The escape of six terrorists from Israel’s Gilboa Prison in September 2021 was the catalyst for the establishment of new terrorist groups in Samaria, according to senior Islamic Jihad officials.
The initiative to establish new armed groups was undertaken by Islamic Jihad in coordination with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, implementing the strategy of Gen. Qassem Soleimani—the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force who was assassinated by the U.S.—of using proxies to achieve the expansion of the Iranian regime.
After arming Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Iran moved in the last year to support the new terrorist groups in Samaria. Iran poured money into Islamic Jihad, which began to establish new armed groups under the name of “battalions,” which include terrorists from other organizations such as Fatah, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. First, the “Jenin Battalion” was established in the city of Jenin, followed by the “Nablus Battalion.”
According to security sources in Israel, the person who helped lay the infrastructure for the establishment of the new terrorist groups was Sheikh Bassam al-Saadi from Jenin, a senior member of Islamic Jihad who was arrested by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) and is currently on trial in a military court.
Despite a large-scale arrest operation by the IDF and the ISA in Judea and Samaria, Islamic Jihad continues to form new terrorist groups, including the “Tulkarem Battalion,” the “Tubas Battalion” and the “Balata Battalion” in the Balata refugee camp.
In August, Revolutionary Guards Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami hosted Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziyad Al-Nakhallah following the IDF military operation against the terror group in Gaza. According to sources in Gaza, the meeting led to an agreement to strengthen Islamic Jihad activities in Samaria.
Salami gave an interview to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s website, in which he announced that Iran will arm the “resistance” forces in Judea and Samaria as it did in Gaza, and that the process has already begun. He mocked Israel for not being able to stop the flow of weapons into Judea and Samaria, and said that “it cannot be safe from Palestinian fire.” He added that Gaza is not the only battlefield of the resistance and that the struggle has now moved to Judea and Samaria.
The head of IDF Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, speaking to the Institute for National Security Studies in November, confirmed Iran’s involvement in the current wave of terrorism in Judea and Samaria.
Iran is now playing in all arenas in the Middle East and is working against Israel on all fronts. The activity in Judea and Samaria is another step in the tightening of Iran’s stranglehold around Israel.
Half of the IDF’s forces are currently employed in dealing with the current wave of terrorism. This is harming the ability of the regular army units to train and maintain their operational competence, and Iran sees this wave of terrorism as another move to weaken Israel.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.