THE TERRORIST CONNECTION - IRAN, THE ISLAMIC JIHAD AND HAMAS Elie Rekhess "Justice", Vol. 5 (May 1995) Abstract of a lecture delivered in a colloquium on "Iran: Foreign Policies & Domestic Constraints", held at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern & African Studies at Tel Aviv University on 3 April 1995, related to Iran's endeavours to export its revolution to the Palestinian arena; Iran's ideological impact on Palestinian-Islamic trends, and the practical aspects of Iranian-Palestinian cooperation. Dr. Rekhess is a senior research fellow ,it the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern & African Studies at Tel Aviv University. The paper was jointly prepared with Meir Hatina, a Ph.D. candidate at Tel Aviv University's School of History. The export of the Iranian revolution in its first decade of existence was restricted to the Shi'i movements in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf Emirates. The Iranian version of fundamentalist Islam failed to make significant headway in Sunni-dominated Muslim areas. Against the background of what may be described as a general Sunni hostility towards the Iranian revolution, the distinctive Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization appeared in the late seventies in the Gaza Strip, emerging as a militant Sunni movement steeped in Sunni actions and traditions. yet inspired and emboldened by the Shi'i revolution of Iran. During most of the eighties the Iran-Islamic Jihad relationship was one-sided. It was the Palestinian movement which responded to its spiritual mentor. Iran paid little attention to the Palestinian movement. A change occurred in the late eighties. Following the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran no longer restricted itself to the Shi'i domains: instead. it opened itself up to a genuine effort to export its revolution to Sunni-populated areas, such as Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and the Palestinian arena. The change in Iran's external policies coincided with the eruption of the intifada which brought to the fore the saliency of Islamic militancy in the form not only of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement but, more forcibly, through Hamas. Following the deportation of the Islamic Jihad leadership to Lebanon in 1988, Iranian involvement with the organization was significantly enhanced. Concurrently, and in line with its determination to export the revolution to Shi'i dominated areas, Iran made strenuous efforts to widen its influence to the Palestinian scene by strengthening its relations with Hamas, the rival Islamic group in the Territories which, as noted, began to emerge as a central Islamic element fomenting the intifada. The Iranian endeavour, however, was met with limited success, as the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated to Hamas was at pains at this stage to distance itself from Iran. The situation changed again following the Gulf War and the Madrid Conference, when Iran's interests and the interests of Hamas converged. For Teheran, Hamas had several advantages. It offered another vehicle to demonstrate Iran's Islamic leadership; a channel for involving itself in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, Hamas seemed determined to fight. had the potential to strike inside Israel, and attracted great public interest. It totally rejected Israel's right to exist and was resolved to combat Israel and imperialism. All these were in line with Iranian doctrines and tactics and thus were worthy of Iranian support. The transition in Iranian attitudes towards the mainstream Palestinian Islamic trend was clearly demonstrated in a series of moves initiated by Iran from 1990 onwards. A few landmarks: In late December 1990 Iran convened an Islamic conference on Palestine in Teheran, to which Hamas delegates were invited. A landmark in the Iranian-Palestinian-Islam rapprochement took place in October 1991, when Iran convened in Teheran the international conference to support the Islamic revolution of the people of Palestine, an event which emerged as a counter-conference to the Madrid Conference held at that time. From that point onwards the cooperation and coordination between Iran and the Palestinian Islamic movement became tighter and more pronounced. Both parties, Hamas on the one hand and the Iranians on the other, united in pursuing a joint political goal, to foil the peace process. Iranian influence on the Palestinian Islamic militants became more visible and salient. The Ideological and Political Impact of the Iranian Revolution on Palestinian Islamic Movements The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement was the group most profoundly affected by the Iranian revolution. From its inception, the Islamic Jihad endorsed the Iranian revolution as an ideal movement to be implemented in other parts of the Muslim world, first-and foremost, of course, on the Palestinian scene. It was the Iranian revolution, Islamic Jihad spokesman argued, which brought home the old truth that "Islam was the solution and Jihad was the proper means". They adopted a central tenet of Khomeini's interpretation of the new Sh'ia, the constant emphasis on jihad as a symbol of activism, thereby contrasting it with the Muslim Brotherhood's approach. They adopted the principle of sacrifice and martyrdom to an uninhibited suicidal point. Fathi Shqaqi, leader of the Islamic Jihad, saw Khomeini's greatness in his capacity to illuminate the great cultural clash between the Islamic nation with its historical tradition, its faith and civilization, and on the other hand the satanic forces of the West represented by Israel. Shqaqi has quoted a fatwa issued by Khomeini which spoke of the religious duty of bringing about the elimination, izala, of the Zionist entity, and allocated the income from alms for this purpose. The Iranian Jihad perception was accommodated by the Islamic movement in the Territories to the Palestinian scene. Iran, argued the Islamic Jihadists, was the only country which truly took upon itself the Palestinian cause by forming the Jerusalem Army, a force capable of waging a poplar Islamic liberation war. There remain, nevertheless, unresolved ideological contradictions in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad outlook. These emerge in the attitude adopted by the Islamic Jihad movement towards the Sunni-Sh'ia schism, the most difficult challenge to the movement. Here the Islamic Jihad has taken up the ecumenical tendency preached by the Iranian regime and has stressed the latter's pan-Islamic orientation. Islamic Jihad publications emphasize the harmony prevailing between Sunnis and Shi'is. Over and over again they deny that the Shi'a is heretical. They speak of it as an integral part of the world of Islam and consider existing controversies as marginal matters. They cite with approval the endeavours Hasan al Bana and Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut to bring the various schools of thought together. They enlarge on Shaltut's famous fatwa of 1959 declaring the Twelve Shi'a to be an orthodox school alongside the four other recognized schools. It is doubtful whether the Islamic Jihad's endeavour to reconcile Sunna and Shi'a has been successful. The Islamic Jihad failed to establish a coherent consistent ideological system which would capture the support of West Bankers and Gazans. Politically, the Islamic Jihad's views regarding such issues as the Iran-Iraq War and the peace process were and are a mirror reflection of Iran's views on these issues. Thus, for example, unlike other Sunni fundamentalist movements which sided with Iraq, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad expressed unqualified support for the Iranian stand in the Iran-Iraq War. Similarly, the Islamic Jihad negated the Madrid Conference, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Oslo agreement, and the Declaration of Principles, in full accordance with the Iranian stance. Iran's ideological influence on Hamas is totally different. Hamas was established in the Territories in early 1988 as a military wing of the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and as such it displayed from the outset a strong anti-Shi'i position. The Hamas covenant published in August 1988 did not echo Khomeini type thinking and made no mention of Iran. Ahmad Yassin, leader of Hamas, attacked at that time Khomeini's regime. From its inception to this day, and in direct contradiction to the Islamic Jihad, Hamas has not indulged in attempts to bridge the theological discrepancies between Sunni and Shi'a. Theologically, one may conclude that Hamas remains alien to the notions of the Iranian revolution. With regard to its political outlook, Hamas has maintained a much more independent stand than the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Thus, during the Gulf War Hamas adopted an ambivalent position, largely because its principal rival, the PLO, so closely identified itself with Saddam's cause. Concurrently, Hamas was careful not to alienate its benefactors in the Gulf area, mainly Kuwait. The shared interests of Iran and Hamas began to correspond following the Gulf War and the beginning of the political process. Practical Aspects of the Cooperation between Iran and the Palestinian Islamic Movement The deportation in 1988 of Fathi Shqaqi and others to Lebanon, and the transfer of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad headquarters to Syria, thereafter, marked a turning point in the development of the Iranian-Islamic Jihad relationship. From this point on, direct contact was established between the Islamic Jihad activists and their Iranian sponsors though Iranian embassies in Beirut and Damascus, through the Revolutionary Guards stationed in Lebanon, and through Hizbullah. The Iranian sponsorship of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was manifested politically, financially and militarily. The State Department's office of counter-terrorism in its report on international terrorism for the year 1993 clearly established that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad received funding from Iran. In April 1993, Fathi Shqaqi told a New York newspaper that his organization has received Iranian funds since 1987. He did not specify how much money was transferred but added that money and military equipment were transferred to the Territories to fund terror operations and to support the families of Palestinian Islamic Jihad activists. It should be emphasized that the money is not being used only for terror activity, but also for the establishment of new mosques and a socioeconomic support system in the Territories. The contact established between the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah in 1988 had a particularly strong impact on the movement's military capacity and activity. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad was transformed into a paramilitary organization resembling the philosophy and structure of Hizbullah. The Jihad organization obtained arms through Hizbullah. In 1991 and 1992, members of the Jihad were logistically supported by the Hizbullah in carrying out at least three armed operations against IDF targets in the security zone in southern Lebanon. Press reports concerning the Jihad-Hizbullah-Iranian military connection continue to be published regularly. The most recent report was published in March 1995 in Al-Watan Al-Arabi, a weekly published in Paris. Quoting unidentified Western intelligence sources, the report alleged that Iran together with Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other radical Islamic movements have been making special efforts to recruit young Muslims in Europe and to train them for suicidal terror attack missions. Shqaqi himself is quoted in this report as having declared that there exists a one-hundred strong special task suicidal unit which will be activated not only against Israeli targets but also against whoever is the enemy of Islam. The authenticity of this report still needs to be verified. One should add parenthetically here that much of the information published in overt sources concerning Iranian-Palestinian relations is fabricated. False reports are leaked to the press to serve the interests of at least four actors involved in this business - Iran, the PLO, Israel and the Islamic movements themselves. Some observers add Iraq and Syria to the list. One must therefore be very careful in handling such information or disinformation. Nevertheless, if the Al-Watan Al-Arabi report is based on reliable sources, then there is definitely reason for concern. What is known is that regular working meetings between Islamic Jihad leaders and Hizbullah officials continue to take place, with occasional Iranian participation. The most recent such meeting reported in the press was held between Hasan Nasrallah, the Hizbullah Secretary General and Fathi Shqaqi in October 1994. The Hamas-Iranian Connection So far the Islamic Jihad-Iranian connection has been explained. The political affinity which was established between Iran and Hamas in late 1991 was followed by a series of practical steps. In October 1992 the Iranian Foreign Minister invited a Hamas delegation to Iran under the leadership of Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk, who held meetings with Khomeini and Foreign Minister Velayeti. Iran reportedly pledged to support Hamas with a subsidy of $30 million a year and also reportedly agreed to place 3,000 Hamas fighters in training camps in Iran, Lebanon and Sudan. It also promised to help Hamas set up a radio station. Hizbullah was said to have agreed to help Hamas to mount operations against Israel, including joint attacks. The newly established cooperation was reportedly formalized in an agreement signed in late 1992 in the city of Kum. Iran allowed Hamas to open an office in Teheran for political and propaganda activities, subsequently referred to by both parties as an embassy. The agreement, which declared Hamas to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, elicited an angry and aggressive PLO response. Arafat, troubled by the PLO's loss of ground to Hamas in the Territories, and ever wary of Iranian involvement in Palestinian affairs, denounced Iran vehemently. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states also reportedly expressed resentment. Hamas was quick to deny that there was any agreement. The Hamas spokesman accused the PLO of fabricating the story in order to undermine Hamas's standing in the Arab world. The Hamas spokesmen added that the Iranian-Hamas connection was restricted to the political level only. To what extent does this statement reflect actual reality? The only article in the alleged agreement that was fully implemented was the opening of a permanent Hamas representation in Teheran, headed by Imad al-Alami, who was deported from the Gaza Strip in 1990. It is also evident that the political contacts between Hamas leaders and Iranian leadership have been strengthened in the last two years. Political bureau chief Dr. Musa Abu Marzuk, Ibrahim Ghawsha, Mohammad Nazal and other leading Hamas leaders meet with Khomeini, Rafsanjani and Velayeti regularly during their frequent visits to Iran. What is more difficult to establish is the nature of the military and financial relationship between Hamas and Iran. On the military level, it is doubtful whether the report of guerrilla training for 3,000 Hamas men in Lebanon and Iran is true. As Martin Kramer indicated, Abu Marzuk, who denied the report, pointed out that it was logistically impossible for Iran to train Hamas activists, and there is no strong evidence to contradict or refute Abu Marzuk's claim. Similar reports concerning Hamas training by the Revolutionary Guard remain unconfirmed. The Hamas-Hizbullah Connection Hamas cooperates with Hizbullah politically. Leaders of the two organizations meet regularly in Lebanon. A recent such meeting was held in October 1994 between Nasrallah and leading Hamas leaders. While it is reasonable to assume that there exists some measure of military cooperation between Hamas and Hizbullah, especially following the deportation of the four hundred Hamas activists to southern Lebanon, hard evidence proving such contacts is lacking. It is questionable whether Hamas is in actual need of external military assistance emanating from either Hizbullah or Iran. Hamas has developed its own self-sustained terror network in the Territories. It is well organized, well trained and well equipped. There is no lack of arms supply in the Territories. Asked, following the Afula operation in April 1994, whether those who planned and implemented the operation received their training under Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, Muhammad Nazal replied: "I think the Hamas movement is able to develop its military and security capabilities without having to seek outside help. The movement has an efficient military body that gains experience day by day." This statement reflects much of the reality as it Is. With regard to Iranian financial aid for Hamas, a congressional report published in December 1994 states that: "While Iran has no presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in 1992 it reopened its embassy in Jordan from which Hamas activists can gain relatively easy access to the West Bank." The report hints that there is financial aid coming from the Iranian embassy in Jordan to Hamas. Spokesmen for Hamas admit that the Iranian people have supplied certain assistance to the Palestinian people in the Territories to help keep them steadfast, but deny having received as much as $30 million from Iran. There are other reports from the Lebanese press indicating the sum of $10 million, presumably per year, coming from Iran to Hamas. Again these reports are unconfirmed. The Iranian leadership is reportedly divided over the extent of funds to be distributed to Hamas. Another legitimate question in this context is whether Hamas itself is keen to become totally dependent on Iranian financial support. Such a development may be counterproductive from the Hamas point of view. Full identification between Hamas and Iran could harm the latter's interests, mainly in the sense that it would facilitate Israel's effort to depict Hamas as an Iranian-sponsored threat to the world order and it would legitimize harsh Israeli action against Hamas. Concluding Remarks Two central questions must be addressed. First, has the exportation of the Iranian revolution to the Palestinian arena been successful? The answer is yes, but only to a limited extent. From the ideological point of view - only the relatively small Islamic Jihad organization has converted to the Shi'i-inspired Iranian model. But, as indicated above, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has not become a sweeping grass roots movement in the Territories. The number of its hard core members does not exceed 100-200 people. With regard to Hamas, Iran's success is considerably smaller. Hamas remains a Sunni-oriented Muslim Brotherhood movement which rejects the Iranian Shi'i model. In total contradiction to the Islamic Jihad, which became an Iranian satellite organization, fully financed, trained and backed by Iran, Hamas preserves its independence vis-a-vis the Iranians. The second question relates to the importance of the Palestinian-Islamic connection in Iranian eyes. There has been an on-going debate over this issue. Some analysts, notably Hooshang Amiramadi of Rutgers University, concluded that despite its verbal criticism, Iran had not taken any practical steps to foil the peace process. An opposite view claims that Iran has inscribed the struggle for Palestine on its flag, and that Iran, through its Palestinian Islamic clients, poses a formidable Islamic threat to the stability of the Middle East in general and to the peace process in particular. In any event, it is the relationship between Iran and the Islamic Jihad which poses the most danger. One should not underestimate Hamas, but Hamas acts first and foremost according to its own narrow interests. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a puppet in the hands of Iran. If and when Iran decides to explode the peace process, one should be aware that it has the tools to carry out this mission, namely, through the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization. It is a fearless, ruthless, fanatic, extremist organization which does not hesitate to do whatever is ordered. Whether Iran indeed wants this to happen is a question which remains unanswered. . ===================================================================== Information Division, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem Mail all Queries to [email protected] URL: gopher:// =====================================================================