March 11, 2012: In the last three days, Palestinian terror groups have fired over 120 rockets and mortar shells into Israel. In response Israel has attacked men seen setting up rockets in Gaza and bombing known terrorist bases (including one site used to store rockets) there. This resulted in another 14 Palestinians being killed. Nine Israelis and foreign workers were wounded by the Palestinian rockets. Israel closed schools today, which were within range of the longer range 122mm rockets. This kept about 200,000 kids at home.
Longer range, factory made rockets are fired by the Palestinians at more distant targets. Most of these long range rockets were fired at the cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, but the Iron Dome defensive system guarding the area intercepted 90 percent of the rockets predicted to land in or near residential areas. The Palestinians are eager to kill Israeli civilians with these rockets. The last time this happened was five months ago and that was cause for celebration in Gaza because only about one in 300 rockets kills an Israeli. The Palestinians celebrate these killings regularly, especially terror attacks that kill a large number of Israelis. Doesn't matter if the victims were civilians or even children, each death is a victory and Israeli counterattacks are war crimes. Turkey has now adopted this attitude and has criticized the Israeli counterattacks without making much mention of the Palestinian attacks.
Hamas is trying to arrange a cease fire but is unwilling to use force to stop the small terror groups from setting up and firing rockets. Gaza is a small place, and Hamas could set up roadblocks and patrols to keep people out the northern Gaza areas where the rockets are fired from. Hamas responds to criticism of its inaction by pointing out that the smaller terror groups could launch their rockets from residential areas of Gaza. The terror groups are reluctant to do that because it risks bringing Israeli fire to these launching sites. That could get Palestinian civilians killed and angry at the Palestinian terrorists. But all the terror groups, including Hamas, want civilian deaths, as this makes great anti-Israeli propaganda and the funerals are an opportunity to give more "hate Israel and support us" speeches.
Hamas, meanwhile, has other problems. Hamas has broken with its sponsor, Iran over the conflict in Syria. Hamas supports the uprising there (mainly of Sunni Moslems), while Iran supports keeping the Syrian dictator (who belongs to a Shia minority there) in power. As a result, Iran has shifted its support to smaller Islamic terror groups (all of them Sunni) in Gaza. These groups consider Hamas corrupt and ineffective in the war against Israel. But Hamas is responsible for running Gaza and has learned that it cannot do this and be at war with Israel at the same time. The smaller terror groups see this as a weakness, and Hamas does not want to start a civil war in Gaza by trying to destroy the smaller terror groups. Egypt is annoyed at all this because some of the smaller terror groups that have set up shop in Gaza are dedicated to attacking Egyptian targets.
On the Lebanese border, bulldozers are creating a one kilometer long five meter (15.5 foot) high earth wall right on the border to separate Israeli and Lebanese villages that are adjacent to each other. Hezbollah, and other Islamic groups, have been holding demonstrations in the Lebanese village and trying to use crowds of civilians to force their way across the border. Hezbollah does not want to risk another war with Israel. The 2006 conflict, although declared a victory by Hezbollah, was in reality a defeat, because Hezbollah, and Lebanese, losses were much higher. Israel makes no secret of how it plans to do a lot more damage if Hezbollah fires rockets into Israel or tries to kidnap Israelis. So Hezbollah seeks other ways to prove to the Moslem world that it is still "fighting" Israel. The new wall is a response to the new Hezbollah tactics.
Gaza continues to suffer from severe electricity shortages. This is because Hamas does not want to lose the "tax" it collects on fuel smuggled in via tunnels. This is fuel that is bought cheaply in Egypt because the government there subsidizes fuel prices for consumers. The Egyptians do not like seeing the Gazans exploit the subsidies this way, so last month the Egyptian government cracked down on fuel smuggling (demonstrating that they could stop tunnel smuggling if they wanted to) and told Hamas they could either buy fuel from Egypt at the export (non-subsidized) price or buy it from Israel (at a similar price). Hamas refuses to do either and accuses Egypt of oppressing the Palestinians in Gaza (who now only get a few hours of electricity a day).
March 9, 2012: Israeli aircraft fired missiles to kill two members of the Palestinian terror group PRC (Popular Resistance Committees). One of those killed was the head of PRC and Israeli intelligence had learned that PRC was planning a major terror attack on Israel along the Gaza border. So Israel tried to disrupt this attack by going after the guy in charge. PRC was responsible for a similar attack last August that killed eight Israelis. The PRC and other Palestinian terror groups responded to this Israeli use of disproportionate force by firing as many rockets as they could into Israel.
March 7, 2012: Israeli troops shut down two illegal Palestinian TV stations in the West Bank. The two groups were also using broadcast frequencies that interfered with the operations of a major airport nearby.
March 5, 2012: An Israeli patrol confronted a group of fifteen armed smugglers coming across from Egypt. The smugglers opened fire, and the Israelis shot back, killing one smuggler and possibly wounding others. The smugglers fled. Usually, the smugglers are bringing in drugs but they will also work for terror groups and bring in explosives and other weapons for terrorists (usually Israeli Arabs) or criminal gangs (Jewish and Arab). Israel is building a security fence along this border, which will be complete by the end of the year. The fence will also have a network of sensors. All this will make it much more difficult for smugglers to get across.
For the 13th time in the last year anti-Israel terrorists (or Bedouins trying to extort concessions from the Egyptian government) bombed the gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel. Israel is building a terminal for receiving shipments of liquefied natural gas, to make up for the missing Egyptian gas until next year, when Israel's own offshore gas fields will be producing enough gas. Egypt managed to keep the pipeline safe for a month this time and promises to do better. The Egyptians need all the income they can get, and they don't get paid for gas they cannot get through a broken pipeline.
March 1, 2012: The Egyptian military government agreed to let 43 foreign pro-democracy advocates out of jail on bail of $330,000 each. The U.S. government paid the ransom (bail) for the 16 that were U.S. citizens and the bail deal allowed the foreigners to get out of Egypt. The military sided with the majority of Egyptians last year and refused to attack the large groups of demonstrators demanding a new government. Unrest continues in Egypt because the army, and its many corrupt officers, is still running a caretaker government, and because the unrest has caused higher unemployment (because tourists have stopped coming and foreign and local investment has slowed down a lot because of the uncertainty). Fearing that the Islamic conservatives, who won most of the seats in recent parliamentary elections, would prosecute corrupt army officers and dismantle the economic empire the army has built over the last few decades, the military is more actively attacking demonstrators, journalists, and organizations that advise on how to make a democracy work. The urban democrats are uneasy about the Islamic conservative political parties and the possibility of a religious dictatorship. But Islamic conservatives, at least most of them, insist this will not happen. The foreign pro-democracy activists were helping Egyptians more effectively demonstrate against the army, and the army struck back. But Egypt depends a lot on foreign aid, much of it going directly to the army. These aid donors did not like seeing their citizens locked up and pressured the Egyptian generals to let them go. But the revolution is not over in Egypt.
February 28, 2012: Azerbaijan has incurred the wrath of Iran for buying $1.6 billion worth of weapons and military equipment from Israel. Azerbaijan is engaged in a military buildup for another round of fighting with neighboring Armenia over a territorial dispute. About a quarter of Iran's population is Azeris (a Turkic people) and two centuries ago Russia and Iran ended up dividing control of Azeri population in the area. For a while after World War I, and after 1991 (dissolution of the Soviet Union), the Russian Azeris were independent. While the Iranian Azeris are generally loyal to Iran, they are still Turks and speak a different language than the ethnic Iranians. Seeing Azerbaijan allying itself with Israel, for whatever reason, does not sit well with Iran. But there's not a lot Iran can do about it. Iran was not able to provide the weapons, or other military assistance, the Azeris need to overcome the Armenians, so the Israelis were called in. The Azeris have proved to be good allies. Earlier this year they broke up an Iran sponsored terror plot and arrested three suspects who were planning to attack Israelis in Azerbaijan. Iran was believed behind this plot, and Azerbaijan did not appreciate it.