Although Saudi Arabia and Kuwait went public in support of an Arab-Israeli alliance to oppose Iran during 2017, most of the cooperation continues to be conducted quietly and without any press releases. The popular mood in Saudi Arabia is largely anti-Israel. That’s the result of 70 years of government sponsored “Israel must be destroyed” propaganda . Thus while the regular, but clandestine (usually in Western countries where Israel and Saudi Arabia have embassies) meeting occur and information and suggestions are exchanged, both sides realize that public demonstrations of cooperation will have to wait. Thus the Saudis recently defied the international chess community (and their rules) by refusing to allow Israeli chess players to attend a championship match held in Saudi Arabia. This need for discretion also makes it difficult for the Saudis to purchase the Israeli Iron Dome system (to deal with rocket and mortar attacks from Yemen). Using a third party was suggested. That has worked with a lot of Israeli military tech the Saudis already use, via American weapons they have bought. But while the U.S. has been a major investor in the development of Iron Dome Israel is the only regular user of the system. Moreover Iron Dome is very visibly Israeli. It is up to the Saudis to decide if they want, or need, Iron Dome badly enough to just quietly buy a battery or two and take the heat from their angry citizens.
In the meantime there are plenty or ways to cooperate. The Saudis and most other Arab states have cut the Palestinians off by slashing or eliminating annual contributions to subsidize the Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. has also done this, which is a big deal because for decades the United States has been the largest contributor to foreign aid for the Palestinians via the special UN program established for Palestinians. No more. The Palestinians ignored years of warnings from their Arab backers and failed to maintain a united Palestinian government. This wasted a lot of the Arab aid money and the corruption among Palestinian politicians became too obvious, excessive and embarrassing even for Arab backers, who had their own problems with corruption. This was compounded by the Palestinian inability to make peace with the Israelis, who had made lasting deals with Jordan and Egypt. Worse, the Palestinians were saying to their own people, and the Arab world, that they had no intention of making peace with Israel and were dedicated to destroying Israel. This was only said in Arabic and it was only a matter of time before these print, radio and TV pronouncements would be translated and become known to the rest of the world. That has happened in the last decade and now the Palestinians have few friends except for anti-Semites and some leftist groups.
Meanwhile the Arab oil states are still mad at the Palestinians for supporting Saddam Hussein’s plans to conquer all of Arabia (starting with Kuwait in 1990) and now Hamas is working with Iran. Many Palestinians supported (and still support) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Then there is the common attitude in the Arab world that the Palestinian mess is all the fault of the West and they should pay for it. That worked for a while but no longer.
This all began in 1949 when Arab nations refused to accept and absorb Moslems who fled (mostly) from the newly created Israel on the promise of the Arab nations soon mobilizing sufficient military strength to destroy Israel, drive the Jews out and allow the refugees to return home. That never happened and it was quickly recognized that there was a serious refugee problem. The UN established a program to take care of these refugees but in a very unusual move the 750,000 original (later called Palestinian) refugees were allowed to pass on their refugee status to their children. No other refugee group was allowed to do that by the UN and now there are calls from major donor nations (especially the U.S., which has paid for most of that special treatment from the beginning) to rescind that rule. About the same number of Jews were driven out of Moslem countries after 1948 and they were all accepted and absorbed by other nations, mainly Israel and the U.S. Since 1947 the number of “Palestinian refugees” has grown to five million and Arab states continue to refuse to absorb them. Many Palestinians have managed to find acceptance (and citizenship) in other nations (usually not Moslem majority ones) but few have renounced their rights as hereditary refugees. This situation was all about Arabs believing they had the right to decide who can live in “Moslem territories” and for them Israel was a major offense. This is nothing new. Moslems had been driving infidels out of Islamic nations for a long time. That’s why most Arab-Americans were Arab Christians until a few decades ago. Despite having been there before Islam came along, Arab Christians (and Arabs professing other religions) were always under pressure to either convert or leave. Many of those who left over the past two centuries, came to America, and prospered in a much more tolerant society.
For decades, Arab propaganda, including stuff included in schoolbooks for kids, insisted that the Israelis were illegally occupying Arab land, were not capable to doing so without the assistance of other nations (especially the United States), committed the most outrageous (and non-existent) atrocities, and that there could be no compromise on this issue of Palestinian control. The message was clear; Israel must be destroyed, and Arabs were not at fault in creating the situation. Thus a growing number of Moslems (especially Palestinians) feel they are being oppressed by the UN and the West for condemning righteous Islamic terrorism. Despite all that unity and enthusiasm Palestinian terrorism efforts against Israel have not been very successful. In desperation Palestinian terrorists adopted the use of suicide bombing against Israel in 2000. Within five years the Israelis developed tactics which emphasized going after the key people involved in planning and carrying out the suicide attacks. This worked and defeated the effectiveness of suicide bombing. On the down side the Palestinian attacks destroyed the substantial support within Israel for a Palestinian peace deal, and increased support for stronger measures against Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinian terrorists are still at it, although many Palestinians admit that the tactic has failed and has been counterproductive. Despite that opinion polls show Palestinians continue to favor violence over peaceful resolution.
For a month now Iran has been in turmoil because of nation-wide protests against the current government (a religions dictatorship run by Shia clerics). The uprising failed but left a lasting impression on Iranian leadership. Arab and Israeli intelligence officials agree that the Iranian unrest is entirely an internal affair (despite Iranian accusations of “foreign involvement”). The protests are all about corruption, bad government and priorities. Since 2011 the Iranian government has spent more and more (often billions of dollars a year) on foreign wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. At the same time the Iranian economy, at least for most Iranians, gets worse. Then there are the strictly and often violently enforced religious lifestyle rules. Since the 2009 nationwide demonstrations there was fear that enormous popular unrest would break out again. The high unemployment, and obvious wealth of the senior clergy, and their families, fueled growing opposition. The clerics still have some support. They also have the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). The IRGC is the primary security force keeping the religious dictatorship in power. The IRGC has also become one of the most corrupt institutions in Iran, owning billions of dollars in assets and demanding deals like some with the Assad government as payment for their services. The IRGC also takes the lead in seeking new ways to censor mass media in Iran. In light of the latest protests Iranian leaders have decided that the Chinese approach to Internet censorship is the best way to go and the IRGC is eager to implement this new policy, and manage the large budget it will require.
The IRGC has been essential in creating an army of Shia mercenaries to keep the Assads in power and enable Iran to pose an even greater threat to Israel. Iran has sent hundreds of IRGC officers, most of them from the Quds Force (similar to the U.S. Special Forces, but which specializes in supporting Islamic terrorists not fighting them). Over a hundred IRGC officers have been killed in Syria and Iraq since 2012. The IRGC expects to get paid, and they, and the Iranian people believe this is at their expense. As long as the IRGC remain willing to kill Iranians, another revolution won't succeed. The IRGC, however, has also become greedy and corrupt, and the clerics increasingly doubt the loyalty of these guardians of the revolution. This was evident during the recent protests, when many lower ranking IRGC members showed obvious signs of disloyalty. Meanwhile the IRGC is essential to protecting Iranian interests in Syria and Lebanon and that is a threat to everyone in those countries as well as Israel.
Israel has made it clear that they will fight if Iran tries to establish a military presence in Syria. That is complicated by the fact that Iran has allies in Syria; Russia and Turkey. What makes this interesting is that Turkey and Iran are traditional enemies of Russia, while Israel and the Gulf Arabs are not. What to do? Israel and Russia are trying to negotiate a deal to prevent a war between Iran and Israel over Iranian plans (already announced and underway) to establish bases in Syria and organize anti-Israeli forces for a final battle. Thus for Israel any long term Iranian presence in Syria is intolerable. Russia says it can work out such a deal but many Israelis are skeptical and Iran says such a deal is not possible. When it comes to opposing Iran Israel has some very public backing from Russia despite the fact that this puts Russia at odds with their two other allies in Syria. The Russians see the Israelis as a more powerful and reliable ally than the Turks or Iranians. Russia is also backing the Kurds in Syria and that is causing problems with Turkey. In short, the Syrian civil war is not quite over yet.
Egypt is to be the major foreign participant in unifying the Libyan armed forces under the command of general Khalifa Hiftar (who currently runs the LNA/Libyan National Army) . Israel is not involved but approves of anyone who is active fighting Islamic terror groups and especially ISIL. This puts Israel at odds with some of its Western allies. In Libya there is a an Arab preference for LNA commander Hiftar, which a growing number of Western leaders want to prosecute as a war criminal. That has not stopped Hiftar from travelling regularly to Europe, Russia,. Egypt and the UAE to negotiate and plan how to bring peace and unity to Libya. Hiftar visited the UAE early in January (to discuss military aid) and Egypt later to discuss what can be done to improve security along the Libyan-Egyptian border. Egypt and UAE have always been the primary supporters of the LNA and Hiftar. The UAE has supplied both Egypt and the LNA with AT-802U manned aircraft and Chinese UAVs (similar to the American Predator) for surveillance and missile attack. The AT-802U is an armed version of a popular AT-802 crop duster. The LNA controlled Marj airbase in eastern Libya has played a major role in keeping Libyan based Islamic terrorists away from Egypt.
January 23, 2018: In Egypt the current president (former general Sisi) has apparently succeeded in preventing any major candidates from registering to run against him in the March presidential elections. All major candidates were either arrested on real or imaginary charges or withdrew under government pressure. Sisi appears to repeating the pattern established by previous Egyptian military dictators (Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak) and becoming what he promised to replace. Sisi got elected in 2014 because the Moslem Brotherhood won the national elections after the 2011 revolution and made the mistake of agreeing with their radical faction and trying to impose Islamic law on all Egyptians. This was very unpopular and the Moslem Brotherhood was overthrown by another popular uprising in 2013. After that another military man (Sisi) was elected president and it was back to business as usual. One side effect of that 2013 coup was a court eventually dismissed most of the charges against Mubarak who is apparently going to escape any real punishment, as are his sons. Court decisions like that bring out more protestors but not enough to overthrow the new government run by a former general elected to the job. Most Egyptians wanted to see if the new general-in-charge could get the economy going and restore order. The new government made some progress on both counts, but at the cost of any real efforts to curb corruption or enact other needed reforms. Not a major issue as most Egyptians want peace and prosperity first. That means no Moslem Brotherhood, a group that still has a lot of popular support in Egypt. But the Brotherhood also has many factions, many of them unwilling to compromise.
This is nothing new. The Moslem Brotherhood hurt its reputation in the early 1990s when radical factions, frustrated at their inability to achieve peaceful reforms, turned to terrorism and were defeated after a bloody terrorism campaign failed. Two decades later the Islamic terrorists are again 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. This time there are still radical factions of the Moslem Brotherhood but most of the damage was done by ISIL which continues to function in Egypt (especially Sinai) largely because there are so many potential recruits in Gaza. Sisi is still popular because he has managed to revive the flow of foreign tourists to Egypt and obtain foreign aid from Arab oil states (especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE).
January 21, 2018: In the south, on the Egyptian border, Israel and Egyptian police coordinated their efforts to break up a Bedouin drug smuggling effort. One smuggler (an Israeli Bedouin) was killed (apparently by Bedouin gunfire) but no police were injured, despite the smugglers having machine-guns and using them in an effort to drive the Israeli police away. When the Egyptian police showed up the Egyptian Bedouins fled, taking their machine-guns and most of their drugs with them. This drug smuggling is still common along the new 200 kilometers border fence along the Israeli border. Damaging the fence would alert the Israelis right away so the smugglers toss bags of marijuana and hashish over the fence to the Israeli smugglers who drive it way and distribute it throughout Israel. This time the Israeli police were actually waiting near the fence and moved in once the drugs went over the fence and into Israel. At that point the police also came under fire from the Egyptian Bedouins and the Egyptian police were called in. Best not to alert the Egyptian police in advance as the Bedouin are more likely to have someone on the inside in Egypt than in Israel. But once the shooting starts the Egyptian police can be expected to side with their Israeli counterparts. The new border fence has largely halted people getting across, but high value goods that can be tossed across are still coming over.
January 18, 2018: In Gaza a family killed one of their own when Hamas accused him of being an Israeli informant. The dead man belonged to the Barhoums, a large family in Raffa that had been active in Islamic terror operations for years.
January 17, 2018: Israel paid Jordan $5 million to provide compensation for three Jordanian citizens caught in the cross-fire and killed during attacks on Israelis in Jordan.
The United States revealed that it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 2019. This caused a lot of indignant protests throughout the Arab world but it is apparently going to happen and other Western nations will follow.
January 16, 2018: In the north Israeli warplanes attacked a Hezbollah weapons warehouse outside Damascus, destroying long range missiles.
In the south the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza was reopened.
In Germany police carried out several raids on homes and businesses to collect information on Iranian Quds Force agents who are trying to recruit Shia Moslems in Europe to attack Jews. Mossad provided key information on the Quds Force activity in Germany.
In Egypt (Bir Gifgafah Air Base in Sinai) satellite photos showed several UAE AT-802U reconnaissance aircraft. The UAE and Egypt supported operations of AT-802s in an airbase in eastern Libya since 2016 and AT-802s were said to be operating over Sinai as well in the search for Islamic terrorists. But this was the first time the AT-802s were seen in Egypt.
January 15, 2018: Hamas carried out some rocket tests off the Mediterranean coast, firing three rockets out to sea. Israel pointed out that this was the result of increased military aid from Iran. The Hamas military budget for 2017 was $260 million and 39 percent of that came from Iran. That was one the things that triggered the recent protests in Iran.
January 14, 2018: Israel destroyed another Hamas “attack tunnel” that had gone under the border into Israel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing. This crossing is near the Egyptian border and is the main crossing for all foreign aid. An airstrike was used to collapse the tunnel that had been built under the natural gas pipeline from Egypt. This is the third such tunnel detected and destroyed in the last two months. The next day an Israeli general revealed that Israel did indeed now have a detection system that was apparently capable of detecting any tunneling efforts and that all such existing tunnels would be found and destroyed by the end of the year. The Israelis believe Hamas will now switch to more rockets, suicide bombers and efforts to operate from the sea. Meanwhile Israel is continuing to build its new underground wall along the 65 kilometer Gaza border. This underground barrier includes permanent sensors that detect any digging. There are already portable versions of the sensors that can be set up where tunneling activity is suspected.
Israel seized a shipment of combat uniforms made in China for Hamas. The shipment was labeled as civilian clothing. Two similar shipments were seized in 2017.
In Lebanon a Hamas leader was wounded when a bomb in his car went off. Lebanon blamed Israel because the Hamas leader was known to be in Lebanon to work on carrying out terror attacks in Israel.
January 13, 2018: Israel and Egypt both closed their border crossings with Gaza “until further notice” because of unspecified security issues. There are only two crossings into Gaza. The Egyptian Rafah crossing is near the Mediterranean and only used for people. All cargo enters Gaza via the Israeli controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.
January 9, 2018: In the north, across the Syrian border in Daraa province Israeli UAVs aided FSA (Free Syrian Army) rebels in repelling an ISIL attack. The U.S. backed FSA has cooperated with Israel along the border for years.
In the north Syria claims that Israeli aircraft and missiles hit a missile warehouse outside Damascus. Several people were killed. Syria claims they shot down one of the missiles and damaged an Israeli warplane during three separate attacks. Israel did not comment, which is not unusual. Israel has announced that it will do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from shipping improved (longer range, more accurate) rockets to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Syria complained to the UN but given the fact that Syrian government leaders are being accused of war crimes by the UN the complaints about Israeli airstrikes are not going far.
January 3, 2018: In Egypt (Sinai) the local ISIL affiliate released a video in which an ISIL member was executed for helping Hamas (which the dead man had defected from) obtain weapons. In the video the ISIL leader who served as executioner (via pistol shot to the head) declared that Hamas was run by heretics and ISIL was declaring war on them. Shia Iran is now a major supporter of Hamas so this declaration makes sense for the radical Sunni Moslem ISIL. In addition to the Iran connection Hamas has been cracking down on smaller Sunni Islamic terror groups in Gaza that constantly violate the ceasefire with Israel. This usually means an air or artillery strike against a Hamas target, because Israel holds Hamas responsible. Sale with Egypt, which had long complained about Hamas offering sanctuary (in Gaza) to anti-Egyptian Islamic terror groups. This is no longer practical for Hamas which has suffered greatly because Egypt has shut down nearly all the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt and rarely opens the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Israel and Egypt are now quite united in their opposition to Hamas. Egypt also hosted peace talks between Hamas and Fatah which, in theory, united the two groups last October. That is more fiction than fact and ISIL takes advantage of that as well, using it to establish cells in the West Bank (which don’t last long because Israel and Fatah cooperate in finding and shutting them down). ISIL is heading for the same fate in Sinai where, until recently, they enjoyed cooperation from several Bedouin tribes and clans. Not so much anymore, not since the recent attack on a Sufi mosque in Sinai and the slaughter of 300 local Moslems.
This move by ISIL is also prompted by the growing number of new recruits who deserted Hamas and other Islamic terror groups in Egypt to join ISIL. In addition the defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq has brought hundreds of ISIL survivors to Sinai and other parts of Egypt looking for a new base area. They are finding it in Sinai and western Egypt, in the desert near the Libyan border.
December 29, 2017: In Egypt (outside Cairo) ISIL took responsibility for an attack on a Christian (Coptic) church. The two gunmen opened fire outside the church and policemen guarding the church fired back. One attacker, two policemen and seven Copts were killed and many more people were wounded. In 2017 about a hundred Egyptian Christians (nearly all native Copts) were killed and many more wounded by Islamic terrorists.
Three days later two more Christians were shot dead in Cairo.