Hamas official claims Iran, Hezbollah didn’t help plan attack, but may yet join fight

Beirut-based terror official Ali Barakeh says group had planned on limited gains but was ‘surprised by this great collapse’ of the IDF; Israeli officials adamant Tehran involved

Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s exiled leadership, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 9, 2023 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s exiled leadership, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 9, 2023 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

A senior Hamas official on Monday said only a small number of top commanders inside Gaza knew about the wide-ranging surprise assault on Israel, but that allies like Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah “will join the battle if Gaza is subjected to a war of annihilation.”

Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s exiled leadership, spoke in his Beirut office as Israel bombarded Gaza in retaliatory strikes, and vowed a total blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.

The devastating attack on Saturday caught Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence services completely off guard, as hundreds of Hamas gunmen poured through holes blown in the border fence and rampaged through several towns, killing over 900 soldiers and civilians, and capturing over 100 others.

Barakeh said the attack was planned by around a half dozen top Hamas commanders in Gaza and that even the group’s closest allies were not informed in advance about the timing. He denied reports that Iranian security officials helped plan the attack or gave the go-ahead at a meeting last week in Beirut.

“Only a handful of Hamas commanders knew about the zero hour,” Barakeh said, adding that no one from the central command or the political bureau of Hamas was in the Lebanese capital last week.

He acknowledged that Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group have helped Hamas in the past, but said that since the 2014 Gaza war Hamas has been producing its own rockets and training its own fighters.

Israeli security forces at the scene where a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a shelter in the southern city of Sderot, October 9, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A senior Israeli government source said Monday that Israel has indications that Iran pushed Hamas into carrying out its massive infiltration and deadly assault, and that Iran was also pushing Hezbollah to be ready for conflict with Israel.

And former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that ultimately Israel was involved in a war against Iran, “the octopus” which is “conducting” Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

“When we are facing the Iranian enemy — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran — we are facing a Nazi conception,” Bennett said. “I’ve not said this in the past. I never conceived that they would come and slaughter, cut the throats of children. These are animals. Not a state enemy. We have to deal with this as though they are Nazis. What we would do to Nazis, to do to them.”

Dr. Anat Hochberg-Marom , an expert on International Security & Geopolitical Crises, told Channel 12 news on Tuesday that “there is not a shadow of doubt” about Iran’s direct involvement in the attack.

Asked whether the US has seen evidence of Iranian involvement, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at the White House noted “there’s a degree of complicity” from Iran due to its years of support for Hamas,;however, the US hasn’t “seen hard, tangible, evidence that Iran was directly involved in participating in or resourcing, planning these sets of complex attacks that Hamas pulled off over the weekend.”

Barakeh also denied speculation that the attack, which had been planned for more than a year, was aimed at derailing US efforts to convince Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel.

Instead, he said it was driven by a range of actions taken by Israel’s hardline government over the past year, including visits to the flashpoint Temple Mount site in Jerusalem and increased pressure on Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. He also said Hamas believed Israel had plans to kill its top leaders.

He said even Hamas was shocked by the extent of the operation, which it dubbed “Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge,” saying it had expected Israel to prevent or limit the attack.

“We were surprised by this great collapse,” Barakeh said. “We were planning to make some gains and take prisoners to exchange them. This army was a paper tiger.”

Palestinians wave their national flag and celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis, Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud)

His claim that Hamas has only planned a small operation is belied by the fact that an estimated 1,000 terrorists took part in the incursion, attacking by land, sea and even motorized paragliders.

Israel has declared all-out war and vowed to punish Hamas like never before, and the mobilization of 300,000 Israeli reserves has raised the prospect of a ground invasion or even a reoccupation of Gaza. The Israeli military says it has already killed hundreds of terrorists and bombed numerous Hamas targets.

Barakeh said Hamas has so far employed only a small number of its own forces. He said nearly 2,000 Hamas fighters have taken part in the latest fighting, out of an army of 40,000 in Gaza alone.

Hamas may also be able to count on its allies if it faces a major setback. On Sunday, Hezbollah fired several rockets and shells at three Israeli positions in a disputed area in the north of the country. On Monday, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group claimed it sent four gunmen across Lebanon’s border into Israel.

Israel said a senior Israel Defense Forces officer and two soldiers were killed in the clash, and that its forces shot and killed several gunmen who crossed into the country from Lebanon. It also shelled southern Lebanon in response.

Smoke rises from Israeli shelling, in Aita al-Shaab village, South Lebanon, Oct. 9, 2023. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

Barakeh, who was Hamas’s representative in Lebanon for years and is now in charge of coordinating with other Palestinian factions, said his group will use the scores of Israelis it captured in the attack to secure the release of all Arabs detained in Israeli jails for terror offenses and even some Palestinians imprisoned in the United States on charges of funding Hamas.

“There are Palestinians held in America. We will ask for their release,” he said, without specifying who he was referring to.

In 2009, a court in Dallas sentenced two founding members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, once the largest US Muslim charity, to 65 years in prison for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas. Three other men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years for conspiracy.

Barakeh said Hamas is ready to fight a long war with Israel, saying it has an arsenal of rockets that will last a long time.

“We have prepared well for this war and to deal with all scenarios, even the scenario of the long war,” he added. “We will bring life to a stop in the Zionist entity if the aggression does not stop on Gaza.”

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