Early intelligence shows the Hamas attack caught Iran’s leaders by surprise, the US says

The United States has gathered more intelligence showing that key Iranian leaders were surprised by the Hamas attack in Israel, information that has fueled US suspicions that Iran had a direct role in planning the attack, according to several US officials.

The United States, Israel and key regional allies have found no evidence that Iran directly helped plan the attack, according to US officials, an Israeli official and another Middle East official.

While U.S. officials would not identify the Iranian officials who expressed surprise at the attack, they said the Iranian officials were people who would normally be aware of operations involving the Quds Force, Iran’s paramilitary arm that supports and works with proxy forces.

U.S. officials said the intelligence investigation is continuing and may find evidence that Iran or other countries were directly involved in the Hamas operation. Senior officials said they were keeping an open mind, reviewing old intelligence reports and looking for new information.

Iran has provided a large number of weapons and support to Hamas for many years. US officials have made it clear they believe this makes Tehran largely complicit in the attack. But that was different from direct knowledge and involvement, they said.

Morgan Muir, a senior US intelligence official, told members of Congress at a briefing on Tuesday that there was no direct link between Iran and the Hamas attack, US officials said. Mr Muir gave few details but told MPs that US agencies have intelligence that contradicts claims that Iran helped plan the attack.

The United States and its allies regularly monitor and monitor meetings between Quds Force leaders and their proxies and allies, including Hamas. But officials say there is no evidence so far that the meetings were used to plan attacks in Israel. Although officials acknowledge there may have been other secret meetings that were not monitored by Western intelligence services, they have so far found no evidence of such meetings.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence. US officials have asked The New York Times not to report on the collection methods to protect sources and methods.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on Tuesday that the agencies had not gathered intelligence about direct Iranian involvement in the attack, which began on Saturday.

Officials said Mr. Sullivan’s statements reflected the intelligence gathered so far, which did not point to direct Iranian involvement.

“We have said from the beginning: Iran is complicit in this attack in a broader sense because it provided the lion’s share of funds for the military arm of Hamas,” he said. “They provided the training, they provided the capabilities.”

Mr. Sullivan said the United States would continue to investigate Iran’s role and knowledge of the attack. U.S. officials said intelligence agencies were reviewing previously collected material and looking for new sources of information to better understand Iran’s knowledge and actions.

Iran has spent years providing financing and military supplies to Hamas. Most of the components Hamas uses to make rockets, for example, come from Iran before being smuggled across the Sinai Peninsula into underground tunnels leading to Gaza. These components are then assembled into rockets and missiles at secret locations inside Gaza.

President Biden is facing fierce criticism from some members of the Republican Party, including presidential candidates, who accuse the administration of being soft on Iran. The Biden administration has tried unsuccessfully to revive the Iran nuclear deal and recently negotiated a prisoner release deal. In return, Iran gained access to $6 billion in restricted oil revenues for humanitarian purposes.

Former President Donald J. Trump and other Republicans tried to blame Mr. Biden, saying the funds helped finance the attack. But that $6 billion is not American taxpayers’ money, as Mr. Trump said and others, falsely said. Nor is there any evidence that the money, which officials said, is subject to Supervision of the Ministry of Treasuryit was used to finance the attack.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has not ruled out freezing $6 billion in Iranian assets if the country is found to be involved in the Hamas attack. Ms. Yellen said the funds have not yet been touched.

The United States moved an aircraft carrier to the region, a move meant to deter Iran or its proxies from opening a second front after the attack.

Ronen Bergman contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

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