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Politics

Khamenei's Denial of Iranian Involvement in Hamas Attack Is Legally Unacceptable

October 12, 2023
Faramarz Davar
3 min read
In his initial response to the attack by the Hamas terrorist group, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attributed it to the Palestinians themselves, despite the Islamic Republic's public support for Palestinian militias and the government officials’ messages of praise and congratulations
In his initial response to the attack by the Hamas terrorist group, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attributed it to the Palestinians themselves, despite the Islamic Republic's public support for Palestinian militias and the government officials’ messages of praise and congratulations

In recent years, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has frequently spoken about the Islamic Republic's financial and military support, including weapons assistance, to Palestinian militants. 

In a speech following Hamas’s weekend surprise attack on Israel, however, he stated at least three times that Tehran has not been involved in the assault, emphasizing that the bloody operation was solely "the work of the Palestinians." 

Is such a denial acceptable from the point of view of international law?

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In his initial response to the attack by the Hamas terrorist group, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attributed it to the Palestinians themselves, despite the Islamic Republic's public support for Palestinian militias and the government officials’ messages of praise and congratulations.

Israel labeled the attack as the deadliest against Jews since the Holocaust and stated that it would "change the face of the Middle East." 

Given Iran's extensive history of shaping, supporting, strengthening and aiding militant groups in the Middle East, including Palestinian militant groups, Khamenei's denial appears to be aimed at mitigating the risk of a confrontational response from Israel.

However, under the principle of estoppel, a state is not able to say or act against what it said or did before.

Once a government openly admits to a course of action, disavowing it afterward is neither accepted nor legally effective. It does not absolve the government's responsibility or accountability.

Separately, according to the United Nations International Law Commission, a state is legally responsible for an wrongful act it directly commits even if it does not explicitly endorse it as its own.

From a legal standpoint, there is ample documentation of the Islamic Republic of Iran's support for militant groups in the Middle East, particularly Hamas, and this backing has a well-established historical continuity. 

The Islamic Republic maintains military structures such as the Quds Force, the expeditionary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for training and arming groups like Hamas. 

There is also a dedicated budget for supporting these militias.

Following the assassination of Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani, Khamenei openly stated that the general had supplied Palestinian forces in Gaza with weapons.

He had previously emphasized the need to arm Palestinian forces in the West Bank, which is governed by the Fatah party.

Twelve years ago, in January 2012, Khamenei declared in Tehran: "We stand behind any nation or group that fights against the Zionist regime, and we make no secret of it. This is the undeniable truth."

The support provided by the Islamic Republic to Hamas terrorists cannot be denied after officials in Iran and Hamas leaders repeatedly confirmed this support.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas and a member of the Hamas leadership in Gaza, has confirmed receiving $22 million in cash from Qassem Suleimani during a trip to Tehran.

Khamenei's denial of such support during a period of heightened tension does not negate the legal consequences of his prior statements and does not absolve the responsibility of the Islamic Republic associated with them. 

Ultimately, the response to such support will depend on political decisions. 

Thus far, Israel has refrained from turning to the International Court of Justice or utilizing international arbitration mechanisms to resolve disputes peacefully. 

Consequently, such a move is unlikely, but Khamenei's denial-like statements will not constitute a legal impediment for other actions, whatever they may be.

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