The Islamic Republic hopes escalation will hinder Israel from carrying out operations on Iranian soil, expert says

The Israeli Air Force and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket squads in the Gaza Strip engaged in yet another round of violence over the weekend.

After Israeli security forces arrested Bassem al-Saadi, the head of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, in Jenin on Monday, the terror group threatened to attack Israel’s main cities.

After several days in which roads near Gaza were closed and residents were in a sort of lockdown for fear Islamic Jihad would target civilian vehicles, the Israeli Air Force on Friday launched Operation Breaking Dawn, targeting PIJ sites in the Strip. Since then, Islamic Jihad has fired more than 600 rockets toward Israeli communities. About a third fell short and struck inside Gaza, while, according to the IDF, 97% of those headed to populated areas in Israel were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Friday, “Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis. The head of Islamic Jihad [the Syria-based Ziyad al-Nakhalah] is [visiting] in Tehran as we speak.”

Palestinian Islamic Jihad was established in 1981 as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, UK, Israel, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Since its creation, PIJ has identified with the values of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and centered its ideology on the doctrine of jihad and the idea of liberating Palestine through armed struggle.

“Iran provides military assistance, finance and training, and all sorts of logistic support to PIJ,” said Noor Dahri, executive director of the UK-based Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism think tank.

PIJ’s higher command is based in Syria and holds regular meetings with Iranian leadership via Zoom or face-to-face in Iran, Dahri told The Media Line.

He added that the intelligence branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps provides annual financial assistance of between $100 million and $150 million to PIJ.

Qassem Soleimani, the late commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ al-Quds Force, traveled across the region and provided millions of dollars as well as weapons to PIJ through various black channels, especially via Egypt, Dahri said.

Zeidon Alkinani, a Middle East political analyst and nonresident fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC, said that while Iran supplies Islamic Jihad with training, expertise, and money, most of the group’s weapons are locally produced.

“Iran, just like any other regional power player, heavily invests in its proxy influence network across the region, whether it be Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, or Iraq,” he explained to The Media Line.

Alkinani noted that maintaining a strong relationship with both Hamas and PIJ diversifies Tehran’s options in the regional political arena.

Iran has different expectations from its relationships with Hamas and PIJ, he said.

“Hamas is the official governmental representative of the Gaza Strip, and it is involved in negotiations with various international and regional stakeholders,” Alkinani said.

Dahri said, “Iran has always supported terrorism against Israel, especially from the Gaza Strip which is run by Hamas, and it is on record that Iran has provided all types of military and financial support to Hamas in order to carry out acts of terrorism.”

However, he continued, Tehran does not fully rely on Hamas as a Sunni extremist group, because Hamas is soft on Israel compared to PIJ and accepts truces immediately after the wars with the mediation of Egypt.

Andrin Raj, director of the Helsinki-based Nordic Counter-Terrorism Network, told The Media Line that PIJ is seen as a bridge that brings the Sunni and Shi’ite communities in the Middle East together.

He added that Iran sees in PIJ an opportunity that Hamas cannot provide, as a way “to infiltrate the Sunni communities to accept Iran’s policies and to have its Islamic ideologies accepted and to be a powerhouse in the Middle East that is controlled by Iran.”

Alkinani stressed that the Islamic Republic does not possess total authority over PIJ. “Iran’s involvement through [the pursuit of] opportunist objectives does not mean it fully controls it, but it heavily influences it as both parties benefit from the other’s role.”

The fact that PIJ and Iran belong to different currents of Islam does not preclude them from having a strong relationship as there are additional factors to consider, he added.

“Geopolitical, economic, and military interests overcome the presumed theological or ideological principles that are only exploited in the pursuit of controlling the masses domestically and transnationally,” Alkinani said.

The only event that threatened Iran-Islamic Jihad ties came in 2015, when PIJ refused to condemn the Saudi war against the Houthis in Yemen, which resulted in a 90% cut in Iranian funding of the Palestinian group in 2016, explained Dahri.

However, the relations are now again strong as Iran needs a strong ideological proxy group in Gaza that can strike Israel as hard as possible without any hesitation, he said.

Dahri added that Israel’s alleged operations in Iran are also part of why Iran wants to keep Israel engaged on its borders through its proxy group, PIJ, for as many days as possible.

Source » themedialine