December 5, 2013:
The Palestinian peace talks are not making much progress. Israeli and Palestinian officials have met 3-4 times a month in the last few months and apparently little progress has been made. The talks are being held at the insistence of the U.S., which threatened to cut aid if the talks did not happen. American leaders are aware of Palestinian attitudes on peace with Israel but the U.S. still assumes that a peace deal is possible. For years Palestinian leaders have agreed with that when speaking to Western leaders and reporters but they then turn around and tell their followers that, of course, Israel must be destroyed and that there is no other solution. For most Western leaders the disunity, corruption, and general chaos within the Palestinian community is seen as a larger problem than a peace deal. That may be true, but without a positive attitude towards a peace deal, there won’t be any peace. Despite all this, many Palestinians are now talking about a “Third Intifada,” as if more civil disorder will change anything. Peace is not on the agenda. Most Israelis, and according to a recent U.S. opinion poll, most Americans agree. Even without a new intifada, casual violence in the West Bank is increasing. This usually takes the form of young men throwing stones at Israeli soldiers or civilians. Israeli women and children are the preferred targets because they are the least likely to shoot back if the rocks begin to inflict injuries. Palestinian propaganda praises those who kill children just as much as those who killed soldiers or police. All are heroes of the Palestinian struggle to destroy Israel. This is becoming embarrassing for some Western nations when it was pointed out that their aid money was being used directly for some of this propaganda. The peace talks are further hampered by the fact that Palestinians lack a single leader, with Fatah in charge of the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. There is no progress (or much hope) in healing that rift.
Israel is also angry at the United States for making an interim peace deal with Iran that does nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program and rewards the Iranians for showing up to talks. The U.S. disagrees with this assessment and moves forward towards a more comprehensive deal with Iran.
In Lebanon Hezbollah is building more training camps and using them to upgrade the combat skills of its many part-time fighters. It’s unclear what this is for, although new camp construction actually began back in 2008 but has accelerated this year. Hezbollah is heavily involved in Syria, but their gunmen fighting in Syria is proving very unpopular with most Lebanese, including many Hezbollah supporters. Hezbollah has reduced the number of fighters in Syria and is rotating them in and out of combat (and Syria). This means additional well-trained Hezbollah fighters are needed, and that could be what the new training camps are for. But the camps could also be in preparation for another war with Israel. That is unlikely because such a conflict would be very dangerous for Hezbollah, especially given the unpopularity of the Shia militia in Lebanon. Other odd aspect of the new training camps are that they are not as well hidden as previous ones. In the 1990s Israel began attacking Hezbollah training camps with air attacks. In response Hezbollah dispersed its training into forested and heavily urban areas. But now new camps are out in the open and vulnerable to air attack. Israel has not attacked, yet.
Egypt continues to tightly restrict traffic going through the single legal crossing into Gaza. Egypt still believes Hamas is providing sanctuary for Islamic terrorists inside Gaza. The Egyptian blockade has cut the Gaza GDP by at least ten percent. The most visible problem has been the loss of cheap fuel from Egypt (where diesel and petrol are available at subsidized prices while Israelis pay three times more). Israeli petrol is not subsidized and heavily taxed. So while Israel will sell fuel to Gaza, many Gazans are unwilling or unable to pay the higher price. When the smuggling tunnels to Egypt were operating, cheap fuel was illegally imported. Egypt does not allow the subsidized fuel to be exported, but a lot of it is. The more expensive fuel has disrupted garbage collection in Gaza and this is causing a health hazard. Egypt and Israel call the Gaza garbage crises artificial, as it could be easily ended by simply charging more for garbage collection to pay for the more expensive fuel. Another problem is the high tax ($2.19 a liter) the Palestinian Authority (Fatah in the West Bank) imposes on fuel imported from Israel into Gaza. Hamas refuses to pay the tax. The solution is cheap fuel from Qatar, which is on the way and will be allowed in via Egypt. Fatah would prefer that the fuel crises continue in order to trigger a rebellion against Hamas that would allow Fatah to regain control of Gaza.
The severe economic problems in Gaza has led Hamas to order its military commanders to cooperate with Israeli security forces to keep more radical Islamic terrorist groups from trying to attack Israeli troops along the border fence. This has lowered the number of violent incidents along the Gaza border.
In Sinai Egyptian soldiers continue their raids and sweeps against Islamic terrorist still operating in the largely desert peninsula. The Islamic terrorist groups have admitted that these actions have cost them several key people. The army believes they have driven the Islamic terrorists from several parts of the Sinai, especially the eastern portion. The surviving militants appear to have fled to the more populous (and more hostile to Islamic terrorists) Nile River delta.
The pro-Moslem Brotherhood government in Turkey has reduced its diplomatic ties with Egypt after Egypt expelled the Turkish ambassador on November 24th for openly supporting the Moslem brotherhood. Turkey is now trying to back away from their support of the Moslem brotherhood. The Turkish attitude towards the Moslem Brotherhood has also hurt relations with most Arab Gulf states and crippled the Turkish effort to establish itself as a leader in the Moslem world.
One thing that is making the Moslem Brotherhood so unpopular in Egypt is the continued violence against Egyptian Christians and secular Moslems. While this appeals to the radical wing of the Brotherhood, it is very unpopular with most Egyptians.
Israel continues to provide medical care for wounded Syrian civilians who show up at border crossings and then sends them back when they are well. While Israel won’t let Syrian refugees enter, food, water, and other supplies have been sent to refugees who have camped out just across the border. These refugees get most of their supplies from foreign aid groups working on the Syrian side of the border.
December 3, 2013: In Lebanon a senior Hezbollah commander (Hassan Laqqis) was shot dead. Hezbollah blamed Israel but there were plenty of Lebanese who want Hezbollah leaders dead. Israel denied involvement. The last time such a senior Hezbollah leader was killed like this was in 2008, and four have been killed since 2003 (versus four between 1984 and 2002).
December 2, 2013: Acting on a tip Egyptian police found and disabled a car bomb left on a road outside the capital. In the Sinai one roadside bomb went off but left nearby soldiers unhurt while police found another roadside bomb and destroyed it.
December 1, 2013: In the West Bank Palestinian police arrested twenty suspected Islamic terrorists believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda. Many al Qaeda groups are openly hostile to the Fatah Palestinian government in the West Bank.
Egypt received $2.48 billion worth of petroleum products from the Arab Gulf states in November. Egypt’s interim military government also approved a new constitution that will face a national vote in January. The new constitution gives the army the legal right to arrest and try civilians under some conditions. The military is granted a lot of other powers and immunity from supervision by elected officials. If approved, the new constitution would make it possible to bring back the old Mubarak era dictatorship that triggered the uprisings three years ago. In the meantime the interim government has made it illegal to hold public demonstrations without a government permit. The Moslem Brotherhood continues to organize protests but the new laws make it easier to arrest and prosecute demonstrators. The government apparently plans to put a lot of them into prison in an attempt to discourage more protestors.
November 26, 2013: In the West Bank Israeli police killed three Islamic terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda.
November 23, 2013: On the Gaza border three Palestinians got across the security fence but set off alarms and were arrested before they could get far. The three were apparently not terrorists but rather just seeking jobs in Israel.
In Cairo police used more force to break up demonstrations that were blocking main streets. This led to at least 16 demonstrators being killed. In nearby Alexandria another 7 were killed.
November 22, 2013: In the Sinai a suicide car bomber attacked two buses carrying military personnel and killed ten of them.
November 20, 2013: In the Sinai Islamic terrorists shot dead an Egyptian police officer at a checkpoint.
November 19, 2013: Israel conducted another successful test of their new anti-aircraft/missile system by intercepting and destroying a short range ballistic missile. The first battery of this new Magic Wand (David’s Sling) system, with a range of 160 kilometers, will enter service early next year.