July 4, 2017:
The three senior Hamas leaders that were hiding out in Qatar until recently have moved to southern Lebanon where Hezbollah is trying to protect them from the Israelis. The three Hamas leaders were apparently responsible for several successful attacks on Israelis and Hamas believes, with some justification, that Israel wants these men dead or alive and on trial in Israel. The current feud between Qatar and its Arabian neighbors also signals an end of Qatari efforts to persuade Hamas and Fatah to settle their differences and form a united Palestinian government. Iran is still trying to become the new patron (financial and military) of Hamas but Hamas is not interested. At least not yet.
Iranian efforts to cultivate an alliance with the Palestinians in general are not working out so well. Since 2011 Arab governments have been more open with their criticism of the Palestinians. 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 decreased its support for a while, in large part because of the sanctions and low oil prices but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia in Gaza, 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 made Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations were concerned. Hamas made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response 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.
Eyes On Lebanon
Israeli aerial, space based and on-the-ground efforts to keep track of what goes on in Lebanon have been consistently accurate, despite energetic efforts by Hezbollah and Iran to hide things. As a result of all this surveillance Israeli media is one of the best sources (for Israelis, Lebanese and everyone else) about what is going on in southern Lebanon. That area has been controlled by Iran (via the local Hezbollah organization) since the 1990s and for a long time then Hezbollah had some success in hiding things. But since the 2006 war with Israel, when some of those secrets were revealed, an embarrassed Israel has increased its surveillance efforts and regularly warns Lebanon, while taunting Hezbollah and Iran, about dangerous things Iran is doing in Lebanon. The latest warnings are about the Iranian effort to build weapons production facilities, especially ones for long range rockets, In Lebanon. Israel has made it clear they know where these facilities are being built and will destroy them before they can begin production. Naturally this alarms civilians living near these “secret” facilities and discourages Iran from trying to build such military facilities outside of Hezbollah controlled territory in southern Lebanon. Israel keeps repeating that it will bomb Hezbollah facilities wherever they are in Lebanon and wants everyone to know that the Lebanese government has been informed, repeatedly.
Israel has also managed to interfere with the Iranian alliance with Russia in Syria. Russia realized it had some unique 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.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil states have quietly formed a military alliance with Israel. They get away with this because most of Arab citizens of these oil states see ISIL and Iran as more of a threat than Israel but are less likely than their rulers to admit that Israel would be a splendid economic and military ally. The only problem is nearly a century of anti-Israel propaganda.
The natural gas deposits off the Israeli coast are now believed to be about 13 percent larger than previously thought. In late 2014 Israel announced a third major natural gas discovery off their coast. This one was worth over $100 billion dollars. The two previous ones are worth over a trillion dollars. These discoveries make Israel largely energy independent and a major exporter of natural gas. This is a recent development as serious exploration for natural gas off the Israeli coast only got started in the late 90s and since then more and more natural gas has been found offshore in the eastern Mediterranean, from Lebanon to Egypt. Israeli commercial production began in 2013 with the completion of pipelines extending 150 kilometers offshore. Israeli GDP was continuing to grow without the natural gas discoveries but with it Israel becomes largely energy independent and an energy exporter as well.
July 3, 2017: The Syrian Army declared a temporary truce along its southern border, to try and persuade rebels fighting down there to participate in the peace talks being held in Kazakhstan. None of the rebels are willing to attend and only Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Assad government show up and make deals no one pays much attention to. Currently the Assad government controls about 70 percent of the remaining Syrian population. About a quarter of the 2011 population, almost all of them anti-Assad Sunnis, have fled the country and probably will not return to an Iran dominated Syria. The Sunnis are still a majority, just a much smaller one. The rebels, (mostly the Kurd led SDF) control about a quarter of the population and ISIL controls about a quarter of the land areas (mostly in the largely desert eastern Syria) but only about five percent of the population. The Assads control only about a third of the country, making it easier for them to protect and patrol the population they control. The Assads have the coast and the two largest cities (Damascus and Aleppo). The only thing left to fight over is how much access Iran gets to Syria. Israel is openly hostile to a permanent Iranian presence in Syria and Turkey quietly agrees with that. Russia agrees with Turkey and Israel on this but does not say so (much) in public. The Sunni Arab states are more open in opposing Iranian plans here. Despite all that Iran is determined to have a land route from Iran to Lebanon and military installations in post-war Syria.
In the south an Israeli Skylark (“Sky Rider”) UAV crashed inside Gaza. This is the second Skylark to crash in the last week. The other one came down in the West Bank and was recovered by Israeli soldiers. The 4.6 kg (10 pound) Skylark is mainly 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 seven times on the Lebanese or Gaza border or inside the West Bank so far this year. Skylarks are one of the most frequently used UAVs on the borders and counter-terror operations in general.
July 2, 2017: Israeli police arrested nine Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank, including several who had been convicted before, served time in jail and went back to their terrorism efforts as soon as they were free again.
July 1, 2017: In the north (Golan Heights), two mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Israel and in response Israeli artillery destroyed the Syrian army mortar. Despite more than a week of this retaliation (because of at least 20 separate incidents of shells, rockets or bullets landing in Israel) the Syrians only broadcast a protest once, in which the blamed it all on Israel and threatened serious repercussions if the Israelis continued to defend themselves.
On the coast an American Nimitz class carrier visited the port of Haifa for the first time in 17 years. The carrier was too large to dock at the port itself and anchored 4,000 meters offshore. From there most of the 5,000 crew was allowed to visit the port, especially on July 4th, an American holiday. The carrier is one of those that has often been on duty in the western Mediterranean since 2002 to support operations against Islamic terrorists.
June 30, 2017: In the West Bank an Israeli police raid on an illegal weapons stockpile was met with gunfire from one Palestinian, who was promptly shot dead. He was found using one of the illegal weapons that are sold to anyone who can pay (be they terrorists or gangsters).
In the north (Golan Heights) Israeli warplanes bombed a Syrian Army position near the border after some machine-gun fire landed in Israel.
The German government approved the sale of three more Dolphin class submarines to Israel (which already has five, plus one under construction).
June 29, 2017: In the south Hamas was embarrassed when eleven Islamic terrorists they had recently released from jail showed up in Egypt (northern Sinai) openly proclaiming their allegiance to the Egyptian branch of ISIL. Hamas had recently increased security along its Egyptian border. The eleven said they left Gaza via smuggling tunnels. This comes a week after five former members of the Hamas security forces deserted, got to Egypt and openly joined ISIL.
June 28, 2017: In the north (Golan Heights), a mortar shell fired from Syria landed in Israel near a village. There were no injuries or damage and Israeli artillery fired on the Syrian army position from which the mortar fire came.
Further west, on the Lebanese border with Israel, Hezbollah erected Hezbollah and Iranian flags along the border along with signs that said “We are coming.”
In the south Hamas announced that it had agreed to build a security fence on their side of the Egyptian border and establish a hundred meter wide security zone along this border, which would not be constantly patrolled. This was part of a deal with Egypt to get the Egyptian border crossing reopened on a permanent basis. That crossing has been closed most of the time since 2014 because Egypt believes Hamas provides sanctuary for (or at least tolerates) Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza that carry out attacks in Egypt. After 2014 Egypt increased security on its border with Gaza including finding and shutting down most of the smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. This new deal with Egypt is part of a major change in direction for Hamas, which is temporarily giving up terrorism and concentrating on improving their performance as the rulers of Gaza and rival with Fatah for the long dormant role as undisputed ruler of Gaza and the West Bank. As part of this effort units of the Hamas military long devoted to preparing terror attacks against Israel are being reorganized (very publicly) to be more para-military. Hamas is also trying to convince Israel that it is backing off on preparations for another war with Israel. Hamas is also responding to growing economic pressure from Fatah, which still controls most of the foreign aid money coming in for all Palestinians. Hamas is also seen (by manor donors in Europe and the Persian Gulf) as responsible for most of the problems the Palestinians are having. But Hamas, and most Palestinians recognize that Fatah is far more corrupt and inept than Hamas and that includes years of cooperation with the Israelis to deal with terrorists who threaten both Israel and Fatah. This includes groups like Hamas and ISIL. So Hamas is making a major move here, to get its own house (Gaza) in order, gain control over the West Bank and then revert back to the organization that will destroy Israel, probably as an ally of Iran.
June 27, 2017: In the south a rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel. Several hours later Israeli aircraft carried out attacks on two targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas. Later an ISIL affiliated terror group in Gaza took credit for the attack on Israel.
West of the Nile River Egyptian Air Force F-16s destroyed a convoy of twelve trucks coming into Egypt from Libya via a desert trail just north of the “sand sea” that is largely impassable to trucks. Video of the airstrike showed some of the trucks exploding twice as their cargoes of ammunition ignited. Smuggling Libyan weapons (looted from government warehouses during the 2011 revolution) into Egypt is still big business especially since Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups, plus criminal gangs, are ready to buy whatever gets into Egypt.
June 26, 2017: In the north (Golan Heights), several mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Israel and several hours later Israel fired back at where the mortar fire came from. This was the third day in a row this has happened. Sometimes it is small unguided rockets that land on the Israeli side of the border. So far there have been no injuries and little damage from all this stray fire from Syria.
There was also some stray fire from Syria landing near a UN peacekeeper outpost in the Golan Heights. This rarely happens as there is nothing to be gained by Syrian Army or rebels firing on the UN positions. Israelis came over to help with the investigation and concluded that this really was accidental fire, aided by a brush fire in a nearby minefield that set off one or two mines. That could be misinterpreted as mortar fire. But the Israeli radars in the area detect mortar shells and noted none were detected coming at the UN post, despite the explosions.
June 24, 2017:
In the south Syrian troops, trying to stop a rebel (al Qaeda affiliate formerly called al Nusra) offensive in Quneitra province that threatened Assad control of a key road fired into Israel. The army troops fired at the rebels who were close to the Israeli border and 10 mortar and tank shells landed in the Golan Heights. No one was hurt but Israel decided that this was not all accidental because several of those shells were from Syrian tanks and tank guns are fired directly at a target, not over a hill or building at something the mortar crew can’t see. Normally if rocket or mortar fire from Syria lands in an uninhabited area of Israel (Golan Heights) there was no return fire. When the fire from Syria is deliberate the Israelis always fire back. In this case the Israelis sent in a helicopter gunship to destroy two Syrian tanks and a machine-gun firing from a bunker. The next day several mortar shells also landed in the Golan Heights. There were no injuries and an Israeli airstrike destroyed two artillery positions and a large truck carrying ammunition. The Syrians and Iranians make a lot of threats after this sort of thing, like they always do. The Israelis note the threats and ignore them, as always.
June 23, 2017: Despite mounting evidence that Fatah has long diverted aid money from the West to support terrorism Fatah is refusing to halt the practice and accusing Israel and the United States of orchestrating this continuing stream of evidence (usually little more than translations of Fatah media comments in Arabic to Palestinians and other Arabs) proving that Farah is lying. The Fatah refusal to admit its guilt and attempts to divert attention has led a growing number of donors to stop giving.
June 22, 2017: The lights came back on in most of Gaza as fuel deliveries from Egypt resumed yesterday and allowed the Gaza power plant to resume operation. Fatah has cut off supplies of fuel from Israel and until recent peace gestures by Hamas, Egypt had no reason to do Hamas any favors.
In Egypt the government extended the state of emergency (martial law) for three more months. 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. The current state of emergency began in April because of increased Islamic terrorist activity, especially efforts to attack Israel from Egyptian territory. So far Egypt has continued to uncover and attack or arrest Islamic terrorists all over Sinai and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the country. There has been more Islamic terrorists activity coming out of Libya apparently because of recent defeats ISIL and other Islamic terror groups have suffered there.
June 21, 2017: Egyptian troops in the western desert (near the Libyan border) found and attacked an ISIL camp, killing seven of the Islamic terrorists. These were some of the men involved in several attacks on Christians (Copts) in Egypt since last December. Over a hundred Christians have died in this violence and the government was under growing pressure to find those responsible.
June 20, 2017:
Israel carried out
successful test of a new version of its LORA (Long Range Artillery Rocket) system that can be mounted and fired from standard shipping containers. The test involved a truck hauling a shipping container parked on a ship deck.
Israel says it already has an export customer for the container version of LORA, but won’t say who it is or whether the containerized LORA was built at the request of an export customer, the Israeli military or both. Since Israel already has nuclear weapons mounted on its longer range Jericho ballistic missiles, similar warheads are an option for containerized LORA as used by the Israeli military. That is not likely, but is can be done. Meanwhile the LORA manufacturer mentioned a ground (and bunker) penetrating conventional warhead for LORA. Israel introduced LORA in 2007 and back then it was noted that the Israeli weapon was similar to the U.S. ATACMS. Each LORA missile weighed up to 1.8 tons depending on which types of warhead carried. These weighed from 400 to 600 kg. Normally range is 300 kilometers.
Meanwhile on the Syrian border Israeli troops prepared to monitor a new security arrangement on the Syrian side of the border. This is the result of the U.S., Russia and Jordan agreeing that Iranian backed (and often led) forces would not be allowed within 30 kilometers of the Jordanian border. This includes the Syrian city of Daraa. This would prevent the Hezbollah and Iran supported Shia mercenaries from interfering with American and Jordanian operations on the Syrian side of the border. The Jordanians are mainly concerned with the many Syrian refugees that continue to head for refuge in Jordan. The American backed secular Syrian rebels who operate from bases in Jordan and now on the Syrian side of the border can also use this safe zone. These rebels are often accompanied by American advisors and air controllers. This area has seen a lot of fighting since 2011. In late 2016 it was estimated that about eight percent of the casualties since 2011 occurred down south (Daraa Province and along the Israeli and Jordan borders). Israel is a silent partner in this agreement because of similar discreet links with Jordan (going back to the 60s) and Russia and more open ties to the United States. Some Syrian factions accuse Israel of supplying cash and other items to some Syrian rebels. Israel denies this but does admit to a very public program of allowing over 3,000 (so far) badly wounded Syrians, especially women and children, into Israel for free medical care. The Syrians benefitting from this may feel obliged to return the favor in some way (like providing information on what Iranian and other Islamic radical groups are up to) and that could be described as a relationship. But that has a different meaning in the Middle East than in other parts of the world and is often misinterpreted in the West and misrepresented in places like Russia.
June 18, 2017: Iran fired six of its new Zulfiqar ballistic missiles at ISIL targets in Syria (Palmyra and Deir Ezzor). Only two of the missiles hit anything of value but some of them travelled about 620 kilometers. Four apparently landed in western Iraq. Iran denied these Israeli claims about accuracy and Israel dismissed the denials as more Iranian posturing. This public disagreement went on for a week and the Israelis did not back down with their claims that the Iranian missiles performed poorly. For a nation constantly threatened with attack by Iranian ballistic missiles the Israeli observation of the Zulfiqar performance is yet another embarrassment for Iran. The Iranian media described (and published pictures) of the Zulfiqar ballistic missile. This appeared to be another version of the Fateh-110 which is a 3.5 ton, solid fuel ballistic missile with a range of 250 kilometers and a half ton warhead. Iran first revealed Fateh-110 in 2002. These missiles were also manufactured in Syria (as the M-600). The Iranian version appeared to be based on the Chinese DF-11, which entered service in 1979 and continues to be used by China and was exported to Pakistan. The DF-11 (also known as the M11) is a single stage solid fuel missile that weighs 4.2 tons, has a range of 300 kilometers, and carries a .8 ton warhead. By 2011 there were reports of a DF-11A which used a smaller warhead and larger solid fuel to achieve a range of over 700 kilometers. Several years later an update of the DF-11A entered service with a more accurate and reliable guidance system. By 2013 Iran was airlifting in more Fateh-110s to Syria, apparently meant for Hezbollah. These longer range missiles, that can reach all of Israel’s major cities, are a primary target for Israeli forces in any future war with Hezbollah and some were destroyed by during at least one of the recent Israeli air strikes in Syria.
The Iranian ballistic missile attack was in response to a June 7th attack in the Iranian capital by six ISIL men armed with firearms and explosive vests. The attack went after two targets; the parliament (in central Tehran) and a shrine to religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who established the current religious dictatorship) south of Tehran. All six attackers were killed but not before seven other people died and 43 wounded. It was soon discovered five of the dead ISIL men were Iranians who police knew or suspected had left the country to join ISIL. The five apparently returned to set up an ISIL branch in Iran and ISIL boasts that this is the first attack of many in Iran.
June 16, 2017: In Jerusalem a policewoman was stabbed to death by two Palestinians, one of them armed with a gun that jammed. The two attackers were shot dead before they could attack anyone else. Elsewhere in the city another Palestinian trying to attack with a knife was shot dead before doing any damage.
June 10, 2017:
Russian diplomats told their American counterparts that recent American airstrikes on Russian allies in Syria was unacceptable. Unlike some Russian politicians, the Russian diplomats did not threaten to order their troops to shoot at the Americans. Iran is fine with getting into a fight with the Americans although NATO member Turkey has mixed feelings. In Syria Russians are more concerned about not angering Israel, but then the Americans and Israelis work closely together and Syria is turning out to be less of an opportunity for Russia and more like a deadly trap. The American and Russian diplomats apparently spent a lot of time talking about how to handle the Qatar mess.
June 9, 2017: In the south (Gaza) A large (several hundred people) crowd organized and led by Hamas members attacked Israeli troops at the border fence. One Hamas man was shot dead and six were wounded. These demonstrations are attempts to inflict injuries on Israeli troops and provoke a violent response from the Israelis so Hamas can claim the resulting Palestinian casualties were the result of unprovoked Israeli aggression. That the Israelis have video of all these encounters does not deter Hamas.
June 7, 2017: In the south (Gaza) there was an explosion in the Gaza city of Rafah that killed three Hamas members, including one known Hamas military commander. There was probably a training accident.