There are many topics Iran and Russia could have talked about when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran on Oct. 23. The most pressing two would be the progress Russia is making in its invasion of Ukraine, and the war in Israel involving Iranian-sponsored terrorist group Hamas. It’s hard not to see the nexus between Russia’s need for Iranian drones to use against Ukraine, and Tehran’s gains from Russia’s support.
Russia a Suspect in Supporting Hamas
Considering the close relationship between Russia and Iran born of mutual dependence, the question arises: Just how much support did Moscow give Tehran in assisting Hamas in its murderous attack on Israel? Within a few days of the early-morning coordinated assault on towns and kibbutzim in southern Israel, suggestions of a Russian connection were hitting the news services. “There has also been speculation on social media of Russian involvement in the Hamas operation, though there is no evidence indicating Moscow’s alleged role,” David Brennan reported in Newsweek. “The Kremlin is already and will likely continue to exploit the Hamas attacks in Israel to advance several information operations intended to reduce US and Western support and attention to Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War published Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas assault.
There is a concept to invoke when trying to identify the culprit in a crime: cui bono, or who benefits. Merriam-Webster Dictionary explains: “A principle that probable responsibility for an act or event lies with one having something to gain.” Though a short-term benefit, by supporting Iran and by extension Hamas, Moscow strengthens the ties that have ensured a steady flow of killer drones and arms for the invasion of Ukraine. Iran gets the cover of a nuclear nation, hoping to parley the relationship into assistance in its own scramble to develop atomic weapons. Whereas Iran has been supplying Kamikaze drones to Russia, “Russia, in turn, has delivered Yak-130 training aircraft to Iran’s air force and is considering a deal to sell Iran Su-35 jet fighters, which could shift the balance of air power in the Middle East,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The meeting between Lavrov and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was ostensibly to discuss regional issues. Reuters reported, “In a traditionally trusting atmosphere, current aspects of the bilateral agenda were substantively discussed with an emphasis on further building up the entire complex of multifaceted Russian-Iranian partnership.” However, to believe the conversation did not center on Hamas and the ties between Iran and the terrorist organization would be genuinely naïve. As Josh Rogin commented in a prominent Washington, DC news source:
“While there is no clear evidence that Russian leaders knew about the Hamas attacks in advance, the Kremlin is working hard to take advantage. Russia has stepped up its support for Hamas diplomatically and in the propaganda war; it’s also seizing the opportunity to ramp up its violence in Ukraine while the world is distracted. On Oct. 8, senior Hamas official Ali Baraka praised Russia’s assistance in an interview with Russia Today, a state-controlled media outlet.”
There is evidence of Russia’s contribution to the terrorist capability of Hamas either directly or as a complement to Iran’s providing arms and training. The level of coordination of the Hamas attack suggests more sophisticated training than is available from Hezbollah or Iran.
The Wagner Group Believed to Have Trained Hamas
Though unconfirmed, numerous reports out of Ukraine allege Russian President Vladimir Putin’s private military company, the Wagner Group, was instrumental in training Hamas terrorists. “I’m absolutely sure that the Russian Wagner instructors in Syria were transferred to Hamas in Gaza and participated in the training of terrorists to prepare the absolutely barbaric attack on Israel from the Gaza strip,” former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko explained to Euractiv, a European news source.
While there is no corroborating proof of what Poroshenko stated, events of the morning of Oct. 7 bear witness to technical training in using drones, paragliders, and taking out Israeli security precautions not customarily attributed to Hamas terrorists. Both Russia and Iran have benefited from their relationship. The Biden administration would do well to account for that close bond in its Middle East regional calculus.