Iranian-backed organizations establish a foothold in the Gaza Strip

Iran is exerting its regional influence in the Middle East and Gaza is not an exception. Social welfare programs and charities throughout the Gaza Strip have been established by Iran to influence the hearts and minds of its residents.

Iran financially and militarily supports a number of its proxies in the Middle East including militant organizations in Gaza such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees. However, Iran’s support does not solely go to Gaza’s militant groups.

During the first week of Ramadan, Harakat al Nujaba, an Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary group, distributed food baskets and other Ramadan gifts to the families of prisoners and those who have been killed fighting against Israel.

“A gift on the occasion of the blessed month of Ramadan, presented by al Nujaba for the families of the martyrs and captives in Palestine,” a message in the food basket read.

Furthermore, al Nujaba’s Information and Relations office stated “The staff of al Nujaba’s office in Gaza, having collected the needed medical and food supplies, distributed a package of diverse Ramadani presents among the families of martyrs and captives in ash-Shujaiyya and northern areas of the Strip, an act carried out secretly and at night for the image of the targeted families is maintained.”

The statement by al Nujaba is important because it demonstrates that an Iraqi paramilitary group funded and supported militarily by Iran has a presence in the Gaza Strip.

It is noteworthy to mention al Nujaba isn’t the first Shia movement with a military wing to operate in the Gaza Strip. Harakat al Sabireen, founded by former Palestinian Islamic Jihad members who converted to Shia Islam, operated in the Gaza Strip for some years until Hamas arrested its leader and seized the group’s weapons in 2019.

Another Iranian funded organization operating in the Gaza Strip is the Palestinian-Iranian Friendship Association (PIFA). The organization also has branches in Lebanon and Syria.

PIFA describes itself as a “Palestinian civil organization that seeks the participation of the largest possible number of our Palestinian people to work on developing and strengthening Palestinian-Iranian relations by working to develop various forms of culture, media, social, political and other work.”

However, the organization actively associates itself with militant groups in the Gaza Strip and abroad. In the summer of 2018, an event sponsored by PIFA in the Gaza Strip hosted the heads of Abd al Qadir al Husseini, Mujahideen Brigades and a representative of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Additionally, according to Hezbollah’s media relations department, a delegation from PIFA met with senior Hezbollah official Ibrahim al Sayed on November 2019.

“We met the brothers in the leadership of Hezbollah to confirm our loyalty to the valiant Islamic resistance that carried the cause of Palestine and offered martyrs for it,” Abdul Karim al Sharqi, PIFA’s Secretary-General stated.

Furthermore, a recent Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center report provided additional information on Iranian funded organizations with an operational presence in the Gaza Strip.

The evidence presented suggests Iran is attempting to influence its Islamic ideology through charitable organizations similar to what it has already done in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq for the last several decades. Whether it will be able to repeat the success it has had in other countries is yet to be seen in the Gaza Strip.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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