On May 26, a Gazan rocket exploded in Gan Yavne, a region in Israel east of Ashdod and close to the northern border with Gaza, setting off air raid sirens in Ashdod and Lakhish. The rocket was the first mid-range rocket fired at Israel since the final ceasefire of last summer’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict went into effect on August 26, 2014. No one was physically injured, although a fifteen-year-old girl was taken to the hospital after suffering a panic attack.
The Israeli Air Force responded by attacking four targets in the southern part of Gaza early on Wednesday morning, identifying them as “terror infrastructures.” Local residents reported that they were terrorist training camps. No one was hurt, as Israel struck open and evacuated areas in an apparent sign that it wanted to avoid an escalation of violence.
The rocket attack has been blamed on the terrorist organization Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ). PIJ was created in Gaza in the 1970s with the goal of destroying Israel and creating an Islamic state in Palestine. Its leadership has traditionally been located in Syria, with smaller offices in Beirut and Tehran, and in the past, PIJ has received the majority of its funding from Iran. The attack has been reported as resulting from infighting within PIJ over the appointment of a new commander for its military wing in northern Gaza.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon released a statement that Hamas, the terrorist organization that currently has control over the Gaza Strip, must restrain Palestinians in order to prevent further escalation from Israel. Hamas already does exercise a great deal of control over the Palestinian people, as evidenced in the Amnesty International report released on May 27 detailing Hamas war crimes in last summer’s conflict. Hamas officials arrested the PIJ members responsible for the attack.
The attack comes one week after Iran completely withdrew its funding from PIJ, forcing the organization’s Secretary General Ramadan Shalah to leave Tehran for Beirut. Jamil Abdul-Nabi, a PIJ official in Gaza, has said that Iran cut its ties to the group after it stayed neutral in regards to Iran’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen. PIJ wants the entire Arab world to support its mission of creating a Palestinian state, which it does not believe it can do by picking sides in other conflicts in the Middle East. Hezbollah, another Iranian-backed terrorist organization, attempted to help PIJ reach an agreement with Iran but was unable to do so. PIJ is currently struggling financially after the withdrawal of support from Iran. It has been forced to shut down Palestine Today, which is the group’s main satellite television channel, and to downsize its offices. It has also not paid its members their full salaries in months.
In 2011, Iran similarly revoked the monetary and political aid it gave to Hamas. Hamas had refused to organize rallies in support of Syrian president Bashar Assad in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria following a popular uprising against him. The money Hamas is believed to have been receiving from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was also diminished because the Brotherhood needed the funds to support the Arab Spring revolution. Like PIJ, the organization had difficulties paying its employees. However, at the time, it was providing (and still does provide) the main governmental infrastructure for Gaza, allowing it to bring in revenue from taxes. It also receives funding from Qatar and Turkey, and today enjoys some renewed Iranian support as well.
A former senior PIJ member, Hisham Salem, recently helped create a new terrorist organization named Al-Saberoon, “The Patient Ones,” which is in complete ideological agreement with Iran. Unlike their PIJ counterparts, Al-Saberoon members have been receiving their full salaries. This new terrorist organization first appeared in the news last year when its name appeared at a funeral.
The organization was called Hesn, which means “fortification” but also serves as an acronym for Harakat as-Sabeereen Nasran li-Filastin, or “The Movement of the Patient Ones for the Liberation of Palestine.” Salem is a large advocate for Shia Islam in the mostly Sunni Gaza Strip, which brought about conflict with other PIJ officials in the past because it contributed to the Sunni-Shia fighting rather than focusing on the destruction of Israel. This organization appears to have been created by Iran, a Shia nation, in contrast to the Sunni groups it has typically supported in Gaza.
Although no statements have been released giving explicit reasons for PIJ’s attack yesterday of Israel, it may have been a desperate attempt by the group to draw in monetary support by proving that it still has military capability and a desire to destroy Israel. Iran has an interest in continued conflict between Israel and Palestine because the fighting allows Iran to extend its influence further into the Gaza Strip by aiding militant organizations. However, Israelis and Palestinians (even those that are members of terrorist organizations) have an interest in a de-escalation of violence: less fighting leads to better negotiations. Iran’s sponsorship of a new terrorist group in place of PIJ is worrisome because if Hamas is unable to control the actions of this new organization, violence could re-escalate and cause another war.
Unless PIJ is able to quickly find another state sponsor, such as Turkey and Qatar, which already support Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, PIJ’s influence in Gaza will probably be substantially diminished and Al-Saberoon’s may increase. As Hamas is currently more willing to negotiate with Israel and maintain a ceasefire, the PIJ is most likely to gain funding by presenting themselves as a more aggressive alternative. Israel’s best interests lie in maintaining peace in the Gaza Strip, because that leads to fewer rocket attacks on its own civilians. Therefore, Israel should not stop Hamas if it works to stamp out PIJ and Al-Saberoon before they are able to find more funding and increase their capabilities. Additionally it should continue to hold Hamas accountable for the actions of other terrorist organizations in Gaza.