Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are aligning with Hamas terrorist group

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists are aligning with Hamas terrorist group

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror organization is often in the business of “jihad now, not later,” an approach that has led to multiple deadly escalations between it and Israel in the Gaza Strip — even when this did not suit the immediate interests of Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas.

However, PIJ has recently been making a concerted effort not to undermine Hamas’ rule, and has cooperated with Hamas’ decision to seek a tactical, unofficial period of calm. What remains unclear is just how long PIJ will continue to play along before reverting back to its traditional role of arsonist.

Col. (res.) David Hacham, a former Arab-affairs adviser to seven Israeli defense ministers, and a senior research associate at the MirYam Institute, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism that relations between PIJ and Hamas are more complex than meets the eye. On the one hand, he said, they are united by the common Islamist cause of seeking Israel’s destruction, and both are backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On the other hand, Hamas “has a government role, and has to deal with a 2-million-strong population in Gaza. It has considerations to take into account that PIJ does not have to think about. PIJ is almost purely about jihad and terror,” he said.

This has led to multiple clashes and misunderstandings between the two organizations due to contrasting interests and tactical objectives. While PIJ often acts on its ideology without second thought, Hamas is the one that has to consider Israel’s retaliation against its regime and Gaza’s population.

However, Hamas and PIJ have made an effort in recent years to show Palestinians their joint efforts in a common command center in Gaza. “Still, differences could certainly surface in the future,” said Hacham.

In fact, PIJ is also making some efforts to hold a dialogue with other Palestinian terror elements. It recently met with members of the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), according to a report printed by the Palestinian Al Quds newspaper.

The meeting, which was apparently held online, included PIJ Secretary General Ziad Nakhleh and senior PFLP leaders in the territories and outside of them. But a deeper meeting of the minds may be difficult to achieve.

The meeting is part of PIJ’s latest efforts to coordinate more closely with non-Islamist armed Palestinian groups, as part of an emphasis on the common goal of fighting Israel, said Hacham.

PFLP is the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)’s second-largest faction after Fatah, while PIJ is the second largest terror organization in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas. PIJ has approximately 10,000 operatives in the Gaza Strip, compared to Hamas’ 30,000 armed operatives in the enclave.

“PIJ also has a branch in the West Bank,” said Hacham, “where it is less strong than in Gaza and where it has a smaller influence.” Nevertheless, PIJ has a long track record of launching terror attacks from the West Bank.

Hacham, who spent eight years in the Gaza Strip as an adviser on Arab affairs to successive commanders of the IDF’s Southern Command and Israeli Coordinators of Government Activities in the Territories, described PIJ as an “Iranian front organization. This is a small, militant organization, which can nevertheless launch painful terror attacks. Its operatives train in Iran. It is financially supported by Tehran, and its ideological motivation comes from Iran,” he stated. “It is often described as an Iranian puppet.”

The organization also operates under the auspices of the Syrian Assad regime, and receives support from it as well, allowing it to be active on Syrian territory.

In one of its most notorious attacks, aimed at torpedoing the Oslo peace process, PIJ sent two suicide bombers to attack a group of soldiers in Beit Lid Junction, in central Israel, killing 20 and injuring 68. In 2003, PIJ conducted a suicide bombing on a restaurant in Haifa, killing 21 people, including children, and injuring 60.

Fathi Shaqaqi founded PIJ in 1981, six years before Hamas came into being in 1987, during the first Intifada. He returned to Gaza from Egypt, where he had been studying medicine and was influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization. “While in Cairo, he learned the ways of Egyptian jihadists,” said Hacham.

Shaqaqi took on the role of operational leader, while PIJ also adopted a spiritual leader — Sheikh Abdul Aziz Awda — whose current location is unknown.

Hacham recalled his own personal meetings with Shaqaqi and with Awda, from whom he learned much about PIJ’s uncompromising hatred and extremism. He also learned about the background and principles of the PIJ, and the way it came into being in the Gaza Strip.

“During our meeting at an Israeli security facility, [he] spoke at length about everything. He exposed the tenets and concepts of political Islam,” said Hacham.

“Hamas, alongside its military-terrorist wing, has a social-religious branch, made up of professional associations, charities, welfare activity, and mosque activity (sermons). This is all part of dawah (spreading religious ideology),” said Hacham. “PIJ has very little beyond an agenda of armed conflict against Israel.”

In 1988, Israel expelled Shaqaqi and Awda to southern Lebanon. Seven years later, in 1995, Shaqaqi was returning from a visit to Libya, stopping off at Malta on his way back to Lebanon, when he was assassinated, reportedly by a Mossad team.

He was replaced by Ramadan Shallah, a PIJ co-founder who became secretary-general. Shallah, a Gazan who taught at the University of South Florida between 1993 and 1995, was based in Damascus, and directed the organization’s many terror activities in Gaza and the West Bank.

Nakhleh took over from Shallah in 2018. The organization received a significant boost on September 6, 2021, when five PIJ members and one Fatah member escaped from Israel’s Gilboa Prison.

Although Israeli security forces recaptured them all, the incident allowed PIJ to boast that it had breached the “Israeli security wall,” and to stress its message that perseverance and dedication to the jihadist mission can lead to achievements against the militarily superior Israel, said Hacham.

Meanwhile, in Israeli jails, PIJ prisoners, together with Hamas, are often the most active in stoking up disorder and going on hunger strikes.

PIJ announced last Thursday that its armed operatives are in a state of “general alert,” as hundreds of the organization’s imprisoned members began a hunger strike in Israeli prisons.

“We announce a state of general alert among the ranks of our fighters. We are completely prepared and at the ready,” the PIJ’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, said. PIJ Secretary-General Nakhaleh wasted little time in warning that his organization would be prepared to go to war over the issue of its prisoners.

“Palestinian Islamic Jihad will not leave its members in Zionist prisons to be victims at the hands of the enemy. Accordingly, we will stand with them and support them with everything we have, even if this means we must go to war for their sake,” he said, demonstrating just how fragile PIJ’s willingness to hold its fire in Gaza really is.

Source: Algemeiner