The recent Gaza conflict again has revealed that Hamas is not alone in its campaign against Israel. It has a vast and diverse terrorist network that supplies it with the resources it needs to carry out its destructive objectives. This web of terror must be targeted. It is the only way to prevent Hamas from rearming and of ensuring sustained calm.
Not shy about the terrorist collaboration, Iran’s Deputy Minister for Arab and Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, recently underscored they “regularly support Hamas … and all factions of the Palestinian resistance” and that the regime had been in constant communication with Hamas leaders. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei exhorted the Muslim world to support Hamas and provide weapons to use against Israel. And Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Iran’s Al-Alam news network that the regime will provide weapons and technology to groups attacking Israel.
U.S. officials have confirmed Iran has been providing funds to Hamas and helping its militarization. This is part of Tehran’s modus operandi. Yet, U.S. and European sanctions on Iran were eased again last month. The deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was extended until November and the two pillar threats — terrorism and proliferation — are being treated as distinct from each other, rather than intertwined. This must be corrected. Pressure on the regime in Tehran, its surrogates and enablers must be increased, not reduced.
Iran, however, is not Hamas’ only arms supplier. The foreign terrorist group is reportedly looking to another reliable ally, North Korea, to replenish its weapons stockpiles and provide it with mission-critical communications equipment. If true, Hamas and the trading company reportedly brokering the deal could be subject to sanctions under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). This U.S. law requires punitive action against entities or individuals who transfer to or acquire from North Korea, in this instance, military or proliferation-related equipment or technology listed under myriad international agreements.
Pyongyang’s relationship with Islamist militants is not new. It has a long history of selling arms in the Middle East, including a cache of grenades, missiles, rocket launchers and other armaments bound for Iran that was seized at Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport in December 2009. Also, it was revealed in a recent U.S. Federal Court decision that North Korea, in coordination with Iran and Syria, had provided material support to Hezbollah, including advanced weaponry and assistance building underground tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks in 2006 against Israel.
North Korea’s pivotal role in the global terrorist network also includes providing ballistic missile technology and expertise to Iran and aiding Syria’s missile and covert nuclear activities. The Al-Kibar nuclear facility, for example, was built by the Syrian regime with Pyongyang’s help and followed a model North Korea used as part of its nuclear weapons program.
This evidence, combined with new revelations about a potential arms deal with Hamas, requires North Korea’s redesignation by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. This must be followed by immediate action targeting the convergence of terrorism and proliferation involving Pyongyang, Tehran, Hamas and Hezbollah. The European Council and United Nations should follow suit and impose punitive measures against Hamas, as well as North Korea and others aiding and abetting Palestinian terrorists and threatening global peace and security. The Palestinian Authority (PA) should be required to disavow and sever all ties to Hamas and all other Islamist militant groups, or be sanctioned as a terrorist enabler and supporter. For the U.S. Congress, this means suspending aid to, or through, the PA until the conditions set forth in various U.S. laws are fully met.
The Gaza conflict may appear to be an isolated confrontation between Israel and Hamas, but it is part of a larger terrorist plot. The global response must, therefore, reflect an understanding of the interdependence among Islamist militants, their supporters and their state sponsors, and of how policies against one bad actor can affect the others.
Yleem D.S. Poblete is former chief of staff to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs and is currently a fellow at The Catholic University of America. Dennis P. Halpin is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and former adviser on Asian issues to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. During their Capitol Hill tenure, Poblete and Halpin were responsible for numerous bills on Iran, Syria and North Korea that were enacted into law.