A document reportedly recovered from a Hamas vehicle in Gaza, and obtained by CNN from Israeli sources, indicates a Hamas military commander's request for scholarships in Iran for operatives to study engineering, physics, and technology.
This development suggests a deepening of Iran's involvement in providing technical training to Hamas, beyond its known financial and military support.
Israeli officials, while refraining from direct comment, authenticated the document to CNN. They interpret this as evidence of Iran's role in enhancing Hamas's capabilities in weapons production, especially in the context of the October 7 terror attack on southern Israel. This marks what Israeli officials believe to be the first instance of Iran attempting to fund university-level training for Hamas members, a claim yet to be confirmed by U.S. officials.
While CNN has not independently verified the letter's authenticity, it aligns with Iran's long-standing strategy of projecting influence in the Middle East, as observed with similar initiatives since the 1980s, notably with Lebanese Hezbollah.
Iran's Mission to the United Nations did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
The document, dated July, specifically requests Iranian scholarships for seven members of a Hamas unit. U.S. officials note this as part of Iran's broader soft-power strategy, extending training to students from allied groups and nations across the region. Israeli intelligence suggests the participation of at least 50 students from Gaza in the program, not all linked to Hamas.
Israeli sources indicate that the training includes a focus on explosives engineering, potentially provided by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Jonathan Panikoff, a former senior intelligence analyst, views this as an effort by Iran to enhance the military capabilities of its proxies, reducing their dependency on Tehran.
Panikoff also notes the domestic pressures faced by Hamas, the governing body in Gaza, particularly regarding basic services. He suggests that while some Hamas students might engage in civil engineering studies, the primary focus remains on developing weaponry against Israel.
Details in the July letter include names, military numbers, phone numbers, and specializations for each candidate, ranging from technology and physics to programming, law, and management. This revelation highlights the multifaceted approach Iran is employing to bolster Hamas's capabilities, further complicating the geopolitical dynamics in the region.