Gaza militant group Islamic Jihad seeks to create a “balance of terror” with Israel, a senior member of its military wing has told AFP in an exclusive interview.
Speaking shortly after a truce ended a four-day flare-up in violence between Gaza militants and Israel, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigade hailed the fact that it forced “a million Israelis to hide in shelters.”
The leader, who goes by the nom-de-guerre of Abu Ibrahim, also warned that the Brigades possesses long-range weapons that could hit the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and could be used in its next conflict with the Jewish state.
“What we seek with our rockets is not to kill Israelis, but to maintain a balance of terror,” he told AFP during the interview, conducted at a secret location, flanked by armed bodyguards.
“The fact that a million Israelis were stuck inside shelters and suffered as as our people do is more important for us than deaths.”
The latest violence between Israel and Gaza militants began on March 9, when Israel’s assassinated the commander of the Popular Resistance Committees group.
In response, militants led by the Al-Quds Brigades fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel over the course of four days, bringing life in much of the region to a standstill.
Israeli war planes carried out dozens of air strikes, killing 25 people, among them 14 members of Islamic Jihad.
Around 250 rockets were fired from Gaza, according to Israeli figures, with around 60 of them intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome missile defence system.
Authorities banned large gatherings in the area, including sporting events, and closed schools during the outbreak of violence.
The rockets hit throughout southern Israel, with some reaching around 40 kilometres (24 miles) inside the country. One struck just north of Gedera, which is only about 25 kilometres from the centre of Tel Aviv, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the Jewish state’s population of 7.84 million.
Abu Ibrahim warned that the Brigades had weapons that could hit beyond the town of Ashdod, which lies some 35 kilometres (20 miles) north of Gaza.
“If the occupation targets any leader of any Palestinian group whatsoever or any citizen, the Brigades will respond with force and expand the reach of the response beyond Ashdod,” he said.
The group possessed “thousands” of rockets and had expanded its arsenal by exploiting “the opportunities offered by the (Arab) revolutions, particularly the fall of the Egyptian regime,” he added.
Still, he said, “it is not easy to transport sophisticated weapons into Gaza,” adding that 70 percent of its rockets “are made locally by a specialised section.”
“We now have guided missiles similar to Grads and we used them during the last conflict.”
Abu Ibrahim also denied tensions with Hamas, which rules Gaza and sought a quick end to the latest conflict and kept its fighters out of the battle, saying: “The Brigades operate with full freedom.”
And he denied “any coordination with any outside group, in Sinai or elsewhere.”
But he acknowledged the group receives “fundamental support” from Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, saying it had trained thousands of Brigades fighters.
He said the group was not receiving weapons from Iran, as Israel has charged, but praised Tehran’s “great support,” citing funds it gives to the families of “martyrs” and the wounded in Gaza.
But he suggested that Islamic Jihad would not get involved if Iran were to come under attack, unless Gaza was also targeted.
“We’re nothing but a drop of water in the sea, and Iran doesn’t need us. It’s a strong country militarily,” he said.
“Our fundamental fight is in Palestine,” he said. “But if the Zionist enemy hits Iran and Gaza at the same time, we will respond with force.”