The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has become a problem not only for Israel, but for Hamas too.

Palestinian militants from Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, hold a military parade as part of the 35th anniversary of the foundation of the movement, in Gaza City on October 5, 2022.
(photo credit: ATTIA MUHAMMED/FLASH90)

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organization may have lost some of its top military commanders during the latest round of fighting with Israel, but its status as the second-largest armed group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas remains intact.

In fact, some Palestinians believe that each round of fighting with Israel props up PIJ’s standing as a dominant player not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank as well.

In the past year, PIJ has managed to form several armed cells in the northern West Bank, specifically Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarem, turning it into a major actor in the Palestinian arena much to the dismay of Hamas and other factions.

In the eyes of these Palestinians, the fact that PIJ fought alone during the most recent bombardments of Israel is a testament to the group’s military capabilities and “steadfastness.” PIJ has demonstrated that it can enter into war with Israel on its own, without having to rely on Hamas or other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, they say.

Each round of fighting with Israel that ends without the complete elimination of PIJ is seen by the organization and its supporters as another “victory,” regardless of the casualties and damage it incurs. And since it’s impossible to wipe such a large organization off the map, the current conflict with Israel is likely to leave PIJ intact despite the heavy price it has paid with the assassination of senior commanders of its “military council.”

A person holds up a gun during the funeral of two Palestinian Islamic Jihad gunmen who were killed in an Israeli raid, in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank May 10, 2023. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/REUTERS)

The only unafraid ‘resistance’ faction

PIJ is now being praised by many Palestinians and Arabs as the only “resistance” faction that is not afraid to fire hundreds of rockets at Israel. Most of those who are heaping praise on PIJ are, on the other hand, criticizing Hamas for sitting on the fence and refusing to be directly involved in the fighting against Israel.

Hamas has never been comfortable with the idea that another major armed group is functioning as a “state within a state” in the Gaza Strip. This discontent has often created tensions between the two Iranian-backed groups.

On a number of occasions, the tensions erupted into violence when Hamas security forces interfered to stop PIJ members from firing rockets at Israel. It’s vital for Hamas leaders to show that they are the sole rulers of the Gaza Strip, even if that means occasionally cracking down on their allies in PIJ.

In order to ease the tensions, Hamas and PIJ officials agreed to increase coordination between their groups regarding the fighting with Israel.

To avoid future misunderstandings, they decided to establish the so-called Joint Rooms Operation of the Palestinian Resistance Factions. The main goal of this body is to ensure that any decision on war or ceasefire with Israel is taken by consensus, rather than a single group.

This was Hamas’ way of reminding PIJ and other groups that there is one kingpin in the Gaza Strip, and that is Hamas.

For now, Hamas and PIJ are keen on displaying a “united front” against Israel. The talk in Israel about Hamas’ refusal to join the latest round of fighting has prompted leaders of the two groups to come out against what they perceive as a “Zionist conspiracy” drive a wedge between them. Hamas and PIJ leaders have gone to lengths to deny reports in Israel about mounting tensions between the two groups.  

As part of their efforts to refute the talk about the tensions, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and PIJ Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhaleh have been in almost daily phone contact since the beginning of the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip last Tuesday. The goal: to broadcast that the two groups are working in harmony and full coordination.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed Al-Hindi (credit: REUTERS/AHMED ZAKOT)

Yet, when the guns fall silent, Hamas will once again be reminded that it is no longer the unchallenged and absolute governing body in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Hamas will once again be reminded that it has a problematic “roommate” in the Gaza Strip with whom it will have to live in the coming years, and perhaps decades.

PIJ has become a problem not only for Israel but for Hamas too. It now remains to be seen how long Hamas is willing to put up with the PIJ challenge to its authoritarian rule over the Gaza Strip.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post