As the military wing of Hamas, the Al-Qassam Brigades play a central role in the terrorist group’s attacks and attacks. They derive their military strength not least from their close ties to Iran.
Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri recently described his organization’s terrorist attack on Israel on October 7 in a way that diametrically contradicts all common and well-verified accounts and witness accounts: “The military plan of the Essedin al-Kassam Brigades was “It is to attack the Gaza division of the occupying army and only fight the occupying soldiers,” is the counter-narrative of the Hamas official, which defies all available evidence and who, on top of that, calmly tries to justify his organization’s terror as advance self-defense: “We had information that the garrison was planning an attack on us after the Hebrew holidays.”
1200 members of Al-Kassam on Israeli territory
The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post quoted al-Arouri as saying these words based on an interview he gave to the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera last week. In total, al-Arouri said, 1,200 members of Al-Kassam had advanced into Israeli territory. One of the few statements in the interview that could possibly be true.
Al-Arouri does not explain how the Israeli armed forces were able to neglect border security to such an extent that hundreds of militias were able to penetrate there shortly before an alleged planned attack of their own on Gaza. This completely unimaginable constellation is not explained by al-Arouri. His other explanations are probably only likely to convince his supporters: the Al-Kassam Brigades themselves did not kill the Israeli civilians, he claimed. Rather, they were killed by “civilians” from Gaza in subsequent battles.
Al-Arouri is trying to distract from the responsibility of the so-called Al-Kassam Brigades, of which he is the founding commander. The brigades are the military arm of the militant Islamist Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization in Germany, the European Union, the USA and other countries. The supreme leader of the Al-Kassam Brigades, Mohammed Deif, has been able to repeatedly escape the Israeli security forces. He has long been considered the mastermind behind numerous deadly terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Name patron Essedin al-Kassam
The brigades, which kidnapped at least 240 Israeli civilians on October 7th and are now holding them hostage, were founded in 1992. According to the CIA Factbook 2023, the brigades, as the military wing of Hamas, have a number of 20,000 to 25,000 fighters.
The name of the terrorist militia goes back to the Syrian preacher Essedin al-Kassam (1882-1935), who fought the British colonial power in Palestine in his time. Al-Kassam preached violent resistance against what he called the “new crusaders” colonial powers and called for a so-called “jihad.” At the same time, he wanted to drive the local Jews out of the region back then. Members of the militant cells he founded killed several local Jews in the 1930s. Al-Kassam himself later died in a firefight with British mandate police.
Attacks underground and over the sea
According to a 2021 essay by the anti-terrorism website Long War Journal, the Al-Qassam Brigades is pursuing numerous “projects,” all of which serve to terrorize and fight Israel. For years they have been dedicating themselves to building the tunnels in which Hamas is probably currently entrenching itself again and against which Israel is now at least carrying out initial ground operations. Some of these underground facilities are also used specifically for attacks. In 2006, the Al-Kassam Brigades also kidnapped the soldier Gilad Shalit on Israeli territory through one of these tunnels.
At the same time, the brigades have attacked Israel by sea several times – for example in 2014, when several naval commandos landed near the city of Ashkelon in southern Israel. Subsequently, the terrorists were killed in battle with the Israeli army. Given that the Gaza Strip has been closed and under a blockade for almost 15 years, the military capabilities and resources developed by the Al-Qassam Brigades are still remarkable overall, the Long War Journal essay said.
Support from Iran
The brigades have been supported by Iran for years. Hamas itself has repeatedly openly acknowledged this support. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has contributed a lot to passing on knowledge and know-how on the one hand and transporting the rockets on the other,” Khaled al-Qaddumi, Hamas representative in Tehran, told the Middle East magazine Al Monitor in May 2021. “In doing so, it helped Hamas rely on its local capabilities and produce such advanced technology,” al-Qaddumi said.
This support has increased significantly over the past ten years, says Michael Milshtein, a former member of Israeli military intelligence and now a researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University. Iran is training the Al-Kassam militia members militarily. “They train snipers, teach them how to build booby traps, how to be parachutists or paragliders – in other words, everything that was used in the attack on Israel on October 7th,” Milshtein said in an interview with DW.
Bitcoins and banks
How the Al-Kassam Brigades are financed has not been conclusively clarified in all details. But here too, Iran plays a prominent role, says Michael Milshtein. “We are talking about huge sums of money that Iran gave primarily to the military wing of Hamas. In the last two to three years alone, this amount has amounted to around $100 million.”
In August 2020, the Israeli Ministry of Justice reported that it had managed to stop donations to Hamas via Bitcoin. Accordingly, the brigades called for appropriate donations on their social media page at the beginning of 2019.
A year earlier, the US Treasury Department had published names of people who were responsible for the transfer of “tens of millions of dollars” between the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the Al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza. The ministry said the funds went through Hamas. A bank affiliated with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah played a central role.
The quantity and variety of weapons used in the October 7 attack – rockets, missiles, drones and small arms – as well as the continued shelling of Israel since then, indicate the vast arsenal that Hamas and its military wing have at their disposal. Reliable figures are not known.
The majority of the weapons are apparently smuggled into the Gaza Strip. This happens in various ways, according to Israeli security expert Milshtein. The most important are Iranian deliveries via Syria and Lebanon, where Hezbollah helps transport the weapons.
This path was also confirmed in December 2020 by the leader of the Palestinian militia “Islamic Jihad,” which is also supported by Iran, Ziad al-Nakhala.
On its website, the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) quotes from an interview that al-Nakhala gave to the Iran-friendly broadcaster al-Mayadeen in 2020: “All conventional weapons entered Gaza via… Hezbollah and Syria. The entire axis of resistance (that’s what the leadership in Tehran calls the network of its non-state actors directed against Israel, editor’s note) was involved in their transport.” There are also training camps in Syria where the Hamas militias received special training in the production of rockets, the JISS further quotes from the interview with al-Nakhala. Immediately there are only two possible smuggling routes: above ground or underground via the land border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip – or by sea.
According to a report from the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) from 2021, the tactics of the Al-Kassam Brigades, which have been repeatedly denounced by Israel and internationally, are intended to use civilians in Gaza as “human shields” against Israeli attacks to misuse their own members and arsenals can be traced back to relevant Iranian influence – specifically, to instructions from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The aim of this tactic is to create the impression internationally that the enemy is acting disproportionately and deliberately attacking the civilian population on a large scale by killing many civilians on their own side.