December 18, 2019:
Israel believes Iran is moving short-range (under 1,000 kilometers) ballistic missiles into Iraq and concealing them in areas where pro-Iran militias are dominant. These would be used in the event of a war with Israel, along with rockets and missiles already in Lebanon and Gaza. This could cause problems with Iraq, especially since a retired IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) causally admitted, in a recent media interview, that Iran controlled the many rockets and missiles stored in southern Lebanon for potential use against Israel. An official denial was issued because Iran has always denied having direct control over Hezbollah, the Shia militia that has controlled southern Lebanon for decades. It is no secret that Iran controls Hezbollah but officially that is not the case.
Iran–backed Shia rebels in Yemen recently threatened to use their Iranian ballistic and cruise missiles against Israel. These rebels took credit for the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities. Iran supported this claim but the physical evidence clearly showed that the attack came from Iran, and inside Iran, it is taken for granted that this was an Iranian, not Yemeni rebels.
Since early November Israel has launched multiple airstrikes on Syria five times and smaller, one target missions much more frequently. The multiple airstrikes were different in that they went after the best defended Iranian targets and that meant attacking Syrian air defenses in a big way. Russia did not like this because Syrian air defense systems are almost entirely Russian and the apparent ease with which Israel destroyed these targets was an embarrassment for Russia. There were public protests from Russia but no threats as Russian and Israeli leaders remained in contact. Apparently Israel convinced Russia that the Iranian threat was still serious and required decisive and destructive action. Russia wants things to calm down in Syria so they can implement their planned reconstruction projects. These are rather modest (about $300 million, only a few percent of what is needed) and concentrate on rebuilding the port of Tartus, where there is a Russian naval base. Also planned is building a railroad from Tartus to Iraq where it would connect with an Iraqi railroad to Basra and the Persian Gulf.
Russia needs to remain on good terms with Israel despite the fact the Russian allies (or “partners”) in Syria (Turkey, Iran and Assads) all want Israel destroyed. Israel will continue to attack any Iranian moves towards Israel, especially the Israeli border and those attacks have recently become more intense.
Iran was surprised by the Americans withdrawing their troops from Syria and leaving the Kurds without American air support and the presence of U.S. troops. That was not entirely true as the Americans are keeping about 600 troops, and air support, to protect the Kurdish run oil fields in eastern Syria. The Americans moved their withdrawing troops to the Iraq border. Finally, the official American policy is to stay in Syria until assured that locals can handle counterterrorism operations, especially against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The Americans admit that this may keep their troops in Syria for years, but the U.S. does not see any alternative.
The Iranians have more than Turkey and Israel to worry about. The Syrian effort is costing Iran a lot of money, which they cannot afford. This has led to a major reduction in Iranian mercenary forces in Syria while remaining Quds and IRGC forces there are mainly concerned with carrying out attacks on Israel. The humiliation of constant defeats in the form of Israeli airstrikes and loss of Iranian lives has enraged the Iranians. But it has not empowered them to do any better. So far Iran has tolerated the losses and continues to pour resources into permanently establishing itself in Syria. Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using its presence in Syria but is encountering resistance from Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and most NATO nations. Now there is the Turkish invasion that has made the Iranians a potential battlefield opponent of the Turks. Iran made it clear it was not willing to do much about halting the invading Turks. Over the last four centuries, Iran has fought the Turks many times and usually lost. The same pattern exists with Israel more recently. Over the last two centuries, Russia has also been a difficult foe. Back in Iran most Iranians are more willing to recognize what a bad place Syria is for Iran and since 2017 there have been more and more public protests about that, and other shortcomings of the Iranian government. Hundreds of Iranian civilian protesters have died in the last two months as the government tries to suppress the protest movement. Iranians are fed up with their three decade old religious dictatorship.
December 17, 2019: In Lebanon, the army fought with Shia militias, mainly Hezbollah but also the smaller Amal, who tried to occupy areas in downtown Beirut (the capital). The Shia militia were protesting a video (by a Sunni Arab) they said was offensive to Shia Islam. Since October Lebanon has been the scene of large anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah protests lately and this was a Hezbollah effort to fight back. Until recently the army would not confront, much less fight, Hezbollah. That is changing.
December 16, 2019: In an effort to reassure Israelis that the Iranian threats to use hundreds, or thousands of cruise missiles to attack Israel, the air force revealed a capability of the F-35 that was suspected but never confirmed. The F-35 AESA radar and fire control was designed to track cruise missile or small UAV type targets over a wide area and uses its own missiles to destroy them or, more importantly, to pass that data onto other aircraft or ground-based anti-aircraft systems and enable a coordinated attack by all these to destroy the incoming low altitude threat. More details were not revealed but what was disclosed was enough to force Iran to reconsider how it would use cruise missiles. Fear of Iranian use of cruise missiles was triggered by the use of cruise missiles to carry out a surprise on Saudi oil facilities in September. The Saudis were not expecting such an attack from Iran and that enabled Iran to carry it out because airborne radars or special ground-based ones are the only systems that can guarantee to spot such an attack.
Israeli export officials gave final approval for a 2018 agreement to supply Egypt with $15 billion worth of natural gas over the next decade. It was thought these imports would not be needed because of the new Egyptian natural gas discoveries. Long term all these Egyptian natural gas fields could solve many economic problems. But it will take many years to get these natural gas fields producing gas for the Egyptian economy. Meanwhile, the Israeli natural gas fields are producing and Egypt sees the Israeli has as an effective stopgap until the Egyptian natural gas supply is a reality.
December 15, 2019: Denmark credited Israeli intelligence (Mossad) for providing information that led to the arrests of 21 Islamic terrorists in Denmark who were actively planning several attacks.
In Sudan, the new government asked the U.S. to remove Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. Sudan has been on the list since 1993 because recently overthrown dictator Bashir was friendly towards Iran and Hamas. To that end, Sudan has ordered the expulsion of Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon) and the closure of the offices they maintained here. These two groups often used Sudan as a base for smuggling and other support activities. Any individuals or groups on the U.S. terrorism list will be expelled. Hamas still has offices in Turkey, where the government generally ignores the State Sponsors of Terrorism designation except for the most extreme cases, like ISIL, that persist in carrying out attacks in Turkey.
December 14, 2019: In the West Bank, the Palestinian security forces (run by Fatah, the archrival of Hamas) arrested over sixty Hamas members. The immediate reason for this was Hamas supporters in the West Bank exuberantly celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the founding of Hamas as a Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. Hamas came to consider Fatah, a more moderate group that became the official leader of all Palestinians in the 1990s, as a failure, Hamas, which was strongest in Gaza, always disputed Fatah claims to be the true leader of all Palestinians. The rivalry continues. While both groups back the destruction of Israel and murder or expulsion of all Jews in the region, Fatah is sensible enough to not support preparations for major attacks on Israel. Fatah still encourages “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians using knives, screwdrivers, rocks, firebombs or vehicles. This advice gets most Palestinians who try it killed, although it does occasionally kill an Israeli. In contrast Hamas stockpiles, and occasionally uses, rockets against Israel. Hamas also encourages armed Gazans to try to get into Israel any way they can and kill Israelis. These efforts, involving thousands of armed and determined Gazans over the years has never succeeded. Israel regularly releases videos from aircraft cameras or vidcams used by ground forces or installed along the Gaza security fence. These videos show armed Gazans, often at night, trying to reach the security fence and cut their way through it. Over the last few years, more of these videos are from thermal (heat) sensors that clearly show men moving towards the border carrying a rifle. Gazans have access to all these pictures, which are released to the mass media and the Internet. Despite that Gazans continue to try and Hamas praises them once their bodies have been identified. In practical terms, Hamas has spent a lot more (in money and lives) trying to attack Israel and has less to show for it than Fatah.
The Libyan embassy in Egypt announced that it was closing indefinitely. The official reason was “security problems”. The reality was that most of the embassy staff had turned against
the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) Libyan government and now backed the rival HoR (House of Representatives) government based in eastern Libya. The MOR military, the LNA (Libyan National Army) has been fighting since April to take the last GNA stronghold, Tripoli. This is the largest city in Libya and the traditional capital. Egypt has long backed the HoR because the LNA had taken control of the Egyptian border and helped keep Islamic terrorists out of Egypt. By 2018 Egypt was certain that the LNA had pacified eastern Libya up to and including the Egyptian border. That was always 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 unity in Libya is the continued support Libyan Islamic militias, and especially the Moslem Brotherhood, receive from countries like Turkey and Qatar. The Turks have even sent troops and weapons to help pro-GNA militias defend their last stronghold, Tripoli. Overall the Turks have been particularly aggressive in Libya. In contrast, 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. With the LNA now close to taking Tripoli many GNA supporters are agreeing with Egypt, and that included most of the staff of the Libyan embassy in Egypt. That embassy was established with the backing of the UN. Egypt is now more open in its opposition to the GNA because that government has welcomed Turkish military aid and promises of Turkish troops to prevent the loss of Tripoli. So far Turkey has not sent troops and Egypt wants to keep it that way. Egypt, like most Arab countries, was once a conquered province of the Ottoman Turkish empire and does not want the Turks to return. Even Syria, an Iranian dependency, wants Turks out of Syria. In part, this is because it is an open secret in Syria that Turkey offers support for some Sunni Islamic terror groups but denies it is doing so.
December 13, 2019: Senior American and Israeli military leaders met in the United States to work out details of their combined efforts against Iran.
December 12, 2019: In the north, Israel revealed that Hezbollah was still building tunnels on their side of the border and that Israel would destroy those tunnels if they reached the Israeli border. In January the Israeli military said the search for Hezbollah tunnels inside Israel was finished and that a sixth tunnel had been discovered. This one was about 60 meters (180 feet) deep and deep and extended less than ten meters (30 feet) into Israel and was about 800 meters long. Israel had earlier revealed that it had developed technology to detect tunnel construction activity farther away but has not revealed how far.
December 10, 2019: Commercial satellite photos clearly show Iran building tunnels in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. 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. The new tunnels are apparently large enough for trucks to drive into, for refuge from airstrikes as well as for getting across the border unseen. Israel has bombed this area many times and continues doing so. Because of that Iran is constructing the tunnels to better conceal the cargo trucked in from Iran and moved into Syria via this crossing. The tunnels are near the new military base Iran is building on the Syrian side of the border. The base is nearly complete despite several Israeli airstrikes. Once the base is completed the Israeli airstrikes will intensify in an effort to obliterate the base. Probably the same for the tunnels. Israel has had to deal with cross-border tunnels before, on its Lebanon and Gaza borders.
December 9, 2019: Russian and Iranian media claim that on December 6th Russian jet fighters, operating from the Russian airbase in northwest Syria, intercepted Israeli warplanes that appeared to be on their way to attack the T-4 airbase, and forced the Israelis to turn back. There was no comment from the Israelis. This airbase, in central Syria near Palmyra, has been hit by Israeli airstrikes several times in 2019 and many more times in earlier years. The T4 airbase is the largest in Syrian. This is where Iran moved its UAV operations in 2018 after its original UAV base in Syria was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Russia later revealed that its electronic jammers, which were supposed to disrupt the guidance systems of missiles attacking Syrian bases failed to do so during the 2018 T-4 attack. Details were not given, only that the Russian jammers were “interfered with by external forces.” Russia is embarrassed by the apparent ineffectiveness of its air defenses when used against Israeli airstrikes. The Israelis don’t rub it in and generally respond with “no comment” when asked about it.
December 8, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas targets. This was in response to three rockets fired into Israel. All three were intercepted.
In Egypt (Sinai), ISIL gunmen attacked a checkpoint, killing one policeman and wounding two others. One attacker was killed and at least one was wounded as the attackers fled.
December 7, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were four or five deaths, all of them pro-Iran militiamen.
December 6, 2019: One way to measure the effectiveness of governments and the societies they represent is the Human Development Index the UN has compiled for 29 years. The index ranks all the world nations in terms of how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. In 2019 Israel was 22nd out of 189 nations while Egypt was 116, Lebanon 93, Syria 154 and Jordan 103. The top ten nations are Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore and Netherlands. The bottom ten are Mozambique at 180th place (there are a lot of ties) followed by Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and in last place, Niger. Other notable nations are the United States at 15 (tied with Britain), Russia at 49, China 89, South Korea 22 (tied with Israel), Saudi Arabia 36, Iran 65, India 129, Pakistan 152, Bangladesh 135, Afghanistan 170, Venezuela 96, Colombia 79 and Mexico 76. North Korea is not ranked because not enough reliable data is available on the population or economy.
December 5, 2019: Egypt is clearly frustrated at its inability to persuade Hamas to halt the border violence against Israel in return for a long term (five years) ceasefire deal that would include costly economic development projects in Gaza. Hamas refusing to go this way is no secret to Gazans and they are not pleased with Hamas' preference for pointless border violence. Hamas leaders see the situation differently. This is because Hamas recently stayed out of a violent episode between Israel and Hamas' rival Islamic Jihad. Now Islamic Jihad is feuding with Hamas as well as Israel. This policy was embraced by the new Islamic Jihad leader. His predecessor was killed by an Israeli missile strike on November 12th. Since then Israeli airstrikes have concentrated on Islamic Jihad targets. Gazans accuse Hamas of standing aside after November 12rth and leaving Islamic Jihad on its own. This made Islamic Jihad more popular with Gazans. That is a big deal because Islamic Jihad is usually more hated in Gaza and Egypt because it is more destructive, less reliable and working for Iran. Both Israel and Egypt see Iran as the enemy and Hamas goes along with that if only because most Gazans are also anti-Iran.
While all this feuding and posturing is going on between Hamas and Islamic Jihad most Gazans are acutely aware of the fact the antics of Islamic terror groups in Gaza, especially Hamas, have ruined the Gaza economy over the last twelve years. The Islamic terror groups call the Israeli blockade unjustified despite its effectiveness in reducing Israel casualties from Hamas attacks.
December 4, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq.
December 1, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Israeli airstrikes overnight (from yesterday) hit Hamas targets. This was in response to a rocket fired yesterday into Israel. Some mortar shells were also fired into Israel, None did any damage but they did violate the ceasefire. Hamas seems unable to stop firing these rockets, who do very little damage to Israelis and always trigger retaliation that does inflict damage on Hamas facilities. In the last year at last 1,500 rockets and mortar shells have been fired from Gaza. Most are detected and intercepted or simply allowed to land in an unoccupied area if that there the projectile is going. In the year before that, about 1,100 projectiles were fired. This compulsive-obsessive behavior is irrational but so is most of what Hams does. A much smaller number of rockets are fired from Syria or Lebanon, with the same results. During the previous three years (2015-17) fewer than a hundred rockets and shells altogether were fired into Israel. Hamas knows these attacks are popular in the short-term but in the long-term, they are eroding support for Hamas inside Gaza. It is reaching the point where more attacks against Israel no longer impress Gaza residents and the Israeli retaliations are blamed on Hamas.
In the Mediterranean an Israeli Oceanographic research ship off the coast of Cyprus was approached by a Turkish warship and ordered to move out of the area. The Cypriot scientists aboard the Israeli ship, which had permission to be where they were, protested that the Israeli ship was in Cypriot waters as recognized by international agreements. The Turks said that had changed due to a recent agreement made with Libya and ordered the Israeli vessel to move from “Turkish waters” or be fired on.
November 30, 2019: While Syria remains firmly entrenched in the top ten of the 2019 GTI (Global Terrorism Index), which counts all forms of terrorism, Egypt has dropped out of the top ten. In 2017 Egypt was number three but now it is at eleven. The top ten consists of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, Philippines, and Congo. India, Philippines, Yemen and Congo all have Islamic terrorism accounting for a minority of the deaths. In the last year worldwide terrorism deaths declined 15 percent to 15,952. This decline is, so far, a four year trend and Syria is one of the areas where there have been fewer deaths in the last few years. Egypt saw an even more dramatic 90 percent decline.
November 29, 2019: In the south (Gaza), A Palestinian was shot and killed while trying to get through the border fence. This happened during one of the Friday mass attacks on the border fence. The border attacks, which had held nearly every Friday in 2019, had been halted in early November but had now resumed because a few days ago Israel retaliated with airstrikes because three rockets had been fired into Israel.
November 27, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Israeli airstrikes overnight (into the 28th) hit Hamas targets in Gaza in response to three rockets fired into Israel since the 25th. Two of those rockets were shot down while the other did no damage.
At the main Israeli border crossing for cargo, Israeli inspectors seized 325 packages containing dual-use items (scuba gear, military knives, satellite phones, quadcopters, binoculars and so on) that were ordered online, mainly from Amazon. This has been going on for years and sometimes Israel bans mail-order packages all together for months to persuade Hamas to cease ordering this stuff. Hamas persists because some of it gets through. These packages comes in via the postal service to Gaza. In the past, some packages were found to contain weapons and bomb-making components hidden in a growing number of parcels.
November 26, 2019: In southern Israel, near the Sinai border, an Egyptian tank gun shell landed in Israeli village, damaging a building but not exploding. This was apparently accidental, the side effect of a battle or training exercise across the border. Egyptian soldiers patrol the border and often encounter and fire on Islamic terrorists near the border. The border region is thinly populated and bullets or shells that hit the Israeli side are often not noticed. The Israelis and Egyptians regularly share reports of clashes near the border. This recent incident is similar to one that occurred in September. In both cases no one was hurt.
November 23, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Israeli troops shot down a quadcopter flying from Gaza into Israel. The quadcopter crashed on the Israeli side of the border and the wreckage was recovered for study. The quadcopter was not equipped with explosives, just the usual vidcam, which was apparently being used for surveillance. In September there were two similar incidents.