U.S. and Israeli officials say they remain unsure whether Iran was definitively involved in Hamas’ surprise weekend attack on Israel, which has spiraled into one of the region’s worst spells of violence in decades.
“We have no evidence or proof” that Iran was behind it, but Israel also didn’t have intelligence to see the attack coming, Maj. Nir Dinar, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, told POLITICO on Monday. “We are 100 percent sure that the Iranians were not surprised.”
“Just because you don’t have that evidence doesn’t necessarily mean Iran isn’t behind it,” he added.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has long received extensive backing and aid from Iran and allied governments in the region — a relationship that quickly led some to point fingers at Tehran in the eruption of warfare on Saturday. Compounding the questions in Washington and beyond about potential Iranian involvement was a Wall Street Journal report from Sunday evening, citing unidentified Hamas and Hezbollah members, that said top Iranian security officials had planned with Hamas for weeks to launch the attack.
Underscored in comments from Israeli and American officials is the lack of intelligence regarding the possibility of Tehran’s involvement to conclusively link it to Hamas. Iran, for its part, has given a full-throated endorsement of Hamas’ attack, and a spokesperson has insisted that the country has not been involved.
“In this specific instance, we have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long relationship,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CNN.
Deputy national security advisor Jon Finer backed up Blinken’s comments on Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” saying that the U.S. did not have “direct evidence” of Iranian involvement in the recent attack and could not confirm the Wall Street Journal report.
“We’re looking into it, but we do not have the ability to corroborate it at this time,” he said.
Looming large over Iran in the region before the weekend attack was an American-driven effort for Saudi Arabia and Israel to reach a peace deal. Such an alliance could potentially disrupt Iran’s stature in the Middle East, as a longtime rival of Saudi Arabia and enemy of its potential future partner.
One senior Biden administration official, reacting to the Wall Street Journal article, which cited Hamas and Hezbollah members as implicating Iran, said: “Hamas and Hezbollah have an interest in getting Iran involved, so you can’t necessarily take what they’re saying at face value.”
The Journal also reported the comments of a senior Hamas official who said that the group planned the attacks on its own.
The death toll on both sides has already topped 1,100, with thousands more injured, according to a recent report from The Associated Press. Nine Americans have been killed in the Hamas attacks, according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.