The Gaza-based radical Palestinian Jihad and Hamas on Tuesday, Dec. 29 staged a joint rocket exercise out to sea – carefully pointed away from the Israeli border. The two Palestinian terrorist groups openly activated their joint war room for the first time and in, another first, tested a Hamas drone. (See picture.)
This exercise was in keeping with the watchword of muscle-flexing combined-with-prudent caution that a jittery Tehran has circulated to all foreign proxies, lest President Donald Trump or US allies are provoked into a direct attack on Iran before he bows out on Jan. 23.
With Iranian financial and military backing, the Jihad terrorists have often loosed their rockets with deadly effect against Israel. However, these days in the last weeks of the Trump presidency, Tehran is accentuating its Palestinian surrogates’ preparedness for a direct US or allied attack, while holding back from action that may provoke one.
The Islamic Jihad is a smaller rival of the Palestinian Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and takes no share in government. Although vastly outnumbered by Hamas, the Jihad’s 15,000-strong fighting arm, Saraya al Quds (The Al Quds Brigade), is totally dedicated to the “armed struggle” against the Jewish State and maintains an independent arsenal of short- and intermediate-range rockets. Those rockets have in the past been launched as far from the Gazan border as the Tel Aviv region.
One of its missions is to act for Tehran as a belligerent driving force for derailing any peace process and disrupting any indirect ceasefires that may be mediated between Israel and Hamas. A year ago, Israel eliminated Jihad’s rocket master, northern Gaza commander Baha al-Ata, in a targeted assassination.
Although its base is in Gaza, Islamic Jihad also maintains headquarters in Beirut and Damascus, where close interchanges are conducted with Iranian officials and the Lebanese Hizballah, its powerful Big Brother in Iran’s “resistance” axis.
Hassan Nasrallah was clearly following the same Iranian orders as Jihad – deter but don’t provoke – when he boasted in a wide-ranging speech on Monday, that Hizballah had doubled its precision missile stockpile in the past year and could accurately reach any point in Israel. The terrorist leader offered no before-or-after figures to substantiate his claim. He also spoke at length about President Trump’s “unpredictability” as grounds for advising “caution and vigilance” during the president’s last days in the White House.
This US transitional period is especially fraught with tension focusing on Iran. It coincides with the first anniversary of the killing of Iran’s Al Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani by a US drone attack near Baghdad, which Tehran has, with comparable unpredictability, vowed to avenge.