The Washington Post reported Monday that the Palestinian militants behind the surprise attack on Israel had planned it at least a year ago, with major support from Iranian allies who provided military training and logistical assistance as well as tens of millions of dollars to purchase weapons.
In its report, the Washington Post quoted CIA officials as saying that Iran’s precise role in the violence that occurred on Saturday is still unclear, but the attack reflects Tehran’s years-long ambition to besiege Israel with armies of paramilitary fighters armed with increasingly advanced weapons systems capable of hit the Israeli rear.
Historically, Hamas, the Gaza-based Palestinian militant organization that led the attack, has maintained a degree of independence from Tehran compared to true Iranian proxy groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
But in recent years, Hamas has benefited from massive infusions of Iranian funds as well as technical assistance to manufacture missiles and drones with advanced guidance systems, as well as training in military tactics, some of which took place in camps outside Gaza, officials confirmed.
US and Israeli officials said that they don’t have conclusive evidence that Iran authorized or directly coordinated the attack that killed more than 900 Israelis and injured thousands.
But current and former intelligence officials said the attack bears the hallmarks of Iranian support, and senior officials in Tehran have publicly bragged about the huge amounts of military aid provided to Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization, in recent years.
“If you train people how to use weapons, you expect them to eventually use them, said a Western intelligence official, who, like others interviewed by The Washington Post, asked that his name and nationality not be revealed.
The official, and another Western analyst familiar with sensitive intelligence, said that analysis conducted in the aftermath of the attack indicated that Hamas had been preparing for the attack for several months, starting at least in mid-2022.
In interviews, more than a dozen intelligence analysts and military experts expressed astonishment at the infiltration and sophistication of Hamas attack, which included coordinated raids across the Israeli border by hundreds of militants land, sea and air, and also used robotic gliders.
The ground attack was accompanied by groups of missiles and drones that began flowing across the border early on Saturday, hitting targets with a degree of accuracy not seen in previous Hamas attacks, according to the Washington Post.
While the Palestinian movement has a militia and local assembly lines for missiles and drones, an attack of this size would have constituted major challenge without significant external assistance, analysts stressed.
Mark Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA operations officer who served in counterterrorism roles in the Middle East, said the amount of training, logistics, communications, personnel and weapons required, and the complexity of the attack, indicated Iranian involvement.
This highlights the massive intelligence failure, Polymeropoulos explained, and stressed that the use of gliders certainly requires training outside Gaza.
The use of gliders is reminiscent of the attack launched by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Israel in 1987, which resulted in the killing of Israeli soldiers.
On Monday, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Viner echoed this view.
What I can say without a doubt is that Iran is widely complicit in these attacks, Viner said in an interview with CBS News.
He added, “Iran has been the main supporter of Hamas for decades… They have provided them with weapons, they have provided them with training, and they have provided them with financial support… Therefore, with regard to broad complicity, we are very clear about Iran’s role”.
For its part, Iran denied having a direct role in Saturday’s attack, while also praising the Hamas militants who carried it out.
Tehran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement issued Monday, “We don’t participate in the Palestinian response, because the response is solely their responsibility, but other Iranian officials publicly celebrated the attack while highlighting their close relationship with Hamas”.
The official Iranian news agency (IRNA) quoted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi as saying, “You have truly pleased the Islamic nation with this innovative and victorious operation”.
Raisi stressed that Iran supports the legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation.
Raisi contacted the leaders of the Hamas movement, Ismail Haniyeh, and the Islamic Jihad movement, Ziad al Nakhalah, whom he received separately in June in Tehran, according to Agence France-Presse.
In an interview last year, Ismail Haniyeh admitted that his movement had received $70 million in military aid from Iran.
According to a 2020 US State Department report, Iran provides about $100 million annually to Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Current and former intelligence officials confirmed that Iran provided technical assistance to Hamas to manufacture more than 4,000 missiles and armed drones that have been launched at Israel since Saturday.
The officials said that at least some Hamas fighters had undergone training in advanced military tactics, including in Lebanese camps staffed by technical advisors from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.
An expert on Iranian-backed armed groups and founder of the Militia Spotlight blog, Michael Knights, confirmed that the Hamas fighters who received the training were most likely elite officers, and then transferred their skills to other fighters inside Gaza itself.
On the other hand, he said that the hacking capability demonstrated during Saturday’s attack was clearly practiced and carefully planned somewhere.
For his part, Ray Takeyeh, Middle East Studies Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that Tehran has gradually begun to strengthen its relations with Hamas leaders and increase its support.
This relationship has deepened in the past few years, and it’s financial, political and operational at some level,” Takiyeh said.
For his part, Director of the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute, Michael Eisenstadt, confirmed that the relationship with Iran developed as a result of the Oslo peace process in the early 1990s when Tehran was looking for ways to thwart efforts to reach a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.
This was when Iran first provided the technical know-how for the explosive belts used by Palestinian suicide bombers, according to his talk to the Washington Post.
“Iran over the years has provided a lot of assistance to Hamas in terms of missile capability,” Eisenstadt said.
“The distinctive weapon of Iran’s agents is missiles, and you can see this in Iraq, Hamas, the Houthis, and Hezbollah,” he noted.
But other analysts considered Hamas to be an independent, capable of carrying out complex operations without instructions or external supervision.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism expert and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that Iran supports Hamas, but Hamas is the decision maker.
He stressed that there is no doubt that Hamas is coordinating with Iran, and the groups relative independence makes it a more difficult target for Israeli and Western intelligence agencies.
He added, “They don’t routinely provide information to Iranian advisors, and there are no advisors in Gaza”.
Analysts and military experts indicated that the rockets and shells fired by Hamas may be locally made, but they have a clear Iranian fingerprint.
“It’s better to give your agents the ability to produce these things themselves rather than worry about logistics supply lines that could be intercepted and cut,” Eisenstadt said.
Eisenstadt confirmed that some of the missiles produced by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement and Hamas carry Persian terms in their designs.
The drone used by Hamas, called the Shahab, is based on an Iranian Ababil 2 rockets, and Eisenstadt said, “It’s almost identical to the model used by the Houthis, another Iranian proxy, in Yemen”.
Although the Israeli army said there was no evidence of Iranian involvement in the operations, the tactics used were largely consistent with Iran’s operational concept.
Eisenstadt explained that this move aims to undermine Israeli morale and weaken Israel’s resilience with the aim of undermining Israel’s ability to survive in the long term.