Egyptian efforts to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas are stalled by Hamas’s refusal to allow reconstruction aid sent to Gaza be monitored by people agreeable to Israel and Egypt. During the May bombing campaign it became obvious that Hamas military construction efforts in Gaza since 2014 were made possible by diverting most of the reconstruction aid to building new tunnels, bunkers and other military fortifications. That meant the materials donated for rebuilding housing and infrastructure had no impact on the sorry state of housing and infrastructure in Gaza. This is one of the reasons Gazans blame (quietly, among themselves) Hamas more than Israel for the current damage and support the construction supervision demands of Israel and Egypt. Hamas continues to insist its primary purpose is to destroy Israel and rebuilding tunnels and bunkers is part of that. Egypt is losing patience with Hamas but wants to maintain its ability to mediate deals with Hamas. This is in spite of Hamas openly allying itself with Iran, an archenemy of Egypt and openly calling for the replacement of the current Egyptian government with one more accommodating to the needs of Islamic terrorists and Iran. It’s not easy being a mediator, especially in the Middle East.
Surprising New Developments
Israel is one of the leading developers of new military tech and each time someone attacks Israel in a major way, the effectiveness of the new Israeli gear is demonstrated. The new stuff usually works because Israel has been under constant attack since it was founded in 1947. For the last fifty years Israel has been making peace with more of these foes, but there are still a lot of them left and Israel survives by being able to quickly defeat each attempt to “destroy Israel.”
The latest example of this was in May, during the 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza. The Hamas surprise rocket attacks were much less effective than during the 51-day war in 2014. Although Hamas fired over three times as many rockets in 2021 Israeli casualties and losses were much less than in 2014. Hamas losses were higher, especially in terms of tunnels and bunkers located and destroyed, often only after Hamas gunmen or leaders were detected taking shelter in them. Over the last decade Israel has developed software that performs much more effectively as analyzing aerial digital photos along with data obtained from more abundant and powerful electronic sensors. The use of digital photos made it possible to use software systems to look for threats and even their patterns of operation. These new technologies made Israeli target detection and target attacks much faster and effective than in the past. The 2021 war demonstrated new Israeli fire control and civil-defense systems as well as new anti-aircraft and missile systems. There were new ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) systems that were only mentioned in passing, without any details. This is typical with ELINT equipment and intelligence procedures in general. Effectiveness depends on being able to do things the enemy does not know about. If the enemy knows, they more quickly come up with countermeasures.
Hamas expected the Israeli response to be more effective than in 2014 but not as effective as it turned out to be. Hamas tries to convince the world that this latest defeat was a minor setback. That’s not what most Gazans are saying. While Hamas controls most media in Gaza, they do not control the Internet and Gazans can communicate with other Palestinians outside Gaza and express how they really feel. Hamas is still facing the threat of joint Palestinian elections to decide who (Hamas or Fatah in the West Bank) will be the sole government of Gaza and the West Bank. Fatah also calls for the destruction of Israel, but using less self-destructive methods. Given a choice, Palestinians will choose the lesser of two evils.
June 13, 2021: Israel has a new government, for the first time in twelve years. It is not clear yet if the new government will produce significant policy differences than the previous one. This new government is very unstable politically and the government they deposed is preparing to depose their successor at the first opportunity. This is possible because there are currently thirteen parties in the 120 member Israeli parliament (Knesset). Only two of those parties have more than ten seats (30 and 17). You need the support of 61 members to form a government. That often means depending on a large coalition of smaller parties. That is the case with the new government, which is a very unstable coalition of eight small parties representing very different interests. New elections usually come about because the governing coalition falls apart and is no longer able to control at least 61 seats to defeat a “no confidence” vote. That led to four national elections since 2019 and one reason for the new government being formed was the wish to avoid another expensive (over a billion dollars each) national election. Israeli GDP is about $400 billion and national elections are a major expense.
It is not clear if the new government will have significantly different policies that would impact Israeli military and diplomatic strategy. It will take a few weeks for any differences to become clear and longer to discover that difference those new policies would bring about.
June 16, 2021: In the south (Gaza) at least four fire balloons from Gaza crossed the border and started brush fires in rural areas. Local firefighters quickly extinguished the fires. This is the second day Hamas has sent fire balloons across the border, violating the May 21st ceasefire. Earlier today Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas training facilities and more airstrikes were carried out after the second round of fire balloons. None of the Israeli airstrikes hit important Hamas facilities. For example, the training centers bombed had apparently been abandoned several years ago.
In Jerusalem Jewish and Palestinian demonstrations were held. The Jewish demonstration was loud but did not turn violent. Palestinians held demonstrations in Jerusalem to “defend Islam” and in the West Bank to demand that Israel be destroyed. The Palestinian demonstrations tend to turn violent, largely because Palestinian media, especially Arab language versions, encourage terrorism against Israelis, especially attempts to kill Jewish Israelis and drive surviving Jews out of the Middle East. This media campaign has been getting more graphic and insistent over the last decade, even addressing messages to children to carry out suicidal attacks against Jews. The Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza continue to divert foreign aid to reward families of dead terrorists or pay monthly stipends to families of terrorists who were caught and imprisoned. This “kill the Jews” campaign works. Today a woman tried to use her car to run over some Israeli border guards. When that failed she came out of her car with a knife and tried to stab the border guards, who shot her to death before she could hurt anyone else.
June 12, 2021: In the West Bank (a border checkpoint with Jerusalem) a Palestinian woman waving a knife tried to attack one of the Israeli border police. She was shot and the wound proved fatal. She had tried the same thing in 2016, but survived her failed attack and spent two years in prison.
June 11, 2021: In Iran, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that one reason for several recent successful Israeli attacks inside Iran were because a senior Iranian counterintelligence official was found to be working for Israel. Counterintelligence deals with detecting enemy spies and preventing enemy attacks inside Iran. Ahmadinejad claims the Iranian government kept this discovery secret because it would be embarrassing to admit a top counterintelligence official was working for the enemy. No details were given about who the official was or what happened to him. Israel usually has exit plans ready to get a burned (exposed) Iranian agent out of the country quickly. Details are usually considered secrets, whether they work or not. The official Israeli response to Ahmadinejad’s claim was to dismiss it as delusional. Ahmadinejad has a history of embracing conspiracy theories.
Because of the Israeli activity in Iran, a growing number of Iranians are supporting Israel, some of them openly. Before the religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s, Iran and Israel were on good terms. Given the dismal track record of the Iranian religious dictatorship, the good old days are looking better and better. Iran demonstrators have been saying this in public, which was one reason the IRGC was ordered to use lethal force to suppress the demonstrations. This works for a while then the demonstrations return.
In the West Bank Israeli special forces found and killed two men believed responsible for recent attacks on Israelis. Two nearby Palestinian police fired on the Israeli troops and were killed by return fire. West Bank police say the Israelis killed the wrong men, who were actually Palestinian undercover agents. The matter is being investigated by the Israelis.
June 10, 2021: A major obstacle to lifting Iran sanctions is the UN inspectors of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), who have been inspecting real or suspected Iranian nuclear facilities for years. IAEA believes the Iranians have been and still are concealing nuclear weapons work. A major factor in shaping current IAEA assessments was the 2018 Israeli Mossad operation in the Iranian capital where a heavily protected warehouse containing top-secret documents was located by Mossad, covertly entered and half a ton of documents on the Iranian nuclear program were removed and 24 hours later showed up in Israel. Iran denied that the Mossad operation took place or that the documents were real. In response Israel promptly called for foreign intel and nuclear program experts to examine the documents. That led to international acceptance of the documents as authentic. IAEA used information from these documents to improve their inspection operations and Iran responded by blocking IAEA access to areas that the 2018 documents identified as involved in nuclear weapons research. The 2018 disclosures also persuaded Iran’s neighbors that they had to start planning how they were going to develop or buy nuclear weapons to prevent Iran from using nukes to bully its way to domination of the region and the removal of any government that opposed this. The Mossad operation was even more damaging for Iran when a retired Israeli Mossad official recently revealed that the twenty agents who got into the Iranian documents warehouse and into the safes holding documents, were not Israeli, but could read Farsi (Iranian language) and verify which safes held nuclear program documents. These agents trained for two years on how to carry out these operations and most of them were apparently Iranian.
June 8, 2021: In the north (southern and central Syria) Israeli air strikes hit targets in Damascus, Tartus (a Mediterranean port with a Russian naval base) and the T4 airbase in Homs province. These attacks killed at least eleven Syrian troops and militia.
In the south, across the border in Egyptian Sinai, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) kidnapped five Egyptians working on a crop irrigation project. The five are apparently being held for ransom. There have been far fewer ISIL attacks since 2018, because of successful counterterror efforts. ISIL survives, but spends most of its time seeking ways to stay alive and not get caught.
June 7, 2021: The UN acknowledged that Hamas has built a tunnel that passed under a UN operated school in Gaza. An Israeli ground penetrating bomb or missile had left a hole in the road outside the school and Israeli aerial photos released several days later show the small but intact hole left by the bomb led to a structure under the road. When confronted with this evidence Hamas declared the UN official who confirmed the presence of the tunnel was actually an Israeli publicist. In other cases Hamas will claim the tunnels are part of the new Gaza Metro (underground railway) Hamas is building. Such a system would involve a lot of smaller diameter support tunnels. There are no official plans for a metro and no foreign aid group will admit to financially supporting such a project. .
June 6, 2021: In northern Yemen (Sanaa city) the leaders of Hamas and the Yemen rebels met in a very public event. Hamas, a Sunni Arab Islamic terror group in Gaza, is one of the few Sunni groups openly supported by Iran. This meeting was all about Iran showing off how well it controls and coordinates the overseas Islamic terror groups it often denies having any influence over. The Hamas visit was unpopular with Yemeni Sunnis because most Yemenis are hostile to Israel and inclined to support the Palestinian goal of destroying Israel. Yemenis saw Hamas praise of the Yemeni rebels as an insult to Yemenis Sunnis, who are at war with Shia rebels that are increasingly using Iranian guided missiles against Sunni civilians.
June 5, 2021: In central Iran (Kerman province) a steel plant suffered major damage due to a fire caused by mishandling of molten metal. The large number of fires breaking out in ships and industrial facilities in the last week is not believed to be the result of sabotage or foreign attack but something far worse. Lack of investment in infrastructure and the economy for decades is catching up with Iran. Since the 1980s the religious dictatorship has been obsessed with destroying the United States and Israel as well as achieving military domination throughout the region. These goals were pursued at great cost to the economy and the living standards of most Iranians.
June 1, 2021: In southern Iran, off the port of Jask , on the Gulf of Oman, the largest “warship” in the IRGC Navy, the Khrag, caught fire. There were 400 crew and trainees on board and while 33 were injured, everyone got off the ship. The fire burned out after a day and the ship sank. Israel was suspected as responsible, but given the Iranian use of so many elderly ships and aircraft, which naturally are more prone to accidents, it is more likely Kharg self-destructed. That has been the case with several other Iranian warships, including new ones. Officer and crew inexperience as well as shoddy construction standards leads to more accidents.
Khrag was built as a fleet oiler (tanker) in the 1970s but was ultimately converted to what Iran called a warship and aircraft carrier. Kharg was armed like a corvette, with a 76mm gun and lots of smaller caliber autocannon. There was a helicopter landing pad and hangers for two helicopters. The Kharg could carry three helicopters but has never been seen doing so. Kharg retained some replenishment ship capabilities as it still had some of its hold space devoted to fuel and other supplies for transfer to other ships at sea. That capability was never considered a potential serious threat to Israel because the Kharg could support the movement of smaller Iranian warships to the Mediterranean for attacks on Israel..
May 31, 2021: In the north (Golan Heights) Israeli troops attacked and destroyed a Syrian army observation post that was too close to the Israeli border. Any Syrian observation post that is less than a kilometer (1,000 meters) from the nearest Israeli border fortifications is seen as a threat and are usually destroyed via a night time commando raid. Syria does not acknowledge such raids or disclose casualties. Going in on the ground allowed the Israelis to grab documents and perhaps even a prisoner. In 2020 two of these observation posts, each about 500 meters away, were attacked. It is believed these observation posts were established at the request of Iran and were compiling information on Israeli border activities for future Iranian attacks.
May 22, 2021: In west Iraq (Anbar province) there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were apparently some casualties as well among the Syrian and Iraqi pro-Iran militiamen who guard such Iranian facilities in Syria.
May 21, 2021: A ceasefire in the war with Hamas went into force, after eleven days of fighting. Egypt brokered the ceasefire negotiations, as they had done during the 2014 war with Israel, the second one since 2014. The 11-day 2021 war was even more costly to Hamas, and less damaging for Israel, than the 51-day war in 2014. Hamas called it a victory because known Hamas officials were still alive to announce that they were still in Gaza when the fighting ended. Most Arab and Western donors to the Palestinians have reduced or cut aid because of continued Palestinian corruption, violence against Israel and refusal to make a peace deal. Hamas has been the worst offender in this area and started both wars with a massive use of rockets against Israeli civilians. Arab states like Iraq pledging support for the Palestinians is all theater and little in the way of substance. Many opportunistic Moslem politicians worldwide still blame all bad things on Israel while many of them trade with Israel on the side because that is economically (or militarily) advantageous. A growing number of Arab Gulf oil states are establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, which has given the Arab alliance against Iran an ally with a track record of producing weapons that can defeat anything the Iranians have and is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Israel is currently the only Middle Eastern nation with nuclear weapons and the only one that designs and builds space satellites and launches them on Israeli designed rockets. In part because of the increased Iranian threat, Arab states found they have more in common with Israel than fellow Moslem majority state Iran.
Each war Hamas starts reveals more treachery against other Moslem states. The Israeli and Egyptian intel chiefs got together to discuss what to do about the large number of Iranian Quds operatives discovered in Gaza. Egypt knew there were and Israel collected information during the 11 day war showing that there were more Iranians working directly with Hamas than earlier believed. This is important to Egypt, which is one of the many Arab states Iran considers enemies. A major Quds presence in Gaza is a direct threat to Egypt, which has already detected some Iranian operations in Egypt. This occurs because Egypt allows periodic, and limited, movement of people and goods between Gaza and Egypt. Hamas wants more of this while Israel wants less. Hamas offered to exchange four Israeli captives; two soldiers captured in 2014 and two civilians, believed to be deranged, who entered Gaza in 2014 and were imprisoned by Hamas. Prisoner exchanges are not popular in Israel because the Palestinians released always include Palestinians that have attacked Israelis before and some continue doing so after release in a swap.
Israel and Egypt also exchanged information on the lesser Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza. Although Hamas is the dominant group, there are between ten and twenty others. Some of these are more press release than reality and one opportunity to take the measure of the lesser groups and get a more precise idea of who is capable of what. Others used members active in Lebanon or Syria to get in a shot or two. During an active conflict everyone is expected to fire back at Israel using rockets, mortar shells, firearms or fire-balloons or armed commercial UAVs. Israel and Egypt deploy a lot more ELINT and aerial surveillance resources to capture data in a brief “contact-rich environment.” The traditional giant among the lesser groups continues to be Islamic Jihad, which cultivated a relationship with Iran long before Hamas was ready to go full Iranian fanboy mode. About a dozen of the smaller groups were confirmed, with varying degrees of confidence, of having taken an active part in attacking Israel. There were a few more that were “possible” and several were essentially all talk and no detectable action.