Israel war: Fact-checking White House talking points on Iran and Hamas

Israel war: Fact-checking White House talking points on Iran and Hamas

October 10, 2023 06:37 AM

In the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel over the weekend, the Biden administration has worked to fend off claims that President Joe Biden’s policies helped create conditions that led to the bloodshed.

Republicans have criticized Biden’s approach to Iran, blaming a recent Iranian prisoner swap and his overall efforts to stabilize relations with Iran for the attack by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group backed by Iran.


Biden administration officials have accused Republicans of spreading disinformation, insisting their actions had nothing to do with the violence.

While much about the attack remains unclear, including how U.S. and Israeli intelligence services seemingly missed warning signs, here are the facts surrounding the White House‘s talking points.

“In this moment, we don’t have anything that shows us that Iran was directly involved in this attack, in planning it or in carrying it out.” — Secretary of State Antony Blinken, NBC News’s Meet the Press

“In this specific instance, we have not yet seen evidence that Iran directed or was behind this particular attack.” — Blinken, CNN’s State of the Union

The claim that there’s no evidence Iran was involved in the terror attack on Israel is misleading, even if that evidence is incomplete at this point.

Japan G7 Summit
President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023.

Susan Walsh/AP

Hamas appears to have acknowledged publicly that Iran aided in the operation.

Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, told BBC News that Iran directly supported the terrorist group.

Citing senior officials in Hamas and Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group also backed by Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Iran had helped Hamas prepare for the surprise attack on Israel since at least August. The paper noted that a European official and a Syrian government adviser had also corroborated the account of Iran’s support.

If accurate, the reporting would suggest Iran began helping Hamas plan for its incursion the same month the Biden administration announced it would unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian money as part of a prisoner swap agreement with Iran. The talks over the financial aspect of the prisoner swap deal began months earlier.

Amid the violence on Saturday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, posted a statement to social media celebrating the attack and expressing hope that Israel would face defeat.

Four days before the attack, Khamenei shared another message to X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he claimed the Palestinian “movement” is “more energetic, more alive, and more prepared than ever.” In another message that same day, he claimed the “Zionist regime” of Israel “will definitely be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people.”

The posts last week raise questions about whether the Iranian leader was alluding to the operation Hamas had planned for Saturday.

Still, Israeli and U.S. officials say they have no proof linking Iran directly to the attack.

Experts say Hamas would not have had the ability to execute such a sophisticated air, land, and sea invasion without the support of Tehran, which has a history of backing proxy groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and then denying involvement in subsequent attacks.

“These were not U.S. taxpayer dollars. These were Iranian resources that it had accumulated from the sale of its oil that were stuck in a bank in South Korea. … The funds were moved from one bank to another where it could more easily do that but under the close supervision of the U.S. Treasury Department. … Again, not a single cent has been spent from that account. When any money is spent from that account, it can only be used for medical supplies, for food, for medicine. And those who are saying otherwise are either misinformed or misinforming, and it’s wrong either way.” — Blinken, NBC News’s Meet the Press

“I cannot think of a more irresponsible claim to make in such a situation. This is about the hostage deal. And it’s also completely false. … I think, as our Treasury Department had to put out today — just to clarify — first of all, the agreement to secure the freedom of five U.S. citizens from Iran in September obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with today. That is just factual, provable. None of the funds that were part of that deal have even been spent — not a single cent — or accessed by Iran. … None of those funds will ever be accessed by Iran. They can only be used, when they are used — and none have been used to date — to pay vetted, third-party, non-Iranian vendors for a limited category of humanitarian trade: food, agricultural products, medicine, medical supplies. That’s it.” — senior administration official, call with reporters on Saturday

Biden administration officials have strongly rejected the claim that their decision to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets played a role in the Hamas attack.

They’ve argued that the Treasury Department plans to monitor every transaction Iran will make with the funds to ensure none of the money, which is currently sitting in a Qatari bank, goes to anything but food and medicine.

GOP critics have called that explanation insufficient. They say Iran could have easily diverted its own funds away from humanitarian efforts, knowing the United States had approved an influx of money that could cover those costs.

The $6 billion was from the sale of Iranian oil to South Korea, once a major customer for Iran’s oil sector. Thanks to sanctions on Iranian oil and banking imposed by former President Donald Trump, the money became frozen in South Korean banks in 2019.

The Biden administration issued a sanctions waiver last month that allowed the money to leave South Korea and flow into Qatar’s central bank, where Iran could access it to pay for humanitarian efforts under U.S. supervision. The sanctions waiver was part of a prisoner swap deal that allowed five Americans detained in Iran to come home; in addition to the money, the U.S. also released five Iranians in its custody.

Despite the Biden administration’s insistence that the funds will only go to food and medicine, Iranian leaders had indicated before the attack on Israel that they plan to spend the money where they want.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told NBC News in September that Iranians would put the funding “wherever we need it.”

“This money belongs to the Iranian people, the Iranian government, so the Islamic Republic of Iran will decide what to do with this money,” Raisi said last month. “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people needs, so this money will be budgeted for those needs, and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided and determined by the Iranian government.”


State Department officials said at the time that the Biden administration could decide to refreeze the funding if Iran tries to spend it outside the parameters of the Treasury Department’s guidance. They have also since said that Iran has not yet started spending the $6 billion.

It is unclear whether the Biden administration plans to allow Iran to begin accessing the money in light of the Hamas attack.