As Israel continues to contend with a stunning assault led by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Iran’s representatives in the United States lauded the resolve of the ongoing attacks in comments shared with Newsweek.
U.S. officials have so far said there was no indication of the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the most comprehensive attack to hit Israel since the Yom Kippur War fought against a coalition of Arab states nearly exactly half a century ago. Israel readily identified its archfoe’s relation to the attack, and Iranian officials openly expressed their praise of the surprise land, sea and air strike, while distancing themselves from any actual involvement in the devastating operation.
“The success of this operation was the fact that it was a surprise, which makes it the biggest failure of the Israeli regime’s security organizations during the life of this usurping regime,” the Iranian Mission to the United Nations told Newsweek.
“They find it very difficult to accept that in the intelligence community, it is being narrated that they were defeated by a Palestinian group,” the Mission added. “They are attempting to justify their failure and attribute it to Iran’s intelligence power and operational planning.”
With at least 700 Israelis killed, hundreds more wounded and a yet undisclosed number of hostages taken, Israel remains at war on several fronts in what Hamas named operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” after the sacred Muslim site at the contested Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have launched operation “Swords of Iron” to strike at the heart of Hamas and allied organizations, such as Islamic Jihad, based in the effectively blockaded Gaza Strip, though Israel continues to battle Hamas militants within its own territory.
Gaza-based health officials put the Palestinian death toll at at least 493.
“The story is that we’re still fighting,” IDF Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht told a press briefing early Monday, Israeli time. “There are between seven-eight open places around Gaza we still have warriors fighting terrorists.”
But a quick victory was not anticipated. Hecht acknowledged that “it’s taking more time than expected to get things back into a sort of defensive security posture of people coming and defending their communities.”
“We thought this morning we’d be in a better place of focusing right now on what we’re doing and making sure Hamas pays a heavy price,” Hecht said. “Our military defends and is taking care of our lost ones and it’s going to get worse, but we’ll overcome it.”
Both the U.S. and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Iran views the group as legitimate manifestation of Palestinian resistance. While Hamas was born out of the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionary Shiite Muslim Iran has increasingly backed the Palestinian group.
Citing senior members of Hamas and the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, based north of the contested border with Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Iranian security officials helped to plan the operation against Israel.
Responding to Newsweek‘s question about Tehran’s role in the attack, Hecht stated that “the Iranians are involved.”
But Hecht asserted that “that’s not the story right now.” He said that “we’re fighting against Hamas, we’re making sure our northern border—which in a way is also an Iranian front—is also secured.”
Tensions remain high between Israel and Lebanon as well as with Syria, where Iran has supported the government against both rebels and jihadi groups in a civil war still raging after more than 12 years. Hezbollah has also expressed its support for the operation and says it’s in active communication with the Palestinian militant leadership.
Hezbollah fired a volley of rockets into Israel on Sunday, and the IDF launched artillery into Lebanon.
“Existential threat, we’re not there yet,” Hecht said. “Gaza, we’re still fighting, we’re going to turn it at some point. Lebanon, ramping up the force…if it expands into a sort of multidimensional arena, let’s see where this goes.”
Newsweek has reached out to Hezbollah for comment.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack, but there is certainly a long relationship.”
The top U.S. diplomat denied that there was any connection between the $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets recently made available to Tehran by Washington as part of a prisoner exchange that marked a rare sign of diplomacy between the two countries made possible through the Arab state of Qatar.
Hamas too has made no mention of Iranian involvement. But the group has lashed out at the IDF’s bombing of the Gaza Strip.
In comments shared with Newsweek by a Hamas spokesperson, political operative Izzat al-Rishiq “slammed the destruction of Palestinian homes, which housed women and children, as well as mosques, and schools in Gaza by the Israeli occupation as war crimes.”
Rishiq also “pointed out the U.S. supports the Israeli occupation’s brutality by sending stockpiles of weapons and ammunition after the occupation forces fired tons of explosives on the heads of defenseless citizens across the Gaza Strip.”
He “called on the international community and the free peoples of the world to condemn these gruesome massacres committed by the Zionist occupation.”