Since the start of the civil war in Syria, the Iranian-funded Palestinian militant group Hamas has irked Tehran in a number of ways. First, it refused to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one of Iran’s allies. Then it further provoked Tehran by establishing closer ties with Turkey, moving its headquarters from the West Bank to Istanbul. In July, top Hamas leaders sought to cultivate ties with another of Iran’s enemies—Saudi Arabia—and even flew to Riyadh to meet with Saudi King Salman.
Iran has responded to Hamas’ defiance by reducing funding and making a serious attempt at empowering another Palestinian terror group in the Gaza Strip. Over the past year and a half, the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, assisted by the Palestinian Operations department of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has financed and provided media exposure to the al Sabirin (“the patient”) movement in the Gaza Strip. This new militant group seeks to emulate Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias such as the Badr Organization, known for its blatant pro-Iranian sentiments. Iran hopes that al Sabirin will become a reliable proxy militia in Gaza.
Al Sabirin is headed by Hisham Salem, a former member of the Sunni group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which also uses violence to oppose the existence of Israel and was once one of Iran’s main proxies in Palestine. In fact, al Sabirin broke off from the PIJ after Iran also suspended funding to that group for a few months, which, much to Iran’s dismay, has remained silent on Saudi air strikes in Yemen against the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group.
Salem, now in his early 50s, is a little-known former mid-level commander of the PIJ. He lives in the Gazan townlet of Beit Lahia and comes from a large family of refugees that were originally from the al Habaria village, which is now part of southern Israel. In April 1990, as an early recruit to the PIJ, the young Salem