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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Iran ‘trained Hamas fighters’ ahead of attack on Israel – WSJ

Unlike Israel, the US has stopped short of accusing Tehran of direct involvement

About 500 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters took part in exercises organized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a month before the October 7 attack on Israel, the Wall Street Journal claimed on Wednesday. Iran has categorically denied any role in the attack.

The “specialized combat training” took place in Iran and was led by officers of the IRGC’s Quds Force, according to “people familiar with intelligence related to the assault.” The WSJ did not specify whether its sources were American, Israeli or other.

Read more: Pentagon warns Iran against escalating Israel crisis

According to the same sources, the exercises were attended by Brigadier-General Esmail Qaani, head of the Quds Force, and “senior Palestinian officials.”

Anonymous US officials told the WSJ that Iran has “regularly trained” militants, but there were “no indications of a mass training” right before the October 7 incursion and “no information” that the training was specifically to prepare for it.

Around 1,400 Israelis were killed and 200 taken captive in the Hamas surprise attack near Gaza. West Jerusalem has responded by declaring war on the group and bombing Gaza with artillery and airstrikes.

Read more: Israeli minister threatens to wipe Iran’s leaders ‘off the face of the Earth’

While the US has been cautious, Israel has openly accused Iran of aiding Hamas.

“Before the war, Iran directly assisted Hamas with money, training and weapons and technological know-how,” Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Wednesday. “Even now, Iran is helping Hamas with intelligence.”

In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was fighting a war against the “Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis of evil”  on behalf of the “forces of freedom and progress.”

The WSJ has previously reported that the Quds Force “helped plan the attack” and gave approval for it to proceed at an October 2 meeting in Lebanon with Hamas and Hezbollah leaders. The outlet claims its report has been confirmed by “senior Hamas and Hezbollah officials,” as well as “an adviser to the Syrian government and a European official,” none of whom have been named.

Hamas official Ali Barakeh has denied these claims, telling AP on October 9 that Iranian security officials did not plan the attack, and that it was organized by a handful of top Hamas commanders in utmost secrecy.

Speaking at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Iran’s envoy to the UN Ami Saeid Iravani said Tehran “categorically rejects” the “groundless allegations” by the US of Iranian involvement in the events of October 7, which he described as “Palestinian anti-occupation.”

“Our commitment to regional peace and stability remains unwavering,” Iravani added, noting that Iran “aligns with the international community in endorsing the call for an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.