The role of Iran’s Palestinian mercenaries – analysis

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad don’t like being seen as Iranian proxies, but Tehran provides too much support.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute 

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are embarrassed: Iran just admitted that both of those terrorist groups serve as mercenaries for the mullahs in Tehran.

For Hamas and PIJ, the admission is yet another sign that the truth can be painful and inconvenient, especially when it comes from a major ally such as Iran.

Recently, Maj. Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid, Commander of Iran’s Khatam al-Anbiya Central Headquarters, stated that his country has armies that operate outside of Iran.

Rashid was referring to Iranian-backed groups such as Hamas, PIJ, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, the Syrian army and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and other militias in Iraq and Syria. These groups, he said, “have ideological tendencies” with the mission to defend Iran.

Rashid pointed out that the former commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, said three months before his death that he had “organized six armies outside the territory of Iran.”

Soleimani, who was assassinated on January 3, 2020, in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport, had been in charge of Iran’s extraterritorial and clandestine military operations.

After his assassination, Hamas and PIJ revealed that Soleimani had been responsible for providing the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with many types of weapons to assist them in their war against Israel.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan, for instance, was quoted earlier this year as saying that his group had “deep relations” with Soleimani, who sent Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missiles to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar reported in December 2020 that during their first meeting in 2006, Soleimani gave him suitcases filled with $22 million in cash.

PIJ secretary-general Ziyad al-Nakhalah revealed that Soleimani had sent 10 ships loaded with weapons, including long-range missiles, to the Gaza Strip.

Rashid, the commander who disclosed the connection between the terror groups and Iran’s six “armies,” claimed that the US and Israel are angry and concerned about his country’s growing regional power.

The “belligerent American and Zionist regime’s forces are angry about the extreme power of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region,” he said. He added that Iran has indeed bonded with some nations and governments, “creating regional powers and religious-popular powers,” according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency.

These groups, Rashid said, “represent a deterrent force for Iran and are ready to defend it against any foreign aggressor.”

In short, the Iranian commander is threatening that his country will unleash its six “armies” against the US and Israel in any future war or military confrontation.

It is no secret that Hamas and PIJ have long been funded and armed by Iran. The leaders of the two groups have even boasted of their ties with Iran, especially Tehran’s support for the jihad (holy war) to eliminate Israel.

Hamas and PIJ, however, do not like to be portrayed as puppets or proxies of Iran, which continues to meddle in the internal affairs of a number of Arab countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Hamas and PIJ, it seems, want to continue receiving funds and weapons from Iran, but they do not want to be seen by Arabs and Muslims as mercenaries serving Iran’s interests in the Middle East.

Apparently, Hamas and PIJ are concerned that Rashid’s statements could harm their relations with Arab countries that already feel threatened by Iran’s ongoing attempts to destabilize their security and stability.

Hamas and PIJ want the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs and Muslims to believe that their only goal is to “liberate all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” — a euphemism for driving the Jews out of Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state.

That is most likely why both Palestinian terror groups were quick to issue statements denying that their main goal is to defend Iran and serve its interests in the Middle East.

According to PIJ, its sole mission is to fight Israel:

“The resistance of the Palestinian people has existed since the establishment of the Zionist project and its occupation of Palestine, and it is not linked to any other goal. The resistance forces, including Iran, stand together against the Zionist enemy and its allies.”

Echoing a similar position, Hamas thanked Iran for its longtime support for the jihad to destroy Israel. Hamas stated that this was the only “battle” it wished to be involved in, and hinted that it was not created to defend Iran. According to a statement issued by the terror group:

“[Hamas] affirms the depth of the relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its appreciation and thanks to it as one of the most prominent supporters of the resistance project in Palestine, and confirms that this support and this relationship is in the context of our battle as a nation against the occupation Zionism, and not in the context of any other battles.”

In Lebanon, a country effectively controlled by Hezbollah, some politicians reacted with fury to Rashid’s talk about the six “armies.”

“Take your armies and go with them back to Iran, where you can fight your battles away from the peoples you occupy to achieve your agendas,” said Sami Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party. He also criticized the failure of Lebanese leaders to respond to the admission that Hezbollah was created to serve Iran, and not Lebanon: “Are you ready now to face the truth? Your silence is a great betrayal.”

Some Arab analysts believe that, regarding the Iranian commander’s talk about Tehran’s six armies, particularly two, Hamas and PIJ, aim to thwart efforts by Egypt to reach a long-term ceasefire between Palestinian groups and Israel. Iran seeks to demonstrate to the Egyptians and other international parties that Tehran is a major player in the Palestinian arena, especially the Gaza Strip, and that it is fully capable of foiling any deal that would stop terror attacks against Israel.

The Iranian commander’s statements coincide with the Biden administration’s delusional commitment to the fiction that the US will somehow convince Iran to abandon its plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

While the Biden administration is talking about “diplomacy” as the best way to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, the mullahs are preparing for war and advancing their scheme to annihilate Israel and, with the help of their six “armies,” to occupy still more Arab countries.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.