American spy agencies have obtained “exquisite” intelligence that shows Iranian leaders were surprised by Hamas’ attack on Israel last Saturday, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. A second source described the intelligence as “good evidence.”
The intelligence has prompted U.S. officials to question whether officials in Tehran had a direct role in approving or planning the deadly assault. The sources said that the Biden administration has not reached a definitive conclusions about whether Iran had any direct role in the attack in part due to that intelligence reporting, the sources told NBC News.
The sources did not name the Iranian officials who were surprised by the Hamas operation. But the officials were high enough that they would usually be informed about Tehran’s support for Iran’s proxies before an attack.
The White House National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment.
The New York Times first reported on the intelligence about Iranian leaders being taken by surprise.
The question about Iran’s precise role in the Hamas onslaught has become a politically charged issue in Washington, with Republicans contending that Iran was behind the attack and accusing the White House of trying to play down Tehran’s responsibility. Israel has condemned Iran for arming Hamas but so far has not accused Tehran of directing the attack.
In the unprecedented attack, hundreds of Palestinian militants breached Israel’s southern border at dozens of points, killing at least 1,200 Israelis and taking an estimated 150 people hostage, including an unknown number of Americans.
Biden administration officials have said publicly and privately that the U.S. does not have firm evidence yet that Iran directed or ordered Saturday’s assault on Israel. But President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Tuesday that Iran was “complicit” in the attack because it has armed, financed and trained Hamas militants for decades.
At a briefing for lawmakers Tuesday evening on the crisis in Israel, Republican lawmakers pushed back against an administration intelligence official who said that there was so far no direct link between Iran and the Hamas attack, two congressional sources said.
The deputy director for mission integration at the Office of the Director of Intelligence, Morgan Muir, told senators that it was premature to draw final conclusions about Iran’s role and that the administration was still reviewing intelligence, the congressional sources said. Muir also said there was some intelligence that contradicted claims that Iran planned the operation.
The attack, which was more sophisticated than past Hamas operations, would not have been possible without the funding, weapons and training Iran has supplied to the militant group for decades, current and former U.S. officials say.
NBC News reported Tuesday that U.S. officials are investigating whether some of the Hamas militants who carried out the attack on Israel received advanced training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
They are also examining whether Hamas used recent Palestinian protests along the Gaza border fence as cover to place explosives that were later used to breach the Israeli barrier.
Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Ken Dilanian is the justice and intelligence correspondent for NBC News, based in Washington.