Despite all the violence and threats directed it at it Israel is the most peaceful and prosperous nation in the region. Israeli GDP is growing 3.8 percent in 2016, compared to 3.3 percent for 2015. Most of this is due to a three percent increase in exports. Unemployment remains under five percent. The two Palestinian states, who are mired in corruption and desperate efforts to destroy Israel, are doing less well. Gaza, which has alienated its Moslem neighbor Egypt, as well as Israel. This has led to total loss of free trade and that crippled the economy. The West Bank, run by a less self-destructive group (Fatah), has more economic activity but suffers for the bad behavior of Hamas and has lost a lot of its foreign aid. Most of those aid losses have been in Gaza where about 40 percent of the 4.9 Palestinians live. In the last three years foreign aid (most of it from the West and wealthy Arab oil states) has declined nearly 50 percent. The main reason for the Arabs cutting their aid is the persistent corruption in Hamas and Fatah. This means most of the money meant to aid the Palestinian people does not do that. In the West Bank most of the loss is outright theft by Fatah officials, who have grown wealthy while the people they rule have slipped deeper into poverty. One advantage the West Bank has is that young Palestinians can migrate (usually via Jordan). Most of these migrants want to go to the West but will settle for a more prosperous Moslem nation. The migrants are not only the youngest but also the best educated. The corruption provides few jobs for recent school and university graduates and becoming a terrorist only appeals to a about a quarter of young Palestinians. The people of Gaza can’t get out, although Hamas is trying to improve relations with Egypt to change that and having some success. Meanwhile 80 percent of the Gaza Palestinians are dependent on foreign aid and corruption, not Israel, is the biggest obstacle to change.
Foreign Jews moving to Israel declined 13 percent (to 27,000) in 2016 compared to 31,000 in 2015. Since 1948 over three million Jews moved to Israel, most of them from Europe and the former Soviet Union. Migration by foreign Jews (“Aliyah”) has increased steadily since 2009, when there were 16,465. That rose to 19,000 in 2010 and, except for 2016, has continued ever since. But more Israelis are migrating to other countries. This the net addition each year has become about half of those arriving.
The Northern Menace
Israel considers Lebanon, in the form of Hezbollah, as its most immediate military threat. Israel has been shifting its military plans and deployments to the north and paying close attention to Syria because of this and the fact that Iran gets a key base area if it succeeds in getting the Syrian rebels and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) shut down there. Meanwhile Hezbollah continues to make progress in taking control of the Lebanese government. This has been a slow process because most Lebanese do not want to be dominated by a minority militia (the Shia Hezbollah) controlled by a foreign country (Iran, and until the 2011 civil war, Syria as well). Currently Hezbollah has 30,000 members (who are paid full or part time). Half of these are armed and more than half the armed Hezbollah have served in Syria. There nearly 2,000 have died since 2011 and three times as many wounded. These losses were very unpopular among all Lebanese and even among most Hezbollah members. Yet Hezbollah managed to recruit replacements, mainly because Iran paid for funerals, medical care and “compensation” (large cash payments to families of the dead and lesser amounts to those crippled by wounds). Hezbollah is a major employer in the largely Shia south of Lebanon (and Shia neighborhoods in the Beirut, the capital). Since the 1990s, with the help of Iranian cash and lots of intimidation by its armed militia, Hezbollah has slowly gained power. In 2008, for example, Lebanese politicians selected Michel Suleiman, the head of the armed forces, as president of the country. This was part of a deal with Hezbollah, whereby the Shia group obtained unofficial veto power over government decisions. Hezbollah represents a minority party, but the Iranian-backed group has the most effective military force in Lebanon. In effect, Hezbollah bullied the majority into handing over veto power. This has made Hezbollah very unpopular with the non-Shia majority (Christians, Sunnis and Druze), perhaps to the point where, if there were another war with Israel, Hezbollah could find themselves getting attacked from the rear by the Christians, Sunnis and Druze. To try and deal with that in 2009 Hezbollah forced Lebanon to legalize Hezbollah use of terrorist violence against Israel. Most Lebanese opposed this, as it makes them vulnerable to attack the next time Hezbollah engages in large scale violence against Israel, or tries to kidnap Israelis. Hezbollah is trying to get the Lebanese government more involved in aggression against Israel. They are having some success but its largely through intimidation. Both Israel and Hezbollah acknowledge that it's not a matter of if, but when, Hezbollah will launch another major rocket attack against Israel.
Iran, Russia and Hezbollah agree on defeating the Syrian rebels but Iran and Hezbollah are unclear on exactly what else Russia wants. That’s because Russia and Israel are openly on very good terms while Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel to be destroyed (and have done so for decades). Russia has no official explanation for this seeming contradiction. Russia and Israel have always had good relations, even though Russia often backs Moslem nations that want Israel gone. In the current situation Israel and Russia are constantly negotiating deals that keep Israelis safe (especially Israeli pilots carrying out airstrikes against Hezbollah or anyone else posing an immediate threat to Israel). Russia has installed a modern air defense system (based on their S-300 missiles and a few jet fighters) in parts of Syria and Israel must exercise caution when attacking targets in Syria from the air. For that reason many of the recent airstrikes are launched by Israeli aircraft over Lebanon. The Israeli aircraft launch long range guided missiles at targets in Syria and generally report few if any details. Israeli defense officials did recently admit that it is government policy to prevent Hezbollah and Islamic terrorists in general from getting advanced weapons. Currently this includes chemical weapons, which Israel believes Hezbollah had received from Syria or Iran and was trying to smuggle into Lebanon. Recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria apparently interfered with that. Israel also admitted that it wants Iranian forces out of Syria and the Assad government replaced by someone not dedicated to the destruction of Israel.
January 9, 2017: In Egypt (Sinai) Islamic terrorists attacked the police station at al Arish using a stolen garbage truck rigged as a suicide truck bomb. The truck was stopped at a checkpoint outside the police station but the explosion was so large that is blew out most windows in the police station. Behind the truck bomb were about 20 Islamic terrorists armed with assault rifles and RPGs that tried to get into the police stations but failed an fled. In addition to the suicide bomber, about a dozen others died (mostly police and two civilians) and twice as many police and civilians wounded.
In the West Bank a Palestinian armed with a knife was shot dead when he refused to stop advancing on the soldiers (and shouting "Allahu Akbar").
January 8, 2017: In Jerusalem an Arab-Israeli Islamic terrorist used a truck to attack a group of soldiers (most of them officer trainees) getting off a bus. Four of the soldiers were killed, as well as the driver who was shot dead because he refused to stop trying to back up over the injured knocked to the ground. Another 16 soldiers were injured. The dead attacker was known to police as a petty criminal and vocal supporter of ISIL. Apparently the attacker had been encouraged by “kill the Jews” sermons mandated (by Fatah) in the mosque he attended. This attack was a continuation of the “knife terrorism” campaign that attacks that began during late 2015. This was organized by the Palestinian Fatah group that runs the West Bank. Fatah considers the knife (or “lone wolf”) terrorism effort a success but most Palestinians now see it as another Fatah failure and that feeds the current feud among the Fatah leadership. The knife terrorism campaign has left nearly 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. So far 40 Israelis, two Americans and an Eritrean have been killed. Most (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.
January 6, 2017: Israel released December 28 spy satellite photos showing two Russian Iskander (also known as SS-26 and 9M723K1) ballistic missile launcher vehicles in Syria (at the base Russia shares with Syria). These are probably in Syria to be “tested in combat” by firing a non-nuclear warhead at a high profile target, like the ISIL capital of Raqqa. Iskander has a 500 kilometer range and is not a traditional ballistic missile. That is, it does not fire straight up, leave the atmosphere, then come back down, following a ballistic trajectory. Instead, Iskander stays in the atmosphere and follows a rather flat trajectory. It is capable of evasive maneuvers and deploying decoys. This makes it more difficult for anti-missile systems to take it down. Iskander began development near the end of the Cold War and the first successful launch took place in 1996. The 4.6 ton Iskander M has a solid fuel rocket motor and a range of up to 700 kilometers normally carries a 710 kg (1,500 pound) warhead. The missile can be stored for up to ten years. Russia developed several different types of warheads, mainly for, including cluster munitions, thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) and electro-magnetic pulse (anti-radar, and destructive to electronics in general.) There is also a nuclear warhead, which is not exported. Guidance is very accurate, using GPS, plus infrared homing for terminal guidance. The warhead will land within 10 meters (31 feet) of the aim point. Iskanders are carried in a 40 ton 8x8 truck, which also provides a launch platform. There is an optional reload truck that carries two missiles. Russia ended up only producing the Iskander-M for its own military. Entering service in 2005, Russia found there were no export customers for the innovative and expensive Iskander but free publicity from actual use in Syria might change that.
In Egypt (Sinai) Islamic terrorists attacked two army checkpoints using at least six suicide car bombs and over 30 gunmen. The attacks failed leaving nine Islamic terrorists dead, at least 16 wounded and six of their vehicles destroyed. Some vehicles and an undetermined number of attackers got away. The army did not have any men killed but there were apparently some wounded.
January 4, 2017: Hamas has offered to begin negotiations for the release of the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 and two Israeli civilians “detained” in Gaza. But only if Israel first sets free 60 Hamas members imprisoned by Israel. This offer is not likely to be acted on. For one thing the two Israelis held by Hamas are mentally ill civilians who got into Gaza and were seized by Hamas. One of these Israelis is a Jewish migrant from Ethiopia and the other is a Bedouin (and Moslem). Worse, the 60 men Hamas wants released had already been released before, in 2011. Back then, for the first time since 1985, Israel exchanged imprisoned Palestinians for a captured Israeli soldier (Gilad Shalit). Hundreds of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit deal returned to terrorism and dozens of Israelis have since been killed or wounded because of that violence. During the 2014 Gaza War many of those 1,027 were rearrested on terrorism charges and put back in prison. Others were known to have died fighting for Hamas in Gaza.
January 3, 2017: Once more Israel has criticized the UN for aiding the spread of anti-Semitism in Gaza. The latest example is UN-run schools in Gaza using textbooks that deny the existence of Israel or of Jews ever being in the region. This is nothing new, but the UN, which Israel and Western nations provide most of the funding for, should not be paying for spreading a message the UN (and most historians and nations) officially admits is false and counterproductive. Doing this sort of thing in schools the UN pays for is another matter. It is nothing new. In 2007 new textbooks for Palestinian high school students used maps of the region lacking any reference to Israel, and when these books did mention Israel it was to insist that Israel must be destroyed. Whatever Palestinians are saying to foreign diplomats, they are delivering a very different message to their own teenagers. For decades, Palestinian leaders have proclaimed that the only solution to Palestinian problems is the destruction of Israel. A generation of Palestinian children have grown up in schools that stressed that every day, in classrooms and textbooks. That message is constantly delivered in Palestinian media.
January 1, 2017: In Gaza Hamas admitted that 21 of its members (or those employed by them) had died while working on a tunnels in 2016. Most of these tunnel deaths took place in those being built or repaired near the Israeli border. The similar deaths near the Egyptian border are usually not Hamas members. Most tunnel deaths recently have been in deeper and more dangerous tunnels designed to pass under the Israeli security fence or the improved Egyptian security measures. Most of the 30 (at least) tunnel deaths in 2016 were known to have been Hamas men or Palestinians working for Hamas. 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.
December 30, 2016: In Israel a court convicted an 18 year old soldier of manslaughter for killing an immobilized terrorist in March 2016. Soldiers and police are usually given the benefit of the doubt in situations like this, but Israel puts those accused of unjustified violence on trial. The Palestinians praise (and pay cash rewards to) any of their number who kill Jews. That includes killing women and children. Palestinians often use foreign aid (mostly from the West) to cover the cost of these rewards and pensions (for imprisoned killers).
December 22, 2016: In Gaza Hamas announced the formation of another security force. Some six hundred veteran security personnel are being assigned to a new “marine unit” to guard the 39 kilometer Gaza coastline. There are two major reasons for this new “elite, independent” force. One if to cut down on illegal smuggling of untaxed goods (luxury items usually but also anything small and expensive) and forbidden recreational substances (usually drugs but also alcohol). The other reason for the new marine force is to make it more difficult for Israeli intel agencies smuggling in, or out, items needed to maintain the Israeli informant network that has long existed in Gaza. Hamas caught on to the fact that some of the clandestine activity on the coast was in the service of Israeli espionage and that has to stop. Hamas may have gotten some help from its patron Iran in this respect. Hamas has also offered Egypt very visible help in dealing the ISIL activity in Sinai in return for some easing of the blockade. While Hamas still supports many Islamic terrorists operating in Egypt (where Hamas originally came from, as a branch of the Moslem Brotherhood) there is agreement with Egypt on the need to destroy ISIL. Over the last year the most active Islamic terrorist group in Egypt (mainly Sinai) has been ISIL and if Hamas can deliver Egypt will again allow relatively free movement of people and goods via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Since October Hamas has been cracking down on more radical Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza and found that many of the 200 people arrested were big fans of ISIL. Hamas know of nearly fifty of its members who had got out of Gaza and gone to join ISIL. Meanwhile about 700 ISIL members continue to survive in Sinai. Making a deal with Egypt is, for Hamas, a deal with the devil. That’s because the biggest political threat to the Egyptian government is the outlawed (once again) Moslem Brotherhood. This organization not only provided the initial funding and leadership for Hamas but has continued to provide whatever support it could. Hamas is basically telling the Moslem Brotherhood that Hamas is now working with the enemy because, well, that’s how things work, especially in the Middle East.
December 15, 2016: In Tunisia Mohamed Al Zoari, a Tunisian UAV expert known to work for Hamas and Hezbollah, was shot dead in his car. Ten Tunisians were tracked down and arrested and because no connection to any Islamic terrorist group or criminal gang could be found, Israel (Mossad) was blamed. Israel denies any involvement, but Mossad has over the years gone after key (or just notorious) Islamic terrorists and anti-Semites and killed them. It often takes a decade or more for evidence to emerge.