The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP,) the Palestinian terrorist group widely believed to have carried out today's terrorist attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood in which four people were killed, has seen its star fade since its heyday during the 196os and 70s, when the organization was notorious for airline hijackings and other atrocities. But signs are emerging that Iran is reviving the group's flagging fortunes.
Eclipsed by the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as by Islamist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the PFLP has been relatively quiet over the last two decades. Political support for the group among Palestinians has dropped correspondingly; a 2013 poll by AWRAD, a Palestinian NGO, registered 3 percent support for the PFLP in the event of an election, as against 39.4 percent for Fatah and 16.1 percent for Hamas.
Last year, however, the PFLP apparently found a new sponsor in the form of Iran. According to Middle East website Al Monitor, the Islamist regime in Tehran "has resumed its financial and military support" of the Marxist PFLP "in order to strengthen its alliance with the 'Palestinian resistance forces' and not limit itself to only supporting Islamist movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
According to Al Monitor, a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that "several meetings were held between the PFLP leadership abroad and Iranian officials in Beirut, Damascus and Tehran under the auspices of Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization. Those meetings resulted in reviving direct support to the PFLP."
"Following the resumption of Iranian support, there will soon be a dramatic increase in the strength of the PFLP's military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, after the internal reorganization of the group is completed," the source told Al Monitor.
The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades – named after Abu Ali Mustafa, a former Secretary-General of the PFLP, who was killed in an Israeli military operation in Ramallah in 2001 – acknowledged its involvement in this morning's attack without claiming outright responsibility. The terror group declared in a statement that it "praised" and "commended" the "heroic operation carried out this morning by our fellow comrades in PFLP, martyrs Ghassan and Odai Abu Jamal." (The two Abu Jamal terrorists, who were shot dead by Israeli police, have been identified as cousins.)
The statement made no distinction between "Zionists" and "Jews." "We commend any act aiming at uprooting Jewish occupation which is desecrating our homeland. This operation, like many other heroic ones, comes as a natural response to the crimes perpetrated by the Israeli occupation and as a form of popular resistance," it said.
A spokesman for the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades named "Abu Jamal" had briefly addressed in the earlier Al Monitor report the extent of Iranian backing for the group.
"We have received and continue to receive military training for our personnel in Damascus and Beirut at the hands of Hezbollah trainers, and maybe also from Iran, but I have no information on any other type of support," Abu Jamal said.
Dr. Matthew Levitt, director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told The Algemeiner in an email that it's "unclear how much Iran has been supporting PFLP, but Iran operates on a pay for performance basis, so as they've picked up pace, we think the relationship has improved."
A briefing authored by Levitt in March observed that opposition among Palestinians to peace talks with Israel had boosted rejectionist groups. "As the tempo of negotiations between the main parties picks up speed, more radical actors have reemerged to violently oppose the process, from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Resistance Committees, to Salafi jihadist groups, to Marxist factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)," Levitt wrote.
Strikingly, today's assault in Jerusalem comes just 6 days before the November 24 deadline for a final agreement over Iran's nuclear program. A similar deadline in July was overshadowed by Israel's decision to invade Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks.
As for the PFLP, prior to today's attack, the group was still making news for its terrorist outrages of several decades ago. Last week, a Canadian court ruled in favor of extraditing academic Hassan Diab to France because of his alleged role in the October 3, 1980, bombing of a synagogue in Paris which took the lives of four people – Diab is said to have been active in the PFLP. Also this month, a jury in Detroit found Rasmieh Odeh, a 67 year-old Palestinian immigrant, guilty of not disclosing, when she applied for U.S. citizenship, that she had been convicted for terrorist actions in Israel in 1969 that were linked to the PFLP.
Designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the U.S. and Canada, the PFLP has, in recent years, carried out only a handful of terrorist attacks, in marked contrast to Hamas and Fatah-affiliated groups. Among the PFLP's more recent outrages were the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001 and a 2004 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market in which three people were killed.