November 15, 2016:
Israel has told Russia that Israel will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from establishing any military bases in Syria. Russian officials continue to friendly towards Israel. At the same time Israel and Russia have maintained good diplomatic relations, in part because nearly 20 percent of Israelis have Russian ancestors. Russia is still a major source of Jews immigrating to Israel. Russians in general admire Israel for being resourceful and able to defend themselves in a rough neighborhood. Thus while Russia is currently an active ally of Iran, Russia and Israel continue to have good diplomatic and trade relations. Israel has become a tourist attraction for Russians who can still afford to travel to the Middle East but want to go somewhere that is not threatened by Islamic terror attacks and is hospitable to Russians. Since 2015, when most Russians stopped going to inexpensive Egyptian resorts because of the terror threat a growing number have trying out the more expensive Israeli resorts. Most of these Russians go home and report that the higher cost of vacationing in Israel is worth it because so many Israelis speak Russian and are nostalgic for Russian culture. You get what you pay for, as a tourist or when seeking a worthwhile ally in the Middle East.
Meanwhile on the Syrian border UN Peacekeepers returned to the Syrian side for the first time since 2014. Today 127 peacekeepers crossed the border and it will be a month or so before the full force of over a thousand troops is back in place. Back in 2014 by September UN peacekeepers from Fiji and the Philippines were forced out by al Nusra rebels, who wanted to ensure that the UN peacekeepers did not interfere with the rebel takeover of a border crossing. The Islamic terrorist rebels looted the UN camp and were driven out this year by the Syrian Army, which has regained control of the entire 70 kilometer long border with Israel. Up until 2014 the UN had 1,223 peacekeepers monitoring the Syrian/Israeli border. The UN troops have been there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Israel defeated Syria in 1967 and took the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1973 Israel defeated a strong effort by Syria to regain the Golan Heights. Since then the UN has watched over an uneasy peace. Since 2014 the peacekeepers have only been able to operate on the Israeli side of the border.
Efforts by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) to gain a foothold in Egypt appear to have failed. So far this month Egyptian security forces appear to have killed or captured at least a hundred of the remaining ISIL members in Egypt. These are concentrated in remote parts of Sinai. Because of their atrocious behavior (especially in damaging the economy) most Egyptians are willing to inform on suspected ISIL activity and this has given Egyptian security forces more places to raid or hit with air and artillery strikes. There has been less and less terrorist activity from ISIL this year. ISIL attacks on tourist targets led to a 15 percent decline in tourist income for 2015. The October 2015 ISIL bombing of the Russian airliner is a good example of the new approach. So far in 2016 tourism income is down nearly fifty percent. At its height in 2015 there were over 500 ISIL members in northern Sinai and a much smaller number elsewhere in Egypt. Since then ISIL has had to deal with attacks from everyone, including other Islamic terrorists groups. For example ISIL is opposed by Hamas in Gaza as well as most Moslem Brotherhood factions. In Sinai ISIL found, and is now losing, some support with local Bedouin backed Islamic terror groups. The Egyptian security forces have been concentrating on ISIL since late 2015 and that convinced the Bedouins that ISIL was more of a liability than an asset. As a result ISIL has been able less active. In addition to losses from operational (combat and suicide attacks) some ISIL men have left Sinai and shown up in Libya. Fewer new recruits are joining ISIL in Sinai, which got large so quickly in 2015 by attracting the more radical members of other Islamic terror groups in Sinai and Gaza. Most of those are now dead or disillusioned. Many have deserted and returned to their original groups, where they confirm the image of ISIL as counterproductive and a failed idea. The leader of the local ISIL forces was killed earlier this year recently and there is apparently a shortage of suitable candidates to replace him.
In Israel ISIL is having little success in establishing a presence in the West Bank or Gaza much less inside Israel itself. Police estimate that between 40 and 50 Arab-Israelis have actually made it to Syria and joined ISIL and about as many detected in Israel or in Turkey before they got to Syria. Not many Palestinians (about a hundred) have actually gone to Syria. Most of these were from Gaza, because it’s easier to get out of Gaza. ISIL has attracted about a thousand men in the West Bank and Gaza willing to join ISIL but both Fatah and Hamas have been hostile to any official ISIL presence in their territory. Thus most of the active Palestinian terror groups are anything but ISIL. For example Israeli police recently uncovered a Palestinian bomb building operation in the West Bank and arrested eight Palestinians. A police raid on the bomb building workshop found 120 kg (264 pounds) of raw materials for creating explosives. The investigation was triggered by the arrest of an Arab from Jerusalem who was caught trying to smuggle two kilos (4.4 pounds) of gunpowder into the West Bank.
There is a power struggle going on inside Fatah and it’s getting worse, and more visible. Meanwhile the current Fatah leadership has declared efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Israel a failure and that Palestinians must look to international cooperation (like an economic boycott of Israel) to achieve victory (the destruction of Israel). Factionalism in Fatah is nothing new but it has become much worse since a major split developed in 2010 and has never healed. The feud is particularly acute in 2016 because of the failure of the “knife terrorism” campaign instigated in the West Bank during late 2015. This was organized by the Palestinian Fatah group that runs the West Bank. Fatah considers the knife terrorism effort a success but a growing number of Palestinians see it as another Fatah failure and that feeds the current feud among the Fatah leadership. The knife terrorism campaign has left about 300 people dead, 86 percent of them Palestinians (64 percent of them while attacking, the rest during violent demonstrations). Worse, thousands of Palestinians have been wounded or arrested. About 80 percent of the Palestinian deaths occurred in the West Bank while most of the remainder took place in Jerusalem. Palestinian media depicts unsuccessful attacks that result in attackers being killed or wounded as Israeli attacks against random (and innocent) Palestinians. This Fatah promoted violence was mostly about making the corrupt and incompetent Fatah more popular in the West Bank but opinion polls show that many (but not most) Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held right now and that enthusiasm for the knife terrorism campaign is waning.
While Hamas is hated by the people of Gaza, West Bank Palestinians don’t experience Hamas cruelty daily while they do endure the corrupt and inept rule of Fatah. The Fatah pro-terror media campaign briefly distracted many Palestinians from their problems with Fatah but also convinced many that Israel is refusing to negotiate peace when in fact it is the Palestinians who turned down two peace deals in the 1990s and instead tried terror campaigns to get more. Both of these “intifadas” failed and Fatah has sold the illusion that the third intifada (the “knife intifada) will succeed. It isn’t and that is one reason Hamas has not gotten involved.
Another problem is that since 2000 Palestinian media constantly pushed the idea that Israel has no right to exist and must be destroyed. Palestinians who disagree with this must either emigrate or keep silent. For most Palestinians it is easier to simply pretend to support Fatah (or Hamas) and hope for the best. That approach has failed consistently for decades and corrupt and incompetent rule by Fatah and Hamas have remained the only constant. The problem is that there is no single solution a majority of Palestinians can agree on, other than the impractical ones (like somehow destroying Israel).
November 14, 2016: An Israeli court sentenced two Arab-Israeli cousins to prison for trying to join ISIL and planning attacks in Israel if they could not get to Syria. The jail sentences for the two men were 2.5 and three years, which are typical for such situations. If violent actions have actually been taken the jail terms are much longer (10-20 years).
November 13, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) two soldiers and 14 Islamic terrorists died in five clashes. Four of these were bomb attacks on troops the other was a gun battle with a large group of Islamic terrorists.
November 10, 2016: In the south, off the Gaza coast, Israeli patrol boats opened fire on Palestinian fishing boats trying to move outside permitted fishing areas.
An Iranian general confirmed that Iran had set up a rocket factory in Syria more than a year before the 2006 Hezbollah war with Israel. The factory built short range weapons and components for rockets to be built inside Lebanon.
November 9, 2016: In the north (Golan Heights) a mortar shell from Syria landed in an uninhabited area. Israeli artillery responded.
In the West Bank a Palestinian man tried to stab a soldier with screw driver and was shot before he could do so.
In Gaza Mithqal Alsalmi, an outspoken Palestinian proponent of Shia Islam, was shot dead. Alsalmi worked for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza as an intelligence officers and only became an outspoken advocate of Shia Islam this year. His death became big news throughout the Shia world and brought Hamas a lot of criticism for not preventing violence against Shia in Gaza. This is an important issue for Hamas which, since 2015, has resumed close relations with Iran and tolerance for Palestinian Shia. Yet hostility towards Shia still exists in Gaza. In 2012 Hamas gunmen began attacking the few Palestinian Shia in Gaza. This was part of an attempt to limit Iranian influence in Gaza and indicates the end of a decade long relationship between Iran and Hamas. In response Iran cut its funding of Hamas (and Hamas had to cut its payroll the next month) because Hamas would not support the Shia Assad dictatorship in Syria that was under growing popular pressure from the Sunni Arab majority. Hamas criticism of Syrian violence against its people caused major friction between Iran and Hamas. Worse, a lot of the Iranian money was shifted to Hamas rivals (in Gaza) like Islamic Jihad (a terrorist group that still attacks Israel). Iran expected Hamas to allow local Shia to seek converts among the Sunni majority. Hamas cracked down on that between 2012 and 2014. Sunni Islamic conservatives believe Shia caught trying to convert Sunnis should be punished by death.
November 8, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) the security forces began a three day counter-terrorist operation that left 26 Islamic terrorists dead. Soldiers and police also found over fifty buildings or other locations where Islamic terrorists were living or storing weapons and other material. In addition 57 bombs and other explosive devices were found and disabled.
November 7, 2016: Saudi Arabia told Egypt that shipments of free oil would be halted indefinitely. These shipments were halted ”temporarily” a month ago because Egypt refused to vote against a Russian peace proposal in the UN that was favored by Iran and the Iran backed Syrian government. All other Arab states opposed this, in large part because the Gulf Arabs and Iran are at war with each other. Not a shooting war, not yet, and the Saudis expect Moslem states they support financially (Egypt has received about $5 billion a year since 2011) to reciprocate by backing Saudi diplomacy and, in effect, recognize Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world. Egypt long held that position because of its long history of Arab leadership, even before Islam appeared in the 7th century. Egypt is broke and still dealing with Islamic terrorist violence. The Saudis are rich and have far fewer problems internally with Islamic terrorism. But for many Egyptians it is humiliating to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile one thing that the Egyptians and Saudis do agree on is better relationships with Israel. Along those lines a growing number of Egyptians openly support more economic cooperation with Israel. Meanwhile Egypt faces growing economic problems, especially with the Saudi aid gone. President Sisi is held responsible for this by most Egyptians and this is all a repeat of what has been going on in Egypt for centuries. There is no easy fix.
November 4, 2016: In Egypt (North Sinai) ISIL gunmen killed an army general that was visiting a home he owned in the area.
November 1, 2016: In the northern Mali German peacekeepers began using their leased Israeli Heron I UAV (similar to the American Predator). The first mission lasted nearly six hours. Peacekeepers in Mali have found Israeli UAVs very useful for keeping an eye on large, thinly inhabited, areas.
October 30, 2016: In the West Bank a Palestinian was shot dead when he tried to run down a group of Israeli police with his car. Three Israeli border guards were injured. Elsewhere in the West Bank a Palestinian police officer came out of the dark and opened fire on an Israeli checkpoint, wounding three Israeli soldiers. Returned fire killed the attacker.
October 26, 2016: In the north (Lebanon) someone in a car travelling along a road on the Lebanese side of the border fired into Israel and wounded an Israeli soldier. The Israeli troops returned fire and twice hit the car before it was out of sight. Lebanon denied the incident happened. As a result of this attack the army ordered defenses along the border to be improved.
October 25, 2016: In the south, an Israeli Arab working on maintaining the border fence was shot dead by Egyptian border guards in a case of mistaken identity. The dead Israeli (a local Bedouin teenager hired by a local contractor) was a civilian that Egyptian troops were looking for smugglers and Islamic terrorists trying to sneak across the border.
October 24, 2016: In Gaza another Hamas member died while working on a tunnel. This is the second such death in the last three days. These two deaths were apparently connected with smuggling tunnels into Egypt. Most tunnel deaths recently have been in deeper and more dangerous tunnels designed to pass under the security fence and into Israel. Many of these tunnels belong to Islamic Jihad (one of the smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza). Most of the 24 tunnel deaths so far this year have been Hamas men. 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.
October 23, 2016: The Egyptian military admits that it is flying weapons and other material to Libyan Army forces in eastern Libya. Egypt does not consider this a violation of international bans on sending weapons to Libya but rather assisting Libyan counter terrorism efforts against Islamic terrorists based near the Egyptian border. Most of this Egyptian activity, including a training facility run by Egyptian officers and NCOs, takes place at a Libyan military base some 100 kilometers northeast of Benghazi. There the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Egypt have helped improve an existing military base outside the coastal city of Marj. The new base has been operating since February 2016 and also hosts French troops who have been assisting the Libyan Army forces since 2015. Libyan general Hiftar runs the Libyan Army (or what is left of it) and has received support from Egypt and the UAE for years. Although there is a UN arms embargo on all factions in Libya the UAE (and some other Arab states) have always backed the more secular Libyan rebels like the Hiftar forces. The Marj base receives regular visits by UAE C-130s carrying civilian and military supplies. There are at least three UAE Mirage jet fighters, used mainly for reconnaissance. The UAE also has at least six AT-802U attack aircraft based there as well as some UH-60 helicopters. The UAE bought 24 AT-802Us in 2015 and is known to have given some to Yemen and Jordan. The AT-802U is an armed version of a popular AT-802 crop duster. The Marj base has played a major role in keeping Libyan based Islamic terrorists away from Egypt.
October 22, 2016: In Egypt Adel Rajaai, an army division commander, was shot dead outside him home in Cairo. Previously Rajaai served in northern Sinai where he was in charge of successful efforts to destroy the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
October 17, 2016: In Egypt (northern Sinai) the security forces began carrying out numerous counter-terrorist operations over the weekend that left over a hundred Islamic terrorists dead. Soldiers and police suffered over 40 casualties, most of them wounded.