November 18, 2013:
Israel is finding more Hamas tunnels being built into Israel. These are an attempt to provide opportunities to get attackers past the security fence so they can kill or kidnap Israelis. So far none of the recent tunnel efforts have succeeded, as they are detected and destroyed before they are usable for an attack. Despite this effort, Hamas has been remarkably quiet since its eight day “war” with Israel a year ago. That conflict began with escalating Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and led to an Israel invasion of Gaza. The violence left 6 Israelis and 169 Palestinians dead, despite 1,506 rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel. Hamas suffered considerable physical damage, as well as having several senior leaders killed. There followed a backlash against Hamas in Egypt that shut down most of the smuggling tunnels. Then there followed a spat with Iran over Syria that led to a cut in Iranian aid. In the midst of all this, Gazans became more hostile to Hamas because of all the strife and continued Hamas efforts to impose Islamic lifestyle rules on people. For the moment, Israel has less to worry about from Hamas.
Hamas has its hands full just running Gaza. A current crises is the fact that Gaza is only getting about six hours of electrical power a day because of a continuing dispute between Fatah and Hamas over a Fatah demand for Hamas to pay more for generator fuel shipped to Gaza from the West Bank. Fatah and Hamas are still feuding over who should represent all Palestinians. Hamas continues to try and carry out terror attacks inside Israel and Fatah continues to reluctantly go through the motions of negotiating (at U.S. insistence) a peace deal with Israel. At the moment, Israel is more concerned with the threat of a nuclear attack from Iran.
Israel is at odds with the U.S. over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The successful (by Iranian standards) November negotiations over the nuclear weapons follows, by Iranian standards, an earlier victory when the U.S. backed away from supporting air attacks (by itself or Israel) on Iranian nuclear facilities. Then there was the more recent American refusal to launch air attacks against Syria despite a major Syrian use of nerve gas against pro-rebel civilians. The Americans refused to carry out promised air attacks against the Syrian government for that. Finally, weak American support for the Syrian rebels has enabled Iranian aid (advisors, cash for the economy, and thousands of Shia mercenaries) to change the course of that war. The rebels are now on the defensive and Iranians are intimidating (and infuriating) their main regional opponent, a Sunni Moslem coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Arabs, despite spending much more on defense, do not have the capability or confidence to militarily intervene in Syria. This is humiliating enough, but the success of Iranian backed Assad forces against Saudi backed rebels is even worse. The Saudis are furious at the West for letting Iran win this one and, as a further humiliation, there’s not a lot the Saudis can do about it except court even further humiliation by scheming with Israel (the official arch-enemy of Saudi Arabia and most Arabs for over 60 years) to halt their mutual Iranian enemy.
The “charm offensive” the new Iranian government has going now includes offers of lucrative contracts for foreign firms to develop Iranian oil fields, once the sanctions are lifted. This is, in effect, a bribe directed at the many Western governments whose economies could use such a boost. Israel fears that some Western nations will fall for all this and lift the oil sanctions. Israel is a target for any Iranian nukes and many Iranian hardliners have made that very clear. The Gulf Arabs are also threatened by Iranian nukes, but not to the extent of Israel. Iran wants to rule (not exterminate) the Gulf Arabs but has vowed to destroy Israel and kill or drive away all the Jews there. Thus, Israel is very hostile to any deals with Iran that don’t guarantee shutting down the nuclear weapons program. The Israelis also point out that the long range (able to reach Israel) Iranian ballistic missiles are not needed either and should also be the target of sanctions. Such missiles are essential if Iran is to realistically threaten Israel with nuclear weapons. Israel believes Western negotiators (with the apparent exception of France) are falling for Iranian ploys and forgetting past Iranian use of lies, deception, and broken promises.
The principal Iranian weapon in Syria is a mercenary army composed of Shia volunteers recruited throughout the region and paid for by Iran. In addition, there are several thousand trained and organized Hezbollah light infantry. The Hezbollah and Shia volunteers have led the counteroffensive against the Syrian rebels. This has been costly to Hezbollah. The Iranian mercenary army has suffered over 2,000 casualties in the last few months, and most of the dead and wounded have been Hezbollah men. That’s because the Hezbollah fighters are better trained and able to lead the attacks. All this has caused a lot of problems for Hezbollah back in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has represented the Shia minority for over twenty years and become an unpopular bully in the process. Most Lebanese see Hezbollah as a tool for Iran and a supporter of Syria. That is not popular with most Lebanese because most Syrians, especially the pro-Iran Assad government there, believes Lebanon should be part of Syria. Hezbollah supporters (and Iran) are fine with that, as long as a Shia minority continues to rule the “Greater Syria.” While Israel has long been the official enemy for all Arabs (Shia, Sunni, and Christian) in Lebanon, the Christian/Sunni majority is turning more of their hatred against Hezbollah, and this pro-Iran group feels threatened. Yet Hezbollah must continue to do Iran’s bidding in Syria. It’s Iranian cash, weapons, and advisors that keep Hezbollah militarily dominant in Lebanon. It’s a deal with the devil that is producing more risk than benefit right now.
November 17, 2013: In Egypt (Cairo) a masked gunman killed a senior security official. Demonstrations in support of deposed Moslem Brotherhood leader (and elected president of Egypt) Mohamed Morsi continue but the fatalities are way down. While over a thousand have died (and over 2,000 arrested) in this strife since last August, most Egyptians still support a crackdown on the Islamic radicals, especially the Moslem Brotherhood. So far the Islamic radicals have refrained from large scale terror attacks and confined their operations to assassinating members of the security forces. In the Sinai Peninsula the more radical Islamic terrorists there have followed the same strategy. The Islamic terrorists have remembered how unpopular they quickly became the last time they tried to overthrow the government (in the 1990s) and how the public turned on them because of bombing and shooting attacks that killed many civilians. Most Egyptians have not forgotten this either and the current, more restrained attacks, are not winning any converts but are preventing increased public support for destroying Islamic radical groups. Yet most Egyptians support new laws that would make it harder for Islamic conservatives to operate openly in Egypt.
November 14, 2013: In Jerusalem two firebombs were thrown at a guard post outside a hospital. There were no injuries and the attackers got away. Most Egyptians also fear the more radical Islamic terrorist groups in Sinai and how some of them have attacked ships using the Suez Canal. The income from the ships using the canal is a pillar of the Egyptian economy, and most Egyptians are more concerned with the economy than anything else right now. So no matter what the Islamic radicals do it is unpopular with most Egyptians.
November 12, 2013: Israeli warplanes attacked two rocket launchers in Gaza after a rocket and some mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza a few hours earlier. This was the first air raid on Gaza this month and only the second in the last three months.
In Lebanon (Tripoli) a pro-Hezbollah Sunni militia leader was assassinated, apparently by anti-Hezbollah Sunnis. In the last three months anti-Hezbollah violence in Tripoli has caused several hundred casualties, including about 50 dead.
November 7, 2013: In Jerusalem Israeli police closed two Islamic charities for operating as fund raisers for Hamas and providing support for terrorist operations in Israel.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) soldiers killed eight Islamic terrorists. For the past few days troops have been searching seven villages known to have harbored Islamic terrorists in the past. Some are still there, as weapons and ammo have been found along with pro-Islamic terrorist printed material. The army has suffered several casualties, including one soldier killed by sniper fire.
November 6, 2013: In Egypt (northern Sinai) soldiers killed three Islamic terrorists.
November 5, 2013: Another U.S. sponsored peace negotiation session ended in loud insults and accusations of dealing in bad faith.