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Source: The Guardian

Oct 9, 2023

No evidence yet of Iran link to Hamas attack, says Israeli military

Iran has issued denials and US has said it has no direct knowledge of Iran being behind attack

By Patrick Wintour

The Israeli military has said there is no concrete evidence of Iranian involvement in the Hamas attack from Gaza, after denials issued by the Iranian foreign ministry.

“Iran is a major player but we can’t yet say if it was involved in the planning or training,” said R Adm Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a variety of sources, claimed in a report on Sunday that the Revolutionary Guards, the main political branch of the Iranian military, had attended biweekly Hamas planning meetings in Beirut since August, including two also attended by the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

At least one of those two meetings – on 31 August – was publicised at the time by the Iranian official press. It has not been proven that Hamas military operations were discussed.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, said on Sunday that Hamas was acting as a proxy for Iranian interests, including Tehran’s desire to derail a possible peace accord between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Tehran openly and enthusiastically supports the attacks by Hamas, but at a weekly press conference the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani said: “We have no role in making decisions on behalf of any party in the region, including the Palestinian nation … what concerns us is that we consider the resistance of the Palestinian people to be a legitimate resistance.”

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has said the US has no direct knowledge of Iran being behind the attack. US intelligence agencies will be pressed on the subject in the days ahead.

In June, Iran hosted a delegation of “Gaza Strip-based resistance movements’ officials”, the WSJ said, including the secretary general of Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza. The delegation was led by Hamas’s politburo chief.

More recently, Hamas’s representative in Lebanon was in Tehran for an Islamic unity conference. In a report published on 4 October, the Tasnim news agency said the representative spoke to participants about the need for “all Islamist parties to do everything in their power to liberate al-Quds [Jerusalem]”.

Senior Israelis such as the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, have long claimed that Hamas is funded by Iran. In April, Gallant claimed that Tehran sent $100m annually to Hamas, $700m annually to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and tens of millions to Islamic Jihad.

Hamas used Iranian technology and logistical support to produce arms locally, he said, but it is thought to be mainly reliant on smuggling weapons from its tunnels under its border with Egypt.

Historically, the relationship between Hamas, born out of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Tehran has not been as ideologically close as Tehran’s ties with some other militant Islamic groups in the region, such as Hezbollah.

Some Hamas social media accounts claim the Iranian army is eager to send drones into action, but most observers think any escalation into a multipronged war is more likely to come from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Across the Gulf, Arab leaders, united in seeking to de-escalate the violence ideally through a prisoner swap, were at odds over how to attribute responsibility for the attacks.

Qatar and Egypt have been leading talks on a prisoner swap, proposing that female prisoners and any children are first exchanged. Qatar has said Israel is solely responsible for the violence due to its refusal to negotiate an agreed two-state solution.

But support for Israel, once taboo in Arab states, is also being voiced. The United Arab Emirates, which was among the first Arab countries to sign a normalisation agreement with Israel, was the most forthright in criticising Hamas. It said it was “appalled by reports that Israeli civilians have been abducted as hostages from their homes”.

The UAE called for the “nihilistic destruction” not to derail efforts at normalisation, a reference to discussions that Saudi Arabia is having with the US.

Bahrain, which also signed a normalisation accord with Israel, called for de-escalation. The Syrian foreign ministry, by contrast, has told Saudi Arabia a deal with Israel is now impossible.

So far Saudi Arabia, the country on which the politics of the region will turn, has responded to the attacks by being strongly critical of Israel’s failure to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

Some influential Saudi journalists say the scale of the bloodshed requires Riyadh to adopt a bolder response than retreating to well-worn positions.

They say Saudi Arabia should not let Hamas and Iran derail the talks with the US, that a deal should be explored that benefits the Palestinians, Israel and Riyadh itself, and this can be achieved without alienating China or Iran. But it looks a precarious diplomatic path for such a conservative country to follow.

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