January 8, 2016:
Suddenly Turkey is an enemy of Iran and allied with Israel. This is not good for Iran but an excellent development for Israel, and most Turks. The war in Syria, in particular the recent Russian intervention was very unpopular in Turkey. This was good for Israel because Turkey, long a foe of Russia was not happy with Russian troops fighting right on the Turkish border, Thus by the end of 2015 the Turks were discussing the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel. Since 2002 the Islamic government of Turkey has been battling Turkish secularists and trying to improve relations with other Islamic countries (including ancient rival Iran). This 2002 policy meant adopting an anti-Israel attitude after decades of close relations with the Jewish state. In 2010 Turkish politicians backed themselves into a corner by supporting the Turkish radical group (IHH) that organized a convoy of ships that tried to break the Gaza blockade. Nine Turkish members of pro-Terrorist Islamic charity IHH were killed when they attacked Israeli commandos landing on one of the ships. Despite video evidence that the nine Turks attacked the Israeli commandos with metal pipes and knives, the nine are considered martyrs in Turkey and the Islamic politicians who run the government cut diplomatic (and many other) relations with Israel because Israel would not take the blame for the deaths of the nine Turks. Israel refused to do this, because it is politically impossible to take the blame when so many Israelis blame the Turks for supporting the Gaza flotilla, which was trying to open supply lines for Hamas, an organization openly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The major problem for the Islamic Turkish leaders was that many Turks did not back IHH or blame Israel. Five years of strained relations because of all this was finally ended because the Turks found they have a real enemy next door in Syria and could no longer afford to maintain the illusion that Israel is a problem. The Islamic terrorists that these Islamic Turkish politicians thought they would deal with proved to be uncontrollable and a growing political liability. The final straw was Russian troops moving into Syria in September and the growing threat ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and other Islamic terrorist groups were for Turkey. More Turks were becoming hostile to this “Islamic” and pro-Arab political policy. Turkey is not seeing a lot of pushback from the voters over this seemingly sudden change in official attitudes towards Israel.
The latest Egyptian counter-terror operation in northern Sinai has killed over a hundred armed or suspected Islamic terrorists in the last six days. Over a hundred suspects have been arrested. Infantry and armored vehicles supported by artillery and air strikes (F-16s and AH-64 gunships) are raiding known or suspected Islamic terrorist locations. The government plays down civilian casualties but there are some as troops and pilots tend to open fire if they just suspect they may have encountered Islamic terrorists. This is a problem because the Islamic terrorists sometimes use civilians as human shields or disguise themselves as unarmed civilians. Such “civilians” sometimes turn out to be suicide bombers wearing explosive vests under their clothing. Dozens of soldiers and police have been killed by such tactics and one result is more civilian casualties during raids. The Islamic terrorists count this as a plus because they can then accuse the security forces of deliberately killing unarmed civilians. Islamic terrorists declare any civilians kill or get killed to be “involuntary martyrs.”
Another reason for this new Sinai offensive is to help restore confidence in Egypt as a tourist destination. Because of the ISIL bombing of a Russian airliner on October 31st 2015 (killing 224 Russians flying home from a Sinai tourist resort) tourist visits to Egypt were down 15 percent during the last three months of 2015. This is a big deal in Egypt where tourism accounts for 11 percent of the GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the work force. For most Egyptians the most important task of the government is improving the economy, followed by reducing Islamic terrorist violence.
Egypt continues its tight border controls with Libya. Mainly Egypt wants to keep weapons and Islamic terrorists from entering Egypt and stop illegal migrants (some of them new recruits for ISIL in Libya) from crossing into Libya. Smugglers still get a lot of people and goods into and out of Libya using the fact that the 1,100 kilometer long border largely runs through thinly populated desert. The desert route is more expensive and many illegals cannot afford it. Egypt continues making public calls for international help, from anyone, to help stop the violence and chaos in neighboring Libya. Egypt has been making this appeal since early 2015. These appeals have, so far, been answered with silence. Egypt has carried out some unofficial air strikes but wants an “international effort” (at least one other nation besides Egypt) to carry out an open and official air support campaign. One of the two governments in Libya (Tobruk) also called for some international help and got the same response as Egypt. In the meantime Egypt has developed closer, and sometimes official, economic relations with the Tobruk government. This includes a recent deal to buy two million barrels of oil a year from fields Tobruk controls. Egypt probably got a big discount but this deal was probably worth over $50 million to the Tobruk government. Egypt has, since at least 2013, provided the Tobruk some covert military support (trainers, advisors, special equipment). That appears to be continuing.
January 7, 2016: In Egypt ISIL took credit for using explosives to damage a Sinai pipeline carrying Egyptian natural gas to Jordan as well as customers in northern Sinai. The explosion caused no casualties and the damage was quickly repaired.
Elsewhere in Egypt (outside Cairo) about fifteen Egyptians attacked a hotel serving tourists. The attackers used flares, firebombs and at least two firearms (a pistol and a shotgun). Police quickly returned fire, the attackers fled and the damage was restricted to some broken windows at the hotel entrance and on a bus waiting to take forty tourists (Israeli Arabs) to a historical site. The Egyptian government downplayed the attack because there were no injuries and no Islamic terrorist group took credit for the attack. Some of the Israelis told Israeli reporters that the attack was pretty violent but confirmed that there did not appear to be any casualties.
January 6, 2016: Egypt asked Israel to not respond to Turkish demands that Israel lift its Gaza blockade, at least not to the extent that it will help Islamic terrorists in Gaza to carry out more attacks (against Israel as well as Egypt). In general Egypt is opposed to Israel resuming diplomatic relations with Turkey because the Turks openly support several of the Islamic terrorist groups in Egypt as well as the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, which tried to turn Egypt into a religious dictatorship.
January 5, 2016: Israel revealed that it had arrested six Hamas members in December who were planning to kidnap and kill Israelis and then offer to exchange the Israeli corpses for the release of Palestinians imprisoned for terrorism. Such exchanges have been made before and it is believed that the Palestinians who kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in mid-2015 were planning a similar swap but fast Israeli police work disrupted that effort. The December arrests included three Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem and three Palestinians in the West Bank.
January 4, 2016: On the Lebanese border, near the disputed Shebaa Farms (occupied by Israel but claimed by both Lebanon and Syria) Hezbollah used a roadside bomb to attack an Israeli convoy. Some vehicles were damaged but there were no casualties. Israeli artillery retaliated by hitting several Hezbollah facilities in the area. Hezbollah declared the attack more damaging than it actually was and said it was another act of revenge for Israel killing Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar on December 19th. On December 20th Hezbollah fired four rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon but did no damage. Russia is demanding that Hezbollah cease the attacks on Israel. Iran is apparently saying the same thing, but not in public. Iran wants revenge as well because Kuntar was also working directly for them. Russia and Iran understand, where Hezbollah does not, that starting another war with Israel right now, while Hezbollah, Iran and Russia are fighting in Syria to try and keep the pro-Iran Assad government alive, would be counterproductive. Hezbollah leaders told Russia and Iran that they had to respond because Hezbollah had suffered so many losses in the last two years and morale within Hezbollah was low. Attacks on Israel, even if they fail to do any damage (which is normal) are always popular inside Hezbollah. Even Hezbollah leaders agree that they don’t want to trigger another war with Israel like the 2006 conflict. That one got going not because of bomb and rocket attacks but because Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others.
January 2, 2016: Egypt launched another offensive in Sinai against Islamic terror groups there, especially those allied with ISIL. This effort was ordered because several Islamic terror groups announced they would be making attacks in Egypt in January.
Palestinian West Bank violence in 2015 left 170 Palestinians and 26 Israelis dead. Over 15,000 Palestinians were injured, most of them during violent demonstrations against Israel or (more rarely) other Palestinians. Over 90 percent of these casualties are related to the latest Fatah terror campaign against Israel. This began in September 2015 and continues. Like past Palestinian terrorism efforts it is losing support among the young Palestinians who are expected to take most of the risks (and suffer nearly all the casualties). There is no new terrorist campaign in Gaza, just continued efforts by Islamic terrorists inside Gaza to reach Israel and do some damage (or just escape the religious dictatorship in Gaza). This has led to 28 Gaza Palestinians killed and over 1,300 wounded in 2015.
January 1, 2016: Five rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. There were no casualties or property damage in part because three of the rockets detonated before they entered Israeli airspace. That night and into the next day hit four Islamic terrorist sites in Gaza were hit by Israeli aircraft. Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, an Egyptian Islamic terrorist group based in Gaza took credit for the rockets. Ansar Bayt declared itself an ally of ISIL in 2015 and most of its members (many of them Palestinian) are in is in Gaza. Ansar Bayt supports itself with smuggling and controls many of the remaining tunnels from Gaza to Egypt. The New Year’s Day attack was considered a success because it got lots of media attention. Two of the four targets attacked by Israel in retaliation belonged to Hamas which tolerates the presence of Ansar Bayt even while telling Israel it does not.
December 28, 2015: Hamas announced that one of its members had died when a tunnel he was working on in Gaza collapsed. Since 2007 between 200 and 400 Palestinians have died in such tunnel accidents.
December 24, 2015: A senior Russian official (the one in charge of Syrian operations) quietly (and unofficially) visited Israel to meet with senior Israelis to further develop procedures to ensure that there are no accidental clashes between Russian and Israeli forces in Syria. The Russians appreciate the fact that the Israelis, unlike the Turks, could probably quickly locate and destroy all Russian anti-aircraft systems and warplanes in Syria if Israeli troops, ships or aircraft were accidentally attacked by Russian forces.
December 23, 2015: Egypt repeated its earlier announcements that it had no plans to intervene with military force in Libya. Despite that Egypt has called on the UN to lift the arms embargo, at least for the UN recognized government there (based in Tobruk).