Iran has, since a religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s, declared itself at war with Israel and the United States. That war has now become a major problem for Israel and the United States because of several rather recent developments. Since 2012 Iran has been a major factor in the Syrian civil war and also established a presence in Gaza, which is on Israeli southern border. While Iran has been subject to more and more international sanctions since the 1980s they managed to convince several major Western nations, including the United States, to sign a 2015 treaty lifting many of the sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program (which Iran officially denied existed).
The Americans and Israelis obtained evidence that the Iranians were cheating and in 2017 the American revived the sanctions. This did immediate damage to Iranian finances and perpetuated the recession that had persisted in Iran for over a decade. Iranian leaders made even more threats against the U.S. and Israel. Like most previous threats, Iran appeared to have no intention of following through. That is not always the case. Iran has carried out many terror attacks against Israelis and other Jews outside of Israel and done the same with American military personnel and civilians. Their threats are pretty standard Iranian tactics.
Iran will get violent if they think they can get away with it, but the current American government has demonstrated a willingness to meet force with force. The current Israeli government is also particularly aggressive in striking back at any Iranian moves that threaten Israel. This target list includes all the Iranian proxies; the Assad government, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Back in Iran the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), which often suggests more violent responses to such situations, finds itself on the defensive inside Iran. Most Iranians hold the IRGC responsible for the persistent recession and growing list of foreign nations that see Iran in a bad light. The popular protests against the Iranian government have been going on since late 2017 and even some elected officials (who are screened first by the senior clerics) are protesting the government for trying to ignore or suppress some very real grievances. Some government hardliners still back starting a war if all else fails but most Iranian leaders fear that anything that bold will most likely backfire on Iran. The enemy this time is openly aware of the many ancient Iranian strategies and tactics that have usually worked so well in the past. Not all the American and Israeli countermeasures developed have been disclosed but from what Iranian have seen in the last few years, starting a war to mobilize the Iranian people is more likely to be a flop because Iranian enemies will not cooperate. So for the moment, there is a lot of posturing and other theatrics while the Iranian position worsens and Iranian leaders frantically seek to come up with a solution that does not include putting the current Iranian rulers out of a job.
Iran now insists it is resuming its nuclear weapons program but that will be difficult because the program is expensive and actually moving forward invites special operations type attacks (the Stuxnet hack, Israeli assassinations inside Iran and so on) by the Israelis and Americans. Iran won’t maintain the “we will build nukes” threats unless they get a useful (and not harmful) response. The Europeans might be inclined to submit but they have nothing to offer. The Russians also have little to offer and the Chinese have removed themselves for the time being. Iran is alone and does not like it at all.
The Syrian War has been increasingly difficult for Iran because Russia, a major ally in Syria, puts a higher priority on maintaining good relations with Israel. There are very practical reasons for that. So far Israel has regularly demonstrated it can shut down (permanently with bombs or temporarily with countermeasures) Syrian air defense systems. The Israelis don’t destroy all the Syrian air defense systems because that would be expensive and Israel only needs to shut down systems that attempt to interfere with Israeli airstrikes or surveillance missions. This approach also intimidates the Syrians and Russians (and anyone else using Russian air defense systems). The Israeli policy is to avoid damaging Russian air defense systems as long as Russia does not try to interfere with Israeli air operations. One reason Russia is exasperated with Iran is that the Iranians fail to appreciate the technical and military superiority the Israelis have when it comes to air defenses and how to defeat them. The Russians are being practical while the Iranians believe their own press releases.
The Lebanon Reckoning
Most Lebanese are hostile to greater Iranian presence in Lebanon and Syria. That has backfired in Lebanon because for decades Hezbollah has exercised a veto over any Lebanese government moves to curb Hezbollah or Iranian activity in Lebanon or anywhere else. Israel does not want war with Lebanon but the Hezbollah political power, backed by the Iranian threat, has prevented the Lebanese majority from acting against Iranian and Hezbollah threats to Israel. If Hezbollah does get involved in another war with Israel (as happened in 2006), all of Lebanon will suffer, as it did in 2006 and as Israel assures Lebanon it will in any future war. At this point, Lebanon and Israel see another Hezbollah war less likely. That is because Hezbollah has tarnished its reputation as “the defender of Lebanon” by sending thousands of its fighters to Syria, as ordered by Iran, to help keep the Assad government in power. That had a huge impact on Lebanon because most of the Syrian rebels were anti-Shia, mainly because the Assads are from a Shia minority that has ruled Syria for decades.
The Assads had always been brutal towards any Sunni opposition. This became a problem for Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia was held partly responsible for the two million Sunni Arab Syrian refugees that fled to Lebanon since 2012. Because of that, the Lebanese Shia are now a smaller minority. Worse Lebanon was overwhelmed, economically and otherwise, by the two million Syrian refugees it was forced to host. That’s in a country of only five million. Since nearly all those refugees are Sunni Moslems that radically changes the religious mix of Lebanon from 27 percent Shia, 27 percent Sunni, and 46 percent Christian (and other religions) to a more volatile combination. With the refugee influx, there are now over seven million people in Lebanon and 47 percent are Sunni, 19 percent Shia and 34 percent Christian (and others). This puts the Hezbollah militia in a bad situation. The better armed and trained Hezbollah fighters have been able to dominate the other minorities since the 1980s. That was possible because of Iranian cash, weapons and advisors. But the Iranian help and better organization are no longer enough when the Sunnis are nearly half the population and out for blood because of the slaughter the Iranian backed Shia Syrian government inflicted on Syrian Sunnis. Lebanon does not want another civil war over this, but it is becoming more difficult to contain the anger. This diminished the fact that Hezbollah and Iran have had some success attracting non-Shia factions (especially Christians) to be part of the Shia coalition in Lebanon. This is traditional Lebanese politics, with the Christians surviving by forming a coalition with non-Christian groups. But even those allies are abandoning Hezbollah, which, along with its patron Iran, are seen as toxic for Lebanon. Hezbollah leaders fear that this will not end well for them, their organization and Lebanese Shia. After decades of bullying the other minorities in Lebanon, the tables have turned and by Hezbollah reckoning that will not end well for Hezbollah.
Egypt Versus ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)
In Egypt (Sinai) security force commanders report that the ongoing (since February 2018) counter-terror operations in Sinai have so far left over 650 Islamic terrorists (along with a few local tribesmen) dead as well as 50 soldiers and police. Civilian deaths often occur when the troops call in air strikes (F-16s and armed helicopters) or artillery fire. Independent estimates of losses, based on Internet chatter, media reports and some plausible paranoia, believe that from January 2014 to mid-2018 some 3,000 Islamic terrorists have been killed in Sinai, along with 1,200 soldiers and police. No estimates of civilian losses were made. That would include losses among pro-government tribal militias and many cases where it was difficult to tell if dead civilians were the result of attacks on innocent or partisan (pro-ISIL or pro-government) civilians and who the attacker was. There is always some tribal feuding going on that kills civilians as well as deaths from criminal activity (bandits and smugglers). Egyptian security services are also notorious for simply kidnapping civilians, using violent interrogation methods and if the interrogation proves fatal, denying they ever had the victim in custody. This has occurred in Sinai but, of course, there are never any official stats on how often. In some cases, the disappearances are the result of Islamic terrorist or gangster activity or even a tribal feud. In Sinai, the government is believed responsible for over 40 lethal disappearances.
Egypt continues to avoid accurately reporting casualties in Sinai. For over a year all the government reports are that so many Islamic terrorists and government forces were killed “recently” while deliberately avoiding specifying precise time periods. This only applies to operations in Sinai, because that area, unlike most of Egypt, is thinly populated and has been effectively isolated from the rest of Egypt and the outside world in general. While this helps prevent the Sinai based ISIL and other Islamic terrorists from getting into the rest of Egypt, it also prevents journalists from getting in. There is still the Internet and travelers from Sinai. Thus it is known that the battle against Islamic terrorism continues and ISIL has been unable to launch more large-scale attacks. The security forces continue to carry out raids and Islamic terrorists are arrested and killed. But the exact extent of this activity is now unknown. This loss of accuracy in reporting was gradual and is now standard.
The Egyptian campaign against ISIL in Sinai, that began in February 2018 was, at the end of 2018, proclaimed a success but details were often unavailable, unclear or not credible. Egypt had always restricted media access to Sinai and tried to control what independent versions of Sinai events that did get out. During all of 2018 Egypt claims to have killed 464 ISIL personnel and arrested over 7,000 people suspected of some involvement with ISIL (members, support or doing business with ISIL). There was a lot of collective punishment (destroying the homes of families with one or more members in ISIL or closely associated with ISIL.) The military established tight travel controls with numerous checkpoints. Despite all that ISIL continued to operate, although at a lower intensity. During 2018 ISIL carried out dozens of assassination operations in Sinai, most of them succeeding. Even the failures (usually against senior commanders or officials with better security) were unnerving because they usually implied that ISIL had intel capabilities that could obtain secret movement plans for senior officials. The army did locate and raid dozens of ISIL camps and safe houses, uncovering documents verifying ISIL was still very much in business. At the start of 2018 ISIL in Sinai was thought to have 1,300 active members. There appear to be fewer of them now, but still at least a few hundred to nearly a thousand.
Western nations continue to believe that the Palestinians would accept a “two-state solution” if enough foreign aid were pledged. This proposal has been offered and refused, time and again, no matter how much money is on offer. The problem is Palestinian leaders remain in power by promising Palestinians (and Arabs in general) that the only acceptable goal is the elimination of Israel and driving all Jews from the Middle East. Israel has blocked efforts to make that happen. Destroying Israel is politically unacceptable to the West, as well as a growing number of Arab nations. Western officials and diplomats, in general, refuse to accept the fact that the decades-long Palestinian media promotion of eliminating Israel is serious. This despite the fact that any time an attractive (cash-laden and involving lots of territory) two-state peace offer is made and polls show many Palestinians are interested, the Palestinian leadership revs up the “Israel must be destroyed” campaign again and threaten “righteous retribution” against Palestinians who openly disagree. Seventy years ago most Arab states encouraged the Palestinians in this demand for Israel to be destroyed and nothing short of that was acceptable. Now Arab leaders are realizing that this demand is hurting Arabs in general and nowhere is this more evident than during the current undeclared war with Iran. Since the 1990s more and more Arabs have been quietly proposing that Arab states ditch the pointless Palestinians and support Israel instead. While the Palestinians have been a huge cash drain on Arab states, Israel is the most economically productive and militarily powerful of all the Arab states. Israel has nukes, space satellites and ballistic missiles, which also launch the Israeli made satellites. Israel is recognized as a world leader in developing new weapons that work. Even some Moslem nations are quietly importing Israeli military equipment. While the Arab states are the major importers of weapons worldwide, Israel is one of the largest exporters. As of 2018, Israel was the smallest (in population) among the top ten arms exporters. Israel is one of two rather small (by population) countries in the top ten. At number 8 is Israel, a nation with a population of 8.8 million. At number 10 is the Netherlands, with twice as many people. The top five producers have a combined population of over 1.6 billion.
The Israeli ranking isn’t about economic power. The Israeli GDP is $391 billion while that of the Netherlands is $914 billion. Number 9 on the exports list is Italy while the top 7 are the U.S., Russia, France, Germany, China, Britain and Spain. The top five producers account for having a total GDP of $44 trillion, more than half the world total. If Arabs wanted to be proud of Arab accomplishments all they have to do is admit that Israel is an Arab (Semitic) nation. Israel is that, with half its population obviously and proudly Arab. Most of those Israeli Arabs are Jewish, driven out of their Arab homelands in the late 1940s. Iran wants to rule all the Arab states, at least the ones with oil, but Iran wants to destroy Israel and many Arabs now realize that this Iranian goal is also about eliminating a Semitic state in the region. The Iranians have been outspoken anti-Semites for thousands of years and that is one tradition they have definitely not discarded.
In a way, Israel has Iran to thank for the growing Israeli arms industries and exports. Israel got to the top ten after the Cold War ended in 1991 because it was still at war, as it has been since it was founded 71 years ago. Despite the refusal of many nations to export weapons to Israel, mainly because of pressure from Moslem states that control most of the world oil supplies, that vulnerability was turned into a strength by Israel as Israelis developed, manufactured and eventually exported more and more weapons. Israel concentrated on high-tech systems that would work as advertised and that helped export sales because Israeli weapons were always “combat proven.” Israel has won five wars during that time and while that has discouraged many of its Moslem neighbors from attacking, it has not eased the threat. More and more the Israeli military edge was bolstered by superior Israeli made military tech.
June 17, 2019: Hamas has, for nearly a week, insisted it has no idea who fired the rockets from Gaza into Israel last week, That means either Hamas is lying or has lost control over Gaza to the point where it can no longer identify who is doing what.
June 16, 2019: A government official from Qatar was once more allowed to enter Gaza with $15 million in cash. Most of it is being distributed as hundred dollars bills, one to each of 108,000 poor families in Gaza. This is still acceptable to Egypt and Israel because it ensures that most of the money goes to needy But this time Hamas was caught removing 5,000 pro-Fatah (the West Bank government) families and replacing them with 5,000 pro-Hamas families, some of them not quite as poor as the families removed. Qatar threatened to halt the cash aid over this and in this case, did delay the cash distribution for hours until Hamas explained itself. Qatar insisted on the use of cash so that Palestinians and not Hamas would receive the aid. Hamas is notorious for diverting aid money to military purposes.
Qatar, an Iranian ally, has provided Gaza with over $1.1 billion in aid since 2012 but told Hamas in January that it was no longer sending Hamas money for electricity but was instead sending $10 million to Israel (via a bank transfer) to keep the Gaza electrical supply system operating. This new procedure was necessary because Hamas, despite warnings from Qatar, continues trying to divert aid money to military uses. Qatar says it will halt these payments if it finds that Hamas is trying to get the cash from Gaza families and Hamas keeps trying anyway.
June 15, 2019: In western Syria, Iran has built a small airfield next to the Lebanese border. One feature of this new airfield are tunnels leading from the airport to the other side of the border. Iran is apparently trying to take advantage of the fact that Israel is reluctant to bomb Iranian facilities in Lebanon. Even Hezbollah tends to be immune to airstrikes in Lebanon unless Hezbollah has been caught attacking Israel.
June 14, 2019: In the south (Gaza), the Friday attacks on the border fence continued. Today Hamas gathered thousands of civilians to try and get through the border at several places. At least 46 protestors were wounded as they were repulsed. Other Gazans launched dozens of fire balloons into Israel, which caused seven brush fires.
Israeli intelligence agreed with the Americans (who captured Iranians on video) that Iranian IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) operatives have and use limpet mines to anonymously attack shipping. Warships tend to be more alert to such threats but there are far more commercial ships (mainly tankers) moving through the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to pick up oil cargoes. Many of these tankers will sometimes anchor just off the shipping channel overnight, or longer, waiting for an available berth. Crews on these huge (often size of a large aircraft carrier) ships are small (fewer than 40 personnel) and except for someone on the bridge (to answer the phone and monitor the automated systems that run the engines and so on) there is no one watching out for small boats approaching in the darkness and quietly attaching or removing a limpet mine. On June 13th two tankers were apparently attacked with limpet mines that did explode and cause fires. This attack was in the Gulf of Oman. Limpet mines are placed to the hull via magnets and detonated by a timer or remotely. The U.S. provided surveillance video of Iranians in a small boat at night removing a limpet mine that did not go off. The American UAV was patrolling the Gulf of Oman at night and spotted the small boar, apparently Iranian headed towards anchored tanker and eventually got the video of the Iranians removing a limpet mine. At one point an Iranian spotted, or suspected, the UAV overhead and fired a portable anti-aircraft missile at it, which missed. The Israelis have their own sources of what the IRGC has and how they plan to use it.
June 13, 2019: In the south (Gaza), someone fired several rockets into Israel. Iron Dome stopped one but another hit a school that was empty. The rocket warhead did not explode so there was minor damage to the school. Hamas was held responsible and later that night and into the next day, several airstrikes hit Hamas targets in Gaza. One of the attacks was a new combat tunnel under construction.
June 12, 2019: Israeli leaders again confirmed recent airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria. For a long time, Israel would not confirm they had carried out airstrikes in neighboring countries, at least not right away. Eventually, most of these airstrikes were admitted but with Iranian operations in Syria, Israel is quick to claim the credit. This is seen as irritating to the Iranians and is another way to disrupt Iranian operations and hurt morale.
June 11, 2019: In the north (Golan Heights and the Israeli border), an Israeli airstrike hit targets on Tel al Hara, a 1,100 meter (3,500 foot) high hill (an extinct volcano) and the highest point on either side of the border. Before the civil war, Tel al Hara was the site of visual and electronic equipment for monitoring the Israeli side of the border. The Assads allowed Iran and Russia to set up equipment there. For most of the time from 2012 to 2018 Tel al Hara was occupied by rebels affiliated with al Qaeda but willing to make deals with the Israelis to keep Russian and Iranian observers off the hill and provide Israel with copies of documents and pictures of the interior of the observation facilities the rebels captured. By 2018 the rebels were driven away from Tel al Hara by Assad forces, with the help of another agreement with the Israelis. If the Assads kept the Iranians away from the hill, Israel would not attack. That agreement held for a while but eventually, the Assads let Iran and Hezbollah back on the hill where the hill was used by Iran to gather information of attacks on Israel. Russia was unwilling to try and get the Iranians and Hezbollah removed but apparently had no objection to Israel attacking the hill. Israel implied that they would continue attacking the hill as long as their enemies were using the observation post to plan attacks.
In Egypt (North Sinai), local media reported four airstrikes in the area by unidentified warplanes. There were no known casualties. Israeli UAVs and helicopters had been seen operating on the Egyptian side of the border in the daytime since the June 5th ISIL attack on an army checkpoint. Some of these daytime UAV operations resulted in a missile attack on an ISIL target, Israel quietly cooperates with Egypt on counter-terror operations and such increased Israeli air operations have become common after major ISIL activity in north Sinai. It is unusual for Egyptian media to mention it, even if they don’t identify whose aircraft were carrying out the airstrikes.
June 10, 2019: Syrians opposed to the Assads, or just the Iranian influence, still exist in Syria and quietly observe what the Iranians are up to and get that information out of the country for the rest of the world to see. One of the latest revelations are the locations of remaining Iranian stockpiles of Iranian missiles. This includes small anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems as well as mobile Fateh-110 ballistic missiles and their transports. Some of these have been quietly moved to areas that Israel had previously bombed. Most of these new storage sites are in eastern Syria (Homs province)
at the previously bombed T4 airbase as well as some new sites. Syria warned Iran that such stockpiles, so close to Israel, would be destroyed if discovered.
June 6, 2019: In Syria, Israeli air defense radar spotted several Syrian anti-aircraft missiles being launched towards the Israeli Golan Heights. The S-200 missiles were launched from outside Damascus and Syria was apparently hoping that these largely unguided (for a surface-to-surface attack) missiles would hit targets on the Israeli side of the border. That did not happen.
June 5, 2019: In Egypt (North Sinai), ISIL attacked an army checkpoint, killing eight soldiers but losing five ISIL gunmen during the attack. Police quickly tracked down the group that planned and carried out the attack and surrounded four other ISIL men in an abandoned house. The Islamic terrorists refused to surrender and during the subsequent gun battle, all of them died. Within a week of the checkpoint attack, at least 26 ISIL members were killed and several of their hideouts captured.
June 2, 2019: In Syria (Golan Heights), Israeli airstrikes against at least six Syrian and Iranian military targets (including the T4 airbase) was retaliation for two rockets fired from near Damascus into Israeli Golan Heights territory the day before. Israel acknowledged these airstrikes and openly declared that there would be more of them as long as Iran and Hezbollah threaten Israel. Israel also pointed out Iranian and Hezbollah attack have been ineffective because of Israeli defenses and Syria is unable to stop Israeli airstrikes and Israel intends to keep it that way. This sort of public criticism is very annoying to Iranian leaders, who cannot afford to be identified as weak and powerless, not with the growing internal unrest over poor economic performance and government corruption.
May 31, 2019: In Jerusalem, a Palestinian man was shot dead after he had stabbed two civilians a knife. Nearby another Palestinian was killed as he tried to climb over the security wall separating the West Bank and Israel.
May 29, 2019: In Lebanon, the Hezbollah leader held a press conference in which he assured the world that Hezbollah would attack Israel if Israel attacked Iran. But right after that, he announced, in Arabic, to a Lebanese audience that Hezbollah would never attack Israel unless Israel attacked Lebanon first. That is an important point for Hezbollah because since 2011 local support for Hezbollah has declined considerably. The Lebanese government is still officially hostile to Israel and not critical of Hezbollah. But anyone who pays attention to public opinion, as Hezbollah leaders do, know that Hezbollah is more disliked and hated in Lebanon than ever before and any talk of starting a war with Israel is not well received. As a result, Iran sees Hezbollah as much less useful. This is the fault of Iran, which insisted that thousands of Hezbollah fighters be sent to Syria to prop up the Assads. Iran paid for combat bonuses, medical care and life insurance for the Hezbollah gunmen but there was no way to buy the affection of all the Lebanese who wanted Hezbollah disbanded and Iran out of the region (Syria and Lebanon). Iran has cut its cash subsidies to Hezbollah by half, saying it was necessary because the Iranian economy was in bad shape. While that was true, the value of Hezbollah to Iran was in even worse shape not worth the $700 million a year Iran was paying to make Hezbollah worth the cost.
In western Egypt (at the Libyan border) the Libyan National Army (LNA) turned over Islamic terrorist Hesham Ashmwai. Egypt has wanted custody of Ashmwai since he was captured by the LNA In late 2018. Back in October 2018, the LNA did quietly turn over the widow of Egyptian Islamic terrorist Omar Rifai Sorour. The widow and her daughters are Egyptian. This was not considered unusual because the LNA has been supported by Egypt for years. The LNA held on to their other Egyptian prisoner, Hesham Ashmwai, who had been captured at the same time as the Sorour family. The Sorour widow confirmed that her husband had died of wounds suffered from an airstrike in the coastal city of Derna and revealed his burial site. Raids like this were, in 2018, capturing a lot of key Egyptian and Libyan Islamic terrorists or their families and that resulted in a lot of useful information on past, current and future Islamic terrorist operations in North Africa. The operation that got Ashmwai was considered a major event because he was a former Egyptian special operations officer who had been a notably effective Islamic terrorist leader in Libya and long sought by Egypt. Ashmwai continued to organize attacks on Egypt after he moved to Libya in 2014 (to recover from wounds). Ashmwai was the most wanted Islamic terrorist in Egypt. As a captive in Libya Ashmwai agreed to provide LNA interrogators with information on what he knew of current and past Islamic terrorist operations he was involved with. Egypt wanted Ashmwai returned immediately for interrogation and prosecution. The LNA may have agreed to keep him away from Egypt in return for information. Western and Russian intel agencies wanted a chance to interrogate Ashmwai and Egyptian intel officers were also allowed to participate. Egypt has long cooperated with Western (including American), Russia and even Israeli intelligence when it comes to counterterrorism operations. Press releases are rarely issued to explain this multinational intel cooperation. The return of Ashmwai was different because his return to Egyptian custody had become a major issue and big news inside Egypt.
May 28, 2019: After Fatah refused to continue making monthly payments to the families of 1,500 Gaza Palestinians (because of an escalating feud between Fatah and Hamas) Iran said it would somehow get $600,000 into Gaza to make the latest payments. These payments are key to preventing the deaths of so many Palestinians in failed terror attacks from turning Palestinians against the terror tactics.
May 25, 2019: In Egypt general, Abdel Fattah al Burhan, head of Sudan's ruling MTC, has met in Cairo with Egyptian president (and former general) Sisi. This is Burhan’s first trip outside of Sudan since the MTC recently toppled president-for-life Bashir.