May 1, 2019:
In the West Bank the Palestinian Fatah government is threatening to cause an economic catastrophe by refusing partial payments from Israel and donor nations unless everyone stops deducting the money Fatah spends on supporting and encouraging terrorist activity. This issue has become more of an issue since 2018 when Israel passed a law to deduct from the $130 million a month (it collects in taxes and fees for the Palestinians in the West Bank) the amount (over $20 million) Fatah pays out to Palestinian terrorists in prison or to their families for deceased terrorists. The U.S. had already enacted a similar law and was deducting a similar amount from the $300 million it currently gives to the West Bank Palestinians. Other foreign donors have taken similar measures.
Fatah complains that the U.S., Israel and other donors are being unfair. Yet it is no secret that many Palestinians become terrorists because they are attracted to the financial rewards, which are considerable for many impoverished (by Fatah corruption and incompetence) young residents of the West Bank. Palestinians who are jailed, injured or killed (martyred) while trying to kill 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 the 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” (dead terrorists) 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 so on. 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 hundreds of Palestinians have died in the Fatah-promoted violence. These attacks also left a few 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. In response to the current American and Israeli efforts to penalize Fatah for what is spent to encourage terror attacks, Fatah made it clear it would not halt payments to families for dead or jailed terrorists. Instead, it cut pay to Palestinians who worked for the West Bank government. But by refusing money still being offered Fatah will cause widespread shortages of food and other necessities in the West Bank. The ensuing Palestinian outrage and resulting damage would be blamed on the efforts to halt “pay for slay” terrorism support. Fatah is pleading with Russia and Arab oil states to help them out. Russia is broke (and prefers to be on good terms with Israel) and the Arab oil states are fed up with the Palestinian preference for self-destructive behavior.
Syria Is Complicated
Israeli intelligence believes that Iran has decided to scale back their plans and operations in Syria until they can come up with more effective tactics to cope with Israeli airstrikes and border defenses. Iran has also cut financial support for IRGC
(Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps)
operations in Syria. Iran is not pulling its forces out of Syria, just trying to make them less of a target for the Israelis. This is especially necessary for Iranian weapons shipments into or through Syria as well as efforts to build weapons manufacturing or upgrading facilities. Some of the suspended IRGC efforts in Syria are being moved to Iraq. 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 back in Iran. Beyond that, the American revival of economic sanctions has left the Iranian government will less cash, a lot less.
Israel still wants Iran out of Syria and would prefer that the Syrian Kurds get 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 in Lebanon. The upgrade is mainly about adding GPS guidance systems that will allow for precision attacks on Israeli targets (especially populated areas). Mass use of these rockets could overwhelm Israeli anti-missile defenses. Iran is also seeking to rebuild the Syrian missile factories and supply Syria with more modern missile technology. These efforts are regularly hit by Israeli air strikes.
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 and the remaining Islamic terrorists. Iran has problems with Israel in Syria, as well as its own allies. The Iranians want the Syrian government (controlled by the Assad clan) to accept Iranian domination (as Hezbollah does in Lebanon) and agrees with Turkey that the Syrian Kurds should not get autonomy and should accept rule by Iranian backed Syrian government as well as the existence of Turkish controlled 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 worked out a compromise, which the two seem willing to do. Iran is a major impediment to such a deal. The Americans, Israelis and most other Middle Eastern nations agree with this approach and are pressuring Iran to get smart and get out. That is unlikely to happen voluntarily.
April 29, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Iran backed Islamic Jihad launched a rocket towards Israel but the rocket was defective and veered off into the Mediterranean where it exploded. Islamic Jihad takes orders from the IRGC and there is little Hamas can do about as Hamas needs Iranian support as well.
Elsewhere along the Gaza border a fire balloon from Gaza landed near an Israeli settlement and started a brush fire that was soon put out by nearby civilians and firefighters.
April 28, 2019: The Israeli domestic intelligence service (Shin Bet, similar to the British MI5) revealed that it had prevented a Hamas plan to carry out a suicide car bomb attack near Jerusalem. Hamas had recruited Yahya Abu Dia, a Palestinian living outside Jerusalem and arranged for him to buy a car and rent a garage where the car could be fitted with explosives. Dia was communicating with Hamas handlers in Gaza via the Internet in a manner he thought kept his communications secret. Dia was arrested on March 31st before he could get any further with the plan, which apparently sought to carry out the bombing during the recent Israeli national elections.
April 27, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Israeli troops opened fire on three Palestinians who were attempting to damage the border fence. Apparently, the three escaped back into Gaza. Elsewhere along the Gaza border a fire balloon from Gaza landed in an Israeli nature reserve and started a brush fire that was soon put out by firefighters.
In Egypt, the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) franchise in Sinai announced it was expanding operations into normally peaceful southern Sinai. There have been several ISIL attacks in southern Sinai recently but none were very successful. Southern Sinai has fewer people and a lot more security than the north. Southern Sinai also has a very lucrative (for the locals and Egypt as a whole) tourism industry, which brings in millions of Egyptians and foreigners (including Israelis) each year. All the Islamic terrorists have to offer the locals is dead civilians, unemployment and poverty. Expanding Islamic terrorist operations into southern Sinai has a low priority for Islamic terror groups, especially when there are more accessible targets in the north and to the west in the more populous Nile River parts of Egypt.
Despite the upsurge of ISIL activity in south Sinai, few Israelis heeded government warnings about the risk of visiting south Sinai resorts during the recent Passover holiday. Over 110,000 Israelis went to south Sinai as Egyptian security forces began searching for ISIL personnel in the area. Apparently, the Egyptian security in the tourist areas was up to the task. After all, thousands of Egyptians would be out of work if foreign tourists decided otherwise. The Sinai tourist resorts are still recovering of the 2015 disaster when ISIL got a bomb onto a Russian airliner departing with Russian tourists. The Egyptian tourist industry took several years to recover and the many recently reemployed Egyptians in the Sinai resorts want to keep it that way. While many Egyptians dislike the return of the old military dictatorship (pretending to be a democracy) a more immediate concern is obtaining and holding onto a good job. The tourism industry has always done that and Islamic terrorists never seem to learn that you don’t topple a government by going after the tourism industry and turning many potential supporters against you.
April 26, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas mobilized about 7,000 Palestinians to stage several violent demonstrations at the border fence. Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians who threw rocks, explosives or firebombs at them. The return fire left up to fifty Palestinians injured. Hamas had assured Israel that this demonstration would be kept away from the fence as part of a ceasefire deal but that has not been happening. Hamas has been trying to negotiate and implement a ceasefire with Israel but has been unable to get all factions in Hamas (and Gaza) to agree. While there are more radial factions in Hamas, there are also Iran-backed Islamic terror groups (like Islamic Jihad) who take their orders (and millions of dollars a month) from Iran and Iran does not want a ceasefire. Iran is less hostile to Hamas and Fatah (which controls the West Bank) from forming a united Palestinian government for the first time since 2007 (when Hamas split and became independent in Gaza). Iran wants Hamas to be the dominant partner in a united government and Fatah, Egypt and Israel agree that would not be a good thing. Egypt considers itself in competition with Iran for the loyalty of the Gaza Palestinians. Actually, most Gazans would prefer to be on good terms with Egypt but Iran has several very radical Gaza groups on the payroll and these thugs will not tolerate Egyptian dominance in Gaza.
In the north (the Lebanon border), the UN concluded that Israel was correct when, in January, it accused Hezbollah of building a third tunnel across the border. That is a breach of the ceasefire agreement that maintains the peace between Israel and Lebanon, a ceasefire that is monitored by the UN.
April 25, 2019: Israel has established a second F-35I squadron. While Israel currently has only 14 F-35s it has already put most of them to work with the first squadron. Israel will have 20 F-35s by the end of 2020 and 50 by 2024. At that point, the two squadrons will be at full strength. Israel is currently purchasing 75 F-35s but because of the impressive performance of the first ones, the Israeli Air Force is urging that another 25 F-35s be ordered.
April 21, 2019: Iran has selected a new leader (Hossein Salami) for the IRGC. The Iranian supreme leader wanted a more fanatic general running the IRGC because that organization was suffering from poor morale because of the growing popular anti-government protests inside Iran and the lack of IRGC victories overseas. And then there is the recent defection (to the United States) of a senior IRGC officer, who brought lots of documents with him as well as personal experience about how IRGC operates. Iran is facing a widespread popular uprising and even some IRGC personnel are siding with the people against the religious dictatorship the IRGC was formed to protect.
In the south, Israeli troops arrested two Gaza Palestinian who had used wire cutters to get through the border fence. Both were carrying knives when arrested. These Gazans were apparently economic refugees and not terrorists but both types try such desperate measures to get into Israel. You can cut through the fence but while doing that you will trigger other sensors and troops, or a remotely controlled machine-gun, will prevent any further progress.
April 20, 2019: In the south (Gaza), someone fired a rocket at Israel but the rocket was defective and landed in Gaza near the border fence.
France has cautioned Lebanon to oppose Iran building missile assembly and upgrade facilities in Lebanon. France has long been pro-Lebanon, in part because of the large number of Arab Christians who have been there for nearly two thousand years. Lebanese generally see France as a friend and respect French advice. The French pointed out that the Israelis are quite serious about attacking Iranian facilities no matter where they are in Lebanon. Iran-backed Hezbollah represents a minority of Lebanese but has managed to gain veto power over the elected Lebanese government. Most Lebanese do not want a repeat of the devastating 1975-90 civil war but Iran and Hezbollah are less concerned about that.
April 19, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas mobilized about 5,000 Palestinians to stage several violent demonstrations at the border fence. Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians who threw rocks, explosives or firebombs at them. The return fire left up to fifty Palestinians injured and one of the injured died. During the demonstrations, someone fired at Israeli troops with rifles. Israeli forces returned fire at likely firing positions and the firing stopped.
April 18, 2019: In Syria, the government is suffering a serious fuel shortage. Since late 2018 Iran has not been able to smuggle in petroleum products by sea. The Americans have been successful at finding and halting the use of tankers for smuggling. Egypt has cooperated by honoring American requests to block suspected smuggling tankers from the Suez Canal. Tankers that can fit through the Suez Canal but take the long way (around South Africa) to Syria are automatically suspicious. Iran is short of cash to pay for more detection-proof smuggling efforts and is doing what it can by sending fuel to Syria via truck. The American success at detecting and punishing shipping companies engaged in smuggling has caused most shipping companies to back away from lucrative (if you don’t get caught) Iranian offers to smuggle petroleum. This, plus the recent American designation of the IRGC as an international terrorist organization has infuriated, and frustrated, Iranian leaders. Economic and corruption problems in Iran continue to cause popular unrest. Iran needs a win, somewhere, somehow and so far that is not happening.
April 16, 2019: In Egypt (southern Sinai), police began checking IDs of all north Sinai residents working in south Sinai to see if that was how ISIL was getting terrorists into the heavily policed south.
April 15, 2019: In the south, someone in Gaza launched two fire balloons and one apparently landed in an Israeli forest and started a brush fire that was soon put out by locals.
April 14, 2019: In Egypt Libyan military leader Khalifa Hiftar visited to discuss the current situation in Libya, where Hiftar forces are taking control of the capital. Egypt has long supported Hiftar, who from 2014 on formed the most effective military force in Libya and took the lead in defeating or destroying Islamic terror groups. This included keeping Islamic terrorists out of Egypt and assisting Egypt in controlling their Libyan border. Other Arab states, like the UAE, also supported Hiftar although the UN considered him a potential new military dictator. The United States has concluded that is not the case, in part because Hiftar is a naturalized U.S. citizen with long ties to the CIA (after Hiftar fled Libya for disagreeing with dictator Kaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011). Hiftar also has the support of Russia but Egypt and the UAE are the most important allies. The Americans and French have also supplied some special operations forces to help Hiftar (and keep an eye on his activities).
The Indian Army used its new “emergency purchase” authority to order 240 Israeli Spike MR ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and twelve launchers. The army has long sought these missiles but the usual procurement process failed. Back in late 2017 political pressure caused India to cancel a half billion dollar deal worked out in 2016 for an Israel firm to set up a factory and team with an Indian firm to produce Spike ATGMs. The army has been warning for over a decade that without a new ATGM India would be at a serious disadvantage. But the procurement bureaucracy and DRDO (the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization) said it could develop and build a comparable ATGM in four years. That would be a miracle. No one in the military believed the DRDO but this was not about what DRDO could do but about the incompetence and corruption that has characterized DRDO for decades. DRDO may not be of much use for the military but for Indian politicians, it is a vital part of getting elected and staying in power. DRDO provides jobs and cash for that. Meanwhile, Israel remains a major military supplier for India. Since 2000 Israel provided 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.
April 13, 2019: In western Syria (Hama province), Israel carried out another airstrike, from Lebanese airspace, on Iranian guided missile facilities. This site is rumored to be where Iran is carrying out nuclear weapons and ballistic missile research. Foreign technical experts have been seen at the site, including some North Koreans and “Russian speakers.” Several people were killed, including two Iranians, and possibly other foreigners. Numerous structures were destroyed. Israel apparently coordinated this attack with Russia, which, according to an understanding Russia has with Israel gave advance warning about these airstrikes. This attack apparently used the new Rampage air-to-ground missile, which arrives at the target at very high speed (similar to ballistic missile) and is very difficult to intercept. Syria had an S-300 air defense battery in the area. The S-300 could, in theory, intercept a Rampage missile but apparently, the Syrian S-300 batteries, although manned by Syrian troops, cannot be used without Russian permission. The Israelis are said to provide Russia with 15 minutes advance warning of attacks so the Russians can ensure there troops are out of the target area and S-300 systems are not used. Although Russia has tested S-300 and S-400 systems against ballistic missiles they do not want to be tested against Israeli high-speed missiles. S-300 would likely do poorly and that would be bad for export sales.
In the south, Israeli troops arrested three Gaza Palestinian who had crossed border fence. One of the Palestinians was carrying a knife and all three were arrested and questioned.
April 12, 2019: In Egypt (southern Sinai), two ISIL gunmen were killed in a failed attack on a checkpoint. One of the attackers was wearing an explosive vest, which failed to go off. One of the attackers turned out to be a German Moslem who had tried to reach Syria to join ISIL and when that proved difficult he traveled to Egypt via Russia and joined ISIL.
April 10, 2019: In Egypt (north Sinai), two ISIL bombings overnight left four policemen dead.
April 9, 2019: In Egypt (north Sinai), an ISIL suicide bomber attacked a market place, killing four policemen and two civilians. Another 26 people were wounded.
April 8, 2019: The United States designated the Iranian IRGC a terrorist organization. This will cause problems in Syria where the IRGC is in charge of all Iranian support for the Assad government as well as operations against Israel and continuing aid for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The IRGC is also supposed to handle the billions of dollars in reconstruction aid the Assad government is trying, without much success, to raise. The terrorist tag will also interfere with Iranian arms smuggling operations. For example, Iran’s second largest airline, Mahan Air, began scheduled service to Venezuela recently. Iran is believed to already have some IRGC personnel in Venezuela and has discussed sending more, but openly. The Quds Force (the IRGC terrorism specialists) supports many illegal, and some legal Iranian and Hezbollah operations in South America. These are no secret and one of the few countries where Quds and the IRGC can operate openly is Venezuela. The U.S. blacklisted Mahan in 2011 because it was being used to support Quds Force operations. In January 2019
Germany banned Mahan Air from landing in Germany and in March so did France. All this means Mahan has few places where it can use air space or even land. The IRGC was shown to be operating Mahan Air to move equipment and personnel for terror operations in and out of Germany before the German ban. The IRGC operates several freighter aircraft, most of them 747s. The IRGC owns several Iranian airlines in addition to Mahan Air. Noting how Mahan Air 747 freighters were used Israel concluded that these air transports were being used to move military equipment. One clue was the fact that so many flights tried to stay as far away from Israeli air space as possible even if it meant greatly increasing the cost of the flights. When flying to Venezuela Russian and Iranian aircraft use Syria as a stopover area, to refuel or take on or discharge personnel and cargo.
April 5, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas mobilized about 10,000 Palestinians to stage five violent demonstration at the border fence. Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians who threw rocks, explosives or firebombs at them. The return fire left up to 84 Palestinians injured.