On Aug. 5, as squadrons of Gaza militants from the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) approached an Israeli border post, Israel initiated “Operation Breaking Dawn,” striking PIJ targets. The operation included a precision strike that took out top PIJ commander Tayseer al-Jabari.
What is this shadowy organization, what are its goals and capabilities and what is the nature of the threat it poses to the State of Israel? Fortunately, this information is publicly available; sadly, it paints a picture of a militant faction capable of immense violence. Moreover, PIJ operates under the command and control of the world’s top terror sponsor—the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has provided the group “millions of dollars in direct funding, as well as training and weapons.”
Despite being a Sunni movement, PIJ is inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
In 1981, PIJ’s founders were expelled from Egypt after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by the related Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). EIJ, under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri, merged with Al-Qaeda in 1998. In the 1980s, PIJ leaders moved to Lebanon, where they “cultivated a partnership with Hezbollah” and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran began funding PIJ via incentive payments for successful terror attacks in 2000. In 2016, Iran’s funding for PIJ was reported at $70 million annually. According to the U.S. State Department, Iran provides the majority of the PIJ’s budget.
PIJ does not hide its relationship with Iran. In 2002, PIJ’s then-leader Ramadan Shallah met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and said: “The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is another fruit of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fructuous tree.” In 2012, at the height of the Syrian civil war, PIJ moved its headquarters from Damascus to Tehran. That same year, Shallah stated: “The weapons used by [PIJ]—the whole world knows that they come mostly from Iran or were purchased with Iranian funding.” PIJ is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, as well as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Starting in the 1990s, PIJ became a pioneer of modern suicide bombing. In 1995, PIJ targeted IDF personnel at a bus depot and followed up with a second bomber who targeted emergency responders. During the second intifada of 2000-2005, PIJ carried out more than 400 attacks in which 134 Israelis were killed and 880 injured. Since its allied terror group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, PIJ has repeatedly carried out rocket attacks on Israeli families. Notably, in August 2019, it fired a rocket barrage directly at an Israeli music festival and in November 2019 fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
PIJ’s goal is to replace Israel with an Islamic theocracy. In this regard, it is part and parcel of a global movement that includes organizations like Al-Qaeda, which was intimately linked with the origins of PIJ. However, PIJ has long been a tool of Iran, which considers Israel the “Little Satan” alongside the “Great Satan” of the United States. Khamenei has threatened, “We regard Palestine as an organ of our body. … The only solution is the elimination of the root of this crisis, which is the Zionist regime.”
Israel seeks peace with its Arab neighbors and has normalized relations with several of them under the framework of the Abraham Accords. PIJ is not representative of the will of the Palestinian people, who with Israel shares the dream of a two-state solution within the borders of the pre-1948 British Mandate. Instead, PIJ is a violent terrorist organization armed and funded overwhelmingly by Iran, and used by that rogue nation as a pawn in a global war on free nations. Faced with such a fierce foe and its dangerous patron, Israel has no choice but to defend itself.
Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human-rights activist, political analyst and journalist.