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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 21, 2003

Palestinian Islamic Jihad shadowy group strictly military

This Chicago Tribune article notes that there is not even the disguise of "social concerns."
Secretive, militant and deadly, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad exists solely to strike at Israel. Unlike the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, Islamic Jihad operates no health clinics in the West Bank and Gaza. It runs no orphanages, funds no vocational training centers and has never backed candidates in municipal elections.

Instead, Islamic Jihad works underground, forming small armed cells that carry out missions against Israeli targets, usually military ones, but also civilian. Most of its members remain unknown, according to Middle East experts.

"Islamic Jihad is very military, very tightly organized and very underground," said Khalid Rashidi, director for the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.

Formed by disgruntled members of the Egypt-based Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, Islamic Jihad carried out attacks against Israelis in the Gaza Strip until its leaders were expelled to Damascus, Syria, in 1988, shortly after the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada.

Ideologically, the organization draws its inspiration from the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood's founders, but its members emphasize the need to concentrate on ending Israeli control of all the lands they consider Palestine. Since its founding, it has never consisted of more than a few hundred militants and sympathizers, analysts said.

Operationally, it has been very hard to track, according to experts. Members of each cell rarely know each other or anyone in the organization's hierarchy, so if one is captured, he cannot tell interrogators who else belongs to the group. In this respect, Israeli intelligence sources compare Islamic Jihad to the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

In January 1995, Islamic Jihad carried out one of its most spectacular operations against Israel when it dispatched two suicide bombers to a bus stop in Beit Lid in northern Israel, where dozens of Israeli soldiers were waiting to return to their military bases after weekend leave. Twenty-one soldiers and civilians were killed.

Shortly afterward, Fathi Shqaqi, the Islamic Jihad leader based in Damascus, praised the attack in a rare public appearance. Nine months later, he was assassinated by unknown assailants while visiting Malta. Many analysts suspected Israel was behind the attack.