Replacing Hamas: Iran's New Proxy Militia in Gaza

(Foreign Affairs) Ehud Yaari - The Iranian-funded Palestinian militant group Hamas has irked Tehran in a number of ways. First, it refused to support Syrian President Assad; then it established closer ties with Turkey. Iran has responded by reducing funding to Hamas and making a serious attempt at empowering the al Sabirin group in Gaza, which seeks to emulate Hizbullah. Al Sabirin is headed by Hisham Salem, a former member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). It is claimed in Islamist circles that Salem receives an annual budget of $10 million from Iran. Salem is accused within Gaza, where there are no Shiites, of having converted to Shiism. Al Sabirin's members have apparently distributed Shiite literature and held seminars on Shiite theology. Al Sabirin's logo is nearly identical to Hizbullah's, as are its slogans and terminology. Al Sabirin's main activities at the moment include gathering several other small militias under its wing. Salem is apparently promising these groups Iranian funds in return for their loyalty. Iran most likely regards al Sabirin as an extremely useful tool to help keep Hamas and the PIJ in line by signaling to them that it has alternatives. The writer is a Middle East commentator for Israel's Channel Two television and a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2015-10-02 00:00:00

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