Wednesday, October 28, 2015 | by Khaled Abu Toameh
Originally published by Gatestone Institute under the title “Iran’s New Palestinian Terror Group: Al-Sabireen“. Republished with permission.
The nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers has paved the way for the Iranians to resume their efforts to spread their influence throughout the Middle East.
As the Obama Administration and the rest of the international community choose to look the other way, Iran evidently feels that this is the appropriate time to meddle in the internal affairs of Arabs and Muslims.
Iran’s main goal, from all appearances, is to dominate the entire Middle East by destroying Israel and most of the Arab and Islamic regimes that are considered too “moderate” and “pro-West.” So far, thanks to the indifference of the Obama Administration and most Western countries, the Iranians seem to be marching in the right direction toward achieving their goal.
Iran is already deeply involved in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. In recent months, the Iranians have also returned to the Palestinian arena, this time through a new group called Al-Sabireen Movement For Supporting Palestine. Translated into English, Al-Sabireen means “The Patient One.”
The new Iranian-backed Al-Sabireen was established in wake of tensions between Iran and its two former allies in the Gaza Strip: Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis four years ago, relations between Tehran and Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been strained. The refusal of Hamas and Islamic Jihad publicly to support Iran’s ally, President Bashar Assad, in his fight against the Syrian opposition, has resulted in the expulsion of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders from Syria. It has also prompted the Iranians to cut off financial aid to the two groups, an abandonment that has left them facing a severe and unprecedented crisis — the worst in more than two decades.
Al-Sabireen, whose emblem is identical to that of another Iran proxy, Hezbollah, so far has about 400 followers in the Gaza Strip. Each one receives a monthly salary of $250-$300, while the senior officials of the group get at least $700.
Although Al-Sabireen has been operating in the Gaza Strip for several months now, its name surfaced two weeks ago when one of its top military commanders was shot and killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The man, Ahmed Sharif Al-Sarhi, was responsible for a series of shooting attacks on Israel before he was fatally shot by IDF snipers along the border with the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian sources said that most of the Al-Sabireen terrorists are former disgruntled members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The sources said that Iran has been supplying Al-Sabireen with various and new types of weapons that are being used to attack Israel. According to the sources, Al-Sarhi was killed by the IDF while he was trying to fire from a new Steyr HS .50 long-range sniper rifle he had recently received from the Iranians.
The Iranians are also believed to have supplied their new terrorist group in the Gaza Strip with Grad and Fajr missiles that are capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
The leader of Al-Sabireen, Hisham Salem, is a former commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. His activities and rhetoric have worried many in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who fear that his group is beginning to attract many of their followers.
Two weeks ago, unidentified assailants stabbed and moderately wounded Salem shortly after he gave a newspaper interview in the northern Gaza Strip. Although no group has claimed responsibility, it is widely believed that the assailants belong to either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Salem has been accused by many Palestinians of helping Iran spread Shia Islam inside the Gaza Strip, where all Muslims belong to the rival Sunni denomination.
Al-Sabireen is also believed to have succeeded in recruiting scores of militiamen belonging to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip. These militiamen have gone to the Iranian-backed group mostly for financial considerations. This, of course, is bad news for Abbas, who is now watching as many of his former loyalists have come onto Iran’s payroll and are sharing its radical ideology.
Iran’s presence in the Gaza Strip — this time through Al-Sabireen — is bad news not only for Israel, but also for many Palestinians and Arabs in the region. The Egyptians, who have been waging a relentless war on Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Sinai, are already voicing concern over Iran’s new Palestinian proxy. The last thing Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah need is another Iranian terror group similar to Hezbollah in the Middle East.
It now remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration and other Western powers will wake up and realize that the Iranians are continuing to fool them, not only regarding Tehran’s nuclear program, but also concerning its territorial ambitions in the Middle East. Iran’s Al-Sabireen group states that its main goal is to “eliminate the Zionist entity.”
On its way to achieving its goal, the group will also kill Arabs and Muslims who do not share its objectives and ideology. It also seeks to kill Israel’s Western friends, especially those living in the U.S. and Europe. Unless the U.S. and Western powers realize that Iran remains a major threat to world peace, Al-Sabireen and other terrorist groups will one day manage to establish a UN-recognized Palestinian state that would pose an existential threat to Israel and destabilize the entire Middle East.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades. Follow Khaled Abu Toameh on Twitter.