Without Iran's financial, military and political support, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not have been able to maintain their control over the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have demonstrated that they care nothing for the thousands of Arabs and Muslims killed by Qassem Soleimani's Quds Force. Pictured: Iran's "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal (center) and Mussa Abu Marzuk (left) in Tehran on February 1, 2009. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
Why are Iran's Palestinian proxies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, disturbed about the death of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, who was killed in a US airstrike on January 3, 2020?
The two Iranian-backed groups in the Gaza Strip were quick to mourn the "martyr" Soleimani and condemn his assassination as an "American-Zionist scheme." Leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad described the death of Soleimani as a "big loss for Palestine and the Palestinian resistance."
Hamas and Islamic Jihad set up a mourning tent for Soleimani in the Gaza Strip, where their representative invited Palestinians to offer condolences for the death of the Iranian military commander. The heads of the two groups, Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) and Ziad Al-Nakhalah (Islamic Jihad) also travelled to Iran to attend the funeral of Soleimani and offer condolences to Iran's leaders over his death.
The reaction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the death of Soleimani is proof that the two groups have long been serving as Iran's proxies in the Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians. Without Iran's financial, military and political support, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not have been able to maintain their control over the Gaza Strip.
Soleimani used his Quds Force to support Iran's proxies not only in the Gaza Strip, but also those in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. While he used the pro-Iran militias in the Arab countries to kill many Arabs, Soleimani and his Quds Force supported Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their jihad (holy war) against Israel. Soleimani also supported Hamas and Islamic Jihad in their conflict with the Palestinian Authority (PA), and by doing so further contributed to deepening divisions among the Palestinians.
Soleimani's mission was not only to ensure that Hamas and Islamic Jihad retain their control over the Gaza Strip, but that they also have enough weapons to pursue their fight against Israel.
To justify their public mourning of Soleimani, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have, in the past few days, revealed that the slain Iranian military commander played a major role in helping them develop their military capabilities, particularly regarding tens of thousands of rockets that were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the past decade.
Ahmed Abdel Hadi, who serves as Hamas's "ambassador" to Lebanon, revealed in a January 9 interview that Soleimani played a significant role in helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad manufacture and develop their arsenal of rockets in the Gaza Strip. "The martyr Soleimani contributed to the development of the military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance groups because he was fully convinced that there was a need to confront the Zionist entity and its occupation of Palestine," Abdel Hadi said on the Al-Ahd news website. "He believed in the need to liberate Palestine."
The Hamas official said that thanks to Soleimani's support, the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were able to send one million Israelis into bomb shelters. According to Abdel Hadi, Hamas had refrained from talking about Soleimani's role in the upgrading of the rockets "because the circumstances were not appropriate to do so before his death."
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar also talked about Soleimani's role in supporting the Palestinian jihad against Israel. Soleimani, he said, "gave the Palestinian armed groups all that they needed to develop their military capabilities. He gave Palestine more than one can imagine."
Zahar revealed that Soleimani and his Quds Force have been providing Hamas and Islamic Jihad with money and weapons since the early 1990s. Zahar recalled that Soleimani once gave Hamas $22 million to enable it to pay salaries to its employees.
"The martyrdom of Soleimani is a big loss for the [Palestinian] resistance," Zahar added. "This man gave hope to the Muslims regarding the liberation of Palestine."
Al-Nakhalah, the leader of Islamic Jihad, while paying a condolence visit to the family of Soleimani in Iran, said that the slain general was providing the Palestinians with various forms of aid, particularly money and weapons.
Abu Hamzeh, spokesman for Islamic Jihad's military wing, Al-Quds Brigades, remarked that Soleimani had, for two decades, "supervised direct support for Palestine and the transfer of military and security expertise" to the Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Hailing the slain Iranian commander as a "leader of Muslim warriors," Abu Hamzeh stated that Islamic Jihad was proud of Soleimani because he "intimidated America and the Zionist entity."
The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now seeking to ensure that Iran continues to provide them with weapons and money in the post-Soleimani era. That may be why the two groups have been eager publicly to display their grief over the death of an Iranian general and friend who was helping them fulfill their goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state.
By openly aligning themselves with Tehran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are spitting in the face of Sunni Muslims who view Iran and its Shiite proxies as the true threat to stability in the Middle East. Many Arabs have expressed outrage over the two Palestinians groups' public grieving over the death of Soleimani.
These Arabs have claimed that they cannot understand why Hamas and Islamic Jihad are mourning an Iranian general responsible for the killing and displacement of thousands of people in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Some Arabs scoffed at the two Palestinian groups for labeling Soleimani as the "martyr of Jerusalem" at a time "when most of his rockets and bullets were being used to kill Arabs and Muslims to implement Iran's scheme of expanding its control to Arab and Islamic countries."
Hamas and Islamic Jihad have demonstrated that they care nothing for the thousands of Arabs and Muslims killed by Soleimani's Quds Force. As far as these groups are concerned, the end justifies the means. The end goal for Hamas and Islamic Jihad remains the elimination of Israel, and they are prepared to join forces with the devil in order to advance their aspiration.
It now remains to be seen how the Palestinian Authority and Arab states, including Egypt, will respond to the renewed alliance between the Gaza-based groups and Iran.
Will PA President Mahmoud Abbas reconsider his decision to invite Hamas to participate in new Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections? Will the Egyptians suspend their contacts with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in light of the two groups' open affiliation with the Iranians?
By failing to hold Hamas and Islamic Jihad to account for their actions, specifically their continued cooperation with the Tehran, Abbas and the Egyptians would be allowing Iran and its Quds Force further to consolidate their presence in the Gaza Strip. Abbas and the Egyptians should at least warn Hamas and Islamic Jihad against turning the Gaza Strip into another base for Soleimani's Quds Force in the region.
The ongoing cooperation between Iran and the Gaza-based groups poses an imminent threat not only to Israel, but also to the PA, Egypt and other Arabs who are opposed to Tehran's expansionist schemes in the region.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.