In Gaza Hamas continues to negotiate with Egypt for ceasefire deals that rarely last more than a few hours or days. Because of this, these deals are signed by Israel and Hamas with full knowledge of what happens next. Invariably one of the smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza (which Hamas insists it can control but cannot) fires rockets or mortar shells into Israel and Israel retaliates. Among themselves Hamas leaders know this works because every time a Palestinian gets killed at the border fence or Israel fires on a target in Gaza, it is easier for Hamas fundraisers worldwide to get more contributions. Getting that cash into Gaza, or the goods the money can buy, is another matter and increasingly difficult. Hamas does not mind because they believe they will again restore free access to Gaza and all those contributions will be available. There is a problem with this plan; Israel and Egypt know about it and are intent on preventing it. Meanwhile, Hamas continues staging the violent demonstrations at the border fence and spending what money they have to finance the demonstrations and pay victims or their families for deaths and injuries.
The latest ceasefire offer includes the smaller Islamic terrorist factions in Gaza insisting they are willing to halt the smaller but noisier night time fence demonstrations and balloon attacks in return for some economic relief (reopening of the Israeli and Egyptian crossings). The smaller factions, especially Iran backed Islamic Jihad, are very unreliable when it comes to these deals. The smaller factions contain many former Hamas members who grew disillusioned with Hamas for not being radical enough. These more radical Palestinians then join ISIL (and tend to get killed in Egypt) or more radical factions in Gaza, and insist that nothing less than the destruction of Israel will do. That leads to “victory or death” attitude where the chance of victory over Israel is extremely low but since these Islamic fanatics are on a mission from God anything is possible.
Israel realizes that most Gazans see “victory or death” strategies being pursued at the expense of the average Gaza resident. This creates growing popular resistance within Gaza. The Islamic terrorists cannot ignore that because this anger makes it easier for Israel to recruit paid informants who supply targeting information for Israeli airstrikes. Gazans also know that Israel will go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. That includes calling civilians on their cell phones and warning of an imminent airstrike nearby. Hamas tries to discourage civilians from responding to those phone calls but everyone knows that Hamas prefers civilian casualties because these “involuntary martyrs”, especially women and children, make for great propaganda. For that reason, the Israeli government resists calls from Israelis living near the Gaza border that Israel invade and occupy all or some of Gaza. That will get Gaza civilians killed and that is seen as a plus by Hamas because it will force Arab oil states to resume, for a while, their financial support. Hamas and other Islamic terror groups keep trying to come up with some action that will result in an Israeli invasion but so far that is not working. Egypt doesn’t trust Hamas and the other Islamic terror groups in Gaza either so Hamas is stuck and is running out of time and options.
Meanwhile In The North
Israel wants Iran out of Syria and would prefer that the Kurds got their autonomy. Israel is willing to make a peace deal with Syria and Turkey. Israel has successfully attacked Iranian efforts to build a military infrastructure (bases, arms factories, forces on the Israeli border) in Syria and this has made the Iranian leadership angrier and very frustrated. Iran is seen as even more unstable and unpredictable than Turkey. While Iran has backed off from the Israeli border and spent more time and effort concealing its operations and personnel in Syria, there are still plans to “destroy Israel.” These apparently revolve around upgrading over 10,000 of the longer (50 kilometers or more) range rockets Iran has provided Hezbollah. The upgrade is mainly about adding GPS guidance systems that will allow for precision attacks on Israeli targets (especially populated areas). A mass use of upgraded rockets could overwhelm Israeli anti-missile defenses.
Russia has taken the lead in brokering agreements or “understandings” deal with disagreements with Turkey or Iran over who will get what in Syria. So far Russia has had limited success with Iran and Turkey. Israel has been willing to work with Russia and that has proved useful for both countries. Israel and Russia have been cooperating in Syria for years but Turkey and Iran are determined to have their way despite the opposition they are encountering.
Iran has been spending a lot less on Syrian operations because Iran has less cash to operate with. The IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) budget for foreign operations (especially Syria and Lebanon) has been cut, apparently in a big way. The Iranian mercenary force in Syria is undergoing a reorganization and downsizing. The IRGC explains this away by describing it as a “redeployment for the attack on Israel.” The reality is that there is a lot less cash to pursue that goal and the IRGC is actually trying to avoid more airstrikes by Israel which continues to win this war with Iran. In Lebanon the well-established (since the 1980s when founded by the IRGC) Hezbollah has done the unthinkable and is asking the public for donations because Iranian subsidies have been cut, apparently drastically. The Iran government is spending more money to relieve the economic problems most Iranian face.
Meanwhile, there are a number of complications in Syria that have led to a military stalemate. Many of these revolve around what to do with the Syrian Kurds. Iran has problems with its own allies in Syria as well as Israel. The Iranians want the Syrian government (controlled by the Assad clan) to accept Iranian domination (as Hezbollah does in Lebanon) and agrees with Turkey the Syrian Kurds should not get autonomy and should accept rule by the Iranian backed Syrian government as well as Turkish control of border areas. Iran has a major problem in that no one wants them in Syria much less acting as an occupying military force dedicated to starting a war with Israel.
The Russians would prefer that the Turks and Iranians got out of Syria and that the Assads and Kurds work out a compromise (which the two seem willing to do). The Americans, Israelis and most other Middle Eastern nations agree with this.
In Gaza, Iranian agents are trying to convince the Islamic terror groups there to unite and cooperate to make a ceasefire with Israel work. That would enable Iran to pay for a military buildup similar to Hezbollah, which has Iran financed since the 1980s. There are several factors that cripple the “southern Hezbollah” effort. First Iran and Hezbollah are Shia and the Gulf Arab states are largely Sunni and basically at war with Shia Iran because of that. This is crucial because Iran is currently broke (because of low oil prices, revived American economic sanctions and decades of corrupt rule by a religious dictatorship) and unable to finance two Hezbollahs. Actually, payments to Hezbollah have been cut recently and Hezbollah is openly seeking new sources of income. Hamas has always received the bulk of its foreign aid from Gulf Arab oil states and the United States. Both of these sources have largely dried up because Hamas refuses to make peace and allow the formation of a united Palestinian government.
April 3, 2019: In the south Israeli troops found and destroyed several bombs demonstrators had thrown over the border fence during a recent demonstration. Elsewhere on the Gaza border Israeli soldiers caught three Gazans coming through the security fence and arrested them. The three were carrying knives. The security fence is part of a security zone that contains numerous sensors, vidcams and, in some cases, remotely controlled machine-gun towers. Thus determined Gazans can get through the fence but few, if any, get far from the border without being captured or killed.
Egypt is brokering yet another ceasefire with Hamas and other Islamic terror groups in Gaza.
In the West Bank, a Palestinian armed with a knife attempted to attack two Israeli civilians but was shot dead by one of the civilians.
April 2, 2019: In the south (off the Gaza coast), an Egyptian patrol boat seized a Palestinian fishing boat near the maritime border between Gaza and Egypt. Five fishermen were arrested and their boat towed back to an Egyptian port. One of the fishermen was wounded by gunfire. Israel had recently allowed Gaza fishing boats to resume operations offshore.
March 31, 2019: In the south (Gaza), several rockets were fired into Israel but caused no damage or casualties. Within hours Israeli tanks fired shells at Hamas positions close to the border fence. This led to the closing of the two Israeli crossing into Gaza, which had been reopened earlier in the day.
March 30, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas mobilized over 20,000 Palestinians to stage another violent demonstration at the border fence. The Hamas leader spoke and said he hoped Hamas would soon be able to bomb Tel Aviv. Then the demonstration turned violent. Three Palestinians were killed and over a hundred wounded as Hamas operatives led the crowd in efforts to get through the fence. Hamas had assured Israel that this demonstration would be kept away from the fence but that was not the case.
March 29, 2019: Egypt is still pressing Israel and Hamas to sign a ceasefire deal that had been negotiated a month ago. This one has Israel repairing the electrical transmission line between Gaza and Israel, expanding the fishing zone for Palestinian fishermen and allowing some foreign aid projects to resume. Qatar would be allowed to move cash into Gaza for infrastructure and economic projects. The Israeli and Egyptian border crossings would be gradually reopened to full and regular traffic flow. No one believes this deal will actually work but Egypt is determined to keep at it until one does.
March 27, 2019: In Syria, Israel launched another airstrike on Iranian facilities, this time outside Aleppo. Seven people were killed and at least one warehouse full of weapons and explosives blew up. Israel apparently coordinated this attack with Russia, which is according to an understanding Russia has with Israel. Russian media later revealed that the Israeli warplanes had flown over Jordan and western Iraq to enter Syria. This avoided any interaction with Russian S-400 air defense systems in western Syria or the Syrian S-300 batteries covering the rest of the country.
March 26, 2019: Today is the 40th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. After a decade both nations were confident that neither was a military threat to the other. But Egypt continued to back anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda in the mass media and the educational system. The U.S. was now supplying both nations with military aid and Egypt obtained American M1 tanks and F-16 jet fighters plus lots of other American gear. The Egyptian military still had and still has, lots of Russian equipment but the Western stuff is preferred.
March 25, 2019: In the south (Gaza), a long-range rocket fired into Israel exploded in a village outside Tel Aviv, wounding seven Israelis. The rocket was not intercepted by Iron Dome because there was no Iron Dome stationed that far from Gaza. At first, Hamas insisted the rocket attack was an accident. Then they said it was carried out by Iranians without permission from Hamas leaders. Finally, Hamas leaders admitted that they ordered the attack. It is unclear why efforts were made to deny responsibility. In the end, Egypt was able to confirm that Hamas had ordered the attack and some Hamas officials confirmed that.
In retaliation for this attack Israel carried out dozens of air and artillery strikes against Hamas facilities in Gaza. This included bombing the new Hamas headquarters and intelligence service buildings. Hamas believed Israel did not know the location of these buildings but the Israelis did and demolished the two multistory buildings in a residential neighborhood. Egypt quickly arranged a ceasefire in Gaza but that did not last because rockets were again fired into Israel and these attacks and Israeli retaliation attacks continued for two more days.
March 24, 2019: The leaders of Iraq, Jordan and Egypt met in Egypt to discuss military, diplomatic and economic cooperation. The military cooperation was mainly about the continuing battle against ISIL.
March 21, 2019: The United States officially backed the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, which Syria still considers as Syrian. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967 when they took the area after Syrian used these heights to attack Israeli territory to the south that was on lower ground. In 1981 Israel annexed the area. The UN opposed this but that had no impact on the situation. Israel points out that Syria has never made a serious effort to retake the Golan Heights since 1973. In that respect Israel considers the Golan Heights abandoned property and has absorbed it.
March 18, 2019: Egyptian negotiators have told their Hamas counterparts that if Hamas makes a major rocket attack on Israel and the Israelis respond with an invasion Egypt will not provide any support for Hamas. Egypt does not care if Israel destroys Hamas and takes back control of Gaza (which it voluntarily gave up in 2005). This was another indication that Hamas was losing support in the Arab world.
March 17, 2019: Egypt has ordered 24 (or more) Russian Su-35 fighter-bombers for about $2 billion. Arab Gulf oil states will probably pay for this and the U.S. will probably ignore the violation of existing sanctions on Russia.
March 16, 2019: India insists its Israeli SPICE 2000 smart bombs hit their intended targets at the Balakot Islamic terrorist training base in Pakistan during a February airstrike. But as high-resolution satellite photos became available (from commercial sources) it became clear that three smart bombs all missed their targets by the same distance and that was apparently to the GPS data being entered into the SPICE 2000 bombs incorrectly. India does not have a lot of experience using smart bombs and that would explain the error.
March 15, 2019: Russia apparently supplied Iran with the “zero click” cell phone hacking tech which Iranians recently used to hack the phone of an Israeli politician. It’s unclear if this was an authorized transfer of technology to Iran or an illegal one. Both methods are used for Iran to get needed items from Russia.
March 14, 2019: Off the southwest coast of Iran, dozens of Iranian UAVs were seen in the air near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran described it as practice for a mass UAV attack on Israel, using about ten stealthy (based on a captured American RQ-170s) UAVs and many more conventional designs. Iran regularly tests Israeli detection and defenses against their UAVs by having Hezbollah fly one into Israel from Lebanon or Syria. Iran believes it has detected an Israeli vulnerability although those test flights also provided Israel with a list of improvements they can make in their ability to deal with these UAVs. Israel is bombing Iranian weapons construction and storage facilities in Syria and Lebanon to prevent such a UAV attack from being launched from those two countries, which would be more difficult to deal with than one launched from Iran (which would have to be one way.)
March 13, 2019: Israeli intelligence released aerial photos showing the construction of what Israel describes as an Iranian weapons factory in western Syria (outside the port of Latakia). Israel also released aerial photos of a similar missile plant in Iran.