October 4, 2019:
In Egypt, large anti-government protests have returned, after not being seen much since 2013 when they were banned as an anti-terror measure. The government said it would prevent Islamic terrorism from returning and hurting the economy, something that has happened several times since the 1990s. President (and former general) Sisi got elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018 based on assurances that he would reduce terrorist violence and improve the economy. The Islamic terrorism has not gone away but has not gotten worse. The economy, however, is not improving. Part of this is due to some Islamic terrorists attacking foreign tourists. This causes declines in foreign tourism and it can take a year or more to lure the tourists back. Normally tourism accounts for 11 percent of the Egyptian GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the workforce. Currently, unemployment rates are still falling and the government wants to keep it that way. But having a job is often no longer enough. Rising prices, largely from eliminating inefficient and corrupted subsidy systems, have impoverished a lot of people with low-paying or part-time jobs. Extreme poverty among the families of the employed is increasingly common and a discouraging sign for Egyptians in general.
Sisi has not addressed corruption much and that is the cause of a lot of economic problems. 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 2018 was 9.9 percent and has been going down for several years now but as the current mass protests make clear, having a job means little if the cost-of-living keeps increasing. The government blames the Moslem Brotherhood for instigating the current demonstrations but the demonstrators know that is false. While many Egyptian journalists cannot point that out because of censorship, foreign journalists and anyone with Internet access can see past the government propaganda. After a while that is what leads to massive and persistent demonstrations. The main problem Sisi deals with is he is not much of a reformer and while he has been good dealing with terrorism and other mass opposition efforts, he is less capable at solving long term problems. So he is now seen as another leader like the one (former general Mubarak) who was overthrown in 2011.
Arab citizens of Israel don’t worry so much about dire poverty as they do getting murdered by one of their own. Arab-Israeli politicians have decided to abandon past reluctance to openly discuss this issue because that approach was making it worse. Arab leaders are now calling for cooperation with police seeking to find and seize illegal guns as well as those who used them for murder. Arab communities have rarely been willing to cooperate with the police. Most of the guns smuggled into Israel are for criminals and anyone who can’t get a weapon legally. Arab-Israelis are often involved with weapons smuggling because they know their fellow Arabs are unlikely to inform on them and the police tend to concentrate those few smugglers who sell to Islamic terrorists. These attitudes have led to more illegal weapons in Arab communities and deadlier feuds and personal disputes. Currently, one in six Israeli citizens are Arab yet Arabs account for over half the “death by shooting” victims and in nearly every case the shooter was another Arab using an illegal firearm. This sort of thing is part of a trend for Arab-Israelis and has created pressure on their elected representatives to get more involved in government and efforts to curb and punish bad behavior. This is a part of a trend spreading throughout the Arab world, to do less automatic hating of Israel and more trade and cooperation. Not just on dealing with Islamic terrorism but with a host of other social, economic and political problems.
It’s not just the Arab-Israelis. Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza are more willing to face down their wild men (Islamic terrorists and gangsters) to make it possible to improve economic conditions in their communities. Hamas in Gaza has, because of popular pressure and Egyptian officials pointing out that Hama's refusal to deal with economic problems had reached the point where Gaza had few foreign donors and even in Egypt most people were fine with sealing off the Gaza border completely. Israel has quietly gone along with the new ceasefire economic terms and is issuing more (about 5,000) work permits so Gazans can work in Israel. It is understood that if any of those workers use that access for terrorist activities they lose their work permit and so do many other permit holders.
Ever since Palestinians decided, back in 2000, to support attacks against Israelis inside Israel, one of the side effects has been reduced access to Israel for Palestinians. Access has been restored in the past, and then halted when that access led to more terror attacks. The Israelis don’t publicize the larger number of work permits for fear of public opposition from Israelis, especially those who have lost someone to a terror attack facilitated by a work permit holder.
In addition to more work permits Israel is also helping with economic expansion efforts inside Gaza. The primary concern here is that this aid is not diverted (stolen) by corrupt officials or diverted for Hamas military uses. Gaza residents have been demonstrating the continued prevalence of corruption of diversion of economic aid to military projects.
The Syrian Threats
Israel is doing whatever it can to make Iran feel unwelcome in Syria and is currently trying to convince Russia to take this threat more seriously. The question is, how much is enough? The Syrian effort 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 into permanently 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.
And then there is the Turkish problem. Russia and Iran oppose Turkish plans for northwest Syria (Idlib province) and Kurdish held areas to the east (all the way to the Iraq border). The Turks want permanent control over the Syrian side of the border to improve their own border security and, more importantly, cripple Syrian Kurdish efforts to establish an autonomous Kurdish region in the northeast. This puts the Turks at odds with Syrians in general and especially Iran-backed Assad dictatorship in Syria. Now into its second generation, the Assad clan feels it has won a major victory that will not be complete until all foreigners (Turks in the north, Americans in the east and Israelis in the Golan Heights) are out of Syria. None of those foreigners want to cooperate because they feel the Turks, at least their current Islamic government, cannot be trusted.
Russia and the Assad government have declared the rebellion over and demand that attention must be turned towards reconstruction. The reality is that the fighting is far from over and the Assad government only controls about half the country. Everyone agrees that Islamic terrorist rebels still control most of Idlib province in the northwest and that the Kurdish led SDF separatists control Hasaka province in the northwest, as well as parts of
Deir Ezzor and Aleppo provinces
Many of the Idlib rebels are backed by Turkey while the SDF is backed by the United States. The Assads control the Mediterranean coast (
Latakia province), which is the homeland of the Syrian Shia and the Shia Assads but it is Russian troops and bases that guarantee the security of Latakia province. The Assads have a large payroll (the military and civil servants in areas they rule) and it is Iranian financial aid that enables the Assads to meet that payroll each month. In return, the Assads cede control to Iran for areas along the Israeli, Iraq and Lebanon borders. In those areas, Iranians or Iran backed Iraqi or Lebanese militias have the final say on who enters and who does not.
The only thing that keeps the Syrian Army capable of offensive operations is Russian, air, artillery, logistics, training and special operations support. Destroying the Idlib rebels and intimidating the separatist Kurds would not be possible without that Russian support. Turkey, Russia and Iran agree with the Assads that the Americans have to leave eastern Syria and cease carrying out airstrikes in Syria. The Americans refuse, as do the Israelis. While Israel has no troops in Syria, it is Israeli warplanes and artillery that constantly attack Iranian backed forces in Syria. The Assads don’t like to discuss the fact that Iran is at war with Israel and getting Israel to stop defending itself is not going to happen. The Assads also prefer to not discuss the fact that they would like the Turks and Iranians to leave. That is not practical at the moment and is the price of victory over the rebellion that almost drove the Assads out of power after 2011.
October 3, 2019: In the West Bank, soldiers and police carried out nighttime operations to arrest 13 Palestinians wanted for various crimes, most connected with Islamic terrorism. Intelligence operations inside the West Bank are continuous and when a suspect or perpetrator cannot easily be found for a daytime arrest the information gathering continues until nighttime locations are found and suspects are often caught asleep. The night operations avoid hostile crowds forming and attacking the police.
September 30, 2019: In western Iraq (Anbar province), the border crossing with Syria (Deir Ezzor province) at Iraqi Qaim/Syrian Bukamal was officially reopened. The crossing had officially closed in 2012 as rebels battled the Syrian army for control. Possession changed hands several times but the area remained a combat zone and had not quieted down sufficiently until early 2018 to consider an official reopening. The border crossing controls a main route up the Euphrates River Valley through Syria and into Turkey. This crossing is one of the several Iranian land routes through Syria to the Israeli border and Lebanon. This route is under constant attack by Israeli airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
September 28, 2019: In Egypt (north Sinai), ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen attacked an army checkpoint. The attackers were repulsed but not before about twenty soldiers, civilians and Islamic terrorists were killed or wounded. The army went after the fleeing attackers and over the weekend found their base (a farm) and raided it. The fifteen Islamic terrorists there refused to surrender and all were killed and several soldiers wounded. Inside the farmhouse, there were more weapons hidden away as well as an explosive vest and documents, mostly on electronic media. Since February 2018 Egyptian counter-terror operations in Sinai, where most of the Islamic terrorist activity has been found, has left 665 terrorists and 62 soldiers dead.
In southern Israel, near the Sinai border, an Egyptian shell landed in Israeli village, damaging a building and a parked car. This was apparently accidental, the side effect of a battle across the border between Egyptian soldiers and Islamic terrorists.
September 25, 2019: In the United States the annual UN meeting of world leaders took place. With the American, Saudi and Iranian leaders present the Iraqi prime minister made very public his opposition to anyone (especially Iran) using Iraq as a battlefield for a proxy war against someone else. This was aimed at Iran, which is the foreign nation most actively trying to control what goes on inside Iraq and has been using propaganda, persuasion, threats and violence to get what it wants. The Iraqi warning was also meant for Israel, whose airstrikes against pro-Iran forces in Iraq are increasing. Yet Israel, more than anyone else, is acting in self-defense because the main goal of the Iranian government since the 1990s has been to destroy Israel. Iran has attempted many attacks against Israel or Israelis since then. Some have succeeded but fewer and fewer as the years go by. The Iranians are not pleased by their failure in this area. Also discussed at the UN, but less openly, was the recent Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities and efforts to launch some of those attacks from Iraq. The Iraqis apparently blocked that effort, so the recent attack on Saudi Arabia was launched from Iran.
September 24, 2019: At the UN Egypt and Qatar both openly advocated for different policies to bring peace to Libya.
Since late 2018 LNA (Libyan National Army) ally Egypt has been urging LNA leader
to negotiate a settlement with the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord). In 2018 Egypt was certain that the LNA had pacified eastern Libya up to and including the Egyptian border. That is the main Egyptian concern. Egypt worked with the UAE to support the LNA and while Egypt is less active the UAE is still a major supporter of the LNA as is Russia. Egypt points out that the main obstacle to peace and national units in Libya is the continued support Islamic militias receive from countries like Turkey and Qatar. The Turks have even sent troops and weapons to help militias defend their last stronghold, the traditional capital of Tripoli. The LNA has, since 2014, systematically defeated, disarmed to recruited disruptive militias throughout most of Libya. The LNA also shut down a lot of Islamic terror groups. Yet the UN continues to back the GNA, whose main support comes from militias, many of them regularly fighting each other.
September 23, 2019: Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan is back in the United States, for the annual UN meeting of world leaders. Kahn gave several speeches and interviews in which he repeated that Pakistan, unlike many Arab states, would never recognize the existence of Israel and that the United States was responsible for any Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. This pledge is mainly to please allies like Iran and Turkey. Most Arab states are mending relations with Israel and Pakistani neighbor India is the largest importer of Israeli weapons. These have already been responsible for the deaths of many Pakistanis who were seeking to enter India and kill non-Moslem Indians
September 22, 2019: In western Iraq (Anbar province), an unidentified aircraft, possibly a UAV, attacked a pro-Iran PMF base about 30 kilometers from the Syrian border. These attacks are more frequent and while Israel is the main suspect there is no definitive evidence from the bomb or missile debris or from efforts to get a close-up photo of the aircraft. Israel will not discuss the matter.
September 19, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) there was apparently another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Five pro-Iran militiamen were killed and nine wounded. This border crossing is vital for the Iran-to-Mediterranean land route. This road is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon. Israel has bombed it before and will apparently continue doing so. That is what will also happen to the new military base Iran is building here on the Syrian side of the border. The base is not complete yet but will be soon and expected to be occupied by the end of 2019. At that point, the Israeli airstrikes usually begin.
September 16, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), an Israeli airstrike hit a pro-Iran PMF near the al Bukamal crossing into Iraq.
September 14, 2019: In the north (the Lebanese border), soldiers patrolling the border disrupted efforts by smugglers to bring 40 pistols into Israel for sale on the black market. One of the smugglers was caught, along with the shipment of pistols. Illegal drugs and weapons are the most lucrative items smuggled into Israel.