Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the smallest but most violent Palestinian group—and long the closest to Iran. The underground movement was founded by Fathi Shikaki, a young physician and Gaza refugee, in the late 1970s as an off-shoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. PIJ endorsed the Iranian revolution. Shikaki shared Khomeini’s belief that “Islam was the solution and Jihad was the proper means.” The Sunni Muslim group also adopted the suicide tactics used mainly by Shiite militants, justified as martyrdom for the greater cause. Since 1989, it has carried out more than a dozen major suicide attacks against Israeli targets. Unlike other Arab and Sunni groups, Islamic Jihad supported Shiite Iran during its long war with Iraq.

The group’s leadership was forced out of Gaza in 1988, first to Lebanon, then to Syria, where it is now based. Ramadan Abdallah Shallah became secretary general after Shikaki’s assassination in 1995. He has met frequently with Iranian officials both in Tehran and Damascus, often in meetings with other major Palestinian militant groups. Shallah reportedly attended a meeting in Tehran in 1996, when he coordinated with the Qods Force, an elite wing of the Revolutionary Guards that handles Iran’s foreign operations. PIJ maintains a representative in Iran. Iran has armed, trained and funded PIJ, although its aid is reportedly modest compared with support for Hamas or Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

In May 2015, PIJ-Iran relations appeared to be strained. Iran reportedly stopped or curtailed its financial support because PIJ refused to denounce the Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis in Yemen. Tehran than shifted its support to the al Sabirin (“the patient”) movement in Gaza. It is headed by Hisham Salem, a former PIJ member. The group is reportedly in total agreement with Iran on regional issues. The status of PIJ funding was not clear as of late 2015. In November, a PIJ leader said that Iran has never stopped supporting Palestine and Palestinian leaders. And Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, said that Tehran would never stop helping PIJ, among other groups and allies in the region.

Source: / Iranwatch /