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Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (IQB)


Insurgency Overview


The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (also spelled Ezzedine al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and abbreviated as IQB and EQB) are the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamist political party that rules the Gaza Strip. It is the best-equipped and largest militant faction in the Gaza Strip and has fought multiple wars against Israel. The IQB was founded in 1992 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to wage war against Israel.


Objectives and Ideology


The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ ideology is that of political Islamism and anti-Zionism. The Brigades were established as the military wing of Hamas, which was founded as a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (1). Many of the founding members were heavily influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the so-called “Father of Salafi jihadism”(2). Hamas and the IQB's ideological principles and objectives are laid out in a pair of documents: the 1988 Charter and the 2017 policy document.


The 1998 Charter defines Hamas’ political program as Islam and its objectives as retaking the entirety of what was Palestine under the British Mandate, and that none of it should be given up as they consider it an Islamic Waqf (endowment) for Muslims dating back to the Islamic conquests (3).


In 2017, Hamas released a document in which it said it would accept a two-state solution with the caveat of a return of refugees. However, this document also explicitly states that it still rejects the Oslo Accords and reaffirms the legitimate right to undertake jihad against Israel (4).


History & Foundations


The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades were established due to the near destruction of Hamas in the wake of the group’s first military operation against Israel. The 'Palestinian Mujahideen', as the organisation’s military command was known at the time, kidnapped IDF Sergeant Avi Sasportas on the 7th February 1989 and soldier Ilan Saadon on the 3rd of May the same year, with both being executed. A security breach meant that Israeli occupation authorities were able to uncover the chain of command responsible for the operation; this lead to the arrest of any person in the West Bank and Gaza with an affiliation with Hamas. Learning from this, all military operations were isolated from the rest of the group’s activities during the restructuring of Hamas. The first of these units to be created was the IQB, named after the militant Syrian cleric of the same name who advocated for jihad and organized armed resistance against Zionists and the British in Mandatory Palestine. The IQB undertook its first armed operation in 1992 (13).


Between 1992 and 1998, the IQB developed to a moderate extent but was dealt a number of blows by both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli authorities. The IQB was made up of a collection of cells that carried out ad hoc military operations and could not withstand the arrests and assassinations of their leaders by the PA and Israeli forces. In addition to a shortage of equipment and funds, a lack of military and security experience amongst both members and commanders exacerbated the Brigades’ shortcomings. Towards the end of the 1990s, the security forces tightened their grip on the IQB and by 1998 the PA’s security apparatus had largely uncovered the group’s command structure, resulting in the assassination of the group’s cadres by the Israeli security forces (14).


The Second Intifada in 2000 reversed the IQB’s fortunes as it brought a wave of support for its parent organisation (Hamas) and military action. Furthermore, dozens of former IQB cadres were released from PA prisons, causing the militant group to experience an influx in personnel. Notably among those released were explosives experts Bilal and Abdullah al-Barghuti; the latter was The Brigades’ chief bomb maker and is currently serving 67 life-term sentences in Israeli prison (15). Until 2005, the IQB continued to operate as individual cells with no awareness of other cells’ activities. The group was further strengthened by the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon in April 2005 (following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, a Lebanese politician and the country’s former prime minister). This meant the Axis of Resistance, composed of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, had to rely more heavily on its local allies which led to the IQB inheriting Syrian material left in Lebanon (16).


Approach to Resistance


Serving as the military wing of Hamas, the IQB undertakes offensive operations against Israel. This includes suicide bombings and incursions into Israel through the use of tunnel networks to carry out kidnappings of Israelis (5). The group also employs rocket strikes against both military and civilian targets, which has led to psychological trauma amongst civilians living under the threat of rocket attack. The group's activities have led it to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the EU (6), Australia (7), New Zealand (8), Egypt (9), and the UK (10), whilst the US (11) and Canada (12) consider its parent organisation Hamas as a terrorist organisation.


Following Hamas’ victory in the 2006 legislative elections, a power struggle the next year led to Hamas taking control of Gaza and the Fatah-affiliated President of the PA which remained in control of the West Bank. This has mostly limited the IQB’s activity to the Gaza Strip but has allowed them to build up a substantial military presence (17).


Since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007, the IQB has been involved in multiple wars with Israel, namely in 2008-9, 2012, 2014, and most recently in 2021.


  • Operation Cast Lead was launched in late 2008 and involved a 22-day assault on Gaza, with Israel's stated aim to be toppling the Hamas government. The assault cost around 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives (18).

  • Operation Pillar of Defence, launched on the 14th of November, lasted 8 days and cost 175 Palestinian lives (19).

  • The 2014 Gaza War cost around 2,200 Palestinian and 67 Israeli lives, with both sides committing war crimes (according to the United Nations). Over the course of the 50-day conflict, the IQB and other Palestinian factions fired 6,600 mortars and rockets into Israel (20).

  • In May 2021, 260 Palestinians lost their lives in airstrikes that – according to Israel – were targeting military instalments in the Gaza Strip. Over the course of the fighting, Palestinian armed groups launched 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres (21).


Military Capabilities


In terms of manpower, Hamas leaders estimated the number of troops in the Brigades’ ranks at close to 20,000. Nonetheless, MiddleEastEye reported in 2015 that some observers estimated the organisation’s manpower to be closer to 40,000 members (22).


The most notable component of the IQB’s military capabilities is its rocket arsenal, which is composed of both foreign weapons and those developed in the Gaza Strip. Rockets produced in Gaza include the short-range Qassam series of rockets. The table below outlines the development of the Qassam series and its improving destructive power.

Qassam 1

Qassam 2

Qassam 3

​Year first sighted

2001

2002

2005

Weight (kg)

5.5

32

90

Range (km)

3

3 to 8

10

Explosive Payload (kg)

0.5

10 to 20

20

Source: Al Jazeera. ‘Hamas Missiles: Qassam Frantisi, then Ja’bari’. Al Jazeera net. Accessed 15 October 2022. https://bit.ly/3gcEvN5.


A fourth iteration of the Qassam exists, which reportedly has a range of 15-17km (23).

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Hamas, ‘The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement’, 18 September 1988, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp.


(2) - Robert Manne, ‘Sayyid Qutb: Father of Salafi Jihadism, Forerunner of the Islamic State’, ABC, 7 November 2016, https://www.abc.net.au/religion/sayyid-qutb-father-of-salafi-jihadism-forerunner-of-the-islamic-/10096380.


(3) - Hamas, ‘The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement’.


(4) - MEE Staff, ‘Hamas in 2017: The Document in Full’, Middle East Eye, 2 May 2017, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-2017-document-full.


(5) - Ami Isseroff, ‘Izz Ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, 12 November 2008, http://www.mideastweb.org/Middle-East-Encyclopedia/izz_ad-din_al-qassam_brigades.htm.


(6) - Official Journal of the European Union, ‘COUNCIL DECISION of 21 December 2005’, 23 December 2005, https://web.archive.org/web/20090924025231/http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2005/l_340/l_34020051223en00640066.pdf.


(7) - Australian Government, ‘Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades | Australian National Security’, accessed 16 October 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20190521092637/https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisation


(8) - NZ Police, ‘Lists Associated with Resolution 1373’, New Zealand Police, accessed 16 October 2022, https://www.police.govt.nz/advice/personal-community/counterterrorism/designated-entities/lists-associated-with-resolution-1373.


(9) - RTS, ‘La branche armée du Hamas palestinien déclarée “terroriste” en Egypte’, infoSport, rts.ch, 31 January 2015, https://www.rts.ch/info/monde/6504908-la-branche-armee-du-hamas-palestinien-declaree-terroriste-en-egypte.html.


(10) - Home Office, ‘Proscribed Terrorist Groups or Organisations’, GOV.UK, accessed 16 October 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/proscribed-terror-groups-or-organisations--2/proscribed-terrorist-groups-or-organisations-accessible-version.pr


(11) - State Department, ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’, United States Department of State (blog), accessed 16 October 2022, https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/.


(12) - Public Safety Canada, ‘Currently Listed Entities’, 21 December 2018, https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-en.aspx.


(13) - Ahmed Qasem Hussein, ‘The Evolution of the Military Action of the Izz Al-Din al-Qassam Brigades: How Hamas Established Its Army in Gaza’, AlMuntaqa 4, no. 1 (2021): 78–97, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.31430/almuntaqa.4.1.0078.


(14) - Hussein, 2021


(15) - Mcelroy, Damien. “Gilad Shalit Release: 5 Most Prominent Palestinian Prisoners to Be Freed.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, October 18, 2011. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/8831908/Gilad-Shalit-release-5-most-prominent-Palestinian-prisoners-to-be-freed.html#disqus_thread.


(16) - Hussein, 2021


(17) - Mohammed Omer, ‘Hamas Growing in Military Stature, Say Analysts’, Middle East Eye, 12 February 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-growing-military-stature-say-analysts.


(18) - IMEU, ‘Operation Cast Lead | IMEU’, 4 January 2012, https://imeu.org/article/operation-cast-lead.


(19) - Hana Hussein, ‘Remembering Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defence”’, Middle East Monitor (blog), 14 November 2017, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171114-remembering-israels-operation-pillar-of-defence/.


(20) - ‘Gaza Conflict 2014: “War Crimes by Both Sides” - UN’, BBC News, 22 June 2015, sec. Middle East, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33223365.


(21) - ‘Gaza: Apparent War Crimes During May Fighting’, Human Rights Watch (blog), 27 July 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/27/gaza-apparent-war-crimes-during-may-fighting.


(22) - Mohammed Omer, ‘Hamas Growing in Military Stature, Say Analysts’.


(23) - Al Jazeera, ‘Hamas Missiles: Qassam Frantisi, then Ja’bari’, Al Jazeera net, accessed 15 October 2022, https://bit.ly/3gcEvN5.

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