BICOM Briefing: Palestinian Islamic Jihad attacking Israel under Iranian direction


Key Points

  • Rocket attacks into Israel from Syria last week were the work of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), believed to be acting under instructions from Iran, which arms and funds the group.
  • PIJ are a terrorist organisation dedicated to Israel’s destruction, more closely aligned to Iran than other Palestinian factions.
  • Iran is attempting to utilise the Syrian Golan Heights to open up an additional front against Israel.

What happened on Israel’s Northern Border?

  • On Thursday 20 August four rockets were fired from Syria into northern Israel. The range and direction indicated a deliberate attack, rather than spill over from the Syrian Civil War.
  • Israel believes Iran and PIJ orchestrated this attack, and took the unusual step of revealing sensitive details. According to Haaretz analyst Amos Harel, “defense officials … were able to give detailed descriptions of the cell’s chain of command, from the name of the Iranian officer who runs it on behalf of the Quds Force (Saeed Izadi) to the name of the cell’s liaison with Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Shalah (Akram Ajuri).” In a letter to the UN, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor directly named Palestinian Islamic Jihad acting under direction of Iranian operative Saeed Izadi as those responsible.
  • The IDF targeted Syrian military targets in response, and then on Friday targeted and hit part of the Islamic Jihad cell.
  • The PIJ rocket attack may have been in retaliation for a reported Israeli strike on Hezbollah operatives in late June.

What is Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)?

  • PIJ is an armed Islamist, Palestinian group, recognised as a terrorist organisation by the EU, US, UK and other countries. Its main presence is in the Gaza Strip, with its combatants playing a leading role in firing rockets at Israel. It is the most closely aligned to Iran of the Palestinian armed groups, and relies on Tehran for funding and training.
  • According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “The PIJ advocates the destruction of Israel through violent means; it approaches the Arab-Israeli conflict as an ideological war, not a territorial dispute.” Moreover, “PIJ, despite being a Sunni group, took inspiration from revolutionary, theocratic Shia ideals espoused during the 1979 Iranian Revolution that established an Islamic regime.”
  • Unlike Hamas, PIJ does not operate a significant social welfare network and does not participate in electoral politics.

What is Iran’s involvement?

  • According to the US State Department, “PIJ receives financial assistance and training primarily from Iran.” The US State Department’s recently published Country Reports on Terrorism 2014 states: “Iran continued to sponsor terrorist groups around the world, principally through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) … These groups included Lebanese Hizballah, several Iraqi Shia militant groups, Hamas, and Palestine Islamic Jihad.”
  • Iran and Hezbollah have been using the Syrian Golan Heights to try and open an additional front against Israel. In January this year a reported Israeli airstrike on the Syrian Golan Heights killed Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Mohammad Allahdadi and Hezbollah commander Jihad Mughniyeh, who were believed to be developing infrastructure to attack Israel.