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Putin’s fingerprints are all over the Hamas attack


There was only one real winner last Saturday when war broke out in Israel — Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s enabling of his “Arsenals of Evil” ally, Iran, resulted in the opening of a new front in Gaza in his war against the West.  

Mitt Romney got it right in 2012 when he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Russia [is] without question, our number one geopolitical foe. … They fight every cause for the world’s worst actors.”

Later, during a presidential debate, Barack Obama responded to Romney, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

But this is not your 1980’s Russia — it is worse. Under Putin’s leadership, it has militantly sought to restore its prominence and establish a new global order in its likeness.

There was never going to be a Russia reset. And the ramifications of failed Russia policy has been on full display for the last 11 years — under both Republican and Democratic presidential leadership.

Russia has fomented discord, violence and division throughout the Sahel, the Black Sea, the Middle East, the Balkans and the Baltic States. It has done so by sowing disinformation through social media platforms, by direct interventions and by funding and training insurgents to overthrow governments through the use of mercenaries such as PMC Wagner.

Moscow has brutally suppressed uprisings in Chechnya and Syria, supported insurrections in Niger and Sudan, illegally annexed “Russian-speaking” territories in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Crimea, and, in February 2022, launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine — so far a failure that threatens Putin’s aspirations. 

He needed a distraction, and last weekend he got it.

The Kremlin’s surreptitious activities resurfaced in a surprise attack on Israel by the terrorist group Hamas, code-named Operation Al-Aqsa. Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, described the attack as “the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”

It was a multi-domain assault — air, land, sea, and cyber. Well beyond the recognized capabilities of Hamas, fueling speculation that the terrorist organization received direct support from Iran, and likely from Russia as well.

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal confirmed the speculation with respect to Iran. Both reported that Hamas “began planning the assault at least a year ago, with key support from Iranian allies who provided military training and logistical help as well as tens of millions of dollars for weapons” — and greenlighted the operation last week in Beirut. They also reported officers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had trained Hamas.

Putin also likely saw an opening after Congress passed its 45-day continuing resolution last week that provided no additional funding for Ukraine.

Now Israel, a historic and strategic ally in the Middle East, is under attack, facing its own 9/11, just as Russian forces in Ukraine are teetering on the edge of defeat in the Donbas and Crimea. Coincidence? Had the White House, while publicly supporting Ukraine, unwittingly painted itself into Putin’s corner?

The evidence for Russian involvement in this atrocity is circumstantial but present. Putin benefited from leveraging Hamas to incite terror and generate an Israeli response to distract the U.S. government from supporting Ukraine, and he used Iran to achieve his end.

Russia’s relationship with Iran — a principal supporter of Hamas — suggests a more nefarious relationship.

Hamas leaders traveled to Moscow in March 2023, where according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, their meeting “touched on Russia’s unchanged position in support of a just solution to the Palestinian problem.” More recently, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh was in Moscow on Sept. 10. At the time, Hillel Frisch, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, thought the purpose of the meeting was “to signal [Moscow’s] displeasure with Israel, perhaps in relation to Ukraine.” 

Given the events of Oct. 7, a more likely explanation would be that he back-briefed the Kremlin on Hamas’s final preparations for the attack timed to take place on Putin’s 71st birthday — a quid pro quo.

Other activities suggest Russian support and organization.

According to the Ukrainian Center of National Resistance, members of PMC Wagner, who left Belarus for Africa, allegedly participated in the training of Hamas militants on “assault tactics and the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles to drop explosive devices onto vehicles and other targets.”

Israeli government and media websites were repeatedly targeted with distributed denial-of-service attacks — “a type of cyberattack that floods websites with traffic and forces them offline” — by hacking groups associated with Russia and allied with Hamas. Killnet and Anonymous Sudan claimed they had brought down multiple Israeli websites, including those of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet and the Jerusalem Post.

A Russian disinformation campaign was launched immediately trying to associate weapons found in Gaza, used by Hamas to slaughter innocent civilians in Israel, with “Western-donated weapons” to Ukraine, implying that they had been sold on the black market to Hamas, in an attempt to “erode support for Ukraine.”

Finally, shortly after the initial attack, there was a call by Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova for Palestine and Israel to “implement an immediate ceasefire, renounce violence, exercise the necessary restraint and establish, with the assistance of the international community, a negotiation process aimed at establishing a comprehensive, lasting and long-awaited peace in the Middle East.”

After 20 months of the Biden administration providing Ukraine just enough military aid to survive, the Kremlin likely created conditions in Israel to divide the U.S., allowing disinformation to seep within the American political fabric, designed to create dissension and paralysis while placing doubt in the minds of America’s allies. 

The administration must now support two crises, Ukraine and Israel, while managing a Chinese threat to Taiwan and a North Korean threat to South Korea and Japan. It will not be able to pivot its way out of this.

The National Security team that got the U.S. into this predicament is not the team Washington needs to get us out of it. Bold and resolute solutions are required. The administration can continue to battle the hydra, or it can cut off its immortal head.

That requires a Russia-first strategy — a decision that helps Ukraine actually win, while setting conditions for Israel’s security.

Defending Israel is a top priority. The White House must strike a balance that meets Israel’s and Ukraine’s needs. The White House is trying to tie military aid to both together, and that is a step in the right direction. 

But it must provide Ukraine with what it needs to win — namely, precision deep strike weapons and munitions, fighter jets, HIMARS-delivered cluster munitions, and engineering equipment to breach minefields and obstacles.

As Hamas continues its relentless rocket assault on Israel, the U.S. must sustain the Iron Dome missile defense system, while leveraging American military assets, including the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford carrier task force, to keep Hezbollah and other potential regional adversaries in check.

In March, Biden got it right in Warsaw when he exclaimed, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” A Russian defeat in Ukraine would likely bring an end to the Putin regime, and the cancer it propagates throughout the world — including Hamas.

Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel and 30-year military intelligence officer, led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012 to 2014. Mark Toth is an economist, entrepreneur, and former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis. 

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