May 25, 2016:
In the West Bank and Israel the Fatah sponsored “knife terrorism” campaign continues to fade. In eight months the knife terrorism left 28 Israelis (plus four foreigners) and 203 Palestinians dead. While Palestinians have lost enthusiasm for making attacks, opinion surveys in the West Bank and Gaza still show a lot of support for the attacks, especially among the young (15-29) people who most often participate. Yet attacks have sharply declined (by over 80 percent) since the first ones last October. The Palestinian leaders hoped that, at the very least, the knife terrorism would do some damage to the Israeli economy. That did not work as the current unemployment rate in Israel is 4.9 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since the 1980s. The Palestinians had some success during their 2000-2005 terrorism campaign, which by 2004 had caused the Israeli unemployment rate to hit 11 percent. But Israel solved the terrorism and economic problems back then while the Palestinians have seen their economy get worse. Moreover, about 100,000 Palestinians still work in Israel and the settlements and those jobs are threatened the longer the knife terrorism continues.
One thing most Palestinians agree with the Israelis on is the damage corruption in the Palestinian territories has done to the economy. To put that into perspective take a look at corruption in the region. Corruption is measured each year by an international survey. The results are presented using a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (North Korea and Somalia tied at 167th place) and the least corrupt is 91 (Denmark). A look at this index each year provides a reason for unrest in many countries. While there is less corruption in the developed countries, in many regions it is very bad. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. There Syria currently ranks 154th, Lebanon 123rd, Jordan 45th, Egypt 88th, Libya 161st and Turkey 66th. The one Moslem nation getting better is Tunisia which ranks 76. Israel ranks 32nd, the least corrupt nation in the region. The Palestinians are not ranked but according to Palestinian opinion surveys Fatah (which runs the West Bank) is considered worse than Hamas (which runs Gaza) but both are considered more corrupt than Egypt.
The corruption in the West Bank and Gaza is bad, but also different. Fatah leadership are traditional crooks, stealing money (most of it contributed by foreign aid donors) for themselves and their key supporters. Hamas does less of that and more diversion of aid money to build military capabilities. This means stealing a lot of foreign aid to finance the importation or local manufacture of rockets as well as rebuilding the 32 tunnels destroyed by Israel during the 2014 war. Hamas believes its new tunnels will better survive the next war but most Gazans are not as optimistic. Civilians who know (or fear) that a new tunnel is near their home believe they will be the target of Israeli smart bombs if Hamas starts another war. This is particularly true if a tunnel entrance is nearby. Civilians are also unhappy with the Hamas policy of storing rockets in residential neighborhoods, usually in basements or bunkers modified for that purpose. Most Gazans remember that the 2014 war destroyed 9,000 homes, mainly because Hamas stored weapons or stationed gunmen in residential areas. Few of those homes have been rebuilt while most of the tunnels have, plus additional tunnels and bunkers. Hamas grabs construction materials meant for housing construction and does it any way it can. This includes staging “thefts” from civilian construction sites. Hamas gunmen and trucks show up at these sites in the evening and no one interferes as cement and other materials are taken away for tunnel and bunker projects.
Israel continues to keep the peace on the Syrian border by maintaining unofficial truces with Islamic terror groups that control most of that border. The peace on the Syrian frontier is fragile and Israel is working closely with Jordan (which faces a similar threat) to coordinate responses to any terrorist threats from Syria. The most likely threat is from the few ISIL men operating along or near the border. ISIL, unlike most other Islamic terrorist groups in Syria, would very much like to carry out an attack inside Israel but must first survive military pressure from rival Islamic terror groups and then get through the formidable Israeli border security. Israel is under growing pressure to choose sides in Syria and openly declare itself against the Assad government. So far Israel has made it clear that its main priority in Syria was eliminating the Iranian presence. This does not mean Israel would back any Islamic terrorist group, especially ISIL running Syria if that meant Iran was gone. But Israel has priorities and considers Iran a more formidable threat than any Sunni Islamic terrorist group. Priority is on reducing the possibility that Iran-backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon will start another war with Israel. A growing number of Israelis believe that Syria cannot be saved as a unified state but that peace will come only when Syria is partitioned. This is anathema to most Arabs and some are already accusing Israel of working on some secret scheme to make partition happen. Meanwhile Western nations and even Turkey agrees that Assad has to go and no Islamic terrorist groups will be allowed to replace the Assads. There is also general agreement that ISIL must be destroyed first.
May 24, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) security forces clashed with a large number of Islamic terrorists in a rural village, killing at least 30 of them. Four soldiers died when a bomb went off in a house they were searching. Warplanes attacked three vehicles fleeing the area, killing six ISIL men and possibly wounding others who got away before troops arrived on the scene. Elsewhere in northern Sinai a civilian died when an ISIL bomb in his car went off. The victim had been accused of working for the police.
May 23, 2016: In Jerusalem a Palestinian woman armed with a knife was shot and killed as she went after a policewoman.
Israel lifted an April ban on concrete deliveries to Gaza after it was assured that the concrete would be monitored and not diverted to military purposes. Most Israelis (and Gazans) expect the diversions to continue one way or another.
Senior Iranian officials rejected American demands that they slow down development and construction of long-range ballistic missiles. A senior Iranian military commander boasted that with current capabilities Iranian ballistic missiles could destroy Israel in eight minutes. Israel feels betrayed because in mid-April the United States clarified its interpretation of the 2015 treaty that lifts sanctions on Iran by confirming that Iran only has to shut down its nuclear development program. There are no such restrictions on the ballistic missile program or the Iranian support for Islamic terrorism. This includes aggressive actions against Israel and Sunni Arabs. Many American allies, especially Israel and the Gulf Arab states, were disappointed with this U.S. “clarification” and demanded that Iran be pressured to halt its ballistic missile program. In March the U.S. imposed some sanctions on Iran over its continued missile development but soon backed away from that and admitted the 2015 treaty ignored the ballistic missile program.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) security forces carried out several raids that left 13 Islamic terrorists dead. Troops seized over 30 locally made bombs and fifty landmines plus dozens of weapons, lots of ammo and enough components for building over fifty more bombs.
May 21, 2016: On the Lebanese border the Lebanese Army has been building observation towers. Israel does not consider this a problem, unless Hezbollah comes along (as it has done in the past) forces the army out and takes over the towers. At that point Israel would have to destroy the towers, which make it easier to plan and carry out attacks into Israel. That is something Hezbollah does but the Lebanese Army does not do.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) security forces raided an ISIL hideout and killed ten Islamic terrorists. While pursuing other ISIL men three soldiers were killed by a bomb.
May 20, 2016: In Egypt (Cairo) a police officer was killed and two wounded during a raid on a suspected Islamic terrorist hideout. It was not revealed what happened to the Islamic terrorists or what else was found there.
May 19, 2016: EgyptAir flight 804 mysteriously crashed into the Mediterranean as it was on its way from Paris to Cairo. All 66 passengers and crew were killed and the wreckage was soon found and a search is on for the flight recorders that would provide details of what might have happened. No Islamic terror group took credit for the downed aircraft, which was at high altitude (11,300 meters/37,000 feet) when it suddenly plunged into the sea. Even though this may turn out to be an accident, and not a terror attack, the damage is done because, as happened in the 1990s the Islamic terrorists (at least the more extreme ones like ISIL) are attacking the Egyptian economy, especially tourism which accounts for 11 percent of the GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the work force. ISIL attacks against tourists led to a 15 percent decline in tourist income for 2015. The October 2015 ISIL bombing of the Russian airliner (that killed 2224 and ISIL quickly took credit for) is a good example of the new approach. So far in 2016 tourism income is down nearly fifty percent. For most Egyptians the most important task of the government is improving the economy, followed by reducing Islamic terrorist violence.
There are believed to be over 500 ISIL members in northern Sinai and a much smaller number elsewhere in Egypt. ISIL is opposed by Hamas in Gaza but in Sinai ISIL has formed a coalition with local Bedouin backed Islamic terror groups. The Egyptian security forces have been concentrating on ISIL since late 2015 ISIL has not been able to carry as many attacks as it once did. Some ISIL men have left Sinai and shown up in Libya.
May 15, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) a soldier was killed and a policeman wounded by a bomb encountered during a routine patrol.
May 12, 2016: In Syria (outside Damascus) Mustafa Badreddine, the military leader of Hezbollah, was killed by an Israeli air strike (or rebel artillery, according to Hezbollah and the Syrian government). Unspecified Islamic terrorists were blamed for this killing although no one denied the possibility that it was Israel. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the death of another senior Hezbollah official killed in Syria last December. Badreddine was a more important target because he has been an active terrorist since the 1980s and has long been sought by the Israelis and the many Arab governments who have suffered from his attacks. Israel is suspected in this attacks because in April Israel revealed that it had, in the last few tears, actually carried out “dozens” of air attacks against Hezbollah efforts to move Syrian, Russian and Iranian weapons from Syria into Lebanon. It was no secret that Israeli aircraft have been attacking Hezbollah trucks trying to move Syrian missiles and other weapons into Lebanon. But confirmation, or extensive mention in the media, only occurred for about six of these attacks since early 2013. Israel always promised more such attacks and in late 2015 apparently worked out an arrangement with Russia that eliminated the risk of Russian interference. Hezbollah has been threatening another massive rocket attack on Israel, larger than the last one in 2006.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) security forces carried out several days of raids and searches to find Islamic terrorists responsible for recent attacks on checkpoints. At least eleven Islamic terrorists were killed and many weapons and bombs seized. ISIL has taken credit for the checkpoint attacks but is also known to have links with some other Islamic terrorist groups in the area who provide support. In general ISIL is hostile to all other Islamic terror groups (unless they accept ISIL leadership) but will form temporary partnerships.