The surprise attack by Hamas on Israel has sparked conspiracy theories as to how the Middle East’s most powerful military could be caught so off-guard.
Israel said on Monday it had brought in special forces to try to wrest control of four sites from Hamas fighters after the militant group launched an unprecedented incursion into the country two days earlier from Gaza.
At least 700 people have reportedly been killed in Israel and more than 400 have been killed in Gaza, following Israeli strikes, according to The Associated Press.
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, has said that there would be a “complete siege” on Gaza in which electricity, food, water and fuel would be cut. Israel’s military announced it had regained control of its communities near Gaza but some militants remain active.
Amid the anger in Israel was speculation about how such catastrophic failure of its security and intelligence allowed the incursion of around 1,000 Hamas fighters and their deployment of missiles, bulldozers, hand gliders and motorbikes.
It led to conspiracy theories that it might have been a “false flag” operation, referring to an action designed to blame another party.
The X (formerly Twitter) account of Bull Crypto said without offering proof that “Netanyahu and Hamas are working together” and that the attack had been a “ridiculous false flag,”
Russell McGregor also gave the “false flag” explanation to his 49,000 followers, while the account of Russian Market, which pushes Kremlin propaganda, posted: “They simply drove into Israel. Where is the Israeli army? Are they intentionally allowing them to enter?”
The theory that Russia was behind the attack by Hamas also gained traction over the weekend. Ukrainian-American racing car driver Igor Sushko posted that “Hamas terrorists massacring Israelis were trained by Russia’s Wagner PMC and Redut PMC terrorist groups with Putin’s approval.”
The Wagner private military company that helped Moscow’s fight in Ukraine staged a mutiny against Putin’s authority in June. Its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died in a plane crash two months later.
“Blowback for the West’s inadequate support of Ukraine to neutralize Russia,” added Suskhko, who noted how “earlier this year Hamas leadership even openly met with Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov in Moscow.”
The Institute for the Study of War said Russia might benefit from the shift in international attention away from its invasion of Ukraine although there is no proof that Moscow played any role in the events of the last two days.
Foreign policy expert Hannah Notte wrote in a thread that “there was no need for Russian assistance” and despite Moscow’s ties with Tehran, which backs Hamas, “the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis is ‘highly’ capable.”
Also proliferating on social media is a fair amount of misinformation, according to the X account of Shayan Sardarizadeh from BBC Verify, which checks the veracity of claims.
In one instance, he noted how a widely shared video purporting to show a salvo of rockets fired by Hamas towards Israel was in fact from the Syrian civil war and first appeared online in 2020.
He also said that a video viewed 600,000 times, which allegedly showed Hamas militants parachuting into Israel, had been “filmed in Cairo, Egypt, and posted to TikTok in September.”
“This video, viewed 900,000 times, doesn’t show Hamas militants entering Israel. It was filmed in Egypt, and posted to TikTok in September,” he wrote regarding other footage.
Meanwhile, another clip that claimed to show Israeli strikes on Hamas had been “all old clips of fireworks and celebrations by supporters of CR Belouizdad after winning the Algerian [soccer] championship title.”