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Israel-Hamas War: U.S. and Europe on Iran Role

Solidarity protest for Palestine in Teheran, Iran, during the October 2023 Israel-Gaza war. / Amin Ahouei, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hamas, a Palestinian movement armed, trained and funded by Iran, launched a multi-prong military operation on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. It included rocket attacks on southern and central Israel, balaclava-clad fighters dropping from paragliders, and the murderous slaughter of civilians in their homes, on city streets and at a music festival. It was the boldest and most sophisticated operation by the Palestinian extremist movement, which emerged in 1988 and has since evolved as one of the two biggest security threats to Israel. Hamas is part of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” created by Iran since the early 1980s that includes militias in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The Qods Force, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, runs Iran’s external operations and works closely with the network of Arab militias.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

In the initial phase of the war, top U.S. and Israeli officials said Iran was clearly complicit in the attack given its decades of support for Hamas, but both nations said their intelligence had not identified a direct Iranian role. On Oct. 9, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had “given the green light” for the operation. “Officer of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had worked with Hamas since August to devise the air, land and sea incursions,” it reported.

On October 10, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that U.S. intelligence was investigating what role Iran may have played. “In this specific instance, we have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack,” he told CNN.

Neither the CIA nor Mossad had picked up intelligence about an Iran-backed plot before the Hamas assault. Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Iran to not get involved. “We want to send a pretty strong message. We do not want this to broaden and the idea is for Iran to get that message loud and clear,” he told reporters on October 10. President Biden reiterated the warning. “We’re surging additional military assistance to the Israeli Defense Force, including ammunition interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome. And we have moved a U.S. Carrier fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean, and we’re sending more fighter jets there into that region and made it clear to the Iranians, 'Be careful,'” he said on October 11. The following are comments by senior U.S. officials, in chronological order since October 7, on Iran’s relations with Hamas and its culpability for the attack that killed more than a thousand and injured thousands.

Background press call by a senior White House official on Oct. 7, 2023

“On Iran’s involvement, I mean, look, specifically about what happened today, it’s too early to say whether the state of Iran was directly involved or planning and supporting. I’m not going to get ahead of that. We are going to be looking at that very closely.

“That said, there’s no doubt — look, Hamas is funded, equipped, armed by Iran and others. And so, that’s why we have taken action throughout this administration to hold Iran accountable. We’ve imposed sanctions on Iran for support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. That is going to continue — believe me.”

“We don’t have anything to indicate Iran was involved in this specific — what is unfolding now. But in terms of Iran’s full support for Hamas — and Hamas would not exist without that support over many, many years and decades. Obviously, that is a fact. And that is why we continue to hold Iran accountable for its support for terrorist groups, whether Hamas or Lebanese Hezbollah.

“And I will say, and I think it connects to both points: We have clearly conveyed messages and our clear position to all relevant parties, including partners and anyone who might seek to take advantage in any way — which would be a huge mistake — of this situation. So, I’m not going to speculate on what Hassan Nasrallah or Lebanese Hezbollah might do.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Interview with CNN on Oct 8, 2023

There’s a long relationship between Iran and Hamas. In fact, Hamas wouldn’t be around in the way that it is without the support that it’s received from Iran over the years. In this specific instance, we have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there’s certainly a long relationship. It’s one of the reasons why we have been resolutely taking action against Iran and its support for terrorists and terrorist proxies and other groups over the last few years of this administration. We’ve sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, precisely because of their support for things like Hamas.”

Interview with NBC on Oct. 8, 2023

“It’s no surprise that those who are opposed to the talks [between Israel, the United States and Saudi Arabia], those who are opposed to Israel normalizing its relations with its neighbors and with countries beyond the region, are Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran. And so it’s entirely possible that one of the motivations for this attack was to try to derail these efforts to advance normalization, something that is very hard.”

John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications

Virtual on-the-record gaggle on Oct. 9, 2023

“So, on Iran, let me start by saying that no question that there's a degree of complicity here, but Iran has been supporting Hamas for many, many years -- tools, training, capabilities -- certainly rhetorically but in more much more tangible ways than that. So, absolutely, there's a degree of complicity here writ large.

“That said, we haven't -- and we are looking through the information streams. We haven't seen hard, tangible evidence that Iran was directly involved in participating in or resourcing and planning these sets of complex attacks that Hamas pulled off over the weekend.

“Again, we're going to keep looking at it. Our Israeli counterparts are also actively looking, and even they have publicly said they don't see the -- quote, unquote -- smoking gun. So we'll just keep -- we’ll just keep at it. We'll keep trying to learn more. But obviously, nobody is walking away from the fact that Iran has long supported Hamas.”

Interview with NBC on Oct. 9, 2023

“I think we have to be honest about the fact that, certainly, Iran is complicit here. They’ve been supporting Hamas now for many, many years – training, capabilities, financing. There’s no question that they are a state sponsor of terrorist groups like Hamas. There’s an air of complicity, no doubt about it. We are looking actively to see if there’s evidence, intelligence evidence, and facts that point to specific Iranian participation in planning or resourcing these attacks. We just haven’t found it. And I would say that our Israeli counterparts have publicly said the same thing. They are looking. They have not found a quote unquote smoking gun, but obviously we’re going to keep looking at this.”

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Oct. 10, 2023 remarks to reporters

The message for Iran is: “Not to get involved.”

“We want to send a pretty strong message. We do not want this to broaden and the idea is for Iran to get that message loud and clear.”

French President Emmanuel Macron

Oct. 10, 2023 remarks to reporters

“I have no comment to make about the direct involvement of Iran for which we have no formal proof, but it's clear that the public comments by Iranian authorities were unacceptable... and that it is likely that Hamas was offered help.”

“But I will remain careful on that point until we have stabilized intelligence.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

Oct. 10, 2023 remarks to reporters

“We have said since the beginning that Iran is complicit in this attack in a broad sense because they have provided the lion’s share of the funding for the military wing of Hamas, they have provided training, they have provided capabilities, they have provided support, and they have had engagement and contact with Hamas over years and years. And all of that has played a role in contributing to what we have seen.

“Now, as to the question of whether Iran knew about this attack in advance or helped plan or direct this attack, we do not — as of the moment I’m standing here at the podium — have confirmation of that.

“We are talking to our Israeli counterparts on a daily basis about this question. We’re looking back through our intelligence holdings to see if we have any further information on that. We’re looking to acquire further intelligence. And if there’s an update to that, I’ll share it with you.

“But as I stand here today, while Iran plays this broad role — sustained, deep, and dark role — in providing all of this support and capabilities to Hamas, in terms of this particular gruesome attack on October 7th, we don’t currently have that information. We will continue to look for it. And if we find it, we will share that with you.”

President Biden

Oct. 11, 2023 remarks to Jewish community leaders

“We’re surging additional military assistance to the Israeli Defense Force, including ammunition interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome. And we have moved a U.S. Carrier fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean, and we’re sending more fighter jets there into that region and made it clear — made it clear to the Iranians, 'Be careful.'”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Oct. 12, 2023 in an address to Parliament

“While we have no firm proof that Iran operationally supported this cowardly attack, it is clear to us all that without Iranian support, Ham as would never have been able to launch this unprecedented attack.”

“The jubilant statements from the top of the Iranian regime and some other government officials in the region are abhorrent. The leadership in Tehran shows its true colours without shame, and thereby confirms its role in Gaza.”

John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications

Oct. 13, 2023 in remarks to reporters

“We don't have any indication at this moment that Hezbollah has made some sort of a decision to go all-in here and to expand or widen the conflict. But again, we're watching this very, very closely… And all I can tell you is thus far we haven't seen any other external actor indicate a willingness or readiness to widen and deepen this conflict.”

President Biden

Interview with CBS News on Oct. 13, 2023

Scott Pelley: Would you support Israeli occupation of Gaza at this point?

President Biden: I think it'd be a big mistake. Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don't represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that...It would be a mistake to...for Israel to occupy...Gaza again. We...but going in but taking out the extremists the Hezbollah is up north but Hamas down south. Is a necessary requirement.

Pelley: Do you believe that Hamas must be eliminated entirely?

President Biden: Yes, I do. But there needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state. That path, called "the two state solution," has been U.S. policy for decades. It would create an independent nation next to Israel for 5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza and on the West Bank of the Jordan River.


Scott Pelley: There's limited fighting already on the northern Israeli border, and I wonder what is your message to Hezbollah and its backer, Iran?

President Biden: Don't. Don't, don't, don't.

Pelley: Don't come across the border? Don't escalate this war?

President Biden: That's right.

Pelley: Is Iran behind the Gaza war?

President Biden: I don't wanna get into classified information. But to be very blunt with you, there is no clear evidence of that.

Pelley: At this point, no evidence that Iran is behind any of this?

President Biden: Correct. Now, Iran constantly supports Hamas and Hezbollah. I don't mean that. But in terms of did they have foreknowledge; did they help plan the attack-- there's no evidence of that at this point.

National Security Advisor Sullivan

Oct. 15, 2023 on CBS Face the Nation

MARGARET BRENNAN: The United States deployed a second aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean. I'm wondering if you have new intelligence that shows that the threat from Iran is growing.

SULLIVAN: We don't have some specific new intelligence that the threat is different today from yesterday. The threat yesterday was real. The threat today is real. There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north, and of course of Iran's involvement- that is a risk. And that's a risk that we have been mindful of since the start. It's why the President moves so rapidly and decisively to get an aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean, to get aircraft into the Gulf, because he wants to send a very clear message of deterrence to any state or any actor that would seek to exploit this situation. And he said it best when he spoke last week, in the aftermath of this brutal and vicious terrorist attack to any state that would think about doing this: don't.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Iran's foreign minister put out a public statement saying that Iran cannot remain a spectator. What does that mean to you? Are you concerned about proxy forces? Are you concerned that the State of Iran is getting drawn in?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, we are concerned about proxy forces. Lebanese Hezbollah, a proxy force of Iran, is there, a raid on Israel's northern border with considerable military capacity and a history of attacking the State of Israel. And in fact, we have seen in the last few days skirmishes across that northern border that only enhances the risk of escalation. But of course, we can't rule out that Iran would choose to get directly engaged some way; we have to prepare for every possible contingency. That's exactly what the President has done. That is part of what has motivated the President's movement of these assets, to send that clear message of deterrence to make clear that this war should not escalate, and that no other actor should seek to exploit this situation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there diplomatic outreach to Iran right now?

SULLIVAN: We have means of communicating privately with Iran. And we have availed ourselves of those means over the past few days to make clear privately that which we have said publicly.

German Foreign Ministry

Spokesman Sebastian Fischer on Oct. 16, 2023: “Anyone who wants to play with fire in this situation and pour oil on the fire or ignite it in any other way should really think twice because we are facing a potentially major regional conflict.”

John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications

Oct. 23, 2023 briefing: “We’ve also seen, over the course of the last few days -- actually, the course of the last week, but certainly over the last couple of days of the weekend -- an uptick in rocket and drone attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups against military bases housing U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. And we’re deeply concerned about the potential for any significant escalation of these attacks in the days ahead. “At the direction of President Biden, the Secretary of Defense has ordered the military to take steps to prepare for this to ensure that we’re postured appropriately, both in terms of being able to defend our forces and respond decisively as needed.

“The Secretary of Defense has directed two carrier strike groups to the region, and we are now sending more air defenses to U.S. air bases in the region. “Now, we know these groups are supported by the IRGC and their regime. We know Iran continues to support Hamas and Hezbollah. And we know that Iran is closely monitoring these events and, in some cases, actively facilitating these attacks and spurring on others who may want to exploit the conflict for their own good or for that of Iran. We know Iran’s goal is to maintain some level of deniability here, but we’re not going to allow them to do that.

“We also are not going to allow any threat to our interests in the region to go unchallenged. We demonstrated last -- we demonstrated last week that we have and will use the military capabilities available to us to protect and defend those interests. And those capabilities are getter bigger and better every day. “As President Biden has said, our message to any hostile actor seeking to escalate or widen this conflict is very simple: Don’t do it.

“Oh, their support for these Iran-backed proxies is no secret. It's pretty open. And they've tried to make -- they've made no secret of it -- funding; resourcing, in terms of providing the rockets and the -- and the munitions that they fire; training for some of these guys.

“I mean, there is a -- there is a connection between these -- these groups and the IRGC -- a very direct connection.”

Secretary of State Blinken

Remarks at the U.N. Security Council on Oct. 24, 2023: “Now it is no secret to anyone in this room or on this council that, for years, Iran has supported Hamas, Hizballah, the Houthis, and other groups that continue to carry out attacks on Israel. Iranian leaders have routinely threatened to wipe Israel off the map. In recent weeks, Iran’s proxies have repeatedly attacked U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, whose mission is to prevent ISIS from renewing its rampage.

“So let me say this before this council and let me say what we have consistently said to Iranian officials through other channels: The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen.

“But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security – swiftly and decisively.

“To all of the members of this council: If you, like the United States, want to prevent this conflict from spreading, tell Iran, tell its proxies – in public, in private, through every means – do not open another front against Israel in this conflict; do not attack Israel’s partners.

“And we urge members to go a step further: Make clear that if Iran or its proxies widen this conflict and put more civilians at risk, you – you – will hold them accountable. Act as if the security and stability of the entire region and beyond is on the line, because it is.”

President Biden

During a press conference with the Australian prime minister on Oct. 25, 2023: “We have had troops in the region since 9/11 to go after ISIS and prevent its reemergence in the region -- having nothing to do with Israel at all. My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond, and he should be prepared. It has nothing to do with Israel.”

Some of the information in this article was originally published on October 10, 2023.

Second publication by courtesy of The Iran Primer

Photo: Amin Ahouei, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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