August 13, 2019:
In the south, Israel has decided to build a second border barrier to protect Israeli communities near the Gaza border. Given the growing number of armed Hamas men trying to get through the border fence and attack those Israeli border towns, a six meter high, nine kilometer long wall will be built between the Israeli border towns and the Gaza border fence. There are sensors along the border fence to warn of someone cutting their way through but that is no guarantee the Israeli troops will get to the area in time. The new border wall ensures that should the Hamas gunmen get through the fence faster than expected or that the sensors fail or are disabled, the wall will provide another barrier to prevent the gunmen from reaching Israeli civilians. A growing number of armed Gazans are trying to get across the fence. Hamas disowns them, even if Israel points out that the suspects are known Hamas members. To that Hamas claims the border crossers are “rogue Hamas” who were violating the ceasefire with Israel, which Hamas insists it does not want to do.
There are a growing number of rogue Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, but not the sort of rogues Fatah or Hamas will admit exist. Palestinian leaders are also noting that there are fewer young men willing to become terrorists and more Palestinians who were eager to have some new leadership. Palestinians are actively opposing the relentless Palestinian propaganda encouraging Palestinians to become “martyrs” by making suicidal (and usually ineffective) attacks on Israelis. There are open complaints about how much money goes to reward those who do attack Israelis and get caught and imprisoned. Palestinians resent that so much money is devoted to paying large sums to the families of terrorists who were killed. These payments have become public knowledge and that led directly to aid cuts. Palestinian leaders responded by cutting spending on medical care and basic services. At the same time, Palestinian leaders actively discourage any economic cooperation with Israelis even though more and more Palestinians make it clear they want to expand that cooperation. Worse more Palestinians openly call for peace, and subsequent prosperity, with their Israeli neighbors.
Israel is doing whatever it can to make Iran feel unwelcome in Syria. This is costing Iran a lot of money (which they cannot afford), reputation (not much to lose) and lives (more affordable). So far Iran has tolerated the losses and continues to pour resources in into establishing itself in Syria. Iran cannot afford to contribute large sums for reconstruction in Syria but is allowing Iranian entrepreneurs to build factories and other commercial operations in Syria. Some of these commercial activities will be, as is the case inside Iran, partly owned, or controlled by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). These Iranian businesses will also end up on the Israeli target list, especially because of the IRGC connection. Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using the growing presence it has in Syria but is encountering resistance from Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and most NATO nations, in addition to Israel.
Israel sees itself at the greatest risk because Iranians in Syria might do something desperate, and stupid. Over the last year, the IRGC has suffered multiple defeats, usually delivered by Israel or the Americans. Many of these embarrassments have occurred in Syria, where Israel finds and destroys IRGC projects will great regularity. Many Iranians do not see this as an Iranian defeat but just another reason why the IRGC is hated by most Iranians. Blame is most often directed at the IRGC and the Islamic dictatorship that has ruled (and mismanaged) Iran since the 1980s. Iranians see corrupt IRGC men and Shia clergy in general as responsible for their current economic and diplomatic woes. The IRGC is not seen as the protector of the Iranian people but rather the source of growing violence against Iranians who protest the proliferating poverty. The IRGC is accused, by Iranians and the rest of the world, of trying to taunt someone, preferably the United States or Israel, into attacking Iran itself. That would make the IRGC more popular inside Iran, but many Iranians are not so sure. Meanwhile, the Americans concentrate their sanctions on Iranian leaders, including senior IRGC commanders, which is a popular move to most Iranians.
One result of all this is the Iranian government overruling the IRGC and not pouring a lot more money into the Syrian effort. In part, this is because the Iranian government sees some of the IRGC efforts in Syria as counterproductive. That’s because Israel has not only become an active ally of most Arabian Arab states but many Iranian leaders believe joint Israeli and Arab military operations are already taking place. This cooperation is justified because of the IRGC activity in Syria and Yemen.
An example of this cooperation is the belief, inside Iran, that an Israeli F-35 escaped detection by Iranian military and commercial aviation radars earlier in 2019 to take high-resolution photos over Iranian cities and key military facilities. Senior Iranian air defense commanders lost their jobs over this in late May. The Israelis never claimed to have done this, although such silence is normal. If Israel did this it either meant the F-35 used a Saudi airbase to refuel or the Saudis allowed the F-35 and an Israeli aerial tanker free passage through Saudi air space. In early July the Israeli leader remarked that Israeli warplanes can operate anywhere in the Middle East. This connects with Iranian suspicions that the Israelis really were sending in F-35s to confirm the effectiveness of the stealth and to confirm that Israeli warplanes could carry out a devastating air assault on Iran, despite all the air defenses Iran has amassed, and recently upgraded. Whether or not this overflight actually happened, the damage has been done to the IRGC, whose main job is preventing foreign operations like this inside Iran.
August 12, 2019: In the south (Gaza), there was an explosion in northern Gaza near the border fence. This was believed to be the result of a balloon bomb exploding prematurely. At about the same time two small UAVs crossed the border from Gaza but promptly turned around and returned to Gaza. Hamas reported that they had arrested two Gazan teenagers who were seeking to get through the border fence and into Israel for economic reasons. Gaza considers border crossers like this traitors.
August 11, 2019: In the south (Gaza), an armed Gazan was arrested after he to cut through the border fence. This comes after four armed Hamas men were killed yesterday for trying the same thing. Israeli tanks retaliated by firing on nearby Hamas observation posts. These two incidents are believed connected with what happened in on the Gaza border back on August 1st. In that case, a Hamas gunman got through the border fence before the Israel troops (alerted by fence sensors) and opened fire on the approaching soldiers, wounding three of them, before he was killed by return fire. Israeli troops quickly modified their procedures for handling fence crossers and these last two attempts have failed.
August 10, 2019: Israel revealed that it has detected and disrupted over 600 terrorist attacks in the last year. Most of these planned attacks were coming out of the West Bank, where various Islamic terror groups have a degree of sanctuary. Many of the aborted attacks were by Hamas supporters, who are now jailed. Hamas accused Fatah (which runs the West Bank and considers Hamas an illegitimate government) of working with Israeli intelligence to identify Hamas members in the West Bank. That is true, but usually only in cases where a particular Hamas cell in the West Bank is considered a threat to Fatah and Israel. The reality is that Israel has a very good informant network in the West Bank, where a growing number of Palestinians have quietly shifted their allegiance from Fatah to Israel. This is something Palestinian leaders refuse to publicly acknowledge but Fatah and Hamas know it exists.
August 9, 2019: Off the Mediterranean coast of Israel naval forces from Israel, France, Greece and the United States conducted four days of joint exercises.
August 8, 2019: In the West Bank, an Israeli student was found dead outside a settlement. Over the next two days, four local Palestinians were identified and arrested as suspects in the murder. Israeli police revealed how they quickly did this, using the many security cameras around Israeli settlements and along main roads as well as existing intel they had on Hamas supporters in the area. The two suspects were known to Israeli and Palestinian police as Hamas supporters and possibly planning an attack on someone.
August 7, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas renewed its use of fire balloons, as one started a fire in Israel near the Gaza border. This was the first such fire balloon incident in over a month.
An American firm (SpaceX) put another Israeli communications (Amos 17) into orbit. The Amos series of satellites have been used since the late 1990s to provide Israel with military and commercial communications. There Amos satellites are currently operational. The Amos birds are built to last. Israel also builds and puts into orbit its own spy satellites.
August 6, 2019: In the West Bank Israeli police raided a Hamas safe house in Hebron and found a bomb-building workshop and one large bomb completed and ready to be smuggled into Jerusalem and detonated. Israel and Palestinian police began to round up over a dozen suspected members of this Hamas group which was also planning attacks on Fatah. Israel obtained key data on this Hamas in June when a Palestinian was arrested and found carrying three kg (6.6 pound) bomb which had come from the Hamas bomb workshop. The arrested man admitted he had been recruited by this Hamas cell, which was being funded by Hamas in Gaza, which provided cash and technical advice.
Israel revealed that it is also assisting in the American led effort to provide security for ships in the Persian Gulf. Israel will provide intelligence and other assistance. Yesterday Britain announced that it would join with the U.S. to provide warships to escort shipping into and through the Persian Gulf. Earlier South Korea also agreed to contribute a destroyer to participate in the effort. Iraq later announced that it would not join any international effort to protect access to the Persian Gulf if Israel were involved. This announcement was a favor to Iran which, otherwise, is seen as a threat to Iraq. Iran realizes that and both countries are pretending that they get along with each other. That’s a normal way to handle foreign affairs in the Middle East.
In Libya, two Israeli Orbiter UAVs were shot down outside Tripoli by Egypt-backed LNA (Libyan Nacional Army) forces during July. Israel was accused of breaking the arms embargo against Libya until the serial numbers of the Orbiter UAVs were obtained and these particular UAVs were traced back to Turkey, which had received the Orbiters with the understanding that they would not be transferred to another nation. Turkey is alone in providing military support for the GNA (UN backed but largely powerless Government of National Accord) while Russia (and many others) support the opposition, whose LNA has pacified most of the country since 2014. The Turkish support violates the UN arms sanctions as well as creating tension with Russia and the many Arab states that support the LNA. There are few other foreign supporters of the GNA militias and especially the many Islamic militias. Sudan used to be a source of support but that has ended because of a recent uprising that replaced the pro-GNA Sudan government. Two major Turkish allies, Iran and Russia, are no help in Libya. Iran is preoccupied with its own economic and political problems. Russia has long backed the LNA as have Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Egypt and the UAE also supply weapons and air support. The U.S. recently declared its support for the LNA and a growing number of European nations are openly or covertly supporting the LNA.
Turkey, despite its closer ties with Russia, is still a member of NATO. The intervention in Libya may be one of the issues that gets Turkey thrown out of NATO and openly acknowledged as hostile to the West. This prospect motivates more Turks to openly and actively oppose the Turkish leader Erdogan, who has established something of a police state to deal with local opposition. The extent of Turkish support for the GNA could be limited by other NATO nations enforcing ban on importing weapons by sea.
August 5, 2019: Iran has agreed to increase cash payments to Hamas to $30 million a month in return for data on the location of Israeli missile storage sites. Iran apparently wants that data to program the many GPS guided rockets and ballistic missiles it has aimed at Israel. Many of the rockets are in Lebanon and some are in Gaza. Iran wants to have a chance to destroy some of the missile stockpiles for Israeli anti-aircraft systems. Currently Iran is not supplying Hamas with regular cash contributions. Iranian ally Qatar is supplying $10 million a month to Hamas and that is only getting in because Egypt and Israel allow it. Smuggling cash into Gaza is not easy but it can be done. Some of it will get through.
August 4, 2019: In Egypt (Cairo), an auto accident on a main highway, near the major cancer hospital in Egypt, led to a huge explosion that killed twenty people in the vicinity. One of the cars in the auto accident belonged to an Islamic terror group that was moving the explosives-filled vehicle into position for an attack somewhere else in the city. The cancer hospital suffered damage in the form of many blown-out windows. This incident triggered five days of raids on known or suspected Islamic terror hideouts to find out who the explosive-filled car belonged to and what the target was. In the course of these raids, 17 suspected terrorists were killed. It turned out that the exploding car belonged to the Islamic terror group Hasm, which had suffered major losses three months ago when police raids against groups targeting tourism were undertaken. Hasm was among the usual suspects and those killed were armed and in possession of bomb-making materials and plans to use them. Tourism accounts for 11 percent of the Egyptian GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the workforce. Currently, unemployment (about 8 percent) is falling and the government wants to keep it that way. Islamic terrorists want more unemployment as it makes it easier to recruit and gather public support. At least in theory. In practice, Islamic terrorist attacks on the economy make most Egyptians mad at the Islamic terrorists and the government (for not preventing them). Average unemployment for all of 2081 was 9.9 percent and has been going down for several years now.
August 1, 2019: In the north (Golan Heights and the Israeli border), an Israeli airstrike hit targets on Tel al Hara, a 1,100 meter (3,500 foot) high hill (an extinct volcano) and the highest point on either side of the border. Before the civil war Tel al Hara was the site of visual and electronic equipment for monitoring the Israeli side of the border. The Assads allowed Iran and Russia to set up equipment there. For most of the time from 2012 to 2018 Tel al Hara was occupied by rebels affiliated with al Qaeda but willing to make deals with the Israelis to keep Russian and Iranian observers off the hill and provide Israel with copies of documents and pictures of the interior of the observation facilities the rebels captured. By 2018 the rebels were driven away from Tel al Hara by Assad forces, with the help of another agreement with the Israelis. If the Assads kept the Iranians away from the hill, Israel would not attack. That agreement held for a while but eventually, the Assads let Iran and Hezbollah back on the hill where the hill was used by Iran to gather information of attacks on Israel. Russia was unwilling to try and get the Iranians and Hezbollah removed but apparently had no objection to Israel attacking the hill. Israel implied that they would continue attacking the hill as long as their enemies were using the observation post to plan attacks. Israel had hit Tel al Hara once before, in early June.
July 29, 2019: China has decided to side with Iran in the Iranian effort to evade the renewed American sanctions. China made this public in Austria during an emergency meeting of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). This is the group of six nations (China, France, Russia, the Britain, the U.S. and Germany) that negotiated and signed the 2015 treaty with Iran to lift economic sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program (which Iran insisted it did not have). Inside Iran, this treaty was considered a great victory that would cost Iran nothing and provide much benefit. The nuclear program would be halted for a while but not dismantled. This angle was documented in early 2018 when an Israeli intelligence operation in Iran got away with tons of documents from an Iranian storage facility. This was a major embarrassment for Iran, which declared all the evidence fakes. Western intel agencies, especially American and Israeli ones, already knew what Iran was doing with its nuclear weapons program but did not have such explicit documentary evidence. The Americans leaving the 2015 treaty in 2017, citing the clause that allowed for this is Iran was in violation, did not persuade any other JCPOA members to do the same. The Americans were seen as a special case as they were the only JCPOA member that Iran has openly been at war with since the 1980s. Iran still holds anti-American demonstrations several times a year in which everyone one repeatedly shouts “death to America.” Iran perpetuates that attitude mainly because of the support the U.S. has long provided to Israel (which Iran also wants to destroy). The other JCPOA members believe they can avoid any trouble with Iran by supporting Iranian efforts to evade the American sanctions. As part of that effort, China has joined Russia in recently (June) holding joint naval exercises with Iran. China now expects Iran to leave Chinese oil shipments from the Persian Gulf alone. China also calls for JCPOA member Britain to negotiate a compromise with Iran over the Iranian attacks on British tankers. This is all about the UN sanctions on Syria, which Britain enforced by seizing an Iranian tanker caught smuggling oil to Syria. China also sides with Russia and Iran when it comes to evading sanctions in Syria. The primary tool for avoiding the sanctions is an EU (European Union) effort called INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) financial system. This system is designed to get around American economic sanctions and allow payment in hard currency to Iran for oil, working. China would like this to succeed. The EU believes they have succeeded, sort of. Recently a test transaction was successfully completed. The Americans have been able to block such schemes and the Europeans, unlike the Chinese, were willing to persist and take on the United States despite the Americans having been remarkably effective at blocking such systems. The EU, mainly Germany, Britain and France, persisted and is now seeking to put a real transaction through. The Europeans are responding to Iranian threats to resume nuclear weapons development unless the Europeans either find a way around the resumed (by the U.S.) sanctions. EU efforts to get the Americans to back down on at least some of the sanctions have failed and INSTEX is their Plan B. Many European leaders are trying but a growing number of European voters are turning against these pro-Iran policies. The EU financial experts have been working on INSTEX since January 2019. If INSTEX does work for Germany, Britain and France, China has said it would be willing to join the INSTEX system. Recently a senior German official working on INSTEX was forced to resign when his history of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes became known. Many Americans see INSTEX itself as directed at Israel and the United States.
July 28, 2019: In the northern Iraq (Saladin Province, some 200 kilometers north of Baghdad), Iranian PMF complained of their base being attacked by an unidentified aircraft. There were several casualties and damage was done to the base, which is believed to be a storage facility for Iranian ballistic missiles. Israel was blamed for the attack. The bombed base is 80 kilometers from the Iran border and this is the second time this month it has been hit since the 19th. Israel will not comment on these attacks although retired Israeli military leaders believe that Iraqi bases used by Iran for moving modern weapons to Syria and Lebanon are now legitimate targets and capable of being hit. Israeli warplanes now have long-range air-to-ground missiles so these attacks could be launched from Israeli warplanes flying over eastern Syria. Speculation is that Israeli F-35I aircraft are being used and Israel is fine with such rumors because it makes the F-35I seem even more formidable. If the F-35I flew into Iraq (as some witnesses of the attacks claim) it would have required aerial refueling. That’s because to operate in full stealth mode the F-35 cannot be carrying any external attachments, like fuel tanks. Some bombs can be carried internally but without external fuel tanks, aerial refueling is required to reach Iraq and return.
July 24, 2019: In eastern Syria (Daraa province), an Israeli airstrike hit an Iranian base shared with the Syrian Army. It was later revealed that six Iranians and three Syrian military personnel were killed.
In southern Iran, there was another test of the Shahab 3 ballistic missile, which has been in service for about two decades. This test sent the missile about 1,100 kilometers and the warhead landed somewhere east of Tehran. Shahab 3 is basically 1960s technology with the addition of GPS guidance. Russian and North Korean missile technology has been obtained to make these missiles work. This has resulted in missile designs that apparently will function properly about 80 percent of the time, and deliver a warhead of about one ton, to a range of at least 1,000 kilometers, to within a hundred meters of where it was aimed. By current standards, this is a pretty effective weapon.
July 22, 2019: In Egypt (the Red Sea), naval forces from Egypt, the UAE and the United States began several days of joint exercises. Saudi officers were there as observers. The day before German and British airlines canceled flights to Egypt over an unspecified terror threat.
July 21, 2019: In Syria (Damascus), a car bomb killed Mashur Zidan, a senior Hezbollah commander working with pro-Assad Hezbollah forces in Syria. Hezbollah blamed this attack on Israel because Israel had recently killed another Hezbollah commander (using a missile-armed UAV) who was an associate of Zidan. Airspace over Damascus is too dangerous for Israeli UAVs but arranging for a car bomb is something Mossad (the Israeli CIA) has done before. Hezbollah commanders like Zidan are openly complaining about how much damage the sanctions on Iran have done to Hezbollah. In the last few months, the cash received from Iran to maintain Hezbollah has been reduced by half. Despite, or because of, the reduced Iranian aid, Hezbollah has declared that an attack on Iran by anyone will trigger a Hezbollah attack on Israel.
July 19, 2019: In Egypt (Sinai), air force F-16s attacked over a hundred suspected ISIL hideouts in rural areas in northern Sinai. At least twenty terror suspects were believed killed. Many of the hideouts turned out to be unoccupied or abandoned. These airstrikes had been planned for some time and were carried out now because of recent ISIL violence.
July 18, 2019: In Egypt (Sinai), an ISIL suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint, killing a soldier and a civilian. Three soldiers were wounded.
July 17, 2019: In Egypt (Sinai), ISIL murdered (by beheading) four civilians believed to be working with the police. Another civilian was kidnapped.