The Wall Street Journal overrode some objections inside its own Washington bureau to publish an explosive, disputed Oct. 8 report that Iran “helped plan” last week’s attack by Hamas.
The article cited senior members of Hamas and Iran-backed military group Hezbollah, as well as an adviser to Syria and a European official, who told the paper that Iranian security officials helped plan and ultimately greenlit the attack on Israel.
The stakes of the story couldn’t be higher. A proven, direct Iranian role in the Hamas attack could trigger a broader regional war.
Three people with knowledge of the situation told Semafor that before the story was published, veteran staffers on the national security team at the paper raised concerns about the story, which was written by three of the paper’s correspondents based in the Middle East. Reporters from the Washington, D.C. bureau said that they could not directly confirm the explosive string of allegations shared by their colleagues abroad, and sought more time before publication.
Curiously, while reporters from the D.C. bureau contacted the White House for comment on the story, according to a person familiar with that element of the reporting, no Washington bylines appeared on the piece.
A Wall Street Journal spokesperson rejected the notion that there was any internal friction over the publication of last week’s story. “We stand by our reporting,” a spokesperson for the paper said.
U.S., Israeli, and Iranian officials, as well as Hamas leaders, all rejected the Journal’s claims. And the Journal is currently the only major news organization to report that last week’s attack had a direct link to Iran, though The New York Times published a story on Friday partially confirming the details of the Journal’s report. The Times reported that officials from Iran helped plan the attack, but the U.S. and its allies have downplayed (though not debunked) the suggestion that the Iranian government was deeply involved.
Crucially, U.S. officials told the Times and other outlets that intelligence suggests key Iranian leaders were surprised by the Hamas attack. Other outlets like CNN and the Washington Post have not confirmed any link, though Israeli and U.S. government officials have not ruled out that possibility.
The government and Hamas denials, and the lack of confirmation by other outlets, do not necessarily disprove the Journal’s story. U.S. officials and others in the region are scrambling to contain the conflict, and word that Iranian leaders greenlit the attack would push the Israeli government to respond to Iran directly.
But the Journal’s report has already emerged as a tool in the American political context. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell cited the piece in an argument for the use of force against Iran.