April 18, 2016:
In the West Bank and Israel the Fatah sponsored “knife terrorism” campaign appears to be ending. While there were 78 attacks last October but there were only 20 in March and three in the first half of April. Since October 1
2015, when this suicidal terror campaign began, there have been 270 attacks while killed 29 Israelis and four foreigners. Another 250 victims were wounded. Nearly 200 Palestinian attackers were killed. This terrorism campaign was all about making the corrupt and incompetent Fatah more popular in the West Bank. Opinion polls show that many (but not most) Palestinians would vote for anyone but Fatah and Hamas if elections were held right now. By early 2016 these polls showed enthusiasm for the knife terrorism campaign was waning. Like many past Fatah publicity stunts the knife terrorism makes life worse for most Palestinians and provides one more reason for foreign investment to stay away from the West Bank. Despite the Palestinian terrorists trying to go after tourists (and sometimes succeeding) the latest Palestinian terror campaign has had little impact on the Israeli economy. In 2015 the Israeli economy grew 3.3 percent while the West Bank economy declined nearly as much. As with past Palestinian campaigns this one lost popular support as most Palestinians realized it was not working and that they had, once more, been played and preyed upon by their leaders.
Meanwhile Israeli counter-terrorism efforts in general continue to be successful. Nearly 300 terror attacks were disrupted since the start of 2015 and most of that was due to the temporary enthusiasm for the “knife terrorism” campaign. Israel wants the “knife terrorism” campaign ended as soon as possible because it has required mobilizing a lot of reservists to increase security in the West Bank. There are currently 21 battalions of Israeli infantry in the West Bank, which is more than twice what is normally there. Security duty in the West Bank is not popular with reservists who find the situation there perpetually tense, even when the Palestinians are mainly angry at their own leaders.
The Gaza Threat
Hamas has launched a major crackdown on rival Islamic terrorist groups. While all these groups are smaller (often much smaller) than Hamas they have been a growing threat to Hamas control of Gaza. There have been crackdowns before but they are becoming more frequent and extensive. Hamas does not want to destroy other Islamic terror groups in Gaza but does want to eliminate those who threaten Hamas control of Gaza. The intensity of this latest crackdown was very obvious because Hamas ordered the regular police back to their bases and sent out their Elite Force (that’s what it’s called). These armed men are rarely seen as they operate mainly at night or move about as unarmed civilians during the day. All this is good news for Israel because it means Hamas is weaker and distracted. That can be seen in the lack of Hamas angry rhetoric or violence towards Israelis lately. Hamas wants to concentrate on putting their own house in order before returning to their main goal of destroying Israel. Hamas has also tried to make nice with Egypt, which continues to cripple the tunnel smuggling operation that long provided much of Hamas income. As a result of all this Israeli intelligence believes that there will not be another war with Hamas in 2016. Beyond that, the risk of another war remains as long as Hamas controls Gaza.
In Gaza foreign aid groups complain that despite the arrival of over a billion dollars in aid very few homes destroyed during the 2014 50 Day War have been rebuilt. What the foreign aid groups don’t mention (to avoid getting chased out of Gaza by Hamas) is that reconstruction of military facilities has taken precedence, including building new tunnels into Egypt (mainly for smuggling) and Israel (exclusively for terrorism). Only 40 percent of the pledged (mainly by Arab oil states) aid has arrived so far in part because the donors note Hamas is embarrassing the donors by not using the money for what is was intended to do (aid the Gazans who lost their homes in the 2014 war). Diversion of foreign aid (and income in general) has long been a major problem with Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza. This corruption is the main reason Palestinian governments are so unpopular with the people they represent.
April 17, 2016: The Arab Parliament became the third pan-Arab organization to condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In March the Arab League and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf) declared the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah militia to be a terrorist group. The rest of the world has long identified Hezbollah as an Islamic terrorist organization but the GCC did not because it was (and still is) popular in the Middle East to try and support any group that is fighting Israel. Hezbollah and Palestinian groups like Hamas are the only ones doing that. In 2013 the GCC criticized Hezbollah for supporting the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Iranian leaders reacted to all this by accusing the GCC of doing this because of Israeli influence and pressure. The Arab League and Arab Parliament exist mainly to destroy Israel and hope Hezbollah will return to that rather than being an Iranian tool and supporting the Iran-backed Shia government of Syria.
April 15, 2016:
The U.S. has clarified its interpretation of the 2015 treaty that lifts sanctions on Iran by confirming that Iran only has to shut down its nuclear development program. There are no such restrictions on the ballistic missile program or the Iranian support for Islamic terrorism. This includes aggressive actions against Israel and Sunni Arabs. Many American allies, especially Israel and the Gulf Arab states, were disappointed with this U.S. “clarification.”
April 14, 2016: A military court decided to prosecute an Israeli soldier for manslaughter rather than murder in the case of a Palestinian recently shot dead by the soldier in the West Bank. In late March two Palestinians used knives to attack Israeli soldiers and were shot dead, one immediately and the other later because a soldier suspected the wounded Palestinian was about to detonate explosives. That soldier was later arrested and initially accused of murder because an officer had already checked the wounded Palestinian for explosives and found none. The arrest of the Israeli soldier caused a media and political controversy among Israelis who see the arrest as a political stunt to appease foreign critics of Israeli security practices and the reality, to most Israelis, of how Palestinian leaders regularly broadcast lies about Israel to encourage such attacks. For example, Palestinian media is currently featuring accusations that Israel, not ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was responsible for recent terror attacks in Belgium. All the media uproar encouraged threats against the families of the arrested soldier. What was missed in all this was the fact that the Palestinians were victims of cynical and relentless Palestinian government propaganda praising, rewarding and encouraging suicidal attacks against Israelis. The Israeli soldier was probably another victim of combat stress, something Israelis don’t like to dwell on because it has become more and more of a problem since the 1980s. The military does not like to discuss the combat stress too much because a lot of bad behavior by soldiers in combat situations is a common symptom of soldiers who have been under too much stress for too long. Some troops can handle a lot of this stress while others turn out to have little ability to cope and get killed or act unpredictably. Historically a lot of friendly fire casualties are inflicted by stressed out troops who have lost touch with reality and fire at anyone who is armed (and thus a potential threat). Veterans rarely talk about this with each other much less with non-vets or the media. There are a lot of things about combat veterans won’t talk about for years, if ever and not all of them are technically illegal. The recent Israeli incident, of a soldier killing a wounded and unarmed attacker, is more common than the military would like to admit. So is combat stress or, as it is now called; PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). This became a major problem during World War I and by the time World War II began most armies that had seen a lot of action during World War I had made preparations to more effectively deal with those driven into an unstable and unpredictable state by too much time in combat.
April 11, 2016: Israel revealed that it had, in the last few tears, actually carried out “dozens” of air attacks against Hezbollah efforts to move Syrian, Russian and Iranian weapons from Syria into Lebanon. It was no secret that Israeli aircraft have been attacking Hezbollah trucks trying to move Syrian missiles and other weapons into Lebanon. But confirmation, or extensive mention in the media, only occurred for about six of these attacks since early 2013. Israel always promised more such attacks and in late 2015 apparently worked out an arrangement with Russia that eliminated the risk of Russian interference. Hezbollah has been threatening another massive rocket attack on Israel, larger than the last one in 2006. But the need to send men to fight in Syria has made Hezbollah vulnerable in southern Lebanon. There over 50,000 rockets have been hidden in basements of homes and public buildings (schools, hospitals and the like) and the threat of an Israeli military advance into southern Lebanon to find and destroy those rockets is giving Hezbollah and Israeli civilians nightmares. The Hezbollah war plan is to launch over a thousand rockets a day into Israel despite an Israeli offensive into southern Lebanon. Israel is calling on the United States to halt military aid to the Lebanese armed forces because Hezbollah has gained a lot of control over the Lebanese government and security forces and prevented the Lebanese from disarming Hezbollah.
April 10, 2016: There was another tunnel collapse in Gaza. This one left five dead and was the first fatal collapse in April. There have been twelve tunnel failures so far this year and 19 deaths. Hamas usually blames such collapses on heavy rain storms but Israel believes Israel and Egypt efforts to limit lumber and cement shipments entering Gaza has played a role because many of these recent accidents seem to be the result of poor tunnel construction compared to earlier, safer, tunnels. As a result of all these accidents, which began to accelerate in late 2015, a growing number of Hamas men are refusing to work in the tunnels because there is a widely believed (among Gazans) rumor that the real cause of all these tunnel collapses (including the unreported ones that didn’t kill anyone) were the result of new Israeli anti-tunnel weapons. This sort of thing has been mentioned in the Israeli media, but mainly in terms of new detection sensors not devices that could remotely trigger a tunnel collapse. Hamas denies Israel has any such weapon and Israel won’t discuss classified military matters like new tunnel detection sensors. Hamas also does not like to openly discuss the energetic Egyptian anti-tunnel methods which include digging a canal along the Gaza border and flooding it with sea water to collapse tunnels and make it more difficult (because of the unstable wet sand) to build new ones. Hamas also adds to the mystery by refusing to release any details of their tunneling activities. That is because a lot of the underground work is on rebuilding “combat tunnels” destroyed by Israel during the mid-2014 “50 Day War”.
April 7, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) used two roadside bombs to hit passing armored vehicles, killing seven and wounding fifteen.
April 2, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) a third major operation against Islamic terrorists was launched and 65 armed terrorists have died in the first few days. In addition at least a dozen vehicles and more than a hundred weapons have been seized. These efforts are actually many (often over a dozen) separate operations carried out at once to maintain the element of surprise. If not done this way the attacked terrorists would warn others to disperse or simply move to another location. So the Egyptians will spend weeks or months collecting information and then move quickly and simultaneously. These operations are called “Martyr’s Right” and each ones has shut down more and more Islamic terrorist cells.. The first “Martyr’s Right” in October 2015 killed over 115 Islamic terrorists while the second one, in January 2016, killed over 500. These are joint (army, air force, navy, police) operations that mostly take place in in northern Sinai near Gaza. Since 2013 over 700 soldiers and police have died fighting groups like the Moslem Brotherhood, ISIL and smaller groups based in Gaza. Islamic terrorist casualties have been in the thousands. Since 2013 about a thousand people a year have died from Islamic terrorism. About half the dead are terrorists (actual or suspected) and the rest usually civilians. Most Egyptians oppose Islamic terrorism, if only because it tends to kill lots of innocent civilians and cripple the economy. But in a few rural areas, mainly in northern Sinai, there are populations willing to support Islamic terrorists. Outside of Sinai there a lot of people who are Islamic conservatives and are more tolerant of Islamic terrorism. But these terrorism supporters have to be careful because the neighbors are often willing to alert the police about any pro-Islamic terrorist activity in the neighborhood. While fewer than one percent of Egyptians support any form of terrorism, that’s still more than half a million people. More worrisome is the growing activity of ISIL. Even other Islamic terror groups fear ISIL because ISIL is very lethal and considers anyone not ISIL a target. The security forces don’t consider ISIL a long-term threat because ultra-violent groups like this are self-destructive and tend to burn out sooner rather than later.
Egypt has had advice from the Americans and Israelis on how best to deal with Islamic terrorists. While Egypt was successful during the 1990s suppressing Islamic terrorism the Israelis have developed more efficient methods. The American help can be recognized in public but the Israeli cooperation has to be kept quiet because most Egyptians (after decades of anti-Israel propaganda) will not tolerate admitting help from Israel. But it is no secret that Egyptian and Israeli military and intelligence officers frequently meet and stay in touch. The Israeli advice is largely about the importance of going after senior leaders, especially those with unique skills (like organizing and training suicide bombers). This has been shown to be one of the most effective tactics for crippling and destroying an Islamic terrorist organization. These “decapitation” tactics proved successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. The modern decapitation tactics were perfected earlier in Israel while seeking ways to deal with the Palestinian terror campaign that began in 2000. The Israelis were very successful with their decapitation program, which reduced Israeli civilian terrorist deaths within five years from over 400 a year to less than ten. Egypt is not Israel, which has a functioning democracy, a lot less corruption, a much more successful economy and over half the population is not Moslem. All that means those attracted to Islamic terrorism are a far smaller segment of the population. Nevertheless Egypt has successfully adopted many of the techniques Israel and the Americans have used.