By: Orouba Othman
Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, says that keeping its distance from regional intrigue has helped it make the right decisions, and has led it to gain flexibility in balancing political and military action. The new spokesperson for the Brigades, Abu Hamza, also believes his group has demonstrated strong operational development during the recent war with the occupation, compared to previous rounds.
Abu Hamza, the new spokesperson for al-Quds Brigades, appeared in the first military parade held by the Brigades in Gaza days after the end of the recent war. Sources say that the “masked” Abu Hamza had served as a spokesperson in previous stages, before Abu Ahmad served in a full time capacity afterwards. Abu Ahmad would appear barefaced, but he was wounded in the war, which is how Abu Hamza was called upon to serve as the official spokesperson once again.
Al-Akhbar: The recent war, and the period before, saw al-Quds Brigades emerge as the second strongest military force in Gaza. How did you deploy in the recent war, and which of your most important units participated?
Abu Hamza: The units under our control have overlapping functions. Nearly all of them activated during the war. The rocket unit was possibly the most effective, because its primary function is to put pressure on the enemy’s home front. The artillery unit in the last days and during the ground invasion also played a key role in inflicting the largest number of enemy casualties. We cannot overlook the role of sniper units, anti-armor and ambush units, and the support and signals unit either.
AA The tunnels have emerged as an advanced resistance tactic. Where did you stand in this regard?
AH: Al-Quds Brigades carried out a series of daring attacks above ground, in whose success the tunnels had a crucial role. The most important of these operations was the destruction of tanks in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, which was called “the Merkava massacre.”
We benefited from the tunnels to destroy Merkava tanks and kill those inside, and seized the soldiers’ machine guns. Using this tactic, we were also able to destroy two armored troop carriers in the streets adjacent to the area where the first attack occurred, a few hours later. In other words, we counterbalanced the flat topography of the Strip by moving outside the warplanes’ line of sight, with the systematic use of the tunnels weapon.
AA: Reports say that the establishment of an operations’ coordination room between the factions was delayed until the ground invasion. What was the level of coordination you had with other military arms?
AH: Joint work among all factions of the Resistance is a pivotal choice that we have adopted in addressing Israeli incursions. In the recent war, we coordinated with the Qassam Brigades (Hamas) to bomb Tel Aviv using medium-range rockets.
We also took part in other ground operations with Al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades (the Popular Resistance Committees), and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (Fatah). I remember that in one operation, a group from the Brigades distracted the enemy forces that had forces from al-Qassam pinned down east of Khan Younis. Our fighters rained down mortar shells on the besieging force, and engaged it from a close distance, distracting it away from those trapped, who seized the opportunity and returned to their bases safely.
AA: Khuza’a village was one of the most important areas that the Brigades mentioned in its military statements as the location of several fierce battles against the enemy. Why Khuza’a, specifically?
AH: The Khuza’a village (east of Khan Younis) is a large area that is exposed to the border zone. It has large and empty agricultural areas, so the enemy judged it to be a weak spot and militarily unchallenging. The Israeli army tried to invade it with confidence, but it was surprised by the tunnels and sophisticated ambushes, which inflicted heavy losses in its ranks. This is how [Israel] decided to implement a scorched earth policy against the entire region, and punish its people with a collective massacre.
AA: The Resistance factions in general, and the al-Quds Brigades in particular, used new weapons during the war. Despite the intensity of the battle, there was keenness to highlight the fact that the weapons used were all locally made, with no role for the allies of the Resistance in developing them. What is your position on this?
AH: Al-Quds Brigades does not deny credit to anyone. We were among the first to express gratitude to countries and parties that support the Palestinian Resistance, and mentioned them by name, and do not shy away from it. Nevertheless, we emphasize that we relied on locally made weapons like Buraq-70 rockets. At the same time, we used Iranian Fajr-5 rockets. In summary, we cannot disregard the fact that the development of local rockets followed a series of experiments and the accumulation of skills that we imbibed from the Resistance axis, and the countries that have the most important role in giving us our edge.
AA: It was rumored that during negotiations for a ceasefire, the Brigades had several breaches in its ranks, leading to the martyrdom of a considerable number of fighters and leaders. Is this accurate?
AH: These are false allegations circulated by fifth columnists, who spared no efforts during the battle. This fifth column did not spare any faction from its attacks, which sought to undermine the morale of the fighters. However, this backfired, as the Resistance’s security services were able to chase down those behind the rumors, and were found to be closely linked to the enemy’s intelligence services. Yes, we lost 129 martyrs in different places during the last battle, and of course, we cannot reveal everything for security considerations. The assassinations affected all resistance factions in general, but this is the tax expected in any battle.
AA: It was observed that al-Quds Brigades, despite the evolution of its performance, did not receive media attention like the Qassam Brigades did. What is the issue here?
AH: The issue has to do with some media outlets, which sought to promote certain factions over others, for political reasons and regional calculations. However, this does not mean that we were absent from the media; rather, our presence was noticeable and clear.
AA: To what extent did you benefit from Hezbollah’s experience in establishing supply routes and communications network? Are you in contact with the party?
AH: Of course, we have benefited greatly from the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, not only at the level of training, tunnel networks, communications, and logistic matters, but in all areas of combat as well. Coordination between the party is ongoing and it has never stopped, and it is a key partner in the resistance against the Israeli enemy.
AA: Were there arms smuggling operations during the war?
AH: In light of the strict closure of the tunnels along the border with Egypt and the air cover imposed by the Israelis, smuggling weapons has become complicated. Nevertheless, we were able to overcome these difficult circumstances, but we do not need to go into detail.
AA: The Israelis claimed a large number of tunnels were destroyed, and accordingly, they ended their ground incursion. Have you started rebuilding the tunnels and how accurate are the Israeli claims?
AH: I cannot dwell too much on this issue. All we can confirm is that the secret weapon in the battle… was the tunnels weapon, whether for launching rockets or carrying out offensive attacks. We reassure people that the tunnels are in good shape. It is good to note that we developed the tunnels after the war of 2012, and were able to overcome the mistakes of that battle. Any details concerning the shape and depth of the tunnels cannot be mentioned for security reasons, but what matters is that they are compatible with the geography of the Strip and the nature of the soil.
AA: The last week of the battle witnessed a surge in mortar fire, following a military tactic that appeared to be new?
AH: We can say that the whole battle was run in accordance with a careful tactic. In the last days, the focus was on the settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip, especially the Eshkol complex, where most forces that left the Strip after the ground battle were concentrated. The most important characteristic of these operations is the direct monitoring of enemy forces and careful guidance of mortar fire, and thus the Israeli concern stemming from the rockets expanded to include mortar shells, which are difficult to detect and stop.
AA: What are the main mistakes that were made in the previous two wars that you sought to avoid?
AH: We were able to counteract the air force. The enemy intelligence also failed to locate rocket emplacements, which helped preserve our rocket arsenal, and in using it efficiently. In addition, we succeeded in establishing a joint operations room, which managed the battle.
AA: What are your current plants to maintain your readiness if war breaks out again?
AH: We rule out the resumption of a confrontation for several considerations, most notably the conviction the enemy now has regarding the difficulty of defeating the Resistance of the Palestinian people and their attachment to the weapons of the Resistance. In all cases, we are highly ready for any new confrontation, especially since we have weapons and cards that we can use to inflict losses on the enemy. We promise our people that we will reveal new qualitative surprises in case we face a new confrontation.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition