New Trump Crackdown Seeks to Sever Ties Between Iran, Palestinian Terrorists

New sanctions disrupt Iranian-backed terror group plotting on Israel's border

Screen shot from al-Sabireen propaganda video
Screen shot from al-Sabireen propaganda video
January 31, 2018

The Trump administration announced on Wednesday a slate of new sanctions on an Iranian-backed terror organization and its top allies in the Hamas movement, according to an announcement that is being viewed as part of an effort to disrupt the Islamic Republic's terror networks operating on the border of Israel.

The sanctions target a lethal Iranian-funded terror outfit based in the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories that has, at Iran's direction, targeted the Jewish state for terror attacks in recent years.

The Trump administration also slapped new sanctions on Ismail Haniyeh, one of the Hamas movement's top political figures who has helped orchestrate and carry out terror attacks on Israel.

The new sanctions represent an effort by the Trump administration to sever the ties between Iran and Hamas militants operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which have served as a key plotting ground for militants seeking to target the Jewish state.

The latest round of sanctions target a little-known Iranian-backed terror cell known as Harakat al-Sabireen, which first made noticeable inroads in the Gaza strip in early 2016 with the backing of Hamas, the Washington Free Beacon first reported.

Al-Sabireen, which was established in 2014, is believed to receive as much as $10 million a year from Iran via smuggling routes built underground by Palestinian terrorists to facilitate illicit trade beneath the Gaza Strip.

Since taking root in Hamas-controlled territory near Israel, the terror outfit has waged multiple attacks against Israel and sought to bolster its numbers with Palestinian members of more well known terror groups, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or PIJ.

Like Hezbollah, the Iranian-funded terror group that controls territory along Israel's northern border, al-Sabireen is being used by the Islamic Republic to indirectly wage war on the Jewish state and foster unrest in the Palestinian territories.

Al-Sabireen is led by a former head of PIJ, which is designated as a terror organization by the United States.

In January 2016, the group bragged on social media about its ability to strike Israel and kill civilians. It also has made threats against the United States and other Western nations.

The Iranian-funded outfit has "planned and executed terrorist attacks include firing rockets into Israel in September 2015 and detonating an explosive device targeting an Israeli army patrol in December 2015," according to information released by the State Department.

Al-Sabireen also was found to be operating a now-defunct rocket factory in Gaza that provided missiles to militants seeking to target Israeli civilians.

Further evidence of the militant group's growing footprint in the Hamas-controlled territories was found after Palestinian security forces "arrested five Harakat al-Sabireen operatives who were working under Iranian orders and received funding in Gaza to carry out their attacks," according to the State Department.

The organization is led by Hisham Salem, a former PIJ member who bragged in past interviews that the new Iranian-backed organization will deal a blow to Israel.

"We have an armed branch whose goal it is to wage war on the Israeli occupation everywhere," Salem was quoted as saying in 2016. "Within this framework we have members in the West Bank and Jerusalem who will soon receive financial and military support from us."

Meanwhile, the new sanctions on Hamas leader Haniyeh could help the United States disrupt the relationship between Iran and Palestinian terror outfits.

Haniyeh has close ties with Hamas's armed military wing and has orchestrated scores of attacks on Israel, including some that have killed an estimated 17 Americans over the years.

Regional terror experts Jonathan Schanzer and Grant Rumley, both top figures at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a foreign-policy think-tank, viewed the new sanctions as part of a bid by the Trump administration to drive a wedge between Hamas and Iran.

"Wednesday's designation shows that despite Hamas' recent overtures towards Iran, the United States still considers the various Iranian-backed splinter groups in Gaza and the West Bank a threat," the experts wrote in an essay published in the Long War Journal.

"This is the right position," they noted. "Iran has looked to foster other actors in Gaza when frustrated with Hamas in the hopes of sparking a broader confrontation with Israel. In the West Bank, Iran and other actors have routinely tried to undermine the Palestinian Authority by creating and supporting rogue cells bent on harming Israel and destabilizing the" Palestinian Authority government.

One senior congressional source tracking the sanctions told the Free Beacon they represent an effort to expose the terror ties between Iran and Hamas, Israel's sworn enemy.
"The designations today prove that the administration is trying to expose a nexus of terrorism that the Obama admin repeatedly turned a blind eye to," the source said. "It’s not a coincidence that this announcement targets violent jihadist organizations carrying out operations against our allies, Israel and Egypt. These organizations pose a threat to regional stability, and serve as a reminder that radical Islamists do not discriminate. Placing military wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in the same ranks as Iranian proxies is a bold recognition of the seriousness of this threat."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) praised the sanctions late Wednesday in a tweet.

"This move recognizes [and] restricts funding for Iranian-backed entities that threaten Israel & Muslim Brotherhood linked organizations active in Egypt, demonstrating our commitment to [Middle East] allies in combating terror," Cruz wrote.

In addition to targeting Iran, the Trump administration leveled new sanctions on budding terror outfits in Egypt that have targeted the country's political leadership.

These include Liwaa al-Thawra, which assassinated Egyptian General Adel Ragai in 2016.

New sanctions also will apply to HASM, another Egyptian terror outfit that has assassinated Egyptian national security figures and carried out bombing attacks near Cairo.

Update 4:54 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.

Published under: Hamas , Iran