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.
Of the additional 150 who are in Tehran now, some will go into Hamas’s research unit if they are not deemed strong enough for fighting.
Conditions at the base are strict, the commander said. The Palestinians are allowed out only one day a week. Even then, they may leave the base only in a group and with Iranian security. They shop and “always come back with really good boots”.
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.
But what Hamas values most is the knowledge that comes directly from Iran. Some of it was used to devastating effect by the militant group Hezbollah against Israeli forces in Lebanon in 2006.
“They come home with more abilities that we need,” said the Hamas commander, “such as high-tech capabilities, knowledge about land mines and rockets, sniping, and fighting tactics like the ones used by Hezbollah, when they were able to come out of tunnels from behind the Israelis and attack them successfully.
“Those who go to Iran have to swear on the Koran not to reveal details, even to their mothers.”
He said the Hamas military, which numbers about 15,000 fighters, was modelling itself on Hezbollah. “We don’t have tanks. We don’t have planes. We are street fighters and we will use our own ways,” he said.
Nodding in agreement was his companion, another senior Qassam fighter, from Hamas’s manufacturing wing. Dressed in a new, olive-green uniform, he said his job entailed “cooking” – putting together the explosive mixture that Hamas inserts into Qassam rockets.
Everyone was working overtime, he added. He too had been out all night. He said he had launched five mortars and faced heavy machinegun fire in return from Israeli lines.
The commander was particularly impressed with advances made using Iranian technology. “One of the things that has been helpful is that they have taught us how to use the most ordinary things we have here and make them into explosives,” he said.
Such technology had been most useful of all in developing the Qassam rocket and mines deployed against Israeli tanks.
Hamas had just developed the Shawas 4, a new generation of mine, with Iranian expertise, he added.
“We send our best brains to Tehran. It would be a waste of money to send them and then have them come back with nothing.”
They travelled to Egypt, flew to Syria and, on arrival and departure from Tehran, were allowed through without a stamp for security reasons.“Anything they think will be useful, our guys there e-mail it to us right away,” the military technician said.
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