Hamas terrorist Ayman Nofal explains the workings of the Palestinian organizations’ joint operations room in the Gaza Strip

Ayman Nofal (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).

Ayman Nofal (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).

(joint operations room Telegram channel profile picture, December 22, 2020)

(joint operations room Telegram channel profile picture, December 22, 2020)

The military-terrorist wing which participated in the first joint exercise (joint operations room of the Palestinian

The military-terrorist wing which participated in the first joint exercise (joint operations room of the Palestinian "resistance" Telegram channel, December 26, 2020).

The joint operations room (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).

The joint operations room (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).

Simulating an attack on an IDF target.

Simulating an attack on an IDF target.

Simulating the abduction of an IDF soldier (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 30, 2021).

Simulating the abduction of an IDF soldier (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 30, 2021).

Ayman Nofal at the ceremony at the end of the joint military exercise (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 29, 2021).

Ayman Nofal at the ceremony at the end of the joint military exercise (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 29, 2021).

Overview
  • Ayman Nofal, a member of the General Military Council of the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, and responsible for military communications, gave a rare interview to the al-Jazeera network. He spoke about the joint operations room of the military wings of the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip, how it was founded, its role in routine situations and emergencies, and how it functioned during Operation Shield and Arrow (May 2023). He claimed the joint operations room was an expression of the “united resistance” [terrorist organizations] in the Gaza Strip, and every future confrontation with Israel would be undertaken with its collective decisions. Regarding its position in the concept of “unity of the arenas” he said they were prepared to take the model, develop it and create a general framework for all the “resistance” forces in all the arenas and on all the fronts.
  • The idea of creating a joint operations room was first proposed in 2016. Its objective was to create a united headquarters for the organizations’ military-terrorist wings to conduct operations against Israel during confrontations in the Gaza Strip, and to stress the closeness of their ranks. The idea was officially implemented in July 2018 during the days of the return marches, the incendiary balloon arson terrorism and the rounds of escalation, in reality conducted under the leadership and direction of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing. For the past three years, at the end of every year, the joint operations room has held a military exercise with the participation all of the organizations, each one with a different emphasis.
  • While representatives often emphasize the unity of their activities, in point of fact Hamas and the other organizations are aware of the difficulty of maintaining an operations room with cooperation and genuine coordination among the various organizations, which have different political affiliations and conflicting interests. For example, for its own reasons, Hamas did not actively participate in the two most recent rounds of fighting (Operation Breaking Dawn in August 2022 and Operation Shield and Arrow in May 2023), which for the most part were managed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with support from the joint operations room.
The Joint Operations Room
  • Ayman Nofal, a member of the General Military Council of the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, and responsible for military communications, gave a rare interview to the al-Jazeera network. He elaborated on the joint operations room, relating to its role and activities in routine situations and emergencies (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).
Ayman Nofal (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).
Ayman Nofal (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).

Founding the joint operations room

  • The joint operations room was established in its present format in 2018 at the beginning of the return marches in the Gaza Strip and during the confrontations with the IDF that accompanied them. At that point, he said, it became necessary to establish a body for inter-organizational coordination, agreement on general rules and mechanisms for the confrontation and military direction of campaigns against Israel. After its formal establishment, the joint operations room’s first “baptism of fire” was in “Operation loyalty to the shaheeds” at the end of May 2018.[1] It also played an important role in the escalation in May 2019,[2] and in “Operation sword of Jerusalem” (Operation Guardian of the Walls, May 10-21, 2021).
(joint operations room Telegram channel profile picture, December 22, 2020)
(joint operations room Telegram channel profile picture, December 22, 2020)
Joint operations room membership
  • The overwhelming majority of the military-terrorist wings of the Palestinian organizations are represented in the joint operations room. According to Nofal they successfully gained internal agreement from all the military organizations. He claimed that before the operations room’s establishment there were more than 40 military networks in the Gaza Strip. As part of its efforts to organize military activity in an institutionalized, popular environment supporting the “resistance” [anti-Israeli terrorism] they limited the number to ten, each with its own source of political authority.
  • Nofal noted the names of the nine participating military-terrorist wings:
    • Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades (Hamas).
    • The Jerusalem Brigades (PIJ).
    • The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
    • The National Resistance Brigades (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
    • The Salah al-Din Battalions (Popular Resistance Committees).[3]
    • The Holy Warriors’ Battalions (Mujahedeen) (The Holy Warriors).[4]
    • The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades/Nidal al-‘Amoudi Battalion (ex-Fatah).
    • The Jihad Jibril Brigades (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command).
    • The al-Ansar Brigades (al-Ansar Movement).[5]
  • According to Nofal, the joint operations room headquarters wants to complete the unification and include three additional “military” networks which were not included during the initial stages, so that it will become a comprehensive framework for all the organizations, networks and fighters, without exception.
  • According to the video accompanying the interview, the joint operations room has 12 members, and the same number as the announcements before the first joint military exercise (see the Appendix). Among the 12 Nofal did not mention three which left Fatah: the Ayman Jawda Squads, the Abd al Qadr al-Husseini Brigades and the al-Assefa Army.[6] They may have been the networks Nofal as referring to when he related to completing the unification.
The military-terrorist wing which participated in the first joint exercise (joint operations room of the Palestinian "resistance" Telegram channel, December 26, 2020).
The military-terrorist wing which participated in the first joint exercise (joint operations room of the Palestinian “resistance” Telegram channel, December 26, 2020).
Military-terrorist wing coordination
  • Asked how the joint operations room contributed to the organizations, Nofal said it provided constant communication, coordination and services to all the members, both routine and during emergencies and rounds of escalation, which he could not fully elaborate on. However, he did mention the provision of command and control systems, communications services, situation and intelligence assessments, providing weapons according to the specific forces and inclusion in aspects of logistic support.
  • He said practical, productive measures were being taken for unifying military concepts to arrive at mutual understanding and a united military and security conceptual background. Based on that idea, the room’s headquarters was working to increase the field commanders’ military concepts and knowledge, and had sent many of them to study at Hamas’ “Palestine” military academy. In recent years the academy has had several graduating classes.[7]
  • In addition, at the end of 2022 the operation rooms’ headquarters set up a military site, opened many joint training courses for military wing instructors and fighters, and held “Firm Support” exercises, the first in 2020, which have since become annual (see the Appendix).
Interacting with the government
  • Nofal said that one important joint operations room mission was organizing communications with the government in the Gaza Strip with reference to every detail and its complexity. There were, he said, thousands of fighters from all the organizations and dozens of military sites, which necessitated coordination, services, problem-solving, coordinating efforts, etc. He mentioned a statement made by Ziyad al-Nakhalah, PIJ secretary general, after Operation Shield and Arrow, who said that while Hamas had not actively participated in the fighting, its operatives played an important role in defending civilians, services and the civilian administration (interview with al-Hayat Washington, May 23, 2023).
Joint operations room activities during a confrontation
  • Asked if the decision to enter into a confrontation was collective and how decisions were made in general, Nofal answered that the “resistance” had reached a stage where it could not begin fighting or initiate a confrontation without a unified, collective, well-planned decision. He said that in every instance, including those in which combat is “forced” on them, the joint operations room meets before and during the battle. It conducts the confrontation while consulting and coordinating at the highest level concerning how strong a force to apply, timing, extent and range of firing, and the participation of the various organizations. Everything is carried out according to considerations determined by the joint operations room headquarters regarding coordination, consultation, agreement, exchange of information and updated assessment of the situation. However, the various military wings in the joint operations room have their own sources of political authority which they consult regarding the decision to enter the confrontation, so the decision is national, collective and united.
  • Nofal said the nature of combat with Israel and the dangers and threats they faced prevented them from having complete unity and total integration. However, with excellent, continuous effort they successfully reached a good, progressive level of joint coordinated activity. He said that today the joint operations room had permanent committees for various areas which united the organizations. One of them was a joint committee for situation assessment, which had representatives from all the member organizations, and there were also an operational and guidance committee, a media information committee, and others.
Joint operations room activities during Operation Shield and Arrow
  • Regarding Operation Shield and Arrow, Nofal said Israel’s intention had been to isolate the PIJ’s military wing from the other organizations by focusing on the targeted killings of its commanders, especially Khalil Bahtini, one of the joint operations room’s commanders, and to end the operation within a number of hours. However, he claimed, the joint operations room successfully thwarted Israel’s plans. Its headquarters immediately consulted with the Jerusalem Brigades, and by means of directing the fighting, assessing reaction time and quiet control during the confrontation by means of calculation and agreement, they surprised Israel and signaled it, directly and indirectly, that the campaign could take a dangerous turn. Therefore, he claimed, Israel faced a political and military dead end, and could not expand its activities because it knew that the joint operations room would increase its force. Israel also could no longer bear getting pounded [by rockets], and therefore its planned objectives gradually disintegrated.
  • Moreover, he claimed, the military wings in the joint operations room participated in the Jerusalem Brigades rocket fire. They had many other functions which, he claimed, could not be revealed at the current time, but they had prevented Israel from isolating the Jerusalem Brigades and prevailing in the engagement.
The joint operations room and the “unity of the arenas”
  • According to Nofal, the joint operations room is part of the “unity of the fronts and arenas” strategy, spearheaded by the Gaza Strip and its “resistance.” He claimed they believed their “struggle” for “the liberation of Palestine” and the removal of the “occupation” necessitated resources and a united effort. He claimed that at the heart of the “resistance axis and arenas” were Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque, the central objective and motivation for their activities. The “Jerusalem axis” was founded to stress it was what they were fighting for. The circles surrounding Jerusalem widened from the territories of “Palestine occupied since 1948” [Israel] through Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to the masses of the Arab-Muslim nation and all the free people of the world, and they all had a role which they had to play. He claimed the joint operations room understood the importance of strengthening all the arenas and bringing them into play, especially in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, as arenas close to Israel and capable of igniting the entire Middle East to deter Israel, cause it loss of life and make it pay a high price. The joint operations room, he claimed, was ready to fulfill its role and duty regarding the matter at hand. He claimed they presented the joint operations room as a practical, active model for uniting the “resistance axis,” and were prepared to develop the model to turn it into a comprehensive framework for all the “resistance” forces in all the arenas and on all the fronts of the confrontation with Israel.
The joint operations room (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).
The joint operations room (aljazeera.net, June 12, 2023).
Appendix
The Palestinian organizations’ joint operations room
  • The idea of creating a joint operations room of the military wings of the Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip was raised for the first time in 2016 with the objective of unifying command and activity during confrontations with Israel in the Gaza Strip. It was put into practice in July 2018 at the height of the return marches, the incendiary balloons arson terrorism and the rounds of escalation with Israel. The joint operations room of the military wings of the Palestinian organizations is under the leadership of Hamas’ military-terrorist wing.
  • Palestinian spokesmen have claimed achievements for the joint operations room since 2018, stating that one of the most important has been to embarrass Israel, leaving it with no specific address for its responses. On several occasions the joint operations room has claimed responsibility for rocket fire without specifying the name of an organization (especially in instances where Hamas or the PIJ do not want to claim responsibility). In most cases Israel responds to rocket fire by attacking Hamas terrorist targets, since Israel regards Hamas as responsible for whatever occurs in the Gaza Strip.
  • Despite the fact that joint operations room spokesmen customarily claim unity among its member organizations, in reality Hamas and the other organizations know that it is difficult to maintain an operations room which genuinely fully integrates and coordinates organizations which different political orientations and conflicting interests. For example, the Saudi Arabian al-Sharq website reported that during Operation Breaking Dawn, Hamas did not actively participate, creating a rift with the PIJ. The PIJ interpreted Hamas’ position as the abandonment of the idea of joint activity and an operations room. There were claims that the rift had paralyzed the operation room’s activity. A senior PIJ figure was also reported as saying that following Hamas’ lack of participation in the fighting, the joint operations room no longer existed and had no significance. Hamas and PIJ sources reported that efforts were being made to repair the damage and rebuild the joint operations room (al-Sharq website, August 13, 2022).
  • During Operation Shield and Arrow in May 2023, Hamas stressed the cooperation within the joint operations room despite the fact that in reality Hamas played a very small part, if any at all. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem claimed the joint operations room had conducted the operation “with unity and operational leadership.” He also claimed the “unity of the arenas” had foiled Israel’s attempts to separate them (Hamas Telegram channel, May 14, 2023).
  • Since 2020, at the end of December the joint operations room has held a military exercise called “Firm Support” in which some of the organizations participate. So far three have been held, each one with different emphasis. The name is taken from the Qur’an and is meant to send the residents of the Gaza Strip and all Palestinians and Muslims a message of unity represented as a religious dictate. The exercise has its own logo, showing a roof supported by a pillar and the inscription, “Firm Support,” which also sends a message of unity. The exercises are widely covered by the media, whose representatives are invited to observe.
Notice published before the exercise with the names of the participating military-terrorist wings (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 26, 2020).    The exercise's logo (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 23, 2020).
Right: The exercise’s logo (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 23, 2020).
Left: Notice published before the exercise with the names of the participating military-terrorist wings (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 26, 2020).
  • On December 29, 2020, “Firm Support,” the first joint operations room military exercise was held in the Gaza Strip. It lasted for 12 hours and participation was not limited to military-terrorist wings but also included internal Gaza security forces (which might indicate their role during emergencies). During the exercise rockets were fired towards the sea, and participants practiced diving; naval landing; evacuating military headquarters, government staff and offices in time of emergency; entering Israeli territory through the attack tunnels; etc.[8]
  • On December 26, 2021, “Firm Support 2,” the second joint operations room military exercise was held with the participation of the military wings of the terrorist organizations in Gaza and lasted for three days. It focused on ground activity against IDF forces, overcoming the barrier built by Israel, attacking tanks and abducting soldiers. On December 29, 2021, the final exercise was held at Hamas’ Shuhadaa al-Qassam Post in Rafah, viewed by prominent representatives of the military-terrorist wings, including Ayman Nofal from Hamas’ Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Khaled Mashaal from the PIJ’s Jerusalem Brigades, and Abu Mujahed from the Popular Resistance Committees (al-Jazeera TV, December 30, 2021).[9]
Simulating the abduction of an IDF soldier (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 30, 2021).      Simulating an attack on an IDF target.
Right: Simulating an attack on an IDF target. Left: Simulating the abduction of an IDF soldier
(al-Risalah Twitter account, December 30, 2021).
  • On December 28, 2022, the joint operations room of the Palestinian organizations held “Firm Support 3” near the border security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. The joint operations room said in an announcement that it had been an exercise of “elite fighters” using light and medium-weight arms, and its objective was to examine the forces’ reaction speed and degree of preparedness in an emergency situation and Israeli attack. The announcement added that the exercise included various tactical scenarios, the most prominent of which was an invasion of enemy lines and the abduction of IDF soldiers (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 28, 2022).
  • “Resistance [Palestinian terrorist organization] sources” reported that the exercise was preplanned and a continuation of the military exercises held during the two previous years. However, it was carried out as a surprise to examine the degree of the operatives’ preparedness and their response. It was intended to examine the deployment of the “resistance” [terrorist operatives] in future clashes with Israel in light of the policies of the new Israeli government, which were liable to push for new campaigns. In addition, the exercise was held at a designated military site called the Lion’s Den, which belonged to the joint operations room and situated in the Beit Lahia area (northern Gaza Strip) (Lebanese daily newspaper al-Akhbar, December 29, 2022).
  • PIJ figure Ahmed al-Mudallal said the exercise had several aspects, the most important of which was its message of the unity, strength and firmness of the “resistance” [Palestinian terrorist organizations], which, he claimed, became stronger after each campaign against Israel. He added that the exercise was held in response to IDF exercises in the “settlements” near the Gaza Strip, and was meant to display the strength of the “resistance,” its development and the means and knowledge at its disposal, and to stress its preparedness (Shams News, December 28, 2022).
Simulating the abduction of IDF soldiers (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 28, 2022).
Simulating the abduction of IDF soldiers (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 28, 2022).
Right: Displacing the Israeli flag. Left: A terrorist operative holds a picture of Nasser Abu Hamid, the security prisoner who died of a terminal illness in an Israeli jail, which bears the inscription, "We won't forget...We won't forgive;" the picture was left on the field (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 28, 2023).
Right: Displacing the Israeli flag. Left: A terrorist operative holds a picture of Nasser Abu Hamid, the security prisoner who died of a terminal illness in an Israeli jail, which bears the inscription, “We won’t forget…We won’t forgive;” the picture was left on the field (joint operations room Telegram channel, December 28, 2023).
  • Beyond military targets, the objective of the exercises was to signal Israel, the residents of the Gaza Strip, the PA and entire Arab world that the terrorist organizations were united and in possession of substantial military force. For example, at the end of the second exercise Ayman Nofal claimed it had manifested the unity of the Palestinian organizations and sent Israel the message that the recently-completed border security barrier would not protect it. He also claimed the final exercise had been held at a Hamas military wing training camp where operatives who had abducted Gilad Shalit had trained (al-Risalah Twitter account, December  29, 2021).
Ayman Nofal at the ceremony at the end of the joint military exercise (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 29, 2021).   Ayman Nofal at the ceremony at the end of the joint military exercise (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 29, 2021).
Ayman Nofal at the ceremony at the end of the joint military exercise (al-Risalah Twitter account, December 29, 2021).
Ayman Nofal
  • Ayman Nofal (Abu Ahmed) is a member of the General Military Council of the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military-terrorist wing, and responsible for military connections. He was born in the al-Bureij refugee camp in 1965 (al-Khanadeq website, December 31, 2021). He commanded the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades’ Gaza Strips Battalion (al-Dustour, October 19, 2009). After the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was breached in 2008 and thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to buy merchandise,[10] Ayman Nofal was detained when a police ambush searched the vehicle he was riding in and found its passengers were smuggling arms. Nofal escaped from the al-Marj prison on January 25, 2011, during the revolution against President Mubarak, and returned to the Gaza Strip through one of the tunnels under the Gaza Strip-Egypt border (al-Masri al-Youm, May 30, 2011). He apparently lives in the Nuseirat refugee camp (based on reports that various important people went to the refugee camp to welcome him on his return to Gaza). During “Firm Support 2” at the end of December 2021, he was represented as responsible for Hamas military-terrorist wing intelligence (al-Akhbar, Lebanon, December 31, 2021).

[1] Towards the end of 2018 there was an increase in intensity of the attacks against the IDF which began on March 30, 2018, and accompanied the violent return marches ("popular activities") along the Gaza Strip border. In an IDF response three PIJ operatives were killed. Their deaths led to massive rocket fire targeting Israel. For further information see the June 4, 2018 report, "The Escalation in the Gaza Strip: What Next? (updated to June 4, 2018)."
[2] In response to PIJ sniper fire at IDF soldiers under cover of the return march on May 3, 2019, the IDF attacked two Hamas targets, killing two Hamas terrorist operatives. The following day the terrorist organizations began massive rocket and mortar shell fire at the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, gradually expanding the range to more than 25 miles. For further information see the May 5, 2019 report, "Another round of escalation in the Gaza Strip, more intensive and severe than the previous ones."
[3] The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) were established in 2001 by Jamal Abu Samhadana, who left the ranks of Fatah and was joined by terrorist operatives from other organizations. The PRC operates in the Gaza Strip following Hamas policy, and has good relations with Hezbollah. It was suspected of abducting Gilad Shalit (June 25, 2006).
[4] The Holy Warriors split from Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades after becoming more religiously extremist. One of its leaders was Assad Ibrahim Abu Sharia, from the Gaza Strip, who was involved in several incidents of rocket fire targeting Israel and placing IEDs along the border security fence. In the past the network operated in the Gaza Strip with the knowledge and support of Hamas, which also partially funded it and provided guidance and "professional" aid. In May 2012 it was exposed as planning to abduct an Israeli civilian as a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian prisoners (Israeli Security Agency website, May 31, 2023).
[5] Established in the Gaza Strip in 2007 by Khaled Abu Halal, who left Fatah and became closer to Hamas.
[6] According to an article in the Lebanese al-Akhbar about the joint exercise, there was prominent participation of four Fatah military wings. The article claimed Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas did not recognize the wings because in 2007 the PA decided to dismantle them. In any event, they are active in the Gaza Strip under Hamas aegis and follow its policies.
[7] It can therefore be assumed that Hamas' school of combat is dominant.
[8] For further information see the January 7, 2021 report, "The first military exercise was held under the command of the joint operations room of all the terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip. Its objective was to send messages of unity and improved military capabilities."
[9] For further information see the January 5, 2022 report, "The military exercise held by the joint operations room of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip: messages and threats for Israel."
[10] For further information see the January 28, 2008 report, "With the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt breached, Hamas and other terrorist organizations can freely smuggle operatives and weapons into the Gaza Strip and dispatch terrorists to Israel through Sinai."