Understanding Palestinian Islamic Jihad: The Second Strongest Militia Organization in Gaza
The Gaza Strip recently witnessed one of its deadliest days in 15 years, following Israel’s response to Hamas attacks with airstrikes that resulted in the deaths of 300 Palestinians within a 24-hour period. As a result, Israel has declared a “total siege” on Gaza, severing the supply of essentials such as water, food, and electricity. Hamas militants have threatened to kill civilian hostages if the bombardment continues without prior notice.
However, it is crucial to understand that this tragic situation arose due to Hamas initiating an unexpected attack on Israel on October 7th, 2023. Amidst this conflict, another group opposing Zionist invasion has emerged known as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). As a resistance organization against Israel, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad cannot be disregarded. The group often keeps Israel on edge through various unforeseen attacks.
On October 3rd, 2023, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad held a military parade in the Gaza Strip to mark its 36th anniversary.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad: The Second Largest Army in Gaza
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also referred to as the Movement of Islamic Jihad in Palestine, was established in the early 1980s as an armed Islamic group operating in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Founded by former members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Fathi Abdul Aziz Shaqaqi and scholar Sheikh Abdul Aziz Awda, the organization aspires to fight for Palestinian independence from Israeli occupation through holy war (jihad).
While Hamas’s military wing is known as the Izzuddin al-Qassam Brigade, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization possesses the Al-Quds Brigade, with Al-Atta commanding it. The Al-Quds Brigade is frequently responsible for rocket attacks on Israel under the directives of Al-Atta.
During its initial establishment, the group received training from Hezbollah in Lebanon and has been allegedly involved in numerous suicide bombings in Israel. One notable incident occurred in 1989 when a Tel Aviv city bus was targeted, resulting in the death of 16 civilians.
Although adhering to Sunni Islam, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad reportedly receives support from Shia Iran. Iran is said to provide funding, training, and weapons to the organization for its fight against Israel. However, strained relations between Iran and Islamic Jihad emerged in May 2015, when Iran ceased its financial aid due to Islamic Jihad’s neutral stance concerning Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Iran hoped that Islamic Jihad would condemn the Saudi attack on Houthi militias in Yemen.
Nevertheless, the withdrawal of financial aid does not seem to have significantly affected Islamic Jihad, as the organization has managed to develop its own weapons, nearly rivaling Hamas. This includes the creation of a long-range rocket capable of reaching downtown Tel Aviv.
The Relationship Between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas
Palestinian Islamic Jihad frequently collaborates with Hamas in attacking Israel, as both groups share an ideological root in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. However, unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad often disregards ceasefire agreements with Israel. As a result, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the European Union, New Zealand, and Japan have listed Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization.
The more ruthless nature of Palestinian Islamic Jihad may have been fueled by a desire for revenge after Israeli defense forces killed their top leader, Bahaa Abu Al-Atta, in a Gaza attack in 2019. Although both PIJ and Hamas harbor resentment over Al-Atta’s murder, PIJ appears less restrained due to the personal involvement of their prominent leader.
These circumstances often strain the relationship between the two groups, especially when Hamas urges Palestinian Islamic Jihad to halt attacks or retaliation against Israel during ceasefire agreements. Islamic Jihad frequently operates independently from Hamas and primarily focuses on military confrontations.
According to Indonesian media reports, this relationship occasionally draws Hamas into battles triggered by Islamic Jihad or vice versa. Sometimes, Hamas simply observes when the Palestinian Islamic Jihad engages in missile clashes with the Israeli army. However, on other occasions, the PIJ might opt out of the fighting between Hamas and Israel.
In recent days, the media has predominantly highlighted Hamas aggression and Israeli counterattacks, with little mention of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s involvement.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Hamas-Israel Conflict Maneuvering
On August 22, 2022, Palestinian Islamic Jihad agreed to a ceasefire with Israel after three days of deadly Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was welcomed by many, yet concerns persist due to the fragile nature of the situation and recurring conflicts. In May 2023, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad broke its silence by launching rockets towards Israeli-occupied cities in response to an Israeli airstrike that killed three PIJ leaders, who Israel claimed posed a threat to its security.
This sudden invasion indicates that Palestinian Islamic Jihad still poses a genuine threat to Israel. Therefore, despite both sides agreeing to a truce, the potential for renewed hostilities remains high.
Additionally, it is worth observing how the Palestinian Islamic Jihad behaves amidst the Hamas-Israel conflict in Gaza, apart from wishing for peace between the two parties. Does the Palestinian Islamic Jihad perceive the attack as a threat to its existence, prompting its involvement? Or will it remain on the sidelines, strategizing for its next attack?
It is noteworthy that Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group that also provides training to PIJ, has joined the struggle by firing cannons and rockets in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Although situated in a different country, Hezbollah shares the same vision as PIJ and Hamas, advocating armed resistance against Israel.
Therefore, one might question whether the Palestinian Islamic Jihad will follow suit if Hezbollah is already engaged in the fight.