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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Israel’s Pre-emptive Offensive Against Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Filed under: Hamas, Israeli Security

Israel’s Pre-emptive Offensive Against Palestinian Islamic Jihad
PIJ commander Ali Ramzi Alaswad was killed in Damascus on March 19, 2023.

The Israeli Mossad has been accused of killing a senior member of the Islamic Jihad in Damascus who planned attacks against Israel during the month of Ramadan, according to foreign reports.

Israel has resumed targeted killings in Syria and Lebanon of senior members of the terrorist organizations working to incite an armed intifada against Israel. Further such operations may be expected.

According to Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip, senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Damascus and Lebanon went underground following the death of a senior member of PIJ in Damascus on March 19, 2023. Foreign sources said that agents of the Israeli Mossad killed him.

It appears that Israel has launched pre-emptive strikes on Islamic Jihad ahead of Ramadan (which begins on March 22) to reduce the terrorist attacks it is planning against Israeli targets.

The senior officer was Ali Ramzi Alaswad, 31, a chemical engineer who joined Islamic Jihad in 2005 and reached a senior command position in its military wing.

His death came a day after Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad Al-Nakhalah met in Beirut, Lebanon, with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to coordinate terrorist activities against Israel during Ramadan.

Alaswad was killed at the door to his house in the Qudsiya neighborhood of Damascus. Two men ambushed him in the morning near his car when he left his home, shooting him repeatedly. Alaswad was planning attacks against Israel in the coming weeks. Presumably, the Israeli Mossad followed him for a long time. However, security officials in Israel refused to answer whether he was connected to the powerful bomb attack last week at the Megiddo Junction in Israel’s north.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alluded to the Israeli policy of preempting a new intifada when he told the weekly cabinet meeting, “Dozens of terrorists have been eliminated in the past month; many others have been arrested. I reiterate: whoever tries to harm Israeli citizens will pay the price. We will find the terrorists and the architects of terrorism everywhere.”

According to well-informed sources, Israel has decided to renew the targeted killing of senior members of the terrorist organizations in Syria and Lebanon that operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The operations are quiet and carried out without Israeli fingerprints or taking responsibility.

The Close Connection to Iran

Under the guidance of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hizbullah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations are preparing for a new wave of terrorism during Ramadan.

The Israeli security establishment is genuinely concerned about the continued growth of terrorist groups in the northern West Bank. Islamic Jihad has established nine new armed terrorist groups there, which receive financial aid and weapons from Iran.

Islamic Jihad has been leading terrorist operations in the northern West Bank since the end of the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip in May 2021 and following the escape of six terrorists from Gilboa prison (and recapture) in September 2021. Five were from PIJ.

According to senior security officials, the man responsible for establishing these terrorist groups is Akram Al-Ajouri, the head of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, in coordination with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

It was the Iranians who developed the practice of setting up new terrorist groups after the establishment of the “Jenin Battalion” as a local initiative.

Who Is Akram Al-Ajouri?

On November 13, 2019, Israel tried to kill PIJ senior leader Akram Al-Ajouri at his home in Damascus. Al-Ajouri is a member of the political bureau of Islamic Jihad and head of its Supreme Military Council. He survived the Israel Air Force attack on his home, but his son was killed.

In the PIJ internal elections, Al-Ajouri came in second after Ziyad Al-Nakhalah, who was elected secretary-general. Al-Ajouri is also the head of the Shura Council and is responsible for the organization’s funds, which come mainly from Iran.

Akram Al-Ajouri had close relations with General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, who was killed by the U.S. military.

Together with Ziyad Al-Nakhalah, he recently met in Tehran with General Hossein Salami, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, to coordinate military activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

PIJ’s Ziyad Al-Nakhalah and the Iran Connection: A Gallery

Ziyad al-Nakhalah

PIJ leadership with Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran
PIJ leadership, led by Ziad Nakhlah, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in 2016.
Ziyad Al-Nakhalah and Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Al-Nakhalah and General Qassem Soleimani in 2018.
Al-Nakhalah with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
Al-Nakhalah with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

In a letter to Akram Al-Ajouri, IRGC Qods Force Commander Esmayeel Qaani wrote in 2021: “We will soon enter Al-Aqsa Mosque with dignity and might to pray there.” General Qaani vowed to continue the path of his predecessor, Lt.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in supporting the Palestinian resistance, stressing, “We will not stop helping you until the fall of the usurper regime, although the threats and dangers will increase and intensify.” (Fars News, Iran)

Sheikh Bassam Al-Saadi from the Jenin refugee camp helped Al-Ajouri establish the new terrorist groups in the West Bank. As a result, Al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, was arrested by the IDF, which led to the IDF’s major operation against Islamic Jihad in Gaza in the summer of 2021.

Al-Ajouri moves between Iran, Syria, and Lebanon and maintains military ties with senior officials of the Iranian regime and Hizbullah. He has significant influence in the Gaza Strip.

According to security officials, there are several hundred armed terrorists in the Jenin area operating in several groups that mainly belong to PIJ’s battalions and Fatah. Therefore, the IDF’s arrest operations are not enough to curb the wave of terrorism, even though it has succeeded in many cases.

PIJ fears a large operation by the IDF in the Jenin area against the terrorist groups and another attempt to target Akram Al-Ajouri when there is an operational opportunity. He is now the head of the snake that operates the terrorism in the Jenin and Nablus areas.

Israel is entering an extremely sensitive security period, and the targeted killings in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and abroad are an integral part of the tools that Israel uses to fight terrorists and for deterrence. Israel has a bank of targets at the top of the terrorist organizations: senior terrorists who plan to harm Israel’s citizens and its security forces.