Israel and Egypt agreed to let a lot more building materials into Gaza. Israel had previously blocked nearly all building materials from Gaza because Hamas tended to use most of the stuff for military purposes. But this time Qatar has donated over $400 million to Palestinians in Gaza and this includes a lot of infrastructure and housing construction. So Israel is trusting Qatar to keep an eye on how the thousands of tons of construction materials being brought in are used. The Qataris and other Gulf Arab donors have long criticized Hamas for misusing humanitarian aid. This time around Hamas has promised to behave, if only to improve living conditions for most Gazans and reduce the growing criticism of Hamas rule (which is increasingly brutal and corrupt). The November ceasefire deal included allowing more construction materials in.
Israel has completed most of the new border fence along its 225 kilometer long Egyptian frontier. Work on the fence began two years ago and will cost over $400 million. It consists of multiple 5-6 meter high fences plus barbed wire and a road for frequent patrols. There are also vidcams and various types of sensors. The fence has been very effective. Last January over 2,000 illegal migrants and smugglers were crossing into Israel each month. But in the last 30 days fewer than 40 people got across. Israel is also rushing construction of a more robust fence along its 90 kilometer Syrian border. This is in anticipation of more refugees, or terrorists, as the Assad government falls and chaos takes over for a while, perhaps a long while. A similar fence is planned for the Jordanian border as well.
Since the November ceasefire with Hamas, Egyptian police and soldiers have foiled three attempts to smuggle large quantities of weapons into Gaza. One shipment was from Iran via Sudan. Two shipments came from Libya (looted from military warehouses during the 2011 revolution). Egyptians fear that some of these weapons will be used for terror attacks inside Egypt. That’s because some of the Islamic terror groups receiving sanctuary inside Gaza are hostile to the Egyptian government (for not being a religious dictatorship). These terrorists have some support from Islamic conservatives in Egypt who are, for the moment, playing by the rules. At the same time, some Western critics of Israel are now acknowledging that the firing of Palestinian rockets from Gaza, and aiming them at Israeli civilians, is a war crime. Hamas is also being openly criticized for firing rockets from residential areas (and near schools, mosques, and hospitals) in order to deliberately create civilian casualties (for propaganda purposes) if the Israelis fire back.
Another revolution is brewing in Egypt because the new constitution was approved by a national vote, and many urban and educated Egyptians believe that this will pave the way for a religious dictatorship. The pro-democracy groups and those who supported the old Mubarak government (wealthy families and senior military officers and all their followers and many employees) believe the new Moslem Brotherhood government is rigging the voting. Foreign observers found little evidence of this. The pro-democracy groups may have led the uprising that overthrew Mubarak but the Moslem organizations, especially the Moslem Brotherhood, were much better organized at the grass roots level, especially in the countryside. This grassroots support is disappearing the longer the economy is in the dumps. The new government needs support from the urban educated groups (the pro-democracy people) and the old merchant families that were so cozy with Mubarak, in order to revive the economy. Deals, and compromises, must be made if chaos is to be avoided.
There are other major problems to solve. For decades most Egyptians have backed the Moslem Brotherhood call for more religion and less corruption in government. Most Egyptians are poor, have little education, and are daily reminded of the corruption that stifles politics and the economy. Educated Egyptians talk of democracy and other things that have allowed the West to prosper. But the Moslem Brotherhood talked of the more familiar law of God (the Islamic version). At the moment, most Egyptians are willing to give Islamic law a chance, as the older type of secular law has clearly not worked. However, a majority of Egyptians do not want a religious dictatorship (as exists in Iran). Islamic conservatives want something like Saudi Arabia, where Islamic clerics have a lot of say about which laws are passed and how they are enforced. That is not very popular in Egypt because many Egyptians have gone to work in Saudi Arabia over the last half century and returned with bitter memories of the Saudi lifestyle rules. But these expatriates also noted that there was order, and little crime, in Saudi Arabia. Lots of corruption but all that oil money meant there was enough cash to keep everyone content. Egypt does not have a lot of money and everyone knows that the main reason for that is corruption. That particular problem has been a major issue in Egypt for thousands of years, and efforts to curb this noxious habit have consistently failed.
With the rebels winning in Syria, Israeli officials have concluded that Syria could not, and the Hezbollah militia in south Lebanon probably would not, attack Israel if Israel carried out bombing missions against Iran nuclear weapons development facilities. Hezbollah has long used Syria as a potential refuge if Israel came into southern Lebanon in force. Syria was also where Iran shipped weapons, so that they could be quietly “smuggled” into Lebanon for Hezbollah. Most Lebanese are hostile to Syria because most Syrians consider Lebanon part of “Greater Syria” and unjustly created as a separate state by France and Britain after the Ottoman Turk empire was defeated and dismantled after World War I (1914-18). Hezbollah is also resented because it represents a form of Islam (conservative and Shia) that most Lebanese want no part of. Hezbollah is on the defensive and not looking for trouble until the situation in Syria and Lebanon sorts itself out.
January 1, 2013: In the West Bank an undercover Israeli operation to arrest a known terrorist (belonging to Islamic Jihad) turned into a riot when some young Palestinians began throwing rocks and threatening worse against the undercover Israeli cops. Troops quickly showed up and several Palestinians were wounded by gunfire.
December 28, 2012: The Israeli prime minister has quietly visited Jordan to discuss the Syrian situation with the king of Jordan. Apparently this is an effort, in conjunction with the United States, to work out what to do if the embattled Assad government in Syria uses any of its chemical weapons, or if some of those weapons appear in danger of falling into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
December 25, 2012: Hamas banned local film crews and reporters from working for Israeli media. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, it has become too dangerous for Israeli journalists in Gaza, so Palestinians were hired to get video, photos, and details needed by Israeli news organizations. Hamas was roundly condemned by Arab and Western media organizations for this latest bit of censorship.
December 23, 2012: For the first time since the November 22 ceasefire with Hamas, a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel. This one was defective and fell short of the border, landing in northern Gaza. Hamas has otherwise been successful in halting attempts by more radical groups to continue firing rockets into Israel.