Since 2014, Hamas has invested about $120 million per year in building terror tunnels. Quality concrete goes into the construction of these tunnels, instead of residential buildings. In addition, electricity is redirected to build and light up the tunnels 24 hours a day, while hospitals and the homes of civilians suffer constant power outages. Pictured: Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists in a tunnel in the south of the Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)
The Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the second largest group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, is using latex gloves and hand sanitizers to prepare terrorist attacks against Israel, not to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The use of gloves and hand sanitizers for terrorism comes as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are complaining about a shortage of drugs and medical equipment needed to fight the pandemic. In the past few weeks, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health has repeatedly appealed to international institutions and aid organizations to provide drugs and medical equipment to the Gaza Strip in light of the outbreak of the new virus.
China is one of a number of countries that have responded to the appeal by promising a package of medical assistance to the Gaza Strip. "An advanced Chinese medical laboratory, in line with international standards, is coming from China to the Gaza Strip," said Dr. Yousef Abu al-Rish, a senior Ministry of Health official. Abu al-Rish praised the "positive role" played by China in standing by the Palestinians at these critical times and said the medical devices provided by the Chinese would enhance the capacity of the Palestinian health sector.
What the Chinese and the rest of the world need to know is that the medical aid to the Gaza Strip is being used not only to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, but also for facilitating jihad (holy war) against Israel.
For PIJ, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip, the war against Israel seems to be more important than the battle to stem the spread of a disease.
While doctors, nurses and many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are complaining about a shortage of medical supplies, the Palestinian armed groups, including PIJ and Hamas, do not appear to be facing the same problem. These groups, in fact, have even made sure that their militiamen are equipped not only with weapons, but also with protective medical gear such as gloves, hygienic masks and sanitizer gel.
Why do heavily armed Palestinian militiamen need protective medical gear? Is it because they want to distribute the gloves and sanitizer gel to medical teams or needy families in the Gaza Strip? Is it because these militiamen want to protect themselves from the coronavirus? Not exactly.
The militiamen want the medical protective gear in order to facilitate their mission of building new tunnels along the Gaza-Israel border for the purpose of infiltrating into Israel and kidnapping and killing as many Israelis as possible. They also want the protective gear in order to install more rockets in underground launch sites in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, PIJ and their friends in the Gaza Strip are now trying to assure Palestinians that the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic does not mean that these groups have abandoned the jihad against Israel.
A video clip recently published by the "Military Media" of PIJ's armed wing, Al-Quds Brigades, states that "our jihad is continuing and our determination is stronger."
At the beginning of the video clip, masked militiamen belonging to PIJ are seen rubbing their hands with alcohol gel before donning blue latex gloves. At first glance, it appears as if the militiamen are engaged in some kind of an activity to help combat the spread of the coronavirus among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
It quickly turns out, however, that the PIJ militiamen are on a different mission that is completely unrelated to the health and safety of their people.
The masked men are not covering their faces or wearing gloves because they are worried about the virus.
Instead, they are wearing gloves and using hand sanitizers as they prepare to descend into a tunnel built to enable Palestinians to infiltrate from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Once they are inside the tunnel, the militiamen are seen carrying out construction and drilling work.
Since 2014, Hamas has invested about $120 million per year in the terror tunnels. Quality concrete goes into the construction of these tunnels, instead of residential buildings. In addition, electricity is redirected to build and light up the tunnels 24 hours a day, while hospitals and the homes of civilians suffer constant power outages. According to various estimates, a terror tunnel can cost anywhere from three to 10 million dollars, depending on its length and depth.
Later on, the video clip features PIJ militiamen hiding rockets in underground launch sites in the Gaza Strip. The rockets will be used for one purpose: to attack Israel.
Last year Israeli Air Force jets struck various weapon trucks headed to the Gaza Strip from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The shipments included Iranian missiles meant for Hamas and PIJ.
Mohammed Sadeq Al-Hosseini, a former advisor to Iran's president, said in a February 6, 2019 interview on Russia Today TV that Iran's military capabilities are "directed towards Palestine" and that Iran is sending weapons to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Al-Hosseini explained that Iran supports Palestinians from every faction -- not just the Islamists -- and that the [Palestinian] factions must be united within a "framework of guns, popular uprising, and armed factions that would uproot Zionism. This Zionist entity [Israel] must be dismantled either peacefully or by war."
According to an Israeli intelligence report, Hamas and PIJ enjoy extensive material backing from Iran in their arming efforts, in light of Tehran's determination to amplify its influence in the Palestinian arena and among Palestinian terror groups:
"Iran substantiates its support of the [Palestinian] resistance camp by providing high-quality weapons to both groups. As of 2010 hundreds of standard rockets had been smuggled into the Gaza Strip as well as about 1,000 mortar shells, several dozen anti-tank items, tons of standard explosives and raw materials for explosive production."
Gabi Siboni, an Israeli military analyst, said Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip have a "variety of advanced, precise, and effective weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, both produced by Russia, as well as dome drones."
Earlier this year the Israeli army revealed that it had thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip by sea from the Sinai Peninsula. The vessel used in the smuggling attempt was intercepted by naval commandos. The Israeli army did not share details about the seized weapons.
The botched attempt to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip is yet another sign of how Hamas and PIJ are continuing to invest millions of dollars in building a vast arsenal of weapons while their people are complaining about economic hardship and a shortage of medical supplies.
These Palestinians groups have never attempted to smuggle medicine or medical equipment into the Gaza Strip; perhaps they do not care particularly about their people's health and safety. The leaders of Hamas and PIJ want Israel and other countries and aid organizations to dispatch medical supplies to the Gaza Strip: they do not have the time, it seems, to attend to their people's needs. They are too busy preparing their jihad against Israel.
Palestinians, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip, do not speak out against the two organizations: they are afraid for their lives. Palestinians are also afraid that if they dare to criticize Hamas or PIJ, they will be accused of "collaboration" with Israel.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip need jobs and proper healthcare more than rockets and tunnels. The leaders of Iran, Hamas and PIJ, nonetheless, are determined to pursue their goal of eliminating Israel. The biggest losers are the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Iranian people, whose money and resources are being wasted on Palestinian terror groups and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.