Profile of Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the New Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader

On September 28, 2018, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) spokesman Da’ud Shehab announced the election of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary general. Al-Nakhalah, the organization’s third leader, replaced Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, who has been in a coma for the past six months (following a series of strokes). The PIJ is Iran’s preferred proxy in the internal Palestinian arena. Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who has strong connections with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, plays a central role in foster and promoting the PIJ’s collaboration with Iran. Therefore it can be expected that under al-Nakhalah’s leadership the PIJ will continue to promote Iran’s interests in the Gaza Strip and in the internal Palestinian arena in general; and in return the PIJ will profit from generous Iranian financial and military support, which will help it preserve its status as the second most important terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip (after Hamas).

Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who today lives in Lebanon, was one of the founders of the Jerusalem Brigades, the PIJ’s military-terrorist wing. In the past he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel because of his involvement with terrorism (and released in the Jibril Deal). He was detained again and exiled by Israel to Lebanon (where he decided to remain). He has close relations with senior Iranians, among them Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Qods Force,. who plays a key role in transferring Iranian support to Hamas and the PIJ. Al-Nakhalah also has strong ties to the Hezbollah leadership. On January 23, 2014, the United States designed him a terrorist operative and his name was added to the American its list of terrorists (the PIJ was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States on October 8, 1997).

The PIJ is a radical Islamist Palestinian terrorist organization, second in size in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria. The organization is in favor of the violent destruction of the State of Israel. In a video recently produced for the anniversary of the killing of PIJ founder Fathi Shqaqi, al-Nakhalah said the PIJ was committed to Islam, the spirit of jihad and the “resistance” [i.e., the strategy for destroying Israel through violence and terrorism]. He said the PIJ would continue confronting Israel until it was victorious (Filastin al-Yawm, October 25, 2018). At the end of the video a drone is seen lifting a picture of al-Nakhalah, and in the background he can be heard saying, “[We will] never surrender to the United States and Israel. We will continue to resist until we destroy Israel” (Jerusalem Brigades website, October 25, 2018).

A picture of al-Nakhalah in the video produced for the anniversary of the death of Fathi Shqaqi. The Arabic reads, “Faithful to the path of resistance and Palestine.”
A picture of al-Nakhalah in the video produced for the anniversary of the death of Fathi Shqaqi. The Arabic reads, “Faithful to the path of resistance and Palestine.”

The Iranians’ generous support makes the PIJ and Iran interdependent, allowing the organization to maintain an extensive terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, making it second in importance only to Hamas. The PIJ’s infrastructure includes a rocket system (with medium-range rockets that can reach the center of Israel) and attack tunnels. It also has its own media network (a satellite channel operated from Beirut, a radio station and a news agency based in the Gaza Strip) and a social support system (which also deals with inculcating the organization’s radical Islamist ideology in the younger generation). At the end of Operation Pillar of Defense Ziyad al-Nakhalah praised Iran for its support of the Palestinian organizations, saying, “…the weapons the resistance fights with, even the weapons of Hamas, from the first bullet to the [last] rocket, and even what is manufactured locally [in the Gaza Strip] is, in effect, Iranian…” (al-Hayat, November 18, 2012).

A picture from the Jerusalem Brigades website showing terrorist operatives carrying a Fajr rocket.[1]     Notice on the PIJ's Jerusalem Brigades website. The Arabic reads,
Right: Notice on the PIJ’s Jerusalem Brigades website. The Arabic reads, “Victories will be created by the Fajr [an Iranian medium-range rocket that can reach the center of Israel]. Left: A picture from the Jerusalem Brigades website showing terrorist operatives carrying a Fajr rocket.[1]

During the second intifada the PIJ carried out suicide bombing attacks under the aegis of and with the support of Iran and Syria. For the past decade the PIJ’s involvement in fighting Israel from the Gaza Strip has been prominent. Generally speaking, the PIJ coordinates its activities with Hamas, which is the dominant force in the Gaza Strip. However, in some instances it acts independently and carries out attacks on its own initiative (in ITIC assessment with external direction), in defiance of Hamas. The rocket fire targeting the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip on October 26 and 27 was the first significant activity carried out by the PIJ since Ziyad al-Nakhalah was elected to head the organization.

The recent rocket attack, which was represented as retaliation for the killing of Gazans in the “return march,” and the unilateral ceasefire declared by the PIJ were not coordinated with Hamas. In ITIC assessment, the objective of the rocket fire was to send a message to Hamas and Egypt regarding the PIJ’s seniority and importance, and to show itself as an important assets for Iran under the leadership of Ziyad al-Nakhalah (which will enable the PIJ to continue receiving generous financial and military aid from Iran).

Despite the PIJ’s efforts to represent the election of al-Nakhalah as the outcome of a well-ordered and free election, in ITIC assessment Iran and Jerusalem Brigades in the Gaza Strip operatives had critical influence on his nomination. Thus it can be expected that Ziyad al-Nakhalah will preserve the organization’s radical Islamist nature and its close ties with Iran (and with the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis as well). It can be assumed that Iran will continue to support the PIJ with funds, weapons and the transfer of technical know-how, as its preferred organization for promoting its interests in the Gaza Strip and in the Palestinian arena in general.

Portrait of Ziyad Rushdi al-Nakhalah

Biography

Ziyad al-Nakhalah (Abu Tareq) was born in Gaza on April 6, 1953, and grew up in Khan Yunis. He is married and has six children (two sons and four daughters). He has a teaching certificate from the Gazan teachers’ seminar. In 1971 he was detained by Israel for the first time and sentenced to life imprisonment. After fourteen years he was released in the Jibril deal. He was then elected to the PIJ’s first Shura Council. Fathi Shqaqi, who headed the PIJ, gave him the mission of establishing a military wing.

Ziyad al-Nakhalah (al-Arabiya TV, November 20, 2012)
Ziyad al-Nakhalah (al-Arabiya TV, November 20, 2012)

Al-Nakhalah was detained again in April 1988 for his part in igniting the first intifada and his participation in establishing the PIJ. He was exiled to Lebanon, where he rose in through the ranks of the organization. In addition to his involvement in military-terrorist activities he was appointed PIJ representative in Lebanon. Over the years he moved between Lebanon and Syria. Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 he has permanently resided in Lebanon (al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, September 28, 2018). His presence in Lebanon has enabled him to maintain continual close relations with the Iranians and Hezbollah with no interference.

Click here to read the remainder of this extensive report on terrorism-info.org.il (The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

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