Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had, Iran's 'Pre­ferred Proxy,' Arm­ing in Gaza

The Jewish Voice - - ARTS AND CULTURE - By: Yaakov Lap­pin

Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had (PIJ), the sec­ond largest ter­ror­ist army in Gaza, re­cently is­sued a video threat about its will­ing­ness to end the three-year truce in place with Is­rael.

"If the Is­raeli en­emy con­tin­ues its nor­mal game and plays with the lives of the Pales­tinian peo­ple, we will break the ceasefi e," PIJ leader Ra­madan Shal­lah says in the video, ac­cord­ing to an Al­ge­meiner re­port.

The footage is laced with im­ages of gun­men in cam­ou­fla e, ris­ing out of the ground, mov­ing through tun­nels, and watch­ing ar­eas of south­ern Is­rael near the Gaza bor­der. It is in­ter­spersed with scenes from a rocket fac­tory, and a close up shot ap­pears of a se­nior Is­rael De­fense Forces (IDF) offic , who is placed in crosshairs, be­fore a bul­let is loaded into a rifl .

"Don't try to test the re­sis­tance," says the video's last mes­sage.

PIJ re­mains Iran's fa­vored proxy in the Strip as re­la­tions be­tween Tehran and Ha­mas con­tinue to fluc­tu­ate.

The Gaza-based Al-An­sar char­ity, a Pales­tinian branch of the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion, an­nounced May 21 that it would pro­vide fin ncial grants to "fam­i­lies of mar­tyrs" whose rel­a­tives were killed be­tween 2002 and 2014.

A par­al­lel Ira­nian fund­ing chan­nel is in place for fam­i­lies of "mar­tyrs" killed in the 2014 con­fli t with Is­rael.

The Al-An­sar char­ity is "affi iated with PIJ," ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Tel Avivbased Meir Amit In­tel­li­gence and Ter­ror­ism In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter (ITIC).

Iran pro­vides PIJ with both "mil­i­tary and fin ncial sup­port," ITIC noted in its re­port.

"PIJ is the pre­ferred or­ga­ni­za­tion for Iran, due to the prob­lem­atic na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Iran and Ha­mas," ITIC Di­rec­tor Col. (ret.) Reuven Er­lich, told the In­ves­tiga­tive Project on Ter­ror­ism.

Al­though Iran con­tin­ues to fund Ha­mas's mil­i­tary wing, re­la­tions be­tween Shi'ite Tehran and the Sunni Is­lamist rulers of Gaza have been un­sta­ble since 2012, when the two found them­selves on op­po­site sides of the sec­tar­ian war rag­ing in Syria.

Thus, Iran does not cur­rently fund Ha­mas's non-vi­o­lent op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing the salaries for tens of thou­sands of Ha­mas govern­ment em­ploy­ees.

In re­cent days, a Ha­mas se­nior of­fi­cia even took the trou­ble to fl tly deny Ara­bic me­dia re­ports that Iran had re­sumed full-scale fund­ing for his regime, de­scrib­ing the claims as "fake news."

PIJ, which plays no gov­ern­men­tal role, has no such is­sues with Iran, and it con­tin­ues to en­joy a high level of Ira­nian fi nan­cial sup­port.

A snap­shot of that sup­port can be seen in the es­ti­mated $8.7 mil­lion that was trans­ferred from the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion to Gaza over the last three years. Not all the money went to fam­i­lies of those killed in con­fli t with Is­rael. "We can as­sume that some of that money also went to­wards fin nc­ing groups like PIJ," Er­lich said.

The Al-An­sar char­ity is used by the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion "as a pipe­line to fun­nel funds into the Gaza Strip, in in­di­rect sup­port of ter­ror­ism. The money also serves to in­crease Iran's in­flu­ence among the Pales­tinian peo­ple, and sends a mes­sage to the Sunni Arab world, that it is Iran which is sup­port­ing the Pales­tini­ans in their strug­gle against Is­rael," the ITIC re­port said.

Th Al-An­sar char­ity is fed with cash by a branch of the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion in Le­banon. A sec­ond branch of the foun­da­tion in Le­banon sup­ports Hizbal­lah.

In 2007, the U.S. De­part­ment of Trea­sury des­ig­nated the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion and its branches in Le­banon as spon­sors of ter­ror­ism. Is­rael banned the Al-An­sar char­ity in 2003, but it reestab­lished it­self in Gaza af­ter the Is­raeli with­drawal in 2005.

The re­elec­tion of Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani to a sec­ond term is un­likely to dent Ira­nian fund­ing for ter­ror groups like PIJ, as Supreme Leader Khamanei, who is com­mit­ted to arm­ing and fin nc­ing ji­hadists in­tent on fi ht­ing Is­rael, con­tin­ues to ex­er­cise con­trol over for­eign af­fairs and mil­i­tary poli­cies.

PIJ has around 5,000 mem­bers in its armed wing, the Quds Brigades. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has its own Gazan rocket pro­duc­tion in­dus­try, and PIJ pos­sesses the sec­ond largest ar­se­nal of pro­jec­tiles in Gaza, thanks to Ira­nian man­u­fac­tur­ing knowl­edge. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has been work­ing on im­prove­ments to its rocket launch sys­tems. It also digs com­bat tun­nels.

PIJ is a quar­ter of the size of Ha­mas's 20,000 armed op­er­a­tives, but that did not stop it from hav­ing nu­mer­ous past run-ins and power strug­gles with Ha­mas.

Since the end of the 2014

The Gaza-based Al-An­sar char­ity, a Pales­tinian branch of the Ira­nian Mar­tyrs Foun­da­tion, an­nounced May 21 that it would pro­vide fi­nan­cial grants to "fam­i­lies of mar­tyrs" whose rel­a­tives were killed be­tween 2002 and 2014.

con­flict with Is­rael, how­ever, Ha­mas has im­proved its abil­ity to co­or­di­nate and con­trol the other armed fac­tions op­er­at­ing in its ter­ri­tory.

It re­mains un­clear whether the lat­est PIJ threat to vi­o­late the ceasefi e rep­re­sents a warn­ing of a pos­si­ble split with Ha­mas's lead­er­ship.

"What mat­ters most is the ide­o­log­i­cal dis­tinc­tion be­tween the PIJ and Ha­mas," said Ely Kar­mon, a se­nior re­search scholar at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Counter-Ter­ror­ism in Her­zliya.

"While Ha­mas, [which is] the Pales­tinian Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, has a strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion with Iran, PIJ has a re­li­gious affi ty with the Khome­in­ist doc­trine and regime, since their [for­mer] lead­ers Fathi Shaqaqi and 'Abd al-'Aziz 'Odah, from the in­cep­tion of their group, ac-

knowl­edged the im­por­tance of the Ira­nian revolution and its

in­flu­ence," Kar­mon told the IPT. "Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Ha­mas leader, wrote noth­ing on re­li­gious mat­ters (and did not write about any other is­sues ei­ther)," Kar­mon noted. "Shaqaqi wrote 5 books in which he praised the Ira­nian revolution."

"In this sense, the PIJ is the real proxy of Iran, and not Ha­mas," he added.

PIJ lead­ers in­te­grated them­selves into the Ira­nian-Hizbal­lah camp when Is­rael ex­pelled them to Le­banon in 1988, Kar­mon noted. Then, PIJ leader Fathi Shaqaqi was as­sas­si­nated in Malta in 1995, rep­re­sent­ing a dra­matic blow to the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

It took his suc­ces­sor, Ra­madan Ab­dul­lah Shal­lah, who is still the cur­rent leader, five years fol­low­ing Shaqaqi's as­sas­si­na­tion to build up the group's in­fra­struc­ture, with the aid of "ma­jor Ira­nian fin ncial and mil­i­tary sup­port," Kar­mon said. "Iron­i­cally, Shal­lah, who spent

five years at Durham Univer­sity [in Bri­tain] writ­ing a the­sis on Is­lamic bank­ing in Jor­dan, was called to lead the PIJ from the U.S., where he taught at the Univer­sity of South Florida," Kar­mon added.

When Ha­mas re­leased a doc­u­ment that rep­re­sented an up­date to its poli­cies last month, feign­ing a softer stance and a will­ing­ness to ac­cept a Pales­tinian state on the 1967 bor­ders, PIJ's re­sponse was un­equiv­o­cal.

"As part­ners with our Ha­mas brothers in the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion, we feel con­cerned over the doc­u­ment," said Is­lamic Ji­had's deputy leader, Ziad Al-Nakhala.

"We are op­posed to Ha­mas's ac­cep­tance of a state within the 1967 bor­ders and we think this is a con­ces­sion which dam­ages our aims," Al-Nakhala said, in com­ments posted on PIJ's web­site.

Ac­cept­ing a state on the 1967 bor­ders would "lead to dead­lock and can only pro­duce half-so­lu­tions," Al-Nakhala added.

Ul­ti­mately, the dis­pute be­tween PIJ and Ha­mas is one over tactics, not strat­egy. In light of its acute iso­la­tion, Ha­mas is seek­ing to re­brand it­self some­what, with­out any in­ten­tion of giv­ing up its long-term goal of de­stroy­ing Is­rael.

PIJ, en­joy­ing firm Ira­nian back­ing, and lack­ing all of Ha­mas's dilem­mas of sovereignty, re­jects the very idea of a re­brand­ing. It in­sists on openly ad­ver­tis­ing its ji­hadist, Ira­ni­an­in­flu­enced ide­ol­ogy. Hoisted on Iran's shoul­ders, PIJ pre­pares for the next round of fight­ing with Is­rael.

Yaakov Lap­pin is a mil­i­tary and strate­gic af­fairs cor­re­spon­dent. He also con­ducts re­search and anal­y­sis for de­fense think tanks, and is the Is­rael cor­re­spon­dent for IHS Jane's De­fense Weekly. His book, The Vir­tual Caliphate, ex­plores the on­line ji­hadist pres­ence.

Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had (PIJ), the sec­ond largest ter­ror­ist army in Gaza, re­cently is­sued a video threat about its will­ing­ness to end the three-year truce in place with Is­rael.

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