Iran’s supreme leader applauded the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on Thursday, telling the leader of the Iran-backed organization it had proven Palestinians could “crush the enemy” during three days of fighting with Israel last week.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the remarks in an exchange of letters with Islamic Jihad’s general-secretary, Ziad Nakhaleh, according to a report in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
In the letters, Nakhaleh and Khamenei both played down divisions between different Gaza terror groups, after Hamas sat out last week’s fighting.
Khamenei told the terror chief, “The recent event has added to the honors of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement and elevated the status of Islamic Jihad in the magnificent resistance movement of the Palestinian nation.”
“You have proven that each section of the resistance is able to crush the enemy,” Khamenei told Nakhaleh, who was in Iran for meetings with the terror group’s main backers throughout last week’s fighting.
“You have been able to demonstrate the solidarity of the Palestinian nation’s jihad to the malicious, deceptive enemy,” Khamenei said. “We continue to stand with you.”
Khamenei applauded Nakhaleh for “connecting the fight in Gaza with the West Bank.” Before last week’s fighting, Israel had arrested Islamic Jihad’s leader in the West Bank, prompting threats of retaliation from the terror group.
Nakhaleh also wrote a letter to Khamenei claiming “unity that exists in our nation when they are confronting the enemy,” the Fars report said.
“All of the resistance organizations, including Hamas at the head, have approved of it and supported it,” Nakhaleh said. Islamic Jihad had urged Hamas to join the fighting against Israel, but Hamas remained on the sidelines.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, is also supported by Iran, but to a lesser extent than the far smaller Islamic Jihad.
Nakhaleh said in the letter to Khamenei that he appreciated Hezbollah’s and Iran’s support during the fighting and claimed victory, despite his group’s heavy losses during the fighting, and minimal damage to Israel.
“This battle frustrated the Zionist regime’s estimates to such a large extent that after just three days they were forced to ask for a ceasefire and to accept the terms set by the resistance,” he said.
Iran is also a key backer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also threatened Israel over last week’s flare-up.
Israeli officials have highlighted Iran’s connection to Islamic Jihad. Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday accused Iran of funneling “tens of millions of dollars per year” to Islamic Jihad via the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as materials and know-how.
“While the world watched ‘another escalation between Israel and Gaza,’ I stopped to emphasize: The Iranian ayatollahs are involved on this front. Islamic Jihad in Gaza is a violent Iranian proxy,” Gantz said. “Their leadership visits Iran and meets Iranian leaders frequently. Islamic Jihad has an open tab in Iran.”
Nakhaleh met with the head of the IRGC, Gen. Hossein Salami, while in Tehran on Saturday, a day after the conflict started. Salami and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi both harshly condemned Israel over the weekend.
The Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Breaking Dawn with airstrikes against Islamic Jihad on Friday — saying it resorted to force against a “concrete” cross-border threat — kicking off three days of fighting, before an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire came into force Sunday night.
The opening airstrikes killed Tayseer Jabari, Islamic Jihad’s commander in northern Gaza. The IDF said the group planned an imminent attack against Israeli civilians or troops along the border. Islamic Jihad had been issuing threats for days, which had put many civilians in southern Israel under a security lockdown.
Along with Jabari, Israeli forces also killed Khaled Mansour, Islamic Jihad’s commander in southern Gaza, during the fighting.
Palestinian terrorists launched 1,175 rockets at Israel between last Friday and Sunday night. According to the IDF, some 200 rockets fell short in the Gaza Strip, some causing the deaths of Palestinians. The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted over 380 projectiles fired toward populated areas, at an unprecedented 97 percent success rate, the IDF said. There were no casualties in Israel.
The IDF said it struck 170 targets, using fighter jets, armed drones, combat helicopters and artillery. Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the strikes were a “precise counter-terror operation against an immediate threat.”
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip said 48 people were killed amid the fighting, including 17 children, but it did not say how many of the total killed were affiliated with terror groups. At least 15 deaths were claimed as members by Islamic Jihad, Hamas and another smaller terror group.
Israel has said as many as 16 people, 12 them children, might have been killed by rockets misfired by Palestinian terrorists that landed short inside Gaza.