Iran's pincer war on Israel is no intifada
By Dan Diker
There has been a tendency in the West to categorise Palestinian terror assaults on Israel as "intifadas". The nomenclature derives from the 1987 violence that raged across Palestinian Arab cities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), which were triggered initially by local Arab demands for greater socioeconomic freedom and a higher standard of living, similar to those of Israeli Arabs.
Within months, the intifada was co-opted by Tunis-based Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat as a continuation of his decades-long commitment to total warfare to destroy the Jewish and democratic state, as stated in the 1968 PLO charter. The brand "intifada" would be carved into the consciousness of the international media. It would also be misapplied to future suicide terror campaigns by Hamas, Fatah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the 2001 to 2004 Second Intifada. That campaign was known as the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" – an Islamic war centred on the 100-year old Palestinian claim that the Jews were defiling the Al-Aqsa mosque, as the first Palestinian clerical leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had declared in the 1920s.
In 2023, the latest upsurge in Palestinian terror in the northern Samarian cities of Jenin and Nablus is easier to recognise. That's because Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has openly called for the regime's Islamic revolution to be exported to the hills of northern Samaria. This is no intifada. It's a premeditated Iranian regime "pincer" war now executed from the northern Samarian hills.
Iran now outflanks Israel on three sides: from Gaza in the south, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) operatives Hamas and PIJ have targeted Israel with tens of thousands of rockets and terror tunnels. From Israel's northern neighbours Lebanon and Syria, IRGC Quds forces and Hezbollah's proxy terror army has about 180 000 rockets and laser-guided missiles directed at Israeli cities. Hezbollah has even set up outposts on Israel's side of the blue line with Lebanon.
Now, the Iranian regime has taken its 44-year-old war to Israel's Samarian hills that overlook Ben Gurion Airport and Israel's main cities along the Mediterranean coast. The evidence is overwhelming. The week of 18 June 2023, Hamas and PIJ leadership visited Tehran for a meeting with the Quds force, the foreign arm of the IRGC, to discuss the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF's) operation Shield and Arrow in Gaza, and to co-ordinate militant actions against Israel, continuing the multi-arena strategy devised by former IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a United States drone strike in 2020, but whose strategic legacy remains.
The high-level meetings coincided with a surge of terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, including some perpetrated by PIJ and Hamas. It encouraged Iran, which seeks to establish the West Bank as an additional battleground in its escalating war against Israel, a country they wish to encircle and destroy. A recent terror attack which killed four Israeli diners at the entrance to the Eli community in Samaria in the northern West Bank is just the latest Iran-backed assault. Since January 2023, about 30 Israelis have been killed in Iranian-backed terror attacks.
Iran's terror campaign isn't occurring in a vacuum. Historical context is important. Since 1979, Iranian leaders have branded Israel "the Little Satan", and vowed its destruction. The Iranian regime has persisted in that aim. For years, the IRGC has supplied weapons and directed PIJ and Hamas. The IRGC weapons ships Karine A (2002); Calypso (2003); and Klos (2014), sent to supply the PLO and Hamas in Gaza with thousands of tons of weaponry, were soon forgotten by the international community.
Until recently, the Iranian regime's IRGC and its Quds terror-export force had mostly focused their presence in the Gaza strip, where IRGC agents have been on the ground since the 2014 Gaza war, assisting Hamas in drone and rocket production. Former IRGC Chief Qassem Suleimani advised Hamas on its Great March of Return campaign, paying Gazan teens thousands of dollars to commit suicide by storming the Gaza-Israel border fence, drawing Israeli fire. IRGC terror operatives were also involved in the building of Hamas' terror tunnels, built to kill or capture Israelis, of which it currently holds four in captivity.
Significantly, Iran views the collapse of the secular, Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority's (PA's) governance – a competitor to the two Islamist militant organisations its regime backs, PIJ and Hamas – as an opportunity to pounce on the northern West Bank. Ironically, recent Palestinian polls reflect public support for Iranian-backed local terror militias such as Lion's Den as a function of public frustration with the highly corrupt PA. Since the aging Abbas is unlikely to have a clear successor, chaos will ensue as these armed groups vie for control, while Iran will exploit the power vacuum to its own advantage.
The Iranian penetration in northern Samaria in the West Bank marks the most far-reaching sign that Iranian terror forces have penetrated Israeli territory and pose a strategic threat. IRGC officials assured PIJ leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah that Iran would smuggle additional weapons to the West Bank through Jordan, and that PIJ would receive more financial support. Iran also demanded the establishment of rocket production facilities in northern Samaria.
Nakhalah praised Iran's unwavering support for Palestinians, saying, "No other country in the world takes such a stance so explicitly", "a testament to Tehran's support for the Palestinian resistance factions" that also "highlights strong ties between PIJ, Hamas, and the Islamic Republic." Nakhalah also met Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the Majlis (Iranian parliament) speaker, on 17 June.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh also met both Supreme Leader Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Haniyeh stated that the June terror attack in Eli that killed four was "just the beginning" of a renewed campaign against Israel. Haniyeh's deputy, Saleh al-Arouri, the head of Hamas' military wing in Judea and Samaria responsible for the attack, was also in Tehran.
In Iran, Hamas official Osama Hamdan also mentioned the important role of Israeli Arabs in the battle against Israel, evidenced in events during the IDF's Guardian of the Walls operation in May 2021. He said the West Bank was entering a new stage of resistance, referring to Iran's creation of 20 to 30 new "battalions" of 2 000 militants in northern Samaria, which aims to spread to central Judea and Samaria, around Ramallah.
As Iran intelligence analyst Micky Segal has noted in a recent Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs analysis, Khamenei reiterated the importance of the West Bank, saying that "Gaza is the centre of resistance, while the point that will bring the enemy to its knees is the West Bank". Khamenei, who meets often with PIJ, said, "The growing power of the resistance groups in the West Bank is the key that can bring the Zionist enemy to its knees, and it's crucial that we continue along this path."
Iran's pincer war on the Jewish state has been a long time coming since 1979, with the violent takeover of Iran by the ayatollahs. In 2014, Khamenei declared, "I believe the West Bank should be armed just like Gaza." General Soleimani's IRGC Quds Force has made an effort since then to arm Palestinians in the West Bank on orders from Khamenei.
Israel isn't standing idly by. The Israel Defense Forces has been planning for the IRGC terror encampment and campaign on its three borders. The IRGC's penetration into the hills above central Israel will probably be met in the near term with a massive, uncompromising counterterror campaign to secure Israel's major cities and protect its citizens from Iran's jihad.
Dan Diker, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is the longtime Director of its Counter-Political Warfare Project. He is former Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress and a Research Fellow of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at Reichman University (formerly IDC, Herzliya). He has written six books exposing the "apartheid antisemitism" phenomenon in North America, and has authored studies on Iran's race for regional supremacy and Israel's need for defensible borders.