Israel troubled that war in Lebanon drove its enemies closer
Lebanese and Palestinian militants are now showing greater coordination.
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"There are secret flights, unscheduled flights between Damascus and Tehran, but we're not talking about a lot of people," says Mr. Ranstorp, who is also the research director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College. "Hizbullah is very cagey, very worried about any security breaches. They are overzealous when it comes to security checks on individuals because they want to avoid the Israeli infiltration."Skip to next paragraph
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Though the level of interaction between Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups differs, the common denominator they share, as does Iran, is the ideology that calls for Israel's destruction and the use of violence to accomplish the goal, says Brig. Gen. (Reserve) Yossef Kuperwasser, who until June was the No. 2 in the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) intelligence unit and its chief intelligence analyst.
To all the Palestinian factions that conform to that ideology, Hizbullah provides training for their fighters and technical information on building weapons, a fact acknowledged by former Palestinian presidential candidate, Sattar Kassem, who ran as an independent after the death of Yasser Arafat.
"To a great extent, this is true," Mr. Kassem says when asked whether Palestinian militants were trained by Hizbullah.
"They get into Gaza at night by sea or by underground," says Col. (Reserve) Eitan Azani, the former head of Intelligence in the IDF's Lebanon Division. "Hizbullah is one of the more expert terror groups. They don't do anything by accident, everything is planned."
Since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and the Gaza-Egyptian border nearly a year ago, Hizbullah's efforts and successes in smuggling Palestinians in and out of Gaza have picked up steam, the political official says.
This was confirmed by a Palestinian journalist with close connections to the militant groups in Gaza, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of repercussions from the factions against him. "We know for sure it's happened, not just the deeper political [coordination], but even the members of the factions here in Gaza going out," he says.
But according to Kassem, Hizbullah's coordination with the Palestinian groups to date has been limited, not because of a lack of desire on Iran and Hizbullah's part to gain a foothold inside the West Bank and Gaza, but because Hizbullah does not trust the Palestinians.
Hizbullah "believes that the Israeli intelligence is infiltrating these factions," Kassem says. "We are not professionals, we talk too much and do very little."
All of those interviewed for this article say Islamic Jihad has essentially acted as a proxy for Hizbullah and Iran inside the Palestinian territories, carrying out attacks under their orders.
In at least one case, in 2002, Hizbullah sent fighters from the Lebanese town of Tyre over the border where Islamic Jihad members helped them to carry out a suicide bombing in Mitzuvah, a collective community close to the border, which killed 13 Israelis, Colonel Kuperwasser says.
The relationship between Fatah and Hizbullah is much older and intertwined as the people in charge of the organizations have known each other since the days before Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was based in Beirut.
But the strengthening of ties with the Islamist Palestinian factions is the direction that future Iranian-Hizbullah-Palestinian relations will likely take, Javedanfar says, since the ideology is one in the same, whereas the relationship with secular Fatah was more a marriage of convenience for both sides.
At both the outbreak of the war and after the Israeli bombing of Qana, in which 26 people were killed, a total of five Palestinians with suicide bombing belts were caught by the IDF outside of Nablus, where the Israeli army said it broke up a Hizbullah-affiliated Fatah cell just before the war.
But that is just the beginning of the coordination to come, says Kassem, adding that Hizbullah's standing among the Palestinians grew exponentially during the war with Israel. The Palestinians, like most Arabs, he says, "care about their dignity.... The Arabs have been humiliated for 60 years and suffering from defeat, so to see somebody achieve a victory is somewhat unbelievable for them," he says.