November 16, 2018:
Because of a massive escalation in violence by Hamas in Gaza (over 500 rockets fired in the last week, leaving one Israeli civilian dead) Israeli public opinion is split between calls to invade Gaza and the government determination to make matters worse by invading. The extent of the damage to Israeli border towns caused a political uproar with some politicians (and many Israelis) calling for an invasion of Gaza. The current government sees that as what Hamas, and Iran, want. This time around the Israelis are working with the growing list of Arab allies to deal with Iran and Iranian backed groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. By not invading Israel makes it possible to maintain its blockade of Gaza. There are only border crossings for Gaza; one Israeli and one Egyptian. Saudi Arabia and Egypt can both identify with what Israel is going through with Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks because Iranian sponsored Shia rebels in Yemen have been firing rockets, ballistic missiles and, mortar shells and machine-gun bullets into Saudi Arabia for three years now, killing over a hundred civilians and soldiers on the border. The Saudis (and other Gulf Arab nations) have sent ground troops into Yemen, at the request of the elected government there. There is no elected government in Gaza, which is run by a group (Hamas) that won one election in 2007 and then made itself so unpopular that it refuses to hold another.
Gulf Arabs had long supported Hamas but no longer because they found Hamas to be unreliable and incompetent. In desperation Hamas allied itself with Iran, even though Iran is at war with Sunni Arabs, which includes most Palestinians. Most Arab states do not want to see another Israeli invasion of Gaza. It would get thousands of Gazans killed as well some (probably less than a hundred) Israelis. There is general agreement by Israel and their Arab allies that the forces Iran has assembled in Syria and Lebanon are a far greater threat than Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas competitor, Fatah, which runs the West Bank, remains quiet. Fatah still gets financial aid from Gulf Arabs and sees Hamas reckless behavior as eventually destroying Hamas and leaving Fatah in charge of Gaza once more.
Arabs see other positive developments. The Americans have revived sanctions in Iran and hurt Iran economically. The continued inability of Iran backed groups in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon to do any serious damage to Israel makes Iran look weak. The Iranians don’t like that, the Arabs do and most Israelis are willing to give this strategy a try. This includes a change in the ROE (Rules of Engagement) for Israeli forces guarding the Gaza border. The Israelis will now increase their use of force against Hamas organized “popular demonstrations” that try to get Hamas members into Israel. This border violence will now be met with more lethal force against those to try to damage or get across the border fence and against anyone trying to throw explosives or firebombs across the fence. The Israelis have lots of vidcams on all this border violence and Hamas has had a hard time portraying its paid protesters as victims. Israel just raised the price of that violence, at least for the Gazans Hamas has recruited for this activity.
In the face of this Hamas continues to sponsor the mass demonstrations along the Gaza border fence. This usually consists of a Hamas led mob surging towards the fence to provide human shields for armed Hamas men who will try to cut through the fence, plant bombs or thrown explosives at Israeli troops. So far there have been about 200 Gazans killed and over a thousand seriously injured. Israel says the casualty numbers will now increase and this will cost Hamas in many ways, including financially.
Hamas pays $3,000 to families of anyone killed during these border attacks as well as assured medical care and cash payments of $200 to $500 for those injured. There is also free food, water and tents to take shelter in while these spontaneous demonstrations are being organized. Civilians who show up regularly for these events earn $100 a month. At most demonstrations over a third of those present are paid regulars and many others are showing up to qualify as a paid regular (you have to make it every week and follow instructions from the Hamas organizers). These protests are also a way for Hamas to spot young men who would be worth recruiting for careers in Hamas. Iran openly admits it provides the cash for the death payments but Hamas has to scrounge up the money for the rest of the expenses.
One Gulf Arab state, Qatar, is siding with Iran because its emir and the ruling family feels that is a wise move because long-term the Iranians have always been the local superpower. Qatar tends to play by the rules more than Iran and helped negotiate, with Egypt, a November 8th ceasefire that was promptly broken by Hamas as soon as Qatar delivered the agreed upon $15 million in cash. This was for unpaid (for months) government employees in Gaza. Qatar agreed to make these payments for six months in return for the ceasefire which, like all the others Hamas agreed to, Hamas or some other Islamic terror group in Gaza soon violated. Qatar wanted to end the state of war between Hamas and Israel and hoped cash and public support would do it. Qatar is very wealthy (it has the highest per-capita income in the Persian Gulf) and its ruler has been increasingly active in backing change in the Arab world. Qatar was an early supporter of the Syrian rebels, including the Islamic terrorist groups and urges political reforms throughout the Arab world, something that has polarized Arabs everywhere.
In the north there are the Iranians, seeking to build bases and establish pro-Iran forces on the Syrian border. Iran and Israel are actually at war and Iran has been losing. Iran does not like to lose but is trapped by its own decades old “Israel must be destroyed” rhetoric. Iran is also at war with America and Sunni Arabs in general. Iran’s allies in Syria (Russia, Turkey and the Assads) prefer to avoid these other conflicts Iran has created.
Israel accuses Hezbollah of hiring about 2,000 unemployed (or at least unpaid) FSA (Free Syrian Army) rebels to secretly switch sides. There still plenty of FSA rebels in nearby Daraa Province were a mix of secular FSA groups and Islamic terrorist factions still exist, quietly so as not to attract attention. The U.S. trained and equipped many of the FSA fighters but eventually withdrew support because of factionalism and general unreliability. The FSA was a major player early on because it was largely secular and popular with Western nations. By late 2917 it was split with about 10,000 FSA working for the Turks and about 5,000 in the south still fighting the Assads. From 2012 through 2016 FSA was in decline because most Syrian rebels preferred more radical groups like al Qaeda and eventually ISIL. FSA persisted and eventually found a major patron in Turkey, which apparently plans to turn over control of the Syrian side of the border to FSA if the Assads and Syrian Kurds can be taken care of. The Turks can promise FSA fighters support in the northern Syria border zone that is controlled by Turkey and may remain under Turkish control (or “protection”) for some time to come. The Turks want a stable government in Syria that is not hostile towards Turkey. That could include the Assads, or not.
Israel is warning Lebanon and Iraq that Iranian use of their territory to upgrade unguided rockets with GPS guidance kits will result in Israeli airstrikes to destroy those operations unless local governments act. Lebanon is more of a problem because of its relationship with Iran and Syria. Hezbollah, a 1980s creation of Iran, is an autonomous military force in Lebanon and dominates local politics via terror and threats of violence against those who resist. Hezbollah, like its patron Iran, is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Iran is currently trying to turn Syria and Iraq into subject states similar to Lebanon. Most Syrians and Iraqis want to avoid this but it isn’t easy because Iran is clever, determined and fanatic about the “destroy Israel” thing. What complicates the situation in Syria is that there a lot of major players.
November 15, 2018: The United States announced that as part of its revived Iran sanctions it would go after Iranian monetary and other aid for Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are internationally recognized as Islamic terrorist organizations and legitimate targets for American efforts to seek out and disrupt Iranian efforts to provide monetary support. The U.S. has also expanded its list of Hamas and Hezbollah officials subject to individual sanctions or even multi-million dollar rewards for the death or capture.
The Israeli prime minister admitted that there are classified (secret) activities underway to deal with the Hamas and Iran. Israelis are willing to accept that because Israel has pulled off some spectacular victories against Iran in 2018, and in the past. These have been kept a secret to work and the most the prime minister can do is admit new operations exist.
November 14, 2018: The Israeli defense minister resigned to protest the recent ceasefire with Hamas, which Hamas declared a victory. Many Israelis opposed the ceasefire and that could cause the current government to lose its control of parliament and force new elections and a new government that might be more aggressive in how Israel deals with Hamas attacks on Israel.
Israeli commercial satellite photos show that the Russian S-300 air defense systems delivered to Syria six weeks ago are still not operational.
November 13, 2018: In the south (Gaza), Hamas and other Islamic terror groups fired at least 460 rockets at Israel over the last two days. Iron Dome intercepted over a hundred of them but over twenty landed in populated areas, killing one person and injuring more than a hundred. There was considerable property damage. Israel responded with 160 air strikes on Islamic terrorist targets. This included four major structures, including the seven-story headquarters of the Hamas TV station. Before hitting these larger buildings Israel spent 45 minutes calling civilians living nearby and telling them to leave the area until the Hamas target was destroyed. Meanwhile, the navy destroyed several boats used by Hamas for potential amphibious operations. Later in the day, Israel agreed to another ceasefire that Hamas had asked for, using Egypt officials from several other nations to help arrange. Nevertheless, a growing number of Israelis demanding an invasion and total destruction of Hamas. But that means Israel is once more running Gaza and that brings with it even more headaches.
November 11, 2018: In the south (Gaza), an Israeli commando team was unable to complete its mission because it encountered a group of armed Hamas fighters. The commandos killed the Hamas gunmen (including a senior commander) but lost one of their own and another was wounded. A helicopter arrived within minutes and got the team out while an airstrike assisted in keeping more Hamas gunmen from intervening. Israel did not reveal what the special operations troops were there for but the most likely reason was for intelligence gathering, possibly related to Hamas tunnel construction. These commando missions in Gaza are quite common and most are never detected by Hamas, or if they do find out about it they say nothing unless they have managed to kill or wound some of the Israeli troops.
November 10, 2018: In the south, a man from Gaza got over the border fence, was spotted and caught when he was 500 meters into Israel. The intruder was near a greenhouse on the edge of farmlands when he was called on to surrender. Before he did so he set fire to the greenhouse, perhaps thinking it would help him escape. The army believes this guy has done this before and always returned to Gaza after moving a hundred meters or so into Israel. This is not unusual because the security forces do not show up on the ground instantly but there are lots of vidcams and UAVs to track any intruders, even at night. Local civilians believe this intruder or others have gotten close to residential areas. The army insists the man they arrested was a thousand meters from any homes when he was taken into custody and found to be unarmed.
November 9, 2018: Qatari diplomats in Gaza visited the site of the weekly protests at the security fence. Gazans opposed to the peace talks Qatar was taking part in stoned the car carrying the Qataris. No one was hurt.
November 8, 2018: Qatar delivered $15 million in cash to Gaza to pay 27,000 local government employees. Qatar will continue making these payments for six months. This is part of the peace deal Israel and Hamas agreed to. Fatah, the Palestinian group that runs the West Bank, criticized this because the cash was basically from Iran. Qatar and Iran are allies and that is one reason Qatar supports Hamas in Gaza. Since mid-2017 Qatar has been sanctioned by its Arab neighbors for its pro-Iran policies. Qatar is oil-rich and with the support of Iran and Turkey has survived the Arab sanctions. Most Iranian are not keen on supporting the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza because that place has become a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists who attack Egypt.
November 7, 2018: Egyptian tourism is on its way back to pre-2011 revolution levels. Tourism 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 was down by more than 50 percent by 2015 as Islamic terrorists concentrated their efforts on tourists. That terror campaign was not eliminated until 2016. By 2017 tourist income was back up to $7.6 billion and so far this year is up 40 percent which means income will be back to 2012 levels if the Islamic terrorist activity can be kept under control by 2020 the tourist income will return to pre-revolution levels. Egypt is confident it can achieve this goal because of a little discussed, but vigorously enforced 2015 counter-terrorism law that was meant to limit the ability of Islamic terrorists to exploit news of their violence. The 2015 counter-terrorism law did not outlaw the reporting of terrorist attacks but controlled it. The law imposed fines of up to $30,000 for violations that resulted from quick and often inaccurate reporting of terror attacks. Such inaccuracy and sensationalism were what the terrorists wanted. The 2015 law did frustrate Islamic terrorists operating in Egypt and enabled the security forces to operate more effectively as well as making it easier for government shortcomings in counter-terrorism operations to be downplayed. The government media spin was eventually exposed but by then the Islamic terror incident in question was no longer in question. Internally the media manipulation was popular because it improved the image of Egypt to foreign investors and tourists. Most Egyptians put the economy first and this is especially true with tourism which employs a lot of Egyptians unlike the Suez Canal and the growing natural gas industry, which employ far fewer people and make it easier for corrupt officials to steal more of the money.
November 5, 2018: The UN extended the sanctions on Libya until February 2020. This means it is illegal to send weapons and military equipment to Libya. That happens anyway, mainly for the LNA (Libyan National Army) via Egypt or to an airbase run by the UAE in eastern Libya.
November 2, 2018: In Egypt (220 kilometers south of Cairo), ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen fired on two buses carrying Christian (Coptic) pilgrims, killing seven and wounding 16. Police tracked the fleeing gun into the Western Desert and two days later attacked the ISIL base camp the shooters returned to. None of the 19 Islamic terrorists in the camp would surrender and all 19 were killed in the subsequent battle. Large quantities of weapons, equipment and documents were seized.
October 31, 2018: Israel has developed and used a more powerful version of its decade old Stuxnet malware to infect and damage Iranian networks and strategic systems. Reports from Iran indicate the new malware is doing considerable damage and Israel will not comment. The new Stuxnet has not received a name (as have earlier Stuxnet successors like Duqu, Gauss and Flame) but the impact was so serious and the rumors and gossip inside Iran so widespread and detailed that the Iranian government admitted at the end of October that there had been an attack but that it “was being controlled.” In Iran, that’s government-speak for “we got a major problem and we’d rather not talk about it.”