Israel: The Best Of Frenemies

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December 17, 2013: The U.S. sponsored peace talks between Israel and the West Bank Palestinians continue to be stalled, despite optimistic American government press releases.

In Egypt continuing unrest by supporters of ousted (last July) Moslem Brotherhood president Morsi has hurt the economy and helped sustain unrest in general. At the same time the Moslem Brotherhood continues to be unpopular with most Egyptians even though the Brotherhood still has the support of nearly 20 percent of the population. The Brotherhood still holds demonstrations, many of them including people throwing rocks and fire bombs at security forces. Increasingly the pro-Morsi demonstrators are set upon by crowds of locals who do not want roads blocked and commerce interfered with by the demonstrators. Thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters have been arrested, but many Egyptians continue to believe that a religious dictatorship is the only way to solve the corruption and inept governance that have crippled Egypt for centuries.

The Brotherhood has also kept up its attacks against the native Christians (Copts, ten percent of the population) and other groups (like Shia) who are not considered sufficiently Islamic. The unrest has hurt the economy, especially when it comes to tourism and foreign investment. Tourism alone normally accounts for 12-15 percent of GDP and a lot of the essential foreign currency needed to pay for imports. Since the 2011 uprising tourism revenue has declined. In 2010 tourist spending amounted to $12.5 billion. The 2011 revolution cut that to $8.8 billion. It bounced back to $10.5 billion in 2012 but is down again this year. Since the July coup the decline has slowed but foreigners are still scared off by the continued Moslem Brotherhood demonstrations and the persistent Islamic terrorism in Sinai.

The new military government in Egypt is still on bad terms with Qatar, whose monarch finances the al Jazeera satellite news network and supported the ousted Moslem Brotherhood government. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) support the new military government but want laws passed to help protect the billions of dollars in investment Gulf state investors are willing to make in Egypt.

Israel is angry at the United States for making an interim peace deal with Iran that does nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program and rewards the Iranians for showing up to talks. The U.S. disagrees with this assessment and moves forward towards a more comprehensive deal with Iran. Because of that both Saudi Arabia and Israel are now openly denouncing the American negotiations with Iran. Both Israel and the Arabs see Iran very dangerous and accuse the Americans of being naïve in their treatment of Iran. To people living nearby Iran is not some new terrorist threat but an ancient problem. The neighbors see Iran as aggressive, dangerous and deceptive, as it has been for thousands of years. They point out that Iran was seen as a regional threat even before the Islamic clerics overthrew the monarchy in 1979. It should also be noted that Iran never really adjusted to democracy and has been run by ambitious and militant tyrants for thousands of year and especially in the last century.

Another long term result of the stubborn Iranian dictatorship is closer cooperation between Israel (which both Iran and most Arab nations officially want destroyed) and the Arab Gulf states. Over the last 60 years Israel has always sought to improve relations with Arab states and has made slow, but steady progress. Now, with Arabs in general (and especially in Arabia) terrified of Iran, the pro-Israel attitudes are growing as is unofficial and discreet cooperation between Israel and  the Arab Gulf states on matters of mutual interest (like restraining Iran). The United States has always encouraged these relationships and recently reaffirmed its commitment to the security of Israel and the Arab Gulf states. But the Arabs and Israelis want more than words from America. Meanwhile the Arabs and Israelis have become the best of frenemies (friendly enemies).

December 15, 2013: On the Lebanese border an Israeli soldier driving alone was shot dead by a Lebanese soldier. Nearby Israeli soldiers soon showed up and opened fire wounding two suspicious men spotted on the Lebanese side. These were apparently not soldiers and may not have been hit. Israeli commanders got in touch with the UN (whose peacekeepers are supposed to patrol the border and prevent this sort of thing) and the Lebanese, who said they had arrested the soldier responsible who had acted alone and against orders. In the last year seven Israeli soldiers have been hit while patrolling the Lebanese border. Usually the wounds are not fatal. The last time an Israeli soldier was killed on the border was in 2010.

Israel allowed fuel trucks into Gaza.  The 450,000 liters (over 100,000 gallons) of fuel was paid for by Qatar. The only power plant in Gaza has been shut down because Hamas refuses to pay for the fuel used to run it. Rival Fatah buys and ships in the fuel, but Hamas refuses to collect money from electricity users and turn the cash over to Fatah. Hamas has a cash shortage because Egypt shut down the smuggling tunnels and has been using the electricity payments for more immediate needs (like paying and arming its militia force). Qatar is sending more fuel by ship, which will keep the Gaza power plant running for 90 days. The Gaza power plant had been shut down since November 1st. While it only supplies 30 percent of the Gaza electricity, it is part of the electrical grid for Gaza and without the power plant there have to be blackouts to neighborhoods on a rotating basis. The main sources of electricity are supplies coming direct from Egypt and Israel. But this power must also be paid for or else it is shut down. Many Gazans have generators, but these require fuel, which used to come mainly from Egypt (where it is heavily subsidized and illegal to export). Since August Egyptian police have been enforcing the export restrictions.

December 14, 2013: In Sinai police killed another Islamic terrorist leader and arrested 40 terrorist suspects and raided 22 buildings used by Islamic terrorists over the last week.

In Gaza a Palestinian man was wounded by Israeli gun fire after the man refused to get away from the border fence.

December 13, 2013: In Egypt the weekly Friday pro-Morsi riots left another two rioters dead.

In Gaza Israel opened the main road crossing so emergency supplies could enter. A major storm has hit the region, with snow falling on Cairo for the first time in a century and floods in Gaza forcing 5,000 people to flee their homes.

December 12, 2013: In Egypt (outside Cairo) a car bomb killed one soldier and wounded 12 others.

December 9, 2013: In the Sinai Egyptian troops killed another wanted Islamic terrorist leader. He (Ibrahim Mohammed Salaima) was caught at a roadblock and violently resisted arrest back.

In Gaza it was announced that Iran has officially resumed diplomatic relations with Hamas, the radical Palestinian group that runs Gaza in much the same way that the Iranian clerics run Iran. That’s not the only recent change, as the severe economic problems in Gaza has led Hamas to order its military commanders to cooperate with Israeli security forces to keep more radical Islamic terrorist groups from trying to attack Israeli troops along the border fence. This has lowered the number of violent incidents along the Gaza border. What aid Gaza still gets often comes via Israel and peace on the border is necessary to keep that route available. Hamas also depended on Arab Gulf states for financial support but that was already threatened by Hamas support for the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, which attempted to turn Egypt into a religious dictatorship and was removed from power in July by a popular uprising and the army. Hamas feels more comfortable with the Iranian clerics, who will now resume financial aid. But it is not enough because what hurt Hamas the most was Egypt shutting down nearly all the smuggling tunnels into Gaza. These had become a major source of income for Hamas (which heavily taxed the smugglers) and there was nothing to replace the lost income. Hamas needs that cash to pay the thousands of civil supporters, people who are its most enthusiastic supporters.

December 8, 2013: In Sinai Egyptian soldiers at a roadblock fired on a suspicious approaching car, causing it to explode. Elsewhere in Sinai troops fired on a suspicious bus, which did not explode but was later found to be full of explosives.

December 6, 2013: : On the Israeli border a bomb went off on the Syrian side of the border fence but did not damage an Israeli Army vehicle passing by. This is the first such deliberate attack on Israeli troops on the Syrian border.

December 5, 2013: Sudan and Egypt again failed to reach an agreement with Ethiopia over Nile River water distribution rights. Sudan and Egypt oppose the Ethiopian Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt claims it has rights to around 85 percent of the Nile’s annual flow and cites two treaties, one from 1929 and one from 1959, as the basis for its claim. Ethiopia says these treaties were forced on Ethiopia and are unfair. Six months ago the three countries agreed to form a joint special committee of international experts to discuss and analyze the dam project and its potential effects on Nile River water flow. These talks have failed so far and Sudan is trying to broker a compromise. A growing number of Egyptian politicians are calling for war against Ethiopia over the matter.

 

 

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