Iran is trying to build a Hezbollah-style terror group in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Friday night.
Al-Sabirin (the name comes from the Arabic word for “patience”) has begun recruiting an intended initial force of 400 fighters, the TV report said, and is directly funded by the regime in Tehran.
Because it follows Shi’ite Islam — as does Iran and the Iranian proxy militia Hezbollah in Lebanon — it is having a difficult time gaining recruits among Gaza’s Sunni Muslims. Nonetheless, the report said, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is allocating funds to the nascent group, transferred through a charitable organization named after the founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Headed by a former Islamic Jihad leader named Hisham Salem, Al-Sabirin has fired rockets into Israel, and lost one fighter, named in the TV report as Ahmed al-Sirahi, in clashes with Israel forces at the Gaza border last month.
A rocket factory it established in Gaza was blown up during the summer 2014 war with Israel, and the two Gazans who were producing its rockets were killed, according to the report.
The symbol and flag of the group are very similar to those of Hezbollah, which in 2006 fought a major war against Israel, and which Israel today believes has an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets and precision missiles in south Lebanon ready for use against Israel should Iran give the word.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly vowed to arm fighters in Palestine against Israel — a pledge he has restated in the wake of July’s world powers’ nuclear accord with his regime. Israel’s leadership bitterly opposed the terms of that deal, warning that it would embolden Iran in its support for terrorism and regional aggression, and bolster the regime’s finances, as well as paving its path to the bomb.
Iran’s drive to establish its own organization in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip began 18 months ago, the TV report said, and Tehran has now suspended all funding to Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad, in part because of their opposition to the Assad regime that Iran and Hezbollah are supporting in Syria.
Tehran is also channeling funds to woo recruits to the organization through the familiar path of philanthropy, the TV report said, citing school equipment and household goods purchased with Iranian money for needy Gazans. It showed school supplies in Gaza bearing the picture of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and cooling fans purchased, ironically, in Israel.
Al-Sabirin “is still a small organization, with marginal influence” in Gaza, the TV report said. “But these are the first seeds.”