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Updated Oct 12, 2023, 8:28am EDT
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Questions swirl over Iran’s role in Israel-Hamas war

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a graduation ceremony for armed forces officers at the Imam Ali academy in Tehran, Iran October 10, 2023. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. WANA via Reuters
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Questions persist over Iran’s role in the Hamas attack on Israel over the weekend.

U.S. and Israeli officials have publicly said they do not have evidence of Tehran’s involvement in the assault while there is a long history of Iran supporting Hamas militants in the past.

Top officials, however, are still debating the extent of the country’s involvement and U.S. President Joe Biden warned Iran to “be careful” on Wednesday.

Tehran has denied allegations that it was involved in Hamas’s attack. And on Thursday Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a rare phone call to discuss the war — their first since resuming full diplomatic ties in March.

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U.S. officials stressed Wednesday that there is so far no evidence that Tehran was directly involved in Saturday’s attack. Senior U.S. government officials who spoke to reporters said that Iran was surprised by the attack. That has not stopped Washington from placing some blame for Saturday’s incursion on Tehran: For years, Iran has provided weapons and funding to Hamas. “Iran is complicit in this attack in a broad sense because they have provided the lion’s share of the funding for the military arm of Hamas,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this week.

Concerns are growing that Hezbollah, an insurgency group operating in Lebanon, could launch an attack against Israel. Whether that happens will likely come down to whether Iran orders Hezbollah to attack, Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow Nicholas Blanford writes. The militant group serves as a key security partner for Iran and it’s “unlikely that Tehran will want to waste Hezbollah in a futile full-scale war with Israel for the sake of supporting Hamas in Gaza,” Blanford notes. Israel, too, seems keen to avoid fighting a war on two fronts.

Iran has long propped up Hamas. While Iranian officials did not order Saturday’s attack, there are clear signals — such as the weapons used and the on-the-ground strategy employed by Hamas — of their past involvement, Sean Yom, associate professor of political science at Temple University, told The Jerusalem Post. Iran is willing to support proxy actors because they assume that neither the U.S., Israel, or their allies “are willing to wage a full-scale battle against Tehran so long as Iran does not initiate a formal interstate war,” Yom notes.

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