April 11, 2017:
The government has maintained close ties with Russia despite the volatile situation in Syria. The Russians, despite anger at the recent American missile attack on a Syrian Air Force base (which the Russians sometimes used) continues to back Israeli efforts to get Iran to withdraw all its forces from Syria once the fighting is over. Iran is openly recruiting a force of Islamic terrorists to establish a presence along the Israeli border, as Iran-backed Hezbollah has done in Lebanon. Israel has the support of most Gulf Arab oil states against Iran and United States is becoming more active in Syria against ISIL and the Assad government (which Iran and Russia supports).
The government is unable to eliminate the Islamic terrorist groups and these groups are concentrating on wrecking the economy to create more unrest. This is the same strategy used in the 1990s and it eventually failed. It is unclear what motivates the latest crop of Islamic terrorists to use the same strategy but it will probably have the same result.
The government is having more success bringing peace to neighboring Libya. Egypt gets a lot of help from Algeria in this peacemaking effort. At the same time there is a lot of pressure from the UN to get behind the GNA (Government of National Accord) which the UN organized in 2015 but has been unable to convince all Libyans to support. Egypt sees GNA as too cozy with Islamic conservative groups. Algeria feels the same way as do many Tunisians. These attitudes have been made public as leaders from Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt have met several times since 2012 to discuss Libya and continue to agree that none of them wants to intervene militarily (on a large scale) to deal with the chaos next door. But at the same time all three nations, which have long borders with Libya, will cooperate with whatever faction is controlling the Libyan side of the border and will work to keep Islamic terrorists from freely moving back and forth across the border. Thus Egypt has become very close to the HoR (elected House of Representatives that GNA replaced) government while Tunisia is on good terms with both the GNA and pro-HoR groups who have worked with Tunisia to control Islamic terrorism, especially ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Tunisia noted that general Hiftar (the HoR military leader) keeps ISIL out of eastern Libya while pro-GNA militias drove ISIL out of their new base in Sirte by the end of 2016. All this greatly reduced ISIL activity in Tunisia. Algeria noted the same thing and all three neighboring countries have increased their border security to contain the lawlessness that still predominates throughout Libya. The GNA has not ignored neighborhood politics and has recently sent officials to Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Russia to make their case for being the only national government in Libya. These officials came back with vague promises to help and some blunt assessments by foreigners about what HoR does right especially compared to GNA efforts. The GNA is also advised to make more of an effort to reconcile their differences with HoR, especially when it comes to general Hiftar. And there is Russia which has, this year, stationed a small (about 22 men) group of special operations troops in western Egypt, near the Libyan border. Russia is apparently getting ready to back Hiftar in a big way. Libya may turn out to be another Middle East victory for Russia, but only with the help of Egypt and Israel.
April 10, 2017: Israel closed Taba the main border crossing with Egypt because intelligence indicated a major threat against non-Moslem foreign visitors, especially Israelis, in Egypt. The Egyptians agreed with this risk assessment and declared a state of emergency (martial law). This gives the government nearly unlimited power to investigate anyone any way they can, arrest and hold people without warrants or obligation to bring charges and basically run the country like a dictatorship. The three decades of Mubarak rule, which ended in 2011, was made possible by a permanent state of emergency and getting rid of that was one of the main demands of the 2011 rebels.
In the south (Eshkol) a rocket fired from Sinai hit a greenhouse, damaging it. There were no injuries and no retaliation by Israel.
In southern Egypt (Assiut province) police killed seven ISIL members, seized weapons and documents indicating the group was planning another attack.
April 9, 2017: In Egypt ISIL attacked two Christian (Coptic) churches with bombs, killing 45 people and wounding over a hundred. One attack, in the coastal city of Alexandria, involved a suicide bomber who has halted by police outside the church and detonated his explosive best there. The other bomb went off inside the church a hundred kilometers north of Cairo. ISIL likes to hit Copts on major religious holidays, like Palm Sunday when more worshipers show up. It’s not just ISIL, Egyptian Islamic radicals, many of them let out of prison after the 2011 revolution, soon began calling for violence against Israel and non-Moslems in Egypt. This includes the Egyptian Christians, mainly the Copts, who converted to Christianity more than 500 years before the Islamic invaders arrived in 639. Copts are still over ten percent of the population. The stubbornness of the Copts in refusing to convert to Islam has led to centuries of persecution. By 300 AD most Egyptians were Christians, nearly all of them belonging to the local Coptic sects. When the Moslems invaded threats and incentives were used to encourage conversion to Islam. By 1000 AD Moslems were the majority in Egypt. Ever since, Egyptian Moslems have sought, often with violence, to convert the remaining Egyptian Christians. Some converted, but increasingly over the last century, Copts have simply fled the country. This is accelerating as it becomes obvious that the new government cannot or will not halt the growing persecution of the Copts. It’s not just ISIL, even more moderate Islamic radicals like the Moslem Brotherhood, regularly organize attacks (often non-fatal) against Copt communities. This is often part of a growing effort to forbid Copts (or other Christians) to build new churches.
April 8, 2017: Russia canceled the “deconfliction” agreement they with the United States regarding each other’s warplanes operating over Syria. This agreement avoids accidental clashes and the U.S. observed the agreement by informing Russia shortly before the American cruise missiles were launched yesterday. The Russians are expressing their anger at the American attack on Syrian forces and the implied criticism of Russia for not enforcing the 2013 agreement that was supposed to eliminate all Syrian chemical weapons. Russia has a similar deconfliction deal with Israel which is apparently still in force.
April 7, 2017: The United States retaliated for the recent Syrian use of nerve gas by launching 59 cruise missiles (from two warships in the Mediterranean) at the Syrian Shayrat air base in Homs province. Most of the Syrian air strikes in northern Syria are flown out of Shayat, which was inoperable for a day or two because all but one of the Tomahawks hit their targets. This was all about t
he Syrian government being held responsible for using nerve gas in a recent attacks on a rebel village in Idlib province. This would be a clear violation of the 2013 Russian brokered deal where Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons in return for no foreign intervention (as the U.S. has promised) because chemical weapons were used. An August 21 2013 attack used nerve gas to kill over 1,400 people in a rebel controlled village outside Damascus. The evidence was overwhelming for the 2013 attack and this latest one in Idlib is equally incriminating. The Syrian government, Russia, Iran and Iraq condemned the American attack and supported the Syrian Assad government denials that they had anything to do with the use of nerve gas. But the rest of the world either openly supported the attack or were undecided. Most Western nations openly supported the attack as did Middle Eastern nations Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This American action was a big deal in Israel which had hoped the newly elected American government would be more supportive of Israeli efforts to deal with Islamic terrorism (both Sunni and Shia) in the region. Israel and its new Sunni Arab allies are particularly concerned about the growing threat from Iran, which the previous U.S. government did not take as seriously as the Middle Eastern nations (particularly Israel) that Iran openly threatened.
April 6, 2017: In the West Bank one Israeli soldier was killed and another wounded in an Islamic terrorists attack involving a car ramming. The attacker, a Palestinian, was shot and wounded and arrested. This is the first Israeli terror fatality since January. Since September 2015 when the Palestinian “knife terrorism” campaign began 42 Israelis and two Americans have been killed along with at least 250 Palestinian attackers. Most of the attacks fail but the Palestinian government continues to encourage the attacks and uses foreign aid money to pay rewards to the families of dead attackers and monthly payments to the families of imprisoned attackers. Attacks have declined in the last year so the Palestinian increased the payments this year to keep the campaign going.
In Gaza Hamas executed three men (by hanging) it had accused of spying for Israel. This makes 22 such executions since 2010. Three days ago Hamas declared another amnesty (for one week) in which Palestinians who had, or were, working for Israeli intelligence could reveal themselves and be forgiven. Hamas periodically declares these amnesties (often month long ones) but they rarely produce results. Israel has long maintained a large, and pretty effective, informer network inside Gaza and the West Bank.
India signed a deal to buy $2 billion worth of air defense systems from Israeli firms. This is the customized (for India) Israeli Barak 8 SAM (surface-to-air missile). India is getting a modified naval version (LRSAM) and land version (MRSAM) of the Barak 8. This deal has been in the works since 2016 but encountered technical and political problems, mainly on the Indian side.
April 5, 2017: Israeli intelligence officials revealed that they believe the Assad government still had several tons of chemical weapons, including the type of nerve gas used in the attack in Syria yesterday. The Israelis had kept quiet about this, in part to protect its sources and partly because they knew many nations in the regions would not believe it.
April 4, 2017: In the northwest (Idlib province) Syrian warplanes apparently used chemical bombs to attack a rebel controlled village. The attack killed 85 people, most of them civilians, including 20 children. The victims showed symptoms of nerve gas being used. The Syrian government accused the rebels of making the attack or having stored chemical weapons in one the buildings the bombs hit. But the U.S., NATO and Israel soon confirmed that it was the Assad forces who delivered the nerve gas.
April 3, 2017: In Egypt the army admitted that since September 2015 the security forces had actually killed about 500 Islamic terrorists in Sinai. That comes out to about 27 a month but when you consult the claims made over that 18 month period the death toll is several times that. This reveals two unpleasant truths about Sinai; many of the counter-terror attacks kill civilians not involved in terrorist acts and that the government still does not control all of the Sinai Peninsula. Bedouin supported Islamic terrorists are increasingly able to strike all over the peninsula by travelling in small groups and planning attacks with the help of Bedouins who know the area.
Most soldiers and police are not familiar with the area and often arrest anyone in the vicinity of recent criminal or Islamic terrorist activity and hold them without charges. Some are murdered in an effort to obtain information and simply disappear from police records. In Sinai the victims are usually Bedouin tribesmen, who are easier for a soldier or policeman from the Nile River region to spot when ordered to round up the usual suspects. For thousands of years the Sinai tribes (usually Bedouin) have been unruly subjects of Egyptian governments. Moreover the Sinai Peninsula is a big place (60,000 square kilometers) with only about 600,000 people, mainly in a few urban areas. Lots of places to hide out.
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 (usually Bedouin tribesmen) willing to support, or at least tolerate, Islamic terrorists. That support is dependent on how well the tribes get along with the Islamic terrorists and what benefits (like cash) outside terror groups bring with them. At first ISIL sought supporters in Egypt and had a hard time of it. ISIL is opposed by Hamas in Gaza but in Sinai ISIL eventually formed a working relationship with local Bedouin backed Islamic terror groups. The Egyptian security forces have been concentrating on ISIL since late 2015. In the beginning (2014) Bedouins, who have long supported armed opposition to the government, were openly hostile to ISIL because ISIL tried to impose harsh “Islamic” lifestyle rules on the Bedouins. That is one thing you do not try to do and the Bedouins forced ISIL to back down on several occasions over this issue. By late 2015 ISIL learned how to behave among the Bedouin and were able to work with them. This has made it possible for ISIL to survive there and even send small teams to the Nile River valley, where most Egyptians live. ISIL is still planning to become the only Islamic terror group in Sinai (and eventually the world).
April 2, 2017: In Egypt a high court affirmed the government decision to give Saudi Arabia two Red Sea islands.
April 1, 2017: In Jerusalem a Palestinian man with a knife wounded two civilians and a policeman before being shot dead.
In Egypt a bomb went off at a police training center near the coastal city of Alexandria, killing 16 people, 13 of them trainees. Islamic terrorist group Lewaa Al Thawra took credit.
March 29, 2017: In Jerusalem a Palestinian woman was shot dead as she attempted to attack some border guards with a knife.
A bomb was discovered in a Coptic church near the coastal city of Alexandria. Police successfully defused the bomb.
March 28, 2017: Israel warned its citizens visiting Egyptian Red Sea resorts to leave because of the imminent threat of Islamic terrorist attacks.
March 27, 2017: In the West bank a Palestinian attempted to attack an Israeli soldier using a screwdriver. The attacker was subdued and arrested.
An Arab-Israeli (Fadel Tzaber Knaneh) was indicted for supporting ISIL after having been arrested several weeks earlier. The accused had a brother who went to Syria after he joined ISIL in 2014 and was later killed. The accused knew another Arab-Israeli who had gone to Syria to join ISIL and earlier this year the Knaneh was caught sending $1,300 to his ISIL friend in Syria. Knaneh was known to support ISIL but that alone will not get you prosecuted. As many as thirty Arab Israelis have gone off to join ISIL since 2013 and about a third of them are believed to have been killed. Most of these Israeli ISIL men keep in touch with their families vis cell phone or Internet and provide information on the extent of Arab Israeli activity within ISIL.
March 26, 2017: Iran imposed sanctions on fifteen American firms because they were doing business with Israel. None of the sanctioned firms do business with Iran. The Iranian move is a response to the March 24th American announcement of sanctions on 30 companies and individuals for illegally transferring weapons technology or weapons to Iran, North Korea or Syria. Those sanctioned were from China, North Korea or the UAE (United Arab Emirates).
March 25, 2017: Syria threatened, in writing (via Russian diplomats), to launch hundreds of ballistic missiles at Israel if Israel carried out any more air attacks on Syria like it did most recently with a series of four airstrikes over several days with the last one on the 22nd. That attack was fired on (ineffectively) by Syrian air defense system missiles and the Israelis warned that any more of that and the Israelis would destroy the Syrian air defense system.
March 24, 2017: In Gaza Mazen Faqha, a senior Hamas terrorism official, was shot dead by someone using a pistol equipped with a silencer. Hamas blamed Israel but the Israelis denied any involvement. Faqha was in charge of Hamas terror operations in the West Bank. Many believe Faqha was killed by one of the many Palestinian groups in Gaza that oppose Hamas rule. There are also factions within Hamas that are feuding and those feuds sometimes turn violent. Two days later Hamas banned anyone from leaving Gaza in order to assist the search for the killers of Faqha. The ban included foreign aid workers and the Red Cross and UN protested because this halted the scheduled departure of six of their staff. When Hamas refused to allow aid officials to enter and leave the UN suspended aid operations. Since over 60 percent of the people in Gaza are dependent on that aid Hamas agreed on the 31st to lift the travel ban for aid officials.
March 23, 2017: In the West Bank a group of Palestinians attacked an Israeli settlement using fire bombs. One of the attackers was shot dead and three others wounded.
March 21, 2017: In the south, on the Gaza border, Israeli troops fired on a group of Palestinians approaching the border fence to plant a bomb. One of the Palestinians was killed and two wounded.
Iranian military officials accuse Russia of providing Israel with technical information about Russian made air defense radars and air defense control systems used by Syria and Iran. Iranian experts say that this explains how Israeli aircraft always manage to avoid being spotted or effectively fired on by Russian made Syrian air defense systems. Specifically Iran accuses the Russians of providing IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) codes to the Israelis. The IFF beacon every combat aircraft carries broadcasts a coded message to friendly aircraft and anti-aircraft systems. The Iranians say they can prove this because they secretly helped the Syrians change some of their IFF codes without the Russians knowing and suddenly the Israeli aircraft were being spotted. Russia denies the accusation and Israel has no comment.
March 20, 2017: Israel officially commented on the March 17th incident where an Arrow 3 anti-missile missile was used to shoot down a Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft missile that had been fired at four Israeli jets bombing a target (new weapons for Hezbollah) in eastern Syria near Palmyra. Apparently several SA-5 SAMs (surface-to—air missiles) missed the Israeli jets and instead of detonating anyway (as these missiles are built to do) were headed into Israeli air space and Arrow 3 was fired just in case it was a ballistic missile. The implication was that Syria might have deliberately modified some of their SA-5 missiles to operate as a surface-to-surface missile. This has been done before with Russian SAMs, usually as an unofficial (and crude) modification by Arab users. But there have been some modern SAMs with a built-in surface-to-surface mode. This was done for the U.S. Nike-Hercules system used during the 1960s and later. Other users of the Nike-Hercules (like Taiwan and South Korea) have made this modification and produced an accurate, if expensive, surface-to-surface short range ballistic missile. The Nike-Hercules was designed to be used in surface-to-surface mode. In American service that meant the standard anti-aircraft warhead was replaced with a nuclear one set for air burst over a distant surface target. The March 2017 incident was the first time the Arrow 3 has been used in a combat situation and it was also implied that the Arrow fire control system was programmed to automatically assume that anything resembling a ballistic missile headed for Israel, whether intentional or by accident, was a danger to Israel and should be shot down just to be on the safe side. Syria responded by announcing that if Israel continued carrying out these air raids in Syria then the Assad government would use hundreds of ballistic missiles (most SCUDs and other Russian designs) against Israel without warning. This is what Arrow was designed for and what the Israeli forces constantly prepare for. For the Assads this sort of attack would be suicidal and apparently Iran forced the Syrians to make the threat and promised to join in. Iran is not normally that adventurous so there is yet another mysterious situation in the Middle East.