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Iran Ready To Train 'Palestinian Resistance' Forces, Says Police Chief

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meeting with Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhaleh, in Tehran, December 31, 2018

Iran's Police Chief Hosein Ashtari has told Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader Ziad al-Nakhaleh that his forces are prepared to offer training to the "Palestinian Resistance Front," ISNA reported on Wednesday January 2.

The "resistance front" is Iran's nickname for groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The statement by the police chief followed Iranian President's meeting with Al-Nakhaleh on January 1 during which President Hassan Rouhani called for the continuation of Palestinians' struggle against Israel, adding that the Palestinians' battle should end with Israel "bowing" to Palestine.

Al-Nakhaleh also met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. Khamenei told him that "A Palestinian state will be finally declared in Tel Aviv." His remark was against Palestinians' ideal of setting up a government in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry's spokesman has stressed that Tehran's stance against Israel will remain unchanged.

Rouhani said in his meeting with Al-Nakhaleh and the accompanying delegation that "The U.S. is helping Israel to dominate the region, including Palestine," adding that "Regional nations should think of Israel not only as an enemy of Palestine, but as an adversary for the entire region."

The Islamic Jihad leader reportedly promised in this meeting that "The Palestinian nation will not stop resistance and will fight till victory."

Iranian media reports about the meeting between Iran's police chief and the leader of the Islamic Jihad were unprecedented as previously Iran did not acknowledged contacts between its military personnel and Palestinian armed groups.

In his meeting with Al-Nakhaleh, Ashtari likened assistance to the "resistance movement" to Iran's "holy defense"; an official jargon to describe the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Assisting groups such as the Islamic Jihad is against international regulations enforced on the financial front by the Financial Action Task Force or FATF, which has required Iran to stop assistance to terrorist groups. Iran has started the enactment of legislation required by FATF to ban financing for terrorism, but hardliners have stopped the process.

Iran’s timing for arranging al-Nakhaleh’s visit and the exposure given to it will not make its international isolation any better. The U.S. has reimposed heavy economic sanctions on Iran, partly because of Tehran’s support for militant groups and Europe, which is willing to trade with Iran, is waiting to see if Tehran will enact the laws demanded by FATF.

ISNA quoted Ashtari as saying that "Iran is the only country that assists the resistance movement."

This was the Islamic Jihad leader's first visit to Tehran where he met high-ranking Iranian officials. Al-Nakhaleh has been the group's leader since September 2018.

The Islamic Jihad, established in the 1970s, officially declared its existence in 1987 in a charter "based on the ideas of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeyni," the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic. Islamic Jihad is the closest Palestinian group to Iran and is considered by regional players as an Iranian puppet.

Iranian police chief Hossein Ashtari, undated.
Iranian police chief Hossein Ashtari, undated.

The group's leader, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel in 1971 but was freed in 1985 during a prisoner swap with Palestinian groups. He was arrested once again in 1988 and sent to exile in Jordan, but later he went to Syria, Iran's ally in the region. The United States has declared him a terrorist.

In the meantime, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi's remark about the unchangeability of Iran's stance against Israel appears to be an explanation to balance Foreign Minister Zarif's statement in an interview with French magazine Le Point in December, during which he said "No one in the Islamic Republic has ever said that they want to destroy Israel." However, Ghasemi did not further explain his comment.

Russian news agency Sputnik earlier had quoted Naser Abu Sharif, Islamic Jihad's representative in Tehran, as saying that Iran is the only country that ignores all international sanctions and supplies weapons to Palestinians." Abu Sharif also said that some Islamic Jihad members have been trained in Iran.

Last month, a HAMAS delegation had visited Iran.

The Islamic Republic supports Palestinian groups regardless of Tehran's deep economic crisis that brought thousands of Iranians to streets in 2018 chanting slogans against wasting Iranian people's resources in the Middle East conflicts.