August 1, 2017:
Palestinians measure and reward success differently than most people. Currently Fatah, the group that runs the West Bank, is enjoying some success in generating popular enthusiasm for widespread violence via false accusations of Israeli threats against the al Aqsa mosque (which is just above the Wailing Wall, a popular Jewish holy place and tourist attraction) in Jerusalem. The “al Aqsa is in danger” campaign began in 2014. Seeing an opportunity to grab more headlines , sympathy and, hopefully cash contributions from the Moslem world, the Palestinian leadership (Fatah) invested some effort and cash to get something going. This sort of thing has been tried before, actually it is attempted regularly but this time it caught on in a big way. The Palestinian propaganda explicitly called for individual (”lone wolf”) efforts by young men to carry out an increasing number of attacks against Israelis. The success of the current campaign is largely a fluke. There were two successful lone wolf attacks in 2014 and Islamic terror groups have been increasingly calling for this sort of thing because their organized efforts in the West and Israel have failed. Despite all that there have been no successful lone wolf campaigns. Fatah leaders may not know that these lone wolf campaigns don’t last long and come with long-term costs. Then again, Fatah leadership have never been known for effective long-term planning.
This latest terror campaign against Israelis is fundamentally a side effect of the struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control over all Palestinians. These two groups keep score by how many Israelis they can kill as does mass media in Moslem nations. While there were fewer than ten terror related deaths a year in Israel in 2012 and 2013 (and only 21 in 2011) the war with Hamas raised this to 41 in 2014 and this made Fatah, which runs the West Bank, look bad in comparison. Thus the importance of the new campaign. The current effort will be a success if it can kill enough Israelis to justify Palestinians continuing to support Fatah rule in the West Bank. This is bad news for the Palestinians because both Hamas and Fatah are corrupt and incompetent administrators who are more concerned with their own power than with the welfare of the Palestinian people.
Palestinian leaders don’t even try to hide what they are doing as Palestinian media regularly runs stories encouraging Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to use whatever kind of violence they can to attack and kill or injure Israeli Jews. Palestinian leaders get on TV and tell teenagers that throwing rocks and fire bombs at Israelis, especially those in cars or busses, is a patriotic obligation and is justified resistance to Israeli repression. The Palestinian politicians further encourage the teenagers by pointing out that if Israel uses force against rock throwers and kills or injures any of them it is the Israelis who will be guilty of war crimes. Naturally this encourages a lot more Palestinian teenagers to throw rocks. There are rewards as those that manage to injure or kill Israelis are considered heroes in Palestinian media and throughout the Moslem world (and in some Western media as well).
Palestinians are also attracted to the financial rewards, which are considerable for many impoverished (by Fatah corruption) young residents of the West Bank. Palestinians who are jailed, injured or killed (martyred) while trying to hurt Israelis receive large payments from Fatah. For example families of dead terrorists get an immediate payment of $1,700 from Fatah plus monthly payments for the life of immediate family. These monthly payments ($400 to over $1,000 depending on the number of wives and children) can make a family relatively affluent and open new opportunities, like enough cash to afford a people smuggler who can get one or more family members to the West.
There is also a bonus ($86 a month) if you are a legal resident of Israel and a similar monthly bonus if you were a resident of Jerusalem. Fatah is currently paying about $200 million a year to the families of over 26,000 martyrs as well as smaller payments to 6,000 badly injured while trying to kill Israelis. Monthly payments to jailed Palestinians vary according to how long they have been in jail, how many dependents they have and if they are from Israel or Jerusalem. There are also bonuses for how many Israelis the prisoner killed or injured. Some of these convicts get over $50,000 a year. Fatah currently spends about $160 million a year to reward over 6,000 jailed terrorists. Fatah considers this payment program a success even though fifty Palestinians have died in the Fatah-promoted violence this year. These attacks have left a dozen Israelis dead and for Fatah that is political gold as far as Arab language media is concerned.
With this approach Fatah and Hamas together currently spend over $400 million a year to make murder economically attractive to many young Palestinians. Most of it comes from Fatah although Hamas is trying to make more payments to Palestinians in the West Bank who support Hamas and attack Israelis in the name of Hamas. The Arab language media throughout the Middle East take for granted that these payments are just and necessary for the war against Israel. Until recently Western donors, who contribute most of the aid that keeps Fatah and Hamas going, generally refused to believe that much of their money went to reward terrorism. That is changing as a growing number of Western foreign aid donors are trying to prevent their aid from being diverted to this terrorism financial incentive program.
These economic and media attention incentives have always encouraged many Palestinian men (and some women) to join the violence. These financial incentives have become common since the 1990s and some countries used to openly boast of making them (as Saddam Hussein did up until 2003). That sort of support is more covert these days because local media is more often monitored and reported on by foreign media, often via individuals finding choice items and spreading that news via the Internet.
The Northern Front
Israeli leaders recently revealed that their warplanes had attacked Iranian arms shipments in Syria “dozens of times” since 2011 and would continue doing so if Iran attempted to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Israel complains that its Western allies do not take the Iranian threat here seriously enough. This is especially true when it comes to the Iranian effort to establish a secure land route from Iran, via Iraq and Syria, to Lebanon. Israel is supported in this by Arab states.
There is also some support from Russia. This can be seen in the Russian monitored “neutral zone” in southern Syria, along the Jordanian and Israeli borders. Since established on July 7th this zone is apparently working and being monitored by 400 Russian military police. The problem is Iran and most Islamic terrorists, especially al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) have not agreed to observe the neutral zone. To deal with that threat Israel made it clear that it was not bound by the neutral zone rules either. Yet since this neutral zone was declared Iran has behaved. This has something to do with Russian refusal to act against the increasingly loud and frequent Israeli reminders that their air force will attack any Iranian attempt to set up operations near the Israeli border. This is just the beginning of a long-term struggle for who will control what in Syria. Meanwhile further west in Lebanon Iranian controlled Hezbollah is more active on the Israeli border, even if some of these moves violate the UN agreement that ended the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
With ISIL gone the only thing left to fight over is how much of Syria will a post-war Syrian government control. Turkey wants to control most of the northern border, as least the parts that border Turkey. The control is currently disputed by the Syrian Kurds, who want to control northeastern Syria (their ancestral homeland) and at least have access to the rest of the northern border, if not control of smaller border areas that were traditionally mostly Kurdish. Iran wants free access to southern Syria, especially the main roads from Iraq to southern Lebanon and areas along the Israeli border. Russia has a lease on a naval base on the Syrian coast and wants to hold onto that.
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. Yet Turkey and Russia also back the Assads and coordinate their military operations with Iran. 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. Israel has made it clear that it will, and can, make sure that does not happen. Turkey and Russia recognize that Israel is not only the stronger military power here but also has the most at stake. For decades has called for the destruction of Israel and that does not sit well with Turkey and Russia because both nations have had clashes with aggressive Iranian ambitions over the past few centuries.
Iran already has got the Assads agreeing to a long-term lease on one of the recently recaptured airbases in central Syria. Iran would pay to rebuild the base and would be free to use it without Syrian interference. Iran is seeking a similar deal for a port on the Mediterranean coast. Iran has also been seeking 5,000 Shia mercenaries for the post-war Iranian controlled force to guard the airbase and port as well as operations on the Israeli border. Israel knows that Iran wants to establish a pro-Iranian militia in Syria similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Assads know this would mean they would have to share power in Syria with Iran. Most Syrians don’t care for this, just as most Lebanese don’t care for the Hezbollah presence since the 1980s. No one, including Russia, Turkey and Israel, want another Hezbollah established in Syria. Iran will not back down on this and that has damaged their relationships with their allies.
Paranoia Runs Deeper In Gaza
In Gaza Hamas had three more Gazans executed in late May after convicting them of being Israeli informants. The trouble is one of those executed (a veteran Hamas member who had once served as bodyguard for people like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas) is widely believed to be innocent and was executed because Hamas needed someone prominent to get punished for the late March murder of Mazen Faqha. A senior Hamas terrorism official, Faqha 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 after Fuqha was killed Hamas banned anyone from leaving Gaza. That made it easier to carry out the search for the killers of Faqha. The killers were never caught but Hamas arrested 45 suspects and declared that it had disrupted a large Israeli informant network that included Palestinians responsible for the Fuqha killing. The trials for the three executed were closed and the defendants were not allowed any outside help in defending themselves.
Normally during one of these criminal investigations some of those arrested will avoid execution by cooperating with the investigation. Those who don’t cooperate often cannot or simply will not because they are innocent. These prosecutions have become more common since 2010, when there were two of them. Back then over a dozen Gaza Palestinians were being sent to prison for spying each year, apparently avoiding execution by collaborating with the investigation. Israel has always had a large network of informants in Gaza, who provide data on military, economic and political events, as well as targeting information for air attacks. There are three death penalty crimes in Gaza; murder, drug trafficking and collaborating with Israel. Most of the actual executions are for collaborating. In 2013 Hamas announced a new campaign to find and arrest people providing information to Israel. Gazans who oppose Hamas (especially members of rival Fatah) saw this as directed at them. The informants provide details of the problems Hamas is having in Gaza, like the impact of most Gaza government employees not being paid regularly, if at all since 2014 because of disagreements with the West Bank Fatah government. Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014, on paper, to form a united Palestinian government. That merger was never carried out and Fatah refused to pay government employees in Gaza. Hamas has been hustling to make partial payments ever since but even Arab donors were reluctant to help out with this.
In desperation Hamas has been negotiating a peace deal with Egypt. This will involve formal trade deals and a permanent reopening of the only official crossing from Gaza to Egypt. In return Hamas will shut down any anti-Egyptian Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza and keep it that way. Details have been worked out over more than a month of negotiations and the final deal is expected before the end of August.
July 30, 2017: In the West Bank Israeli police raided the home of a terrorist who had killed an Israeli civilian (and himself died to avoid capture). Police seized an automobile and other assets purchased with a cash reward Hamas paid to the family of the killer. Seizing assets like this is increasingly common because the Palestinian “knife terrorism” campaign has resulted in Since September 2015 when the Palestinian “knife terrorism” campaign began over 260 Palestinian attackers have been killed and many more jailed or injured because of terrorist activity. Fatah and Hamas have been spending a lot more money to reward the attackers and encourage more Palestinians to emulate them.
July 29, 2017: In Egypt police seized a truck entering Sinai (over one of the three bridges that cross the Suez Canal) because it was trying to smuggle in explosives (apparently more than 100 kg/220 pounds).
July 28, 2017: In the south dozens of young Palestinians staged violent demonstrations near the Gaza border fence with Israel. One Palestinian got too close to the fence and was shot dead. Hamas encourages this sort of spontaneous violence as a way to compete with Fatah for support from all Palestinians. Even larger and more violent demonstrations took place in the West Bank. There was one death among the attackers and 25 Palestinians were wounded as were several Israeli soldiers.
In Jerusalem Israel is reinstating age limits (males must be at least 50 years old to get in) to reduce violence at al Aqsa. Israel had tried to use metal detectors and more security cameras instead but this caused even more violent protests. The unspoken reason for the outrage was that the metal detectors and security cameras would make it permanently more difficult to smuggle weapons, explosives and anything else into al Aqsa. Besides the metal detectors were seen by many Moslems as recognition that this was mainly about Islamic terrorism not anything the Israelis have done. Many Moslems had no problem with the metal detectors and cameras but young men in the area outside the entrance made it clear that Moslems who sought to enter would face retaliation (for being un-Islamic and so on).
July 25, 2017: In Egypt the security forces completed a week of raids on Islamic terrorist groups. At least 40 Islamic terrorists were killed and many more arrested. Most were associated with ISIL, although some were believed to be local Bedouins the military did not like. The security forces suffered at least ten dead and over a dozen wounded during the week of intense operations. This effort was in reaction to a July 7 ISIL suicide car bomb attack on a checkpoint that left 21 soldiers dead. In the week following that attack over forty Islamic terrorists were killed as security forces sought to find and eliminate the group responsible for the car bomb attacks. That resulted in information making possible more raids, which continue.
July 23, 2017: In Jordan a local teenager tried to kill an Israeli security guard near the Israeli embassy. The Israeli killed the attacker and another Jordanian who appeared to be helping the attacker (but apparently wasn’t). Israel ordered its embassy staff back to Israel despite Jordanian efforts to detain the Israeli embassy guard (who had diplomatic immunity) and in response to that Jordan said it would not allow the embassy staff back into Jordan until there was a more thorough investigation of the attack. Palestinians and Islamic conservative Jordanians declared that the incident was actually Israeli violence against Jordanians and pressured the government to cancel the peace treaty with Israel and sever all diplomatic and other relationships with Israel. The government compromised and promised an investigation. Israel offered to pay compensation to the family of the Jordanian who was not actually attacking the Israeli guard. That second Jordanian was apparently an innocent bystander. Because of generations of intense anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda throughout the Middle East even countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel have to play along when there is local outrage against Israel.
In the West Bank Israeli soldiers and police arrested 29 Hamas terrorism suspects, including six senior Hamas terrorism operatives.
July 22, 2017: In the West Bank two Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces as hundreds of Palestinians (many of them teenagers) rioted over the increased Israeli security outside the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Many of the rioters throw stones and fire bombs at the Israelis who are allowed to use lethal force if the violence escalates too far. In this case one of the Palestinians died when the fire bomb he was preparing to use went off prematurely.
In Egypt the army opened a new military base on the coast near the Libyan border. The opening was attended by senior Libyan military commanders including the most effective one, general Khalifa Hiftar.
July 21, 2017: In the West Bank a Palestinian got into an Israeli settlements and went into a home and attacked four adults with a knife. Three of the Israelis died and the other was seriously wounded. The 19 year old attacker was shot and wounded by an off-duty soldier and arrested.
In Syria Russian military police (MPs) began establishing checkpoints in southern Syria to prevent Iranians or Iranian mercenaries (especially Hezbollah) from getting too close (as in 12 kilometers or less) to the Israeli border along the Golan Heights. The Russian MPs have only set up two checkpoints and ten observation posts so there is nothing to really stop Iranian forces from getting to the border.
July 20, 2017: In the West Bank a Palestinian man was shot dead as he tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint.
July 19, 2017: In Egypt security forces intensified operations along the Libyan border and in two weeks seized 22 trucks operated by smugglers. At least 28 of the Egyptian smugglers were arrested.
July 18, 2017: Air India wants to start flying directly from India (Delhi) to Israel but Israel objects to flights passing over Pakistan because if the aircraft had any problems it would have to make an emergency landing in Pakistan and Israeli citizens would be subject to abuse, even kidnapping, by the Pakistanis. But using a direct route that avoids Pakistan makes the flights longer and more expensive.
July 17, 2017: In Gaza Hamas arrested six of its members (from the Qassam Brigades) who were attempting to leave Gaza using one of the tunnels into Egypt. The six wanted to join ISIL. Hamas has been losing more and more of its most fanatic members to ISIL. This has been noticed by Egypt, which had identified a growing number of ISIL members it killed as known members of Hamas in the past. Hamas checked its own records and determined at as many as twenty Hamas members had got into Egypt without permission and joined ISIL. Hamas has lost personnel via the tunnels regularly but those cases were usually just desertion with the Hamas man disappearing into the Egyptian population and seeking a better life. Egypt never cared about that sort of thing but made it clear to Hamas that better economic relations with Egypt depended on Hamas keeping their Islamic terrorists out of Egypt.
July 16, 2017: In the south a rocket was fired from Gaza and landed in Israel near the security fence. The rocket caused no damage as it was an uninhabited area. Israel retaliated with tank gun fire against a known Hamas outpost in Gaza.
Elsewhere in the south an Israeli patrol boat off the Gaza coast shot and wounded two Palestinian fisherman. These incidents occur regularly and some of the arrested Palestinian fishermen admit that they had been using fishing boats to smuggle in explosives and other bomb making components since 2012. It was a lucrative business and worth the risk of arrest and damage or destruction of their boats when caught operating outside the agreed upon fishing areas. The Israelis knew this smuggling was still going on but had been unable to catch enough smugglers in the act to stop it. Hamas has been offering more cash for successful smuggling efforts since the mid-2014 50 Day War and the subsequent destruction of most of the smuggling tunnels into Egypt. This explains why in 2015 alone the Israeli coast guard arrested 71 Palestinian fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats off Gaza. The much higher incidence of fishing boats operating outside permissible fishing areas led to several incidents a week of Israeli coast guard boats firing on Palestinian fishing boats to force them to stop. During 2015 these incidents led to 24 Palestinians wounded and 16 fishing boats damaged. Most of these incidents occurred at night and it was believed that smugglers were tossing contraband overboard when detected. The situation continued in 2016 but was expected to die down in 2017 once a new Hamas peace deal with Egypt takes effect.
In Jerusalem Israel said it would reopen the al Aqsa mosque compound quickly and with better security (metal detectors and more surveillance cameras).
In the West Bank an overnight police raid to arrest a Palestinian man who had fired on an Israeli settlement twice the day before ended in a gun battle. The suspect was killed and his weapon recovered. The day before one of the shots he fired wounded a Palestinian man.
July 15, 2017: In the south a rocket was fired from Gaza and exploded while in the air and never set off the Israeli rocket attack alarm. The Israelis did not retaliate.
In Egypt Air Force F-16s found and destroyed 15 vehicles trying to smuggle weapons in from Libya.
July 14, 2017: In Jerusalem the al Aqsa mosque was closed after three Islamic terrorists attacked the Israeli security force and shot dead two Israeli policemen. The three attackers were shot dead and the mosque compound was closed. The three attackers apparently smuggled weapons into the mosque, a common occurrence throughout the Islamic world.
In Egypt (Giza) Islamic terrorists attacked a checkpoint killing five police and then getting away. Police had a lot of tips and information on who the attackers were and soon found where four were hiding but none would surrender and were killed in the gun battle. Two other Islamic terrorists were found elsewhere in the area and arrested.
Elsewhere in Egypt Islamic terrorists attacked German tourists in an Egyptian Red Sea resort killing two tourists with knives and wounding four others. This and several similar attacks on foreign tourists will halt the resurgence of tourist business. Attacking the economy is a favorite tactic of Islamic terrorists.
July 12, 2017: In the West Bank two Palestinians died and one was wounded when they attacked soldiers who were searching a refugee camp for weapons (which were found and removed).
July 7, 2017: The president of India completed a three day visit to Israel. This was a historic first because an Indian head-of-state had never visited Israel before. Aside from the symbolism, India announced more trade deals with Israel, which has become a major military supplier for India. Thus among the trade deals was an Indian order for the Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket/artillery system (which would be very useful in Kashmir). This visit marked the official end of 70 years of India deferring to its Moslem population (which is larger than that of Pakistan) and decades of close ties with Moslem states at the expense of good relations with Israel. Israel offered India help dealing with Islamic terrorists that Pakistan began using aggressively against India in the 1990s. India noted that Israel was a major supplier of military equipment worldwide and was especially good when it came to border security and dealing with Islamic terrorism. The alliance between Israel and India has grown stronger since 2001 and now India is quite open about it. There are more and more signs of shifts in long-established alliances involving Israel.