Iran falls out with Islamic Jihad in Gaza

Iran falls out with Islamic Jihad in Gaza
Analysis: Iran cuts financial assistance to group due to disputes over conflict in Yemen caused by sectarian tension within the movement.
3 min read
22 May, 2015
Islamic jihad faces a financial crisis after being cut off by Iran [AFP]
Al-Quds newspaper reported earlier in the week that Iran has cut funding to the Gaza militant group Islamic Jihad.

Sources in Gaza told al-Araby al-Jadeed that this has caused a crisis in the movement and is symptomatic of sectarian differences between Iran and the Sunni-majority movement, as well as within Islamic Jihad itself.  

The funding cut is reportedly due to Islamic Jihad's refusal to support Iran's backing of the Zaydi Shia Houthis in Yemen.  Sources told the al-Quds that the measure came after attempts by Hizballah to meditate between the group and Iran failed.

Islamic Jihad has previously been co-operative in Iran's foreign policy, including siding with Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and maintaining an office in Damascus after the war broke out.

Jamil Abdel Nabi, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the group was committed to maintaining neutrality on the war Yemen. However, according to sources close to the group, some members have been vocal in their support of the Saudi-led attacks on the Houthis - highlighting divisions within the organisation.

It also demonstrates that Iran's support to groups abroad is given only on condition.  
     A spokesman for Islamic Jihad said the group was committed to maintaining neutrality on the war Yemen.

Some speculate that there is a division in Islamic Jihad between pro-Shia sections and those who view the organisation as a political means for resistance.

There exist strongly pro-Shia figures, such as Hisham Salim, who has recently established an organisation called "al-Saberoon" in South Gaza, which sources in Gaza say is seeking to "convert" people to Shiism.

He apparently has the support of some Islamic Jihad members who are religiously inclined to the sect, and those who have lived, studied or trained militarily in Iran.

However, many of the Islamic Jihad leadership figures in Gaza, including Khaled al-Batsh, Mohammed al-Hindi and Nafez Azzam, reject Iran's ideological bent.

The financial effects of the finding cut are already apparent. Islamic Jihad's popular TV station, 'Palestine today', has been closed down and employees in the Gaza office made redundant. A large hospital Islamic Jihad planned for Rafah has been cancelled.

Rumours within the organisation say that this is because Islamic Jihad refused to name the hospital after Iran's former supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Yet the Islamic Jihad leadership are also reportedly fighting with Hamas over funds, as Hamas - sections of which have long complained about Iran's influence in Gaza - are refusing to compensate Islamic Jihad for their loss in support from Iran.

Although there is anti-Shia sentiment in Gaza, there is an amount of tolerance towards the sect, especially when compared to the sectarian strife in the rest of the region, with Ashoura celebrations having been held for the past few years.

There are no clear numbers of people who adhere to the sect in Gaza, which has historically been uniformly Sunni and Christian, with most Shia affiliates being converts who practice privately, or those who describe themselves as having "sympathies" with the second largest sect within Islam.

Islamic Jihad was formally established in Gaza in 1981 by two preachers who were heavily influenced by the Islamic Republic of Iran's ideology and the idea of Islamic unity.