Did Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) orchestrate and supply weapons to Hamas for the horrific attack across the Gaza-Israeli border on October 7?
Israeli and American Republican politicians such as Lindsey Graham have lobbed this direct accusation at Tehran, a charge set out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which alleged that Hamas was given the green light the previous Monday at a meeting in Beirut.
Despite the ongoing celebrations in Tehran, organised by the government and supported by hardliners, this seems unlikely.
US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have said that there isn't clear evidence linking Iran to this particular attack. This cautious stance by the US illuminates the gaps in the narrative pushing Iran's involvement. Even Israeli officials have only been able to point to indirect connections.
The narrative that Iranian security officials choreographed this attack relies heavily on the assumption of a level of operational sophistication and control over disparate militant groups that Iran is unlikely to possess. Iran, grappling with economic sanctions and internal political challenges, would be hard-pressed to mastermind a tri-pronged assault on Israel.
The octogenarian clerics in Tehran – who lack any official access to Gaza, which is cut off by Israel from the outside world – are unlikely to be able to direct events there. The fact that most of the IRGC forces don’t speak Arabic also raises questions about its role.
The Wall Street Journal’s narrative also oversimplifies the complex relationships between Iran, Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and other groups. While Iran has supported these groups, suggesting that they acted solely under Iran's direction undermines their autonomy and the localised grievances that drive them.
In the case of Hamas – which isn’t Shi’ite Muslim like Iran’s Islamic Republic or Hezbollah – the group has its own grievances, with Israel having made Gaza what some describe as the world’s largest prison of 2mn people. Gaza’s serious structural issues, including power cuts and water shortages, give Hamas enough reasons of its own to plot the attack.
In the past Hamas, like Hezbollah, have also had their differences with Tehran. Both were put into Tehran’s bad books when they refused to heed a call by the IRGC to help in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria when Bashar al-Assad’s regime was fighting for its life.
The meetings in Beirut and elsewhere, cited as proof of Iran's orchestration, could merely be instances of deliberation among allies rather than sinister plotting under Iran's directions. It may very well be that they were focussed on Lebanon’s political morass rather than developments further south.
Tehran has of course denied involvement. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on October 10: “They mistakenly introduce the Islamic Republic of Iran as the instigator behind these actions. We certainly defend Palestine and its resistance, but they are mistaken."
Still, Iran’s leaders are not helping themselves by so obviously rejoicing in the Hamas attack. In the same speech to military graduates, Khamenei said, "We salute and kiss the foreheads and arms of the wise, intelligent Palestinian youths”.
On October 9, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s office even tweeted, “The Zionist regime is declining, and the resistance front is conquering the peaks of victory. The Iranian nation has always stood by the freedom-loving people of Palestine.”