August 11, 2016:
In the last week Israeli intelligence presented compelling evidence of corruption in the management of UN and Western aid efforts in Gaza. Western aid organization were already under growing pressure to do something about increasingly blatant corruption surrounding aid provided to Palestinians. This has become more urgent in Gaza because of the flood of aid (several billion dollars’ worth) to Gaza in the wake of the 50 Day War in Mid-2014. This aid was for repairing the war damage but that never seemed to happen and the usual “Israel is not allowing needed materials in” excuse was denounced by many Gazans as a lie. The aid never did what it was meant for because of corruption. It was so bad that many donors (Western and Arab) withheld promised reconstruction aid until the “diversion” problem could be solved. This time the Israelis provided lots of details which cannot be easily brushed aside.
Most Palestinians expect their leaders will come up with some clever way to get out of this. That does not always happen and even Moslem aid groups have quietly halted their aid because so little of it was getting to the people it was intended for. This is nothing new. The NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that administer most of the aid programs in Gaza and the West Bank tend to consider corruption just another tool to get the job done (getting some of the aid to the people it was intended for), but the local officials always demand a cut and these Palestinian leaders have grown very rich taking care of themselves. Hamas came to power in Gaza five in 2005 largely on the promise of reducing the corruption. They did, for a while, but also established a police state, which has now gone corrupt, as police states tend to do. Fatah passed an extensive anti-corruption law in 2005 that was never enforced and largely ineffective. Subsequent anti-corruption measures were just another form of corruption and served mainly to make it appear that something was being done about the most flagrant scams. Palestinian officials charged with corruption rarely get punished. There are some convictions but usually of those least able to pay the required bribes or seen as expendable by whoever they work for. It’s not surprising that current Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza urge their subjects to concentrate on raising their children to be terrorists and die in the effort to destroy Israel.
Egypt has been a lot more friendly towards Israel since 2014, when yet another general got elected after yet another military coup removed an unpopular religious government. The newly elected general got a new Egyptian constitution approved that again made the military largely immune from civilian interference. This is the price the army demanded for ousting president Morsi in July 2013. As a result of all this the military has been able to maintain its corrupt grip on the economy. It's unclear how this will turn out because the Islamic and secular rebel groups are spending most of their time going after each other. Indeed, the biggest problem was that dictatorships, especially the one in Egypt, were not just the single dictator but also the segment of the population that kept the dictator in power and were well rewarded for doing so. These privileged groups were not eager to flee or give up their wealth when the dictator was overthrown. The dictator's supporters strive to retain or regain their power. The Old Order has substantial economic and political resources and is willing to use them to retain power and wealth. In Egypt this seems to be working. That means the economy gets worse, poverty increases and more Egyptians want to flee. Few Egyptians see “Islamic politicians” as a realistic solution. The corruption and mismanagement seems baked into the current culture and culture is not easily changed.
Egypt, Israel and most Egyptians all agree that Islamic terrorists are a threat to everyone. Egypt has largely contained its Islamic terrorist problem in northern Sinai, near Gaza. Islamic terrorists are having a hard time getting much traction (and widespread support) in the rest (more populous sections) of the country because recent experience has shown that more Islamic terrorist violence simply makes the economic problems worse and the Egyptian police even more violent and abusive to everyone when there is a major counter-terrorism effort. Meanwhile the few new freedoms obtained as a result of the 2011 revolution are disappearing. Media has been less restricted since 2011 but new laws are being enacted that revive the bad old prohibitions. It’s becoming easier to get away with corrupt acts and avoid any punishment. This includes immunity for soldiers and police who frequently kill civilians and claim the dead are Islamic terrorists or some other form of criminal. It is believed that most of the “Islamic terrorists” currently reported as killed are actually innocent civilians.
Like most wars, the one in Syria (since 2011) has had more losers than winners. Not just in Syria, but next door in Lebanon. Ironically, one of the only local powers to come out ahead is Israel. In theory everyone involved in the Syrian civil war (Islamic terrorists, the Syrian, government and Iran) should be fighting Israel. Instead they are killing each other and Israel stays out of it, expect to keep track of how many losses its many enemies are taking each month. So far it has been well over 100,000 fighting men, plus even more civilians, often related to the dead fighters.
Next door Lebanon has taken some losses as well, mainly among those groups that would normally be fighting Israel. While never an ally of Israel, many Lebanese would rather do business with Israel that make war on their more powerful (in a military and economic sense) neighbor. What has been going on in Lebanon since 2011 actually got started even earlier, in 2007, when Lebanon was forced to deal with the terrorists who were trying to establish themselves inside Lebanon. No, this wasn't about Hezbollah, but Palestinian terror groups, and non-Shia (Sunni Moslem and Christian) terrorist organizations. Early in 2007 one of the Palestinian terrorist gangs, Fatah Islam got into several gun battles with police. After a few days there were over a hundred dead and the police were trying to arrange a ceasefire rather than assault the Palestinian refugee camp at the center of it all and risk much higher casualties. This was the worst fighting inside Lebanon since the 1975-90 civil war ended. The Sunni Islamic terrorism added to the Shia brand represented by Iran sponsored Hezbollah has caused political paralysis in Lebanon. Hezbollah insists it is stronger because of its mandatory (as ordered by Iran) participation in the Syrian War. But Israel is keeping track and lets Hezbollah mislead itself and its followers as much as it wants to.
August 9, 2016: In Gaza ten Palestinians were injured while working on a tunnel that was apparently designed to pass under the security fence and into Israel. This was the third accident to befall Islamic Jihad (one of the smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza) tunnel building efforts in the last month. Two of these accidents were fatal. The rest of the 17 tunnel deaths so far this year have been Hamas men, the most recent of those being on August 6th. Tunnel collapses and accidents have been common in Gaza since 2007, when Hamas backed the construction of more smuggling and “combat” tunnels. Since 2007 over 400 Gazans have died in tunnel accidents. Hamas usually blames such collapses on natural causes (like heavy rains) 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, sturdier and safer tunnels. As a result of all these accidents, which began to accelerate in late 2015, a growing number of Gazans are refusing to work in the tunnels because there is a widely believed (in Gazan) rumor that the real cause of all these tunnel collapses (including the unreported ones that didn’t kill anyone) are 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”. The Iran backed Islamic Jihad Islamic terror group is more fanatic than Hamas and has long been a Hamas rival in Gaza and makes no secret of it. Islamic Jihad has long threatened to start an armed rebellion against Hamas because of perceived treason by Hamas against Islam. Islamic Jihad takes credit for many of the rocket attacks from Gaza that break ceasefire agreements negotiated between Hamas and Israel. This aggression got Islamic Jihad criticized by the UN, which is usually condemning Israel for defending itself. Before the 50 Day War the consensus was that Islamic Jihad was trying to goad Israel into attacking Gaza again. Such an attack would force Hamas to try to defend Gaza which would cause heavy Hamas casualties and make it easier for Islamic Jihad to oust Hamas by force later on. That is what the 50 Day War did. Islamic Jihad is apparently, at the behest of its patron Iran, trying to trigger another Israeli attack on Gaza, something Hamas wants to avoid at the moment. A successful tunnel into Israel, used to carry out terror attacks and kidnappings, would certainly provoke the Israelis. With enough cash Islamic Jihad can hire experienced tunnel designers and builders. The Israelis are apparently following these efforts intently.
Earlier in the day Israeli troops were sent to arrest a Palestinian man who had climbed over the Gaza security fence but arrived to find the man had quickly moved away from the fence. Video of the man indicated he was not armed and probably just seeking to escape Gaza and find a job in Israel. But it took the security forces (on foot and using UAVs) 24 hours to find the man, who got 15 kilometers into Israel before he was caught. An investigation is being conducted. The 51 kilometer Gaza border with Israel is guarded by a fence and a network of sensors. Some areas also have remotely controlled weapons in protected towers.
August 8, 2016: Russia admitted that a July 17 incident, where an unidentified UAV crossed the Syrian border into Israel briefly, was actually a Russian UAV accidently straying into Israeli airspace. Israeli radar had been watching this UAV before it entered Israeli air space and once it crossed the border two Patriot anti-aircraft missiles were fired, unsuccessfully, at the UAV. Then an F-16 got close enough to fire an air-to-air missile, which also missed. At this point the UAV was headed back for Syria. Until now it was unclear if this was a Russian or Iranian made UAV and Hezbollah was suspected as the UAV operator. Israeli intelligence eventually identified the UAV as Russian and that led to discussions with Russia and the admission that it was indeed Russian. The Israelis are still trying to figure out why three of their usually very effective missiles failed.
August 4, 2016: In Egypt the government reported that the security forces had killed Doaa Abu Ansari, the head of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Sinai. Most Egyptians are skeptical because Ansari has been reported as killed several times in the past but always shows up again. There were about 45 people killed in the several days of raids, air strikes and searches for Islamic terrorists in Sinai. Some of the dead may indeed have been ISIL members, but more proof is needed to convince people that Ansari is really, really dead.
August 3, 2016: Arab media reported that Israeli warplanes destroyed four trucks north of Damascus carrying Hezbollah weapons. Israel rarely acknowledges air strikes like this but in April the Israeli government did reveal that it had carried out dozens of air raids in Syria and Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah weapons. In Lebanon Israeli aircraft also use smart bombs and missiles to attack Hezbollah weapons storage facilities that are found to contain new (usually Iranian or Russian) missiles. In addition to the air strikes since 2011 there have been a smaller number of ground (command0) operations. In late 2015 Israel revealed that it believed the Syrian government had, since 2011, used about 90 percent of its operational ballistic missiles against rebels. While Israel has bombed several attempts to move some of the remaining ballistic missiles to Lebanon, Israel believes it is possible that Hezbollah may have gotten some of these missiles to bunkers in southern Lebanon. Iran can provide personnel to help train Hezbollah on how to maintain and use the missiles. There have been several Israeli air strike in Syria since 2015 that were apparently part of an effort to destroy ballistic missiles being moved, or already moved to Lebanon. Israel also believes that Hezbollah now has 150,000 other rockets, most of them short range (20 kilometers or less) installed along the border, often in or close to homes and government buildings. Because of its commitments in Syria Hezbollah is not interested in another war with Israel just now but that attitude is expected to change depending on how the war in Syria ends.
August 1, 2016: Over the last few days Israeli security forces carried out raids in the West Bank and arrested 27 Palestinians suspected of belonging to Hamas or local criminal gangs that provided weapons and explosives for anyone who can pay. This particular operation was triggered by the July 1st attack on an Israeli family driving along a West Bank road. The Palestinian attackers used illegal (and apparently locally made) firearms. The husband (a rabbi) was shot dead, his wife badly wounded and the two children injured. The attackers were soon caught and found to be part of a Hamas cell. The investigation led to several other terrorist groups active in the West Bank as well as local suppliers of weapons.
July 31, 2016: A recent UN report on Israeli mistreatment of its Druze minority in the Golan Heights received a public, pointed and very detailed rebuke from the Druze in question. The Israeli Druze asked why the UN isn’t trying to help the Druze in Syria, who have been under constant attack during the last few years. The UN criticism was apparently the result of some UN members anti-Israel propaganda effort. A number of Moslem majority nations use the UN as another weapon in the widespread (in the Moslem world) effort to destroy Israel. The Israelis are not the only ancient minority in the Middle East that suffers from Moslem intolerance. Many of these minorities will, if given a chance side with Israel. Such is the case with the Syrian Druze. Most of the Druze (a thousand year old offshoot of Shia Islam) live in Lebanon and Syria and they have always sought protection from the government in power. As a persecuted minority, this was a matter of survival. But that means Druze loyalty is tied to the degree of protection provided. Thus in 2012 the 20,000 Druze living in the Golan Heights (captured from Syria in 1967) openly turned against the Syrian government for the first time. Before that most (over 80 percent) of these Druze refused the offer of Israeli citizenship, feeling that they still owned loyalty to Syria (who never gave up trying to get the Golan Heights back). Since 2012 many more Druze have applied for Israeli citizenship. Only about 300 Druze in Golan have applied for Israeli citizenship since it was first offered in 1981 but many more than that have applied since 2011. The Syrian government had long treated the Syrian Druze well, as long as they supported the minority Alawite Assad dictatorship that ruled the country. The increasing violence against Druze in Syria has turned these normally pro-Syria Druze against the Assad dictatorship. But many Syrian Druze (mainly older ones) still harbor positive attitudes towards the Assads. The growing and very real threat from Islamic terrorist groups has managed to unite some of the Syrian Druze in agreeing to work with their fellow Druze in Israel and cooperate with the Israelis.
July 30, 2016: In the south a family feud in a Bedouin majority town left two dead and 18 others injured. Such family and clan violence is common throughout the region, especially among the Arabs. It’s a big problem in Gaza and the West Bank. Police and Bedouin leaders are trying to settle this particular feud before it flares up again.
July 29, 2016: Egypt is again hosting meetings between the major Libyan factions in an attempt to negotiate compromise deals that will enable a national government to function in Libya. There is general agreement that Libya’s neighbors Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt are eager to make honest efforts to achieve peace in Libya. The main problem is that too many Libyans are not nearly as willing to do what’s best for Libya.