IRAN PLAYS ITS “PALESTINIAN ISLAMIC JIHAD” CARD IN TEHRAN MEETINGS
Tehran considers Nakhala and a visit with his group an important event, even though PIJ is a relatively minor player on the Palestinian scene.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) head Ziad Nakhala in Iran on Monday. The meeting is the latest attempt by the Iranian regime to involve itself in Palestinian politics. Khamenei said a Palestinian state would eventually be established in Tel Aviv and sought to highlight Palestinian “resistance” while contrasting it with the “defeat” of Arab countries in the region.
The important meeting was held with one of the smaller Palestinian terrorist groups, but buttresses the long-term support and connection between the Iranian regime and PIJ. Nakhala was chosen to lead the Islamist group in September 2018, when he was celebrated by Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency as living a “lifetime of resistance.”
According to the Turkish media biography, Nakhala was born in 1953 in Khan Yunis and served time in an Israeli prison and was released in a 1985 prisoner deal. His house was reportedly damaged in the 2014 Gaza War.
Nakhala replaced Ramadan Shallah, who ran the group since 1995. When Nakhala was chosen, he was appointed along with a group of other unnamed men to PIJ’s “politburo,” according to Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s media channel.
Nakhala has been central to the group’s policy for decades. He shows up on US State Department cables in 2008 and 2011 in relation to two attempts at ceasefires in the Gaza Strip in which Hamas sought Egyptian mediation to relieve the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel after Hamas came to power. Some sources believe that PIJ is controlled by Iran. In October, PIJ fired dozens of rockets from the Gaza Strip, allegedly on orders from Tehran.
Tehran considers Nakhala and the visit with his group an important event, even though PIJ is a relatively minor player on the Palestinian scene. It is the one real front-line group Iran has in Gaza that Tehran thinks can pressure Israel at its behest. During the visit, Khamenei stressed that the Palestinian people would eventually achieve victory through “resistance” and claimed that in the last conflicts “the Zionists regime begged for ceasefires.”
PIJ reported to Iran about its activities and preparations, claiming that in any subsequent war with Israel it could fire “thousands of missiles” that would reach Tel Aviv and other areas. Khamenei was happy, saying that eventually a Palestinian government would arise in Tel Aviv.
In an interview with Al-Alam media in Tehran, the PIJ leader went further in his claims, arguing that in any new war with Israel, “all the axes of resistances will participate.” He claimed the Palestinian Authority had stalled in its march toward statehood and that the “resistance” – by which he meant Hamas and PIJ – are in very good condition today.
He also said that Iran and Hezbollah will support the Palestinians in the next conflict. This was an important assertion, because it appears to represent a threat of launching a multi-front war against Israel. The comments were reported by the Tasnim News Agency. The meeting was also highlighted in English on Iran’s PressTV and on Khamenei’s Twitter account, where the supreme leader wrote, “As along as resistance exists, the decline and perishing process of the Zionist regime will continue,” paraphrasing what he told the PIJ leader.
The meeting in Iran included at least eight men, several of whom appeared to be among the PIJ senior leadership. It was not entirely clear how they traveled to Iran or where they will go after the meeting.