The claim is backed up with multiple layers of supposed authority. The video is done in the style of an explainer video from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and there’s a BBC logo in the corner. The on-screen captions say that the purported Ukrainian arms deal with Hamas was confirmed by the fact-checking and “open source intelligence” source Bellingcat.
No one should be surprised that it’s all complete nonsense. A lie from start to finish. Straight-up intentional disinformation.
To begin to unpack this falsehood, the idea that Ukraine would be selling arms to anyone while they’re in the middle of a bitter and prolonged land war with Russia—and need all the gear they can possibly get their hands on—should stretch credulity. The idea that they would sell them to Hamas, which would infuriate the countries whose aid Ukraine is totally reliant on—the United States and its allies—seems even less likely.
Unsurprisingly, Bellingcat has “confirmed” exactly none of this and whoever made the video has no connection to the BBC. The more interesting part is who’s been spreading this bit of low-rent fraud—and why.
The claim has spread like wildfire and been boosted by at least one MAGA Republican, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Relatedly, Donald Trump, Jr. pushed the conspiracy theory that Hamas’ weapons were supplied by the Taliban, after being abandoned by the U.S. military when it withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. (There is no evidence for either of these claims.)
Of course, this isn’t the first time that either of them have played fast and loose with the truth—or spread fanciful conspiracy theories (like QAnon and the Big Lie about the 2020 election, for example).
What’s interesting, though, is that the “Ukraine is arming Hamas” conspiracy theory is a kind of transitional fossil in the rapid political evolution of their wing of the right. For the last year and a half, President Joe Biden has championed U.S. funding for the war in Ukraine. Many on the right have been led by their partisan positioning to disagree, with some MAGA firebrands cosplaying as critics of the military-industrial complex. About a week ago, Greene even did a photo-op with protestors from the peace group, Code Pink.
Now, as Israel prepares a massive assault on Gaza, they’re all changing their tune.
Republicans Reverting to Form
For most of my life, the GOP was the party of America’s most rabid militarists. When I was a kid, Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush between them sent troops to Lebanon and Somalia, bombed Libya and Iraq, invaded Grenada and Panama, openly supported the proto-Taliban mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, illegally armed and funded Contra death squads in Nicaragua, and somehow propped up both sides of the Iran-Iraq War.
In my early 20s, President George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by declaring that the entire world was “with us or against us.” He cluster-bombed, invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, tortured suspected terrorists in CIA “black sites” around the world, and declared that since the entire planet was one big battlefield in the “global war on terror” the U.S. had a right to extra-judicially execute alleged terrorists sitting outside cafes in Pakistan with unmanned drones.
In between these Republican presidents, Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were hardly doves. Clinton bombed Iraq and Yugoslavia, and Obama helped overthrow the government of Libya and dramatically expanded George W. Bush’s drone program.
But the GOP was the party of the most extreme hawks. Throughout the 1990s, Republicans attacked Bill Clinton for supposedly endangering American readiness by cutting military spending. Fox News hosts railed at Barack Obama for being a wimp who wouldn’t say the magical words “radical Islamic terrorism.” How, they asked, could we effectively fight our enemies to the death if we weren’t able to apply this label to them?
As hard as this can now be to remember, Republicans during the Obama years often attacked the president for being soft on Russia, particularly criticizing him for refusing to send heavy weaponry to Ukraine for that country’s war against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas. (Obama worried that doing so would escalate the conflict.) They also attacked him for not deepening U.S. involvement in the civil war in Syria, even after Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons.
And, of course, their most consistent attack was that Obama wasn’t “strong” enough in backing America’s ally, Israel. The GOP’s super-hawks considered Israel’s war of occupation in the Palestinian territories to be a front-line conflict in the broader war between “the west” and “radical Islamic terrorism.”
On a superficial level, all this started to change with the rise of Donald Trump to the leadership of the Republican Party in 2015 and 2016.
Trump was retroactively critical of Bush’s war in Iraq, although his claim to have opposed the invasion at the time doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. He would sometimes talk like a peacenik, and indeed many of his supporters have convinced themselves that he “kept the peace” as president—although they have to retcon away a lot of inconvenient facts to make that narrative work.
In reality, Trump doubled the rate of drone strikes, tore up Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, assassinated Iranian Gen, Qassem Soleimani, tightened the embargo on Cuba, vetoed the Senate’s attempts to stop U.S. funding of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, bombed Syria, and oh, by the way, reversed Obama’s decision not to send heavier weaponry to Ukraine. Even so, the myth of Trump the Dove persisted.
And during the Biden presidency, many Republicans really have reversed their party’s historic position. While the majority of Republicans in Congress have repeatedly voted for U.S. military aid to Ukraine, a substantial majority have opposed that intervention. While some simply want other western powers to pick up the tab, some have actually talked about de-escalation and peace negotiations. Some of them have used anti-war rhetoric that have made them sound disconcertingly like Noam Chomsky or (full disclosure) me. When Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley sparred about Ukraine at the first GOP debate this year, Ramaswamy snarked, “I wish you success on your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.”
I can see how a casual observer could look at all that and wonder if a genuine partisan realignment was happening on issues of war and peace. Or at least I can understand how someone could have thought that—last week.
This week, they’re back to sounding like Obama-era Republicans screaming about “radical Islamic terrorism” and a clash of civilizations.
Super-Hawks Once Again
Hamas attacked both military and civilian targets in Israel last weekend, killing over a thousand people and taking more than a hundred hostages back to Gaza. Israel responded by bombing whole apartment blocks full of innocent people, cutting off Gaza’s food, fuel, medicine, and electricity, and preparing a ground assault that could send the number of civilian deaths into the stratosphere.
You’d think that people who have spent the last year criticizing U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine and talking about drawing back that war would respond to all of this by urging a ceasefire, a prisoner exchange to free the hostages, and a negotiated drawdown of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. They would certainly oppose any U.S. aid for an assault on Gaza that’s only going to pour napalm on the fire.
In fact, however strong you think the case is for de-escalation and moves toward peace in Ukraine—and I happen to think it’s quite strong—it’s much stronger in Israel/Palestine. After all, the Ukrainians are at least fighting off a foreign invasion by would-be occupiers of their country. In Israel, the U.S. is on the side of the occupiers, denying statehood to the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. JD Vance (R-OH) have not only been second to none in their bloodthirsty affirmations of Israel’s “right to self-defense” by blowing up apartment blocks, but they’ve tried to blame President Biden.
They’ve alleged Iran helped plan the attack—a claim, it should be said, that not even the Israelis have yet signed onto—and tried to draw a connection between the money Iran may have given Hamas and seized Iranian assets that the Biden administration recently agreed to unfreeze.
The details of this claim are extremely dubious, but the fact that so many Republicans are making them is politically revealing. Like 2008 Republican candidate John McCain, who once notoriously sang a parody of the surf-rock classic “Barbara Ann” with the lyrics changed to “bomb, bomb Iran,” today’s Republicans want to escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran that could lead to yet another American war in the Middle East.
They want Israel to crush the Palestinians into dust and they’re worried that Democrats are too “weak” to properly facilitate this. In other words, they’re back to their old selves.