The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, has updated a webpage titled “Israel-Hamas War” (Iran Updates) every day since the massacre in southern Israel on October 7.

The site, essentially a diary, does not address the fighting itself (“because these activities are widely reported in the Western media”), but coolly lists the activities of Hamas and all other Iranian-backed fighters in the region.

The picture that emerges is not the myopic picture painted by television news crews whose cameras are trained on Gaza, but rather that of a broader battle plan laid out on a field commander’s table.

Without the noise of war, one might think this is less of a concern. But the opposite is true.

The diary shows that since the morning of October 7, well-equipped Iranian-backed militias have been gathering like a tongs on Israel’s borders.

“Twenty attacks from Lebanon into Israeli territory… Hezbollah recalls its cadres from abroad… Clashes in the West Bank increase by 470 percent… Iran-backed militias in Iraq beat US troops… Up to 500 Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces are in Syria and the Arrived in Lebanon…” – The list goes on and on.

Sima Shine, an Iran specialist who served as research director in the Mossad’s intelligence division, was no hawk by Israeli standards, but is now changing her perspective.

“There are those in Israel who think everything is Iran. I’m not one of them. But unfortunately, in some cases they may have been more right than I was,” she said.

Ms. Shine added that it has been evident for more than a year that Iran is bringing together the disparate militias it funds across the Levant into a more cohesive and coordinated force; a force that Iran itself calls its “Axis of Resistance” or “Resistance Front.”

It was coined, Ms. Shine said, by Esmail Qaani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.

Esmail Qaani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of the Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for extraterritorial military operations – Morteza Nikoubaz/Getty

This isn’t just about like-minded fanatics reading the basics and broadly acting together, but something more formal and strategic.

“They have set up a war room in Beirut. There you will meet the Palestinians, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah as well as the IRGC. They met in Lebanon and have now entered Syria to consolidate,” Ms. Shine said.

“We see that Qaani has been visiting all along – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon; Iraq, Syria, Lebanon. Always organize.”

“Focus on ground attacks”

At the same time, Iran is urging its proxies to focus on ground attacks like those carried out by Hamas on October 7.

In an interview published on the Supreme Leaders website in August last year, IRGC commander Major General Hossein Salami called for “infantry” in the West Bank to conduct more ground operations against Israeli security forces in order to foment unrest.

“Missiles are ideal for deterrence or for waging stationary wars. [But] They are not liberating the country,” he said.

To achieve the Palestinians’ long-stated goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with a state of Palestine, they must go beyond isolated terrorist attacks and rocket attacks.

As these groups now prepare in Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, questions are being asked not only about how Israeli intelligence misinterpreted Hamas’s intentions, but also about what will happen if the Israel Defense Forces ( IDF) take action against Gaza. This move, which will surely have to come in the next few days if Israeli voters are to be appeased, could trigger a much larger uproar in the region.

This will be the “first major test” of the “Axis of Resistance,” Ms. Shine said. According to Iran’s own admission, “we will face a multi-dimensional war.” It will happen not just on one front, but on multiple fronts.” The north, the south and the west.

Ms. Shine said the miscalculation leading up to the Oct. 7 attack was not a military one – many of Hamas’s preparations were observed in real time – but a political one.

Money flowed into Gaza and living standards improved.

“Everyone was comfortable with the concept of feeding the beast and the beast remained calm,” she said. “That was faith. And I admit it, I believed that too… But you know, that’s the Western way of looking at life – and that’s a big mistake.”

A similar conundrum currently faces Israel’s response to the October 7 attack.

Larger conflagration

With cruise missiles already flying up the Red Sea from Yemen, rockets being fired from Lebanon and deadly clashes taking place in the West Bank, no one knows better than the IDF that the planned ground attack on Gaza could spark a much larger conflagration.

Still, Israel believes it has no choice but to advance into Gaza and neutralize Hamas as a military power.

“We gave him a chance, but we can’t let it happen. You can’t constantly be threatened with the sword on both fronts. We’ll have to be careful in the North Arena one day. We can’t live like that. But first let’s eliminate this,” a senior Israeli security official was quoted as saying this week as he said the move to destroy Hamas in Gaza.

The US has sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the eastern Mediterranean to “send a strong signal of deterrence” to others who may be tempted to join the conflict.

Ms. Shine said the carrier groups have wide-ranging offensive capabilities, but the intent is that they are there as a deterrent; draw a red line across the opening of a second front.

She hopes it works, but is now cautious after the bite.

“I don’t know if it will succeed,” she said. “If not then… [Joe] Biden can be a big surprise.”

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