Bibliographie de Jean-Francois Legrain All the URL have been updated in October 2013
 


 

The Shi'a Threat in Palestine: between phobias and propaganda

Jean-François Legrain

CNRS, Groupe de Recherches et d’Études sur la Méditerranée et le Moyen-Orient (GREMMO), Lyon



Updated version with "The Shi'a Threat in Palestine: between phobias and propaganda", in Brigitte Maréchal & Sami Zemni (eds.), The Dynamics of Sunni-Shia Relationships: Doctrine, Transnationalism, Intellectuals and the Media, Londres, Hurst & Co, 2012 (http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/the-dynamics-of-sunni-shia-relationships/).


The bloodthirsty Haniyah and Khalid [Mashaal] spiritual son of Khomeini.
" Hamas militias kill ulemas and mudjahideen for the satisfaction of Jews, Crusaders and renegades Shi'as"
18 august 2009

In the last three or four years, denunciations of a Shi'a threat [in its Twelver form] in Palestine have increased in spite of the fact that almost 99% of the population in the Occupied Territories is Sunni, and the last 1% is Christian. These denunciations have been made by actors –individuals, organizations and States– empowered by various motivations but united in a common hostility towards Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, on the one hand, and to the Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, on the other hand.

In this paper, I will first of all try to establish an inventory of the phobias and propaganda developed around of the “Shi'ification” of Palestine, the Shi'a faith being the core of an “axis” of destabilization. Even if phobias are usually linked to religion and propaganda to politics, both have a know how in mutual instrumentalization. I will thus have the opportunity to show that these discourses, beyond a superficial diversity, turn around a common “conspiracy theory” stating that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are thought to form a single ensemble. Each and every element of this whole, in fine, is said subordinated to the sole interests of Iran, the “enemy” par excellence of peace and stability in the Great Middle East. The Islamic Republic has thus inherited the place formerly occupied in the American speech by Saddam-Iraq, now defeated but replaced by a new... Shi'a State. Unlike these over-simplifying -if not simplistic- approaches, I will try to describe and explain the diversity of relationships between these organizations and States in a diachronic and synchronic perspectives. I will therefore question three main aspects of the so-called “threat”: the "spread" of the Shi'a faith, the “fascination” for Shi'a and the underlying “unicity” of its political project.

An inventory of phobias and propaganda

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, apart from their official professions of faith concerning mutual co-operation in defending Palestinian rights, are quasi silent about their political, ideological, organizational and operational relations in this field. Even “scientific” studies only rarely dwell on the question. The field of investigation thus ends up being monopolized by an inflated discourse expounded by actors and observers fundamentally hostile to these policies, labelled "Shi'a" and denounced as threatening.

Phobias

In the last few years, both Palestinian Salafist circles and international have made the issue of the “Shi'itization of Palestine” one of their favourite themes. The terms most commonly used are: tashyî’ (التشييع) and tashayyu’ (التشيّع) (chiification in French, Shi'itization or Shi'afication in English), a priori devoid of pejorative connotations but employed in developments openly hostile to Shi'ism. Expressions like al-taghalghul al-shî'î (التغلغل الشيعي) (Shi'a penetration), al-ghazû al-shî’î (الغزو الشيعي) ( Shi'a razzia) or, further, al-tabshîr al-shî'î (التبشير الشيعي) (Shi'a evangelization) are also used, as well as al-mashrû’ al-safavî (المشروع الصفوي) (the Safavid project) referring to the dynasty which, in the early 16th century, imposed Twelver Shi'ism by force on Iran, until then Sunni. By a mirror phenomenon, the individual conversions of Palestinians celebrated by Shi'a sites as mustabsirûn (المستبصرون) (those who have come to light) become on Sunni sites witnesses of the hated Shi'a policy aiming at converting the whole world.

Two websites are especially designed to spread Salafist discourse on the ill-effects of Shi'itization on Palestine. Created in 2006, "al-Haqîqa" (the Truth-Reality) (مـوقع الحقيقـة) (http://www.haqeeqa.net/ succeeds http://www.haqeeqa.com/) [See @haqeeqanet on Twitter] emanates from a mysterious "Committee for the defence of Sunni beliefs – Palestine" (لجنة الدفاع عن عقيدة أهل السنة والجماعة في فلسطين) whose mission is to uncover the real threats that the Shi'a and other "misguided" Muslims (Baha'is, Druze, Ahbash, etc.) constituted for Palestine and, beyond, to orthodox Islam as a whole. Less Palestinian-centred, "al-Râsid" (the Observer) (موقع ودورية الراصد) (http://www.alrased.net/ and http://www.alrased.info/), with the latter inaugurated in 2003. In both cases, nothing is said about the real identity of those responsible, or their nationality or geographical location. Widely cited and reproduced by these websites and others, the most prolific author on the subject is Usâma Chahâda (أسامة شحادة). A Jordanian national, he presides over a "Committee of the good word" (لجنة الكلمة الطيبة بالأردن) and his writings are available on his blog (http://osamash.maktoobblog.com/) [no longer active in 2013. See @osaosa20000 on Twitter].

[See also منبر اهل السنه والجماعه-فلسطين (https://www.facebook.com/alminbar.0) created in 2012 August on facebook].

Some apologetic treaties against the Shi'a articles of faith are indeed reproduced on these sites and Shi'as are designated as rawâfid (الروافض) (Rafidites) ie those who reject the legitimacy of the first three caliphs, called "the well-directed" in Sunni milieus, and sometimes also as kuffâr (الكفار) (infidels). But most often, the pages of these sites are eminently political and intended for the here and now, with little concern for historical consistency. Assimilated to Jews and Christians, Shi'as thus become allies of Zionism and the United States. Islamic Jihad and Hamas, by their links with Hezbollah and Iran, are in turn reduced to mere vectors of Iranian strategy for the expansion of Shi'ism.

Propaganda

The "Shi'a peril" discourse is also developed by State actors. In fact, the "pro-Western" camp, under the terms of an alliance more or less openly declared as "Sunni", is mobilized against the anti-American camp, denounced as "Shi'a". The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to name only those on the Arab side of the Near East, without forgetting Israel, keep up this discourse on the Shi'a and Iranian threat, a discourse not free from material provided by the Salafist themselves, courted potential new allies.

The statement made by King Abdullah II of Jordan’s in December 2004 is usually considered to be the first manifestation of this contemporary political version of anti-Shi'a discourse. In the context of the first post-Saddam Iraqi elections, the Hashemite sovereign warned his American allies in the Washington Post of the risks linked to "the emergence of a new Shi'a crescent". Ranging from Bahrain-Iran to Lebanon, the so-called crescent includes Alawite Syria and Iraq with the double threat the latter constitutes from now on: that of the Shi'a majority of its population and that of its millions of co-citizens who, fleeing violence, have taken refuge in the region’s -Sunni- countries. The resurgence of popularity obtained by the Lebanese Hezbollah on the occasion of its semi-victory against Israel during the summer of 2006 has only increased the fears of the pro-Western camp, without forgetting the defence agreement signed in June 2006 between Syria and Iran in the general context of the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s declared nuclear ambitions. For its part, Palestine has been included in this crescent since the Hamas victory in legislative elections in January 2006. The "threat" was found confirmed and enhanced during the summer of 2007 when security forces of the Ministry of Interior and the Ezzedeen al-Qassam of Hamas anticipated a coup attempt instigated by the security forces linked to the presidency and Fatah, and secured the exclusive control of the Gaza Strip. More recently, the same discourse on the Shi'a and Iranian threat has been held by President Hosni Mubarak on the occasion of the discovery in Egypt in summer 2009 of a network of Hezbollah, merely overseeing the importation of weapons in Gaza according to Hezbollah but accused by the Egyptian authorities of preparing attacks on the Suez Canal.

In all these cases, Iran is considered the commanding authority. Regarding Palestine, the Syrian government and Hezbollah are merely intermediaries when Hamas, lower level of the chain of command, is the military arm of Iran on the south side of Israel. The threat, according to proponents of this discourse, is sometimes described as "Shi'a" sometimes as "Iranian", and often as Shi'a and Iranian. A more "geopolitical" discourse use the term "axis" to describe relations supposed to unite the different players of the threat. Such use, of course, is not innocent even if the reference to the context of World War II remains mostly in the unsaid. The "axis of evil" coined by United States President George W. Bush added a moral connotation, also present in the anti-Shi'a discourse. Lacking the time to assess each of these discourses in detail, I will merely quote here Mark Langfan, an obscure military analyst based in the United States. His "Iran: the fourth Reichastan", a 3-4 pages text, has the advantage of expressing in a few words, and without any language precaution, the arguments underlying the majority of discourses about the Iranian threat: “The grim reality is that the Hamas/Hezbollah Israel War and the Iranian backed component of the Iraqi insurgency are two sides of the same coin that has its fount the growing Iranian Fourth Reichastan Axis against America and the World”. “Iran is in fact using Syria, as Germany used Italy, to facilitate its early strategic moves in the ‘Thirties’ so that in the ‘Forties’ Iran will come to rule. In short, the seemingly disparate elements of the emerging Fourth Reichastan supply each other as an axis, defend each other as an axis, and fight for each other as an integrated axis” (Jewish Voice and Opinion, January 2007).

Religion and politics or mutual instrumentalization

The distinction I have just made between phobias and propaganda would turn into a nonsense should we consider that the religious bodies believe in their discourse, when the politicians maintain a critical distance - the very condition of an effective and controlled manipulation- with their own speech. But the reality is more complex and recent examples, in dealing with the Palestinian domain alone, show that the religious and the politician, depending on the contexts, are capable of using one another.

In Palestine, the instrumentalization of religion in the context of violent mobilizations between Fatah and Hamas partisans have revealed an erosion of the sense of belonging to the same people and disregard for the requirements of claimed citizenship. Proclamations of takfîr (التكفير) (excommunication), in fact, have been issued. Far from the common ideas, they has not come from Hamas, the "fundamentalist" movement, but from Fatah, the "secular" one. The idea first emerged indeed among those close to Muhammad Dahlan. The latter, a spearhead in refusing to let Hamas exercise the popular mandate it had won, had recently been elected member of the Fatah Central Council. Today, he is also, and above all, the prime interlocutor of General Keith Dayton. United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, General Dayton is the real decision-maker for Ramallah security policies. In any case, in late 2006 and early 2007, during demonstrations of mass support for Muhammad Dahlan held in Khan Yunis and Gaza, Hamas was booed with shouts of "Shi'as, Shi'as". In May 2007, a mysterious Sheikh Shakir al-Hayran published a fatwa and series of texts on an internet site linked to Muhammad Dahlan and the Preventive Security Forces. These texts were also posted on various official Fatah websites and forums, as well as on the official site of the National Security Forces. Using a language of Islamic jurisprudence, the Sheikh qualifies in his texts Hamas as a Kharijite ["Those who Went Out", the Kharijites reject the fourth caliph, Ali] organization and a Shi'a organization. Both qualifications aimed at depriving Hamas of its status as a Sunni Muslim movement. Thus the Sheikh offered security forces linked with Fatah a full religious caution to physically eliminate their opponents: "Hamas and the Jews are two sides of the same coin, collaborationist troops responsible for implementing Shi'a regional interests, whose goal is the Authority’s annihilation and destroying the [Palestinian] people in starving it and bringing it to its knees by force [...]". Most observers have identified the mysterious Sheikh as being Mahmud al-Habbash, current Minister of Social Affairs of the Fayyad cabinet, having deflected Hamas in the mid 1990’s.

 


Jamâ’at Jund Ansâr Allâh
Collaborators of Iran!
You have deprived us of the here below!
We have deprived you of the hereafter!

Furthermore, in the last few months, informations coming from Gaza have raised the possibility that some Salafi-jihadist groups, carrying a message close to Al-Qaida’s and fundamentally hostile to Hamas, have been more or less manipulated by Fatah. In any case, the movement’s official forum (fatehforums.com) periodically posts the communiqués of the World Islamic Media Front (the Ben Laden movement’s media front) when attacking Hamas. In Ramallah, the Minister of Social Affairs -and the alleged author of the 2007 fatwa- is today entrusted by the presidency with a mission of good offices with the Salafists. Thus with him as a go-between, last April 29, President Mahmud Abbas received a delegation composed of the principal West Bank Salafist organizations. He did not fail to underline that during his long stay in exile in Syria he had established close ties with Imam Al-Albanî, a Salafist reference par excellence, even adding that he felt close to his ideas.

The "conspiracy" put to the test by history

A good number of elements making up this "conspiracy theory" don’t withstand a close examination of the facts. In reality, the relations that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad maintain to Hezbollah, Syria and Iran appear eminently complex to the historian and in constant realignment depending on the periods and the cases involved, far from the simplistic essentialism characterizing the discourse about the Shi'a threat.

Spreading the Shi'a faith

Markaz al-Abhâth al-'Aqâ'idiyya
مركز الأبحاث العقائدية

[See also مركز الأبحاث العقائدية on facebook]

Obviously, I shall not venture into the field of theology. Hence, as a historian, I shall restrain myself to questioning representations of the "threat". Intense use of the net by Islamist and Islamic circles, Shi'a as well as Sunni, has intensified the internationalization of discourse and practice, in many cases fueled by sources entrenched behind the anonymity virtual sources offer. Initiatives which, in other times, would have remained individual or local, thus today become, almost instantaneously, world events. In the Palestinian field, for example, conversions to Shi'ism denounced by Salafists as a mass phenomenon, in the end, after consultation of Sunni websites celebrating the conversions and Shi'a sites worried about this question, boil down to some 15-20 cases. The conversion is proven for some but much more questionable for others, as, for example, that the founder of Islamic Jihad Fathi Shikaki who, incidentally, had denied it in an interview in the Lebanese Liwa', October 3, 1990.

Once again, political interference appear vividly as it appeared in August 2007 with the campaign on the Iranian attempts to expand the Shi'a faith in Palestine illustrated by an alleged conversion of Khaled Mashaal, chairman of the political bureau of Hamas. This campaign, in fact, has been launched from Jordan shortly after the takeover of Gaza by the Islamist movement bythe weekly al-Haqîqa al-Duwaliyya (الحقيقة الدولية) which had itself been created in February 2006, three months after the suicide attacks against hotels in Amman, specifically to promote a "moderate" Islam.

Moreover, reported by the Salafists as evidence of the existence of Shi'a missions in Palestine, some websites have called themselves "Palestinian" without ever supplying any evidence to prove it. The only exception is the website of the Jaafari Association of Palestine [http://www.thu-alfiqar.com/ disappeared in 2005], founded by Ashraf Amuna (أشرف أمونة) in Dabbûriyya (near Nazareth) and called Dhû al-Fiqâr (ذوالفقار - الجمعية الجعفرية في فلسطين). The "Forum of Shi'a in Palestine" (منتدى شيعة فلسطين) which succeeded the "Forum Light of Guidance in Palestine" (ملتقي نور الولاية في فلسطين), itself partly reproduced on the blog "Ummat al-Zahrâ' [The community Zahra' (the beautiful), one of the names of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet]... Ummat al-Nûr [The community of light]" (أمة الزهراء..... امة النور) have generally experienced a relatively ephemeral existence -from January 2005 to February 2008 [in 2013, its URL is https://palshia.com/]. A Yahoo discussion group called "Shi'a in blessed Palestine" (مجموعة شيعة فلسطين المباركة) operated at the same period. The "website of the shi'ification in Palestine" (موقع التشيع في فلسطين) (disappeared around 2009], finally, aims from Najaf (Iraq) to spread the Shi'a faith in Palestine (موقع التشيع في فلسطين مهمتنا: نشر مذهب اهل البيت عليهم السلام في فلسطين).

The announcement, finally, on March 2, 2006, of the foundation in Ramallah of a "Higher Islamic Shi'a Council in Palestine" set off chain reactions in the Salafist press as well as the international media, the most hostile among them talking about the opening of an "ideological embassy of Iran". None of them echoed the announcement of the project’s withdrawal five days later. Wishing to open new canals of support for the Palestinian people, its founder, former member of Islamic Jihad, converted to Shi'ism and seemingly psychologically unstable, wanted to break with PLO policy, which, he pointed out, had cut itself off from the Iraqi Shi'a population in supporting Iraq in its war with Iran.

Fascination and distance-taking

The Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (حركة الجهاد الإسلامي في فلسطين) was the first to be accused (by the Muslim Brothers) to be a vector of Shi'ification in Palestine, its principal leaders themselves being denounced as converted to Shi'ism. The movement was founded in the late 1970’s by Gazan students in Egypt. Disappointed with the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood then completely removed from any patriotic involvement, they have made Palestine the heart of Islam and its liberation an immediate imperative, transported by the fascination exerted by the Iranian Islamic revolution, to which their secretary general, Dr Fathi Shikaki (الدكتور فتحي الشقاقي), dedicated an opusculum entitled "Khomeini, the Islamic solution and the alternative" (الخميني الحل الإسلامي والبديل). Prisoner for many years of its conception of itself in terms of Islamic vanguard (Tali'a Islâmiyya) (الطليعة الاسلامية), decimated by Israeli repression in 1986-87 and weakened by successive divisions, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad has long been a tiny group dependent on its ties with Tehran.

Today Hamas is designated as Iran’s spearhead on Israel’s southern flank. Yet nothing in the movement would indicate its predisposition to become a puppet, much more the puppet of a Shi'a State. Hamas was indeed created more or less a decade after the Iranian Islamic revolution. However, as the "active member of the Muslim Brotherhood Association in the Intifada", according to the expression used in one of its first communiqués dated January 1988, Hamas claims a lineage going back to the late 1920’s when Hassan al-Banna created the Association in Egypt, and the late 1940’s, when it created its Palestinian branch. With a fundamentally Sunni ideological corpus, stable and relatively old, Hamas moreover runs an extensive network of associations, two arguments that make it difficult to manipulate.

The founding of Hamas, however, reflects a revolution within the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood which led to an abandonment of their traditional quietist policy, favouring instead active participation in the national struggle. In that, Hamas doubtlessly owes a certain debt to Hezbollahi and Iranian exemplarity, to which its very name bears witness: Hamas (حماس), which means "zeal", is an acronym. Its full name is "the Islamic Resistance Movement"" (حركة المقاومة الإسلامية) (Harakat al-Muqâwama al-Islâmiyya), a name that can be compared with the Lebanese "Islamic Resistance" (المقاومة الإسلامية في لبنان), the organizational signature of the anti-Israeli uprising of the southern Lebanon population begun in 1982 and a prototype of what would become Hezbollah (حزب الله). Furthermore, if the Islamic Jihad had not existed, the Muslim Brotherhood might never have considered its entry into the field of the national struggle necessary. It is the Islamic Jihad movement, in fact, which enabled the reconciliation between religion and patriotism few years ago in the Palestinian field and, following the example of the Iranian revolution, began to attract to him young Muslim Brothers increasingly numerous. Hamas so far has never become either Shi'a or even a dominant element of the Jihad trend. In Marj al-Zuhur (مرج الزهور), when in 1992 the Israeli government had banned to south Lebanon some 400 senior Islamic leaders, Hamas had called his "university" in the name of Ibn Taymiyya (جامعة ابن تيمية), the medieval hero of the Sunni apologetics. The movement thus showed its determination to protect itself from the Shi'a population and Hezbollah its immediate neighbours. Hamas, moreover, has never produced a proper theological discourse. Its references are those of international Sunni Islamism with its historical Egyptian figures (Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb) or Pakistani figures (Abdullah Mawdudi) and its theologians and preachers today, as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi. From the standpoint of religious thought, Hamas is diverse even it underlies a culture of consensus.

If Hamas today, as was the Islamic Jihad, is the target of outcries hostile to Iran and Hezbollah, we should remember that Yasir Arafat himself was once the object of denunciations over Iranian and Hezbollahi involvement alongside the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. Moreover, the Fatah’s flag adopted Hezbollah’s yellow. The Popular Resistance Committees (لجان المقاومة الشعبية), for their part, a cross-organizational structure in Gaza, had borrowed their logo from the Hezbollah. But neither Yasser Arafat nor Fatah were ever suspected of Shi'ism!

Channels in competition

As I have shown, the "conspiracy theory" developed in terms of a Shi'a threat and an axis of destabilization, has popularized a scheme of operational cooperation between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran in the form of an integrated hierarchical ensemble. Far from this ideological approach, the history of this cooperation, quite to the contrary, shows a phenomenon of complementarity/competition between two channels, a Lebanese channel and another Iranian, with Syria managing the contradictions which have occasionally arisen between the two. History also reminds the role played by Fatah in this “axis”, an eminent role in the past, and marginal today but still active even if its leader Mahmud Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan, a member of its Central Council, have made the movement the cornerstone of the new American order in Palestine.


Yasir Arafat

 


Shaykh Tamimi

The "Lebanese channel" can be described as historic, as the heir of alliances built throughout the 1970’s by the PLO, and most particularly by Yasir Arafat and Fatah, with the various Lebanese forces, Shi'a for what concerns us here, and that despite the torments that Shi'a-Palestinian relations in Lebanon have crossed thereafter. Among Palestinians, the first beneficiaries of this operational aid, soon after the evacuation from Lebanon in 1983, were members of Fatah’s internal religious trend: the Hamdi Sultan al-Tamimi (حمدي سلطان التميمي) “Islamic Jihad Brigades” (سرايا الجهاد الإسلامي), the Munir Shafiq (منير شفيق) “Movement of Islamic Jihad Tendency” (حركة الاتجاه الإسلامي المجاهد), and Sheikh Asaad al-Tamimi’s (الشيخ أسعد بيوض التميمي) “Movement of Islamic Jihad-Bayt al-Maqdis” (حركة الجهاد الإسلامي بيت المقدس). Fifteen years later, in the context of the second Intifada, the same Lebanese Shi'a leaders have helped the setting up and functioning of some Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (كتائب شهداء الأقصى) cells (especially those from Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarem), and the Brigades of the Return (كتائب العودة) (also operating in the northern West Bank).

Those responsible for this cooperation held in Lebanon itself (training in Hezbollah camps) or from Lebanon (cell funding, arms exports) were killed mostly in attempts. All of them, before assuming responsibilities for Hezbollah relations with the Palestinian organizations, were trained by Palestinians in the 1970s: Khadr Abu Hasan Salameh (علي حسن ديب - أبو حسن خضر سلامة) also known as Ali Hasan Dib ( killed August 16, 1999 in Sidon), Imad Mughniyyeh (عماد مغنية) (killed in Damascus February 12, 2008) and Abd al-Hadi Hammadi (عبد الهادي حمادي) had been called "the Shiite Fatah clan" and, although Lebanese, had held high responsibilities in Force 17, now the Palestinian presidential guard. Ali Husayn Salah (الحاج علي حسين صالح) (killed August 2, 2003 in southern Beirut) and al-Hajj Ghalib Awali (غالب محمد عوالي) (killed July 19, 2004) had succeeded Ali Dib. All three were killed in attempts due to a Lebanese network linked to the Mossad and dismantled in June 2006. They were replaced by Imad Mughniyyeh, himself killed in Damascus in an attempt whose sponsors have not yet been identified.


Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - Martyr Imad Mughniyye’s Groups
[http://www.althawra1965.com nis no longer valid. See facebook]

Even today, these historical Lebanese Fatah networks provide assistance to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades - Martyr Imad Mughniyye’s Groups (كتائب شهداء الاقصي مجموعات الشهيد عماد مغنية). In Gaza, they unified under Salim Thabit (سليم ثابت) command various cells of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which, after Hamas’s taking exclusive control of the security of the Gaza strip in June 2007, have decided to pursue the anti-Israeli struggle on good terms with the Palestinian Authority there, while breaking off relations with the Ramallah Authority. In Lebanon, the Palestinian go-between between Hezbollah and Fatah in the Palestinian territories is Munir Maqdah (منير مقدح) from Ain Hilweh camp. He now runs the internal Fatah trend hostile to President Mahmud Abbas and to Abbas Zaki, his representative in Beirut.

The "Iranian branch" is more recent but no more ideological (in a religious meaning) than the Lebanese one. Its creation goes back to the early years of the Islamic Republic, when the latter severed its ties with Yasser Arafat’s PLO following his commitment on the path of negotiation with Israel. The Revolutionary Guards were then responsible for contacts with Lebanon and Palestine and Muhsin Rafiq Dust (محسن رفيق دست), who had previously participated in training of cadres of the PLO in Lebanon, was at one time their minister.The Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine was one of the first Palestinian beneficiaries of this political, financial and operational cooperation. But, in the early 1990’s, rivalries between Palestinian organizations of the Jihad trend sorely tested relations between the Lebanese and Iranian branches.

In the 1970s and until the mid-1980s, indeed, Fathi Shikaki's movement was only one element of the Palestinian Jihad trend alongside Fatah groups which, as such, benefited from the Lebanese channel cooperation. The relations maintained by these organizations of the same Jihad trend, at once friends and competitors, have thus often been stormy despite occasional collaborations, exacerbated by jealousies resulting from the passage of certain military and political personnel from one group to another. But, in the early 1990’s, the creation of a Hezbollah-Palestine (حزب الله - فلسطين) constituted the first demonstration of a diversification of military aid from Iran and Hezbollah to the Palestinian Mujahideen.

The founder of this Hezbollah-Palestine, Ahmad Muhanna (احمد مهنا), was a former officer of the Popular Liberation Forces, a unit of the Army for the Liberation of Palestine, created after 1967 to resist the new occupant within the territories themselves. Operating in symbiosis with elements of the Lebanese channel, the group maintained direct links with Iran and Syria, with its military camps being situated in the Syrian Hauran and the Lebanese Bekaa. Feeling deprived of its particular links with Iran, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine thence tried to sabotage the initiative in appealing directly to the Guide of the revolution. After this episode, it created its own military wing, the Islamic Fighting Forces “Qasam” (oath) (القوى الإسلامية المجاهدة قسم) which became later the al-Quds [Jerusalem] Brigades (سرايا القدس).

Al-Quds Brigades
International Conference in Support of
the Islamic Revolution in Palestine
Al-Qassam Brigades

With this Hezbollah-Palestine experience, the Lebanese and Iranian channels succeeded non only to find common ground and cooperate but also set up new alliances among Islamic Palestinian organizations. Indeed, Ahmad Muhanna’s deputy, Adnan al-Ghul (عدنان الغول), a refugee from the Gaza Shati camp, had joined early to the Muslim Brotherhood. But advocating armed struggle for the liberation of Palestine, he took his distances and had frequented various Jihad movement groups before becoming a key military element of Hezbollah-Palestine. Yet, following Hamas evolutions in the area of armed struggle, he rejoined his original movement in 1992 on and became deputy to Muhammad Dayf (محمد الضيف), the leader of the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades (al-Ghul was eliminated in October 2004). Thanks to Adnan al-Ghul, Hamas subsequently benefited from contacts with networks of the Lebanese branch at a moment when most of its higher leaders were banned from Palestine to southern Lebanon in 1992. At the same moment, links were established with the Iranian channel and became institutionalized from the holding in Tehran in October 1991 of the first "International Conference to Support the Islamic Revolution in Palestine" (المؤتمر الدولي للدفاع عن الثورة الإسلامية الفلسطينية).

Conclusion

After examining these discourses on the Shi'a threat in Palestine, it seems obvious that they are ideological constructions based on religious and political interests. In the religious field, their ability to mobilize Sunni populations reflects a break with the recent modernist Islamic period in which the rapprochement between Sunnism and Shi'ism was a motto given by as al-Azhar as the Moslem Brotherhood. In the political field, these discourses point a new phenomenon out: the Salafists (even those who adopt a language close to al-Qaida) are the new potential partners of the “secular” regimes in their fight against their only real and popular opponents, the Muslim Brothers.

Mahmud Abbas and the Salafist delegation, Ramallah, April 29, 2009 (Wafa)