Did Russia Have A Hand In The Hamas Attack?
Russia has both the means and potentially motivation for triggering mayhem in the Middle East, including the benefits of distracting the West from its war in Ukraine.
Updated October 10, 2023 at 5: 10 p.m.
The remarkable success of Saturday's surprise attack by Hamas across the border into Israel has sparked widespread speculation about foreign involvement. The complexity of the operation, believed to have killed at least 700 Israelis thus far with more than 2,100 wounded and dozens taken hostage, is raising suspicion that it could have only been carried out with the aid of outside planning, money and manpower.
Initial reports suggested that
Iran may have played a part
in facilitating the assault. On Tuesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that there was
no Iranian involvement
in the Palestinian militant group's attack, which has killed more than 1,000 Israelis.
Others instead are pointing at Russia, accused of involvement in the Hamas operation, though concrete evidence has thus far not been cited.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth , retired British Army Colonel Richard Kemp said that “unwilling to engage directly with NATO, Putin is instead fueling conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia , Serbia and Kosovo , West Africa, and now Israel.”
Chairman of the Estonian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Marko Mihkelson, told Estonian National Television that the involvement of Russia and Iran in the attack is indicated by its timing as well as the fact that “both Moscow and Tehran maintain contacts with Hamas.”
Russia-Hamas relations are longstanding and active, with Moscow hosting a Hamas delegation in March this year. They met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who subsequently warned that Hamas' "patience" with Israel was "running out." Hamas leaders also visited Russia in May and September 2022.
Kremlin wants to shift attention
Russia has also long maintained a
close working relationship with Iran
and its network of partner militant organizations—especially
in Lebanon—across the Middle East, seeing them as an alternative power base capable of challenging regional U.S. and allied interests. Moscow has drawn closer to Iran since
its full-scale invasion of Ukraine
in February 2022.
The American Institute for the Study of War has suggested that Russia might benefit from the shift in international attention away from its atrocities in Ukraine and towards the deteriorating situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories .
"The Kremlin is already and will likely continue to exploit the Hamas attacks in Israel to advance several information operations intended to reduce U.S. and Western support and attention to Ukraine," the Washington-based think tank said on Saturday.
A file photo of a rally at the Palestinian embassy in Moscow in support of Gaza after it was hit by Israeli missile strikes in May 2021.
Israel is expected to launch a ground assault into Gaza in the coming days, while tensions remain high in the occupied West Bank and along the border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah enjoys de facto control.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, blamed "the West" for blocking peace-making efforts between Russia, the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations for the outbreak of renewed violence in the Middle East.
On Tuesday, in an interview with French news channel France 2, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of accompanying Hamas in its attacks against Israel. "Russia supports Hamas operations," he said. "Our intelligence services have information that Russia is helping certain terrorist operations." he said.
Although he offered no proof, Zelensky evokes the reoccurring methods of the Kremlin in countries like Syria or Ukraine.According to Russian news agency Ria Novosti and TASS, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the risk of "third-party forces" entering the conflict between Israel and Hamas as "high" and stressed the need to start a “negotiation process as soon as possible.”
Some pro-Ukrainian accounts on
, formerly known as Twitter, claimed without substantiation that the
mercenary organization may have trained the Hamas units that launched the attack. Wagner has no known presence in the Palestinian territories, while Hamas' assault units are highly experienced and trained with the assistance of outside powers like Iran.
Russia's own Interest
This said, evidence of Russian involvement in Hamas’ attack remains limited and some experts believe it may well be in Russia’s interest for them to remain cautious with regards to developments in the Middle East. After all, by aggravating Israel, a nuclear power in its own right, Moscow risks the possibility that Israel would “give lethal weapons to Kyiv” Hanna Notte, director for Eurasia at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote on X .
There's a large Russian diaspora in Israel.
Furthermore, while Russia’s relations with Israel have been tenuous in recent years, mutual cooperation, intelligence sharing, and trade remain extensive. There is also a large Russian diaspora in Israel (one that predates the war in Ukraine).
If there were any large-scale war in the Middle East region, “Russia would not have the capacity to deal with it”, Notte added, given its losses and dwindling troop numbers in Ukraine .
However, should the U.S. come down hard on the side of Israel, something which is looking more and more likely, Russia may “further drift into Iran’s orbit.” Then, anything is possible.
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