June 6, 2017:
The pace of the current Palestinian terror campaign against Israelis continues to decline. Palestinian media, particularly in the West Bank, continues to encourage these suicidal lone wolf attacks but fewer Palestinians are willing to participate. A major reason for this is the attacks don’t change anything for the Palestinians and appear to be making their situation worse. For example a growing number of Western donor nations are cutting or halting their financial aid to the Palestinians. This is largely because both Fatah and Hamas have made it clear (especially in the Palestinian controlled Arab language media) that they are not interested in making peace with Israel under any conditions and strive to drive all Jews out of what is now Israel and replace that with a Palestinian state. Arab supporters are angry as well, but more about the Palestinians constantly squabbling among themselves and supporting Islamic terrorist groups.
The Arab donors (especially the Gulf oil states) have quietly criticized the Palestinians for years about their inability to make peace with Israel, despite plenty of opportunities. This criticism increased after the Palestinian leadership spilt in 2005 as the more radical Hamas took control of Gaza. It became public in the last few years as the Arab states realized they were better off supporting Israel than the Palestinians . Since 2016 Arab governments have allowed more and more of this criticism to be discussed in public. This process accelerated after 2016 when the Arab Gulf states admitted they could no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the recent Iranian announcement that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its nearly two million Palestinians since 2005. Iran supported Hamas early on. There were recently more rumors that Iran had stopped supporting Hamas. Iran had decreased its support, in large part because of the sanctions and low oil prices but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt and that has turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. The Iran link makes Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations are concerned. Hamas has made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response to Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid (which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders) but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and their effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians.
Cutting ties with Qatar recently is partly because Qatar based and subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network often reports bad behavior by Egyptian security forces, including the murder of civilians and trying to pass that off as a clash with Islamic terrorists. While that happens, al Jazeera also gives sympathetic treatment to Islamic radical and terrorist groups, especially in Egypt. Qatar also openly supports Hamas, although they recently ordered some senior Hamas leaders to leave Qatar for another sanctuary. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (and worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well. Meanwhile Egypt admits that in northern Sinai 6,000 people have died from local violence since 2013. Not all of those dead are security forces, pro-government tribal forces or Islamic terrorists. Some are civilian caught in the crossfire that the government does not want talk about. This is a common thing in Middle Eastern nations and there is apparently no easy cure.
Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Qatar has long been a supporter of other Islamic terrorist groups and is effective at that despite being a tiny (11,437 square kilometers/4,416 square miles) nation with a population of 2.1 million. Only about 12 percent of the population are citizens. Qatar has also long been active in trying to get the Palestinians to unite and make peace. This has not worked out well. For example i
n late 2012
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the ruler of Qatar visited Gaza and pledged $400 million to build 3,000 new homes in Gaza. Thani was trying to get Hamas away from its alliance with Iran and towards working with the Fatah government in the West Bank to create a united Palestinian government that can negotiate a peace deal with Israel. Qatar wants to end the state of war between Hamas and Israel and hoped cash and public support would do it. Qatar is very wealthy (it has the highest per-capita income in the Persian Gulf) and its ruler has been increasingly active in backing change in the Arab world. Qatar was an early supporter of the Syrian rebels, including the Islamic terrorist groups and urges political reforms throughout the Arab world, something that has polarized Arabs everywhere. For example, a major event during Thani’s 2012 visit to Gaza, a rally at a soccer stadium was cancelled at the last minute because most Palestinians were not interested and about 80 percent of the seats in the stadium were empty. Most Gazans are fed up with Hamas, and not showing up to honor the sheikh was one way to demonstrate their opposition without getting arrested.
In Sinai Egypt has acquired a powerful ally as an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) effort to coerce the largest Bedouin tribe in Sinai (the Tarabins) into submission backfired. There are only about a thousand armed ISIL men in Sinai but they are fierce and brash. The Tarabins are five percent of the 600,000 Bedouin in the Sinai and most of the adult men are armed. Worse for ISIL the Sinai Bedouin have long been the most active smugglers in the region and will generally work with anyone who can pay. But ISIL has been making additional demands (like not smuggling alcohol or tobacco products) and Hamas is seen as collaborating with ISIL at the expense of the Bedouin. Some Bedouin tribes are more supportive of Islamic terror groups, especially those tribes that are traditional rivals of the Tarabins. ISIL has some success in manipulating those rivalries but more tribes are fed up with ISIL and see them as a bunch of suicidal losers. For Sinai Bedouin the main enemy remains the Egyptian government.
Hamas can’t afford to antagonize the Bedouin and it is unclear how this dispute will be resolved. ISIL appears willing to fight while Hamas is seeking to make temporary peace deals with everyone. That is normal with Islamic terror groups, who like to quote passages from the Koran approving of truces with enemies, and breaking those agreements when the opponent is an infidel (non-Moslem). Groups like ISIL and Hamas believe that any Moslems who do not agree with them are not Moslems. The Sinai Bedouin were never really into that sort of thing and would make deals with anyone (including the Israelis) to survive. The Israelis trust Bedouin on their side of the border (the Negev desert) where most of Israel’s 210,000 Bedouin live. While some Israeli Bedouin have joined Islamic terror groups, most prefer to join the Israeli military and many make a career of it, becoming officers or senior NCOs in the process. Most Israeli Bedouin do not consider themselves Palestinian and have largely stayed out of Palestinian political conflicts.
Egypt has become more openly active in the Libyan civil war. The pro-Egypt HoR (House of Representatives) government that rules eastern Libya and much of the oil apparently recently asked Egypt to bomb certain Islamic terror ground in the inland city of Derna. HoR military forces (ground troops and warplanes) have also been fighting in Derna and wanted to coordinate their operations with the Egyptian airstrikes that began on May 26th in retaliation for an ISIL attack on Egyptian Christians in Egypt. The air raids used the latest Egyptian warplanes (French made Rafales and American made F-16Cs). The only possible opposition was some older Mirage F1 warplanes the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) has been refurbishing near the coastal city of Misrata. None of these have shown up to oppose the Egyptian air strikes. Egypt also sent a few dozen additional special operations troops to reinforce the small (under a hundred) force of Egyptian troops in eastern Libya working with the Hiftar forces. Several hundred foreign special operations troops and technical personnel have been in Libya, mostly eastern Libya, since 2011. Egypt has been trying to persuade the U.S., France and Russia to send in more special operations troops. Libya has been one area where Egypt and Qatar have been on the same side as both have supported the HoR and their military commander Khalifa Hiftar. Qatar was one of the new Arab states that sent warplanes in 2011 to join the NATO air campaign against Libyan dictator Kaddafi.
Israeli efforts are one reason why Iran continues to suffer embarrassing setbacks in Syria. For example, in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran backed Shia mercenaries (mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan) are coming as close as they can to the Tanf border crossing and the U.S. backed rebels who control it. The pro-Assad mercenaries tried to reach Tanf on May 20th but were turned away by an American airstrike and the threat of more of that is apparently all that is keeping the Iranian forces away. Iran wants to seize border crossings in order to clear a road from Damascus (the Syrian capital in the southwest) to border crossings controlled by pro-Iran forces.
There are currently two of these major crossings that have been cleared of ISIL forces. One at Tanf and another to the north (in Hasakah province). These two would make it possible for Iran to move personnel and supplies by road from Iran to Assad controlled territory and then into Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon. That only works if pro-Iran (or at least neutral or bribable) forces control each side. The U.S. and Israel are determined to prevent this “Iran to Lebanon” highway. Technically Russia backs Iran in this endeavor but Russia also has an understanding with Israel and Turkey to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. At the moment Russia is giving verbal backing to Iranian efforts at Tanf but is not making any moves to provide military assistance.
Russia has some tricky opportunities here. Israel considers Iran its major military threat and for that reason is actively involved opposing Iran in Syria. Iran’s allies there, Russia and Turkey, are not backing Iranian efforts to destroy Israel once ISIL is destroyed in Syria. Russia is quite open about its good relationships and cooperation with Israel while Turkey is making it clear that if pressed to choose sides, they would prefer Israel to Iran. Nevertheless Turkey is still run by an Islamic political party that is highly critical of Israel, and the West in general. But that’s another problem.
June 5, 2017: Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, economic and military relations with Qatar. This comes after years of disagreements over support for Islamic terrorism and the perception among Arab states that Qatar could not be trusted.
For Egypt this dispute is nothing new, or secret. In 2015 Egypt openly criticized Qatar, whose monarch finances the al Jazeera satellite news network and supported the recently ousted Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood government. Egypt also accused Qatar of supporting Islamic terrorists in Libya and Hamas in Gaza. In response Qatar recalled its ambassador from Egypt over the escalating dispute. In contrast Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE supported the new military government in Egypt but wanted laws passed to help protect the billions of dollars in investment Gulf state investors were willing to make in Egypt.
Qatar has long been accused of going too far in trying to placate threats (like Iran and Islamic terror groups). That’s an old custom in the Middle East but is less possible, and useful, in an age of instant global media and communications. You can no longer do this sort of thing covertly and Qatar refused to admit it was “dealing with the enemy.” In this case it was archenemy (of Arabs in general) Iran as well as al Qaeda and ISIL. To further complicate the situation Qatar hosts a major American military base and 10,000 American military personnel.
June 2, 2017: In Egypt (Sinai) two more Palestinians from Gaza were killed while fighting for ISIL against Egyptian soldiers. Hamas denies that it encourages Gazans to join ISIL in Egypt but the Egyptians point out that Hamas has not shut down other Islamic terror groups in Gaza.
June 1, 2017: In the West Bank a teenage girl stabbed an Israeli soldier and caused light wounds. The attacker was shot and wounded. These attacks are still regularly promoted in Palestinian media. This is becoming a problem for Fatah because more Western political leaders are noting that the Palestinians have, for years, been promoting the idea that Israel must be destroyed. But in their non-Arabic media they insist they are eager to make a peace deal. Even Arab governments are criticizing this Palestinian tactic.
May 31, 2017: In western Egypt (Bahariya Oasis) four soldiers were killed when an explosive vest went off after they had seized from Islamic terrorists. An Egyptian aircraft spotted the two vehicles carrying Islamic terrorists and weapons. The aircraft attacked, caused some damage and called for nearby soldiers to check it out. Some pf the Islamic terrorists managed to flee but they left behind weapons and equipment.
May 30, 2017: The Sudanese government has tightened its ban on agricultural and animal product imports from Egypt and through Egypt. Earlier in May Sudan accused Egypt of providing support to anti-Sudan rebel groups. The two countries also have some unresolved border disputes and Egyptian accusations that the Islamic government of Sudan is aiding Islamic terrorists in Egypt. Sudan used to be an open ally of Iran but in the last few years has changed its mind (apparently with the help of some financial aid from Arab oil states to key Sudanese officials).
May 29, 2017: Outside Jerusalem a Palestinian tried to stab a policeman but was killed.
May 28, 2017: In Egypt (Sinai) local Bedouin tribal leaders warned Hamas to stop supporting ISIL or risk losing any cooperation with the Bedouin.
May 26, 2017: In southern Egypt (Minya province) ten men in military uniforms fired on a bus, killing 30 Coptic Christians and wounding 29. This came after some of the armed men boarded the bus and demanded that everyone prove they were Moslems or die. The Copts began reciting Christian prayers and the armed men opened fire. The Copts were on their way to visit a nearby monastery and the casualties included women and children. The killers then drove away in three pickup trucks. ISIL took credit for the attack and Egypt blamed ISIL and within hours of the attack Egypt sent warplanes to bomb suspected ISIL locations in Derna, a town 200 kilometers southwest of Benghazi. The Egyptian airstrikes continued into early June . Some of the targets hit actually belonged to al Qaeda or tribal militias on good terms with Islamic terror groups.
Meanwhile some Minya officials back in Egypt say that the gunmen who attacked the bus were locals participating in a feud and had no contacts in Libya. Whatever the case nearly a hundred Egyptian Christians (Copts) have been murdered in terror attacks so far in 2017, most of them in four major attacks like this. ISIL and other Islamic radical groups in Egypt have been increasingly hostile to local Christians. In Libya ISIL is still active as are many arms smugglers to get weapons and ammo into Egypt and sell to whoever can pay best. That is usually Islamic terrorist groups like ISIL or Hamas in Gaza. ISIL had a bad year in 2016 which included several major defeats in Libya. By the end of 2016 ISIL members and their families (a thousand or so people, most of them armed) fled to Derna from former strongholds in the coastal cities of Sirte and (further east) Benghazi. Egyptian backed Libyan forces (loyal to general Khalifa Hiftar) followed the ISIL remnants to Derna, which had been largely free of ISIL control since early 2016. Derna is about the same size (100,000) as the former ISIL “capital” Sirte. The ISIL reverses at Derna were the result of stubborn local militias and the recent arrival of Hiftar forces, which were unsuccessful in establishing control. Hiftar was not popular with some of the Derna militias, especially those composed of Islamic militias or al Qaeda and these groups eventually fought back. So far in 2017 the Islamic terror groups in Derna are under attack again by Hiftar forces and being pushed out of the area. The UN backed GNA accuses Hiftar of illegally attempting to take control of Derna while Hiftar says he wants to remove any Islamic conservative or terrorist militias still in Derna. Meanwhile the pro-GNA militias that drove ISIL out of Sirte in mid-2016 are much less enthusiastic about chasing ISIL remnants south into desert. That is one reason GNA is calling on NATO for military assistance. Aside from the occasional airstrike and a hundred or so special operations troops on the ground, NATO prefers to keep its people out of Libya. Russia has a similar attitude as do the neighboring countries. All of these openly support Hiftar and note that Hiftar is able to keep up the pressure on ISIL in eastern Libya while the ISIL refugees from the central Libya coastal city of Sirte find that the GNA forces are not nearly as aggressive about dealing with potentially hostile militias in southern Libya.
May 25, 2017: In Egypt (northern Sinai) a roadside bomb near Rafah killed three soldiers.
May 24, 2017: In Syria the U.S. and Russia agreed to expand their “de-confliction” agreement regarding each other’s warplanes operating over Syria. Russia had cancelled this on April 8th to protest the American reaction to the Assads use of chemical weapons but agreed to restore in in early May. This agreement avoids accidental clashes and the U.S. observed the agreement by informing Russia shortly before the American cruise missiles were launched on April 7th. Russia did not cancel a similar agreement with Israel.
May 23, 2017: A rocket, apparently fired from Egypt (Sinai) landed in a deserted area causing no damage or casualties.
Sudan accused Egypt of supporting anti-Sudan rebels in western Sudan (Darfur). Sudan claimed that their security forces had recently seized Egyptian armored vehicles that were in the hands of guerrilla forces fighting in southern Darfur. Egypt denied the accusation.
In the north an Israeli Skylark crashed on the Lebanese side of the border, the second such incident this year. The 4.6 kg (10 pound) Skylark UAV is used by combat units for reconnaissance. The battery powered UAV can stay aloft 90 minutes at a time and losses like this are usually because of component failure. Skylarks have gone down at least five times on the Lebanese or Gaza border so far this year. Skylarks are one of the most frequently used UAVs on the borders and counter-terror operations in general.
May 20, 2017: Israel now has six F-35I fighters and several have been flying training missions near the Syrian border, and maybe even across it. This comes after years of overcoming opposition from the United States and allowing Israel to modify the F-35A to use Israeli electronic warfare equipment, software and also handle Israeli made missiles and smart bombs as well a smart helmet (something Israel pioneered). This led to the Israeli aircraft being designated the F-35I. Now these aircraft are in the air, often armed and within range of hostile radars and anti-aircraft missiles.
May 19, 2017: In Egypt (north Sinai) soldiers found and destroyed two smuggling tunnels because they were being used to move Islamic terrorists and weapons between Gaza and Egypt. Further south, at the Suez Canal, soldiers arrested a man when they found his car was carrying 1,800 rounds of ammunition.
May 17, 2017: In the West Bank Israeli police made a series of raids and arrested 22 terrorist suspects. Also raided were the homes of terrorists who kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in 2014. Police seized cash, computers and two cars. These assets were the result of large cash payments from the Palestinian government to families of Palestinians killed or jailed for attacks on Israelis.
A small forces of Western (U.S., British, Norwegian) special operations troops has been sent to eastern Syria to block Iranian efforts to clear a path for their Iran-to-Syria road. Iraq will not block Iranian air or ground traffic and the Assads encourage it. If this route can be established it would make it much cheaper to get weapons, ammo and other military equipment from Iran to Syria and southern Lebanon (controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah). Israel and the Sunni Arab states and Turkey oppose this Iranian plan while Russia is trying to remain neutral.
In Libya general Hiftar met with the head of the Egyptian military in Benghazi to discuss joint operations against Islamic terrorist groups in Libya (many of them allied with the GNA).
May 11, 2017: In Gaza Hamas arrested another local man and accused him of shooting dead a Hamas leader in March. Hamas said this latest suspect confessed to the shooting. Hamas has yet to present any proof that Israel was behind this shooting. During April Hamas executed three men (by hanging) in Gaza it had accused of spying for Israel. This makes 22 such executions since 2010. 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. The current activity is in response to the late March murder of Mazen Faqha, a senior Hamas terrorism official, who was shot dead in Gaza 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 soon agreed to lift the travel ban for aid officials.
May 10, 2017: In Egypt (Sinai) ISIL killed 13 members of a local Bedouin tribe. This is the latest clash between ISIL and this tribe, which ISIL accuses of working for Israel. Many Bedouin in Sinai have turned against ISIL and the Islamic terror group wants to intimidate the tribesmen into submission.