February 13, 2020:
The Fatah rulers of the West Bank continue to call for violence against Israel but have not tried to get another major terrorism effort going, One reason for this is that since 2000 Israel has defeated all Palestinian attempts to launch and sustain a terror campaign. Another, less publicized reason, is that the Israeli soldiers and police operations in the West Bank are mainly about keeping the roads safe for Israeli settlers and eliminating terrorist groups before they can carry out major attacks anywhere. This includes Hama's efforts to attack Fatah. For obvious reasons Fatah does not like to talk about this but it is a beneficial side-effect of the Israeli security forces in the West Bank.
That protection comes from sources outside Israel as well. Today an American cybersecurity firm revealed that it had discovered a Hamas hacking campaign against senior Fatah officials, which had some success in gaining access to their smartphones and the ability to read emails, texts and much more. Hamas may have had help from Iran in doing this as the Iranians have, after Israel, the most capable Internet hacking capability. This quiet Hamas attack on Fatah won’t change much because the two groups continue to hate each other and are only united in their mutual obsession with Israel.
The “Israel Must Be Destroyed “ Palestinians are encouraged by the growing anti-Semitic violence in the West over the last decade. Ignoring the fact that most of the increase comes from the growing number of Moslem migrants in the West, the anti-Israel attitudes are real. This is the result of a major Palestinian effort to demonize Israel and convince many nations that Palestinians are victims of Israeli oppression. The Palestinians hope all this will eventually result in economic and other sanctions against Israel by Western nations. Anti-Semitic activity in the West is an indicator that there is growing hostility towards Jews and Israel. The one problem with this Palestinian tactic is that more Western politicians and aid (to Palestinian) donors are becoming aware of the decades old Palestinian internal propaganda campaign that calls for the destruction of Israel, not a peace deal. Palestinian leaders are having a hard time explaining this double-dealing. Worse, Western awareness of the real Palestinian attitudes towards Israel renders useless any peace plans that leave Israel as an independent Middle Eastern nation with a Jewish majority. To themselves, Palestinians take it for granted that they only solution to their disagreements with Israel is for Israel to be destroyed. Many Arab nations have concluded that this is not practical, especially when Arab states are facing a serious Iranian threat, something they share with Israel. As a result, Arab governments are establishing economic, military and diplomatic ties with Israel. These Arab governments must also deal with their own radical factions that will never accept Israel and want the Jewish state destroyed. This “radical faction” problem is nothing new in the Arab world, especially since Islam appeared 1,500 years ago and included acceptance of “radical factions” and violent intolerance of other religions in their scripture (the Koran). Inability to deal with the radical faction and intolerance problems has crippled Arab economic, scientific, diplomatic and military progress ever since. Non-Arab Moslem states, most famously Turkey and Iran, worked out ways to cope with and control the radical faction problem. But in the late 20th century both these nations encountered renewed problems with the radical faction problem. For several decades now Arabs have been openly seeking solutions to the radical faction curse but progress has been slow.
The Other Curse
The Middle East has long been recognized as one of the most corrupt regions on the planet. The extent of this corruption can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2019 the least corrupt nation in the region was UAE (United Arab Emirates), which ranked 21st out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 23rd in 2018. The most corrupt was Syria and many other Arab states were on the “most corrupt” end of the list. Corruption is measured annually in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/13, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating under 15 while of the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current UAE score is 71 (versus 70 in 2018) compared to 60 (61) for Israel, 15 (14) for Yemen, 69 (71) for the United States, 35 (35) for Egypt, 26 (27) for Nigeria, 44 (43) for South Africa, 20 (18) for Iraq, 39 (40) for Turkey, 53 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 30 (30) for Ukraine, 45 (44) for Belarus, 58 (60) for Poland, 80 (81) Germany, 65 (61) for Taiwan, 39 (40) for Turkey, 41 (40) for India, 28 (28) for Russia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 41 (39) for China, 14 (17) for North Korea, 37 (35) for Vietnam, 85 (84) for Singapore, 73 (73) for Japan, 40 (37) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 29 (33) for the Maldives, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (28) for Bangladesh, 26 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 29 (30) for Burma, and 28 (28) for Lebanon.
UAE’s corruption score has not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 68. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and to make money in that business you must be known as an honest trading partner. Israeli corruption is largely internal and less present when making trade deals. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangsters than others. But overall the UAE is a place where foreigners feel comfortable doing business.
Sharing The Burden
The Americans have made it clear that they will remain active 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. To accomplish their goal the Americans keep a low profile.
Because the Americans and Israelis often do not announce airstrikes they have carried out and both nations use the same types of warplanes, it is often unclear whose aircraft hit a target. One thing you can be sure of is that if the target was ISIL, it was probably an American airstrike. ISIL targets tend to be in remote areas or in unexpected places because ISIL is hated by most everyone and must maintain a very low profile to avoid detection and attack. The Americans have a more extensive array of intelligence sources (electronic, agents in Syria and worldwide and satellites) that enable them to find well-hidden ISIL locations, and then carry out an airstrike. The Israelis are more concerned with Iranian activities and that is reflected in where the Israeli airstrikes occur.
ISIL is not the threat it was a few years ago, but in Syria there are still a lot of ISIL zealots loose upon the land. ISIL would like to hit targets in Israel but that has proved virtually impossible. Continued Israeli military actions in Syria have been officially noted by ISIL, which recently declared war on Israel. In part, this was to boost morale among the Sinai (Egypt) branch of ISIL which has taken a considerable beating from Egyptian, Israeli and Iranian (Hamas) forces in the last few years. At least the Sinai faction still manages to carry out one or two attacks a month. ISIL is lucky to organize one or two a year inside Israel and these are often partial failures. While Israel doesn’t launch many airstrikes against ISIL in Syria it has hit ISIL targets in Sinai more than a hundred times since 2018.
Iran continues to justify its growing presence in Syria because of its decades' old obsession with destroying Israel. Syria was supposed to be a step in that direction. Instead, Syria has been a money pit and graveyard for expensive efforts to bring in missiles and other weapons for use against Israel. These imports are regularly blown up by Israeli airstrikes. Iranian efforts have faltered a bit as anti-government protests grow in Iran, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq. All this opposition makes it more difficult to justify all the money spent in these places to “destroy Israel.”
Recently, for the first time, Israel revealed actual numbers for airstrikes in Syria and Gaza. During 2019 there were 54 airstrikes against Syrian targets and 900 in Gaza. Israeli UAVs also spent 40,000 hours in the air during the year carrying out surveillance in Gaza and along the northern border. The airstrikes in Syria tended to be larger, involving more aircraft and weapons (missiles, smart bombs) used. In Gaza, an airstrike was usually one missile or smart bomb against a Hamas or Islamic Jihad facility in retaliation for a rocket, mortar and fire balloon attack against Israel.
February 12, 2020: In the Red Sea, an Egyptian fishing boat, while in international waters, was destroyed a Yemeni Shia rebel naval mine. Three of the crew died in the 2 Am explosion and three others were rescued by nearby ships. The Arab Coalition, which Egypt is part of, maintains a naval patrol along the Yemen Red Sea coast to block weapons smugglers and to keep the Red Sea clear of these mines, some of which are Iranian made while the rest are assembled in Yemen from components smuggled in from Iran. Since 2015 the Arab Coalition has found and disposed of 153 of these mines.
In Egypt, the population reached 100 million. This does not include ten million expatriates working elsewhere and planning to eventually return. The population was 20 million in 1950. Continued widespread poverty and Islamic conservatives to declare any form of birth control is forbidden hamper efforts to curb the population growth. That large population does not translate into more effective military capabilities. Corruption leads to many educated Egyptians avoiding military service and a culture of poor military leadership. Training and leadership low quality as is the effectiveness of the troops.
February 11, 2020: In Egypt (Sinai), troops intercepted a large group of ISIL men and killed eleven of them. Soldiers and police pursued the surviving ISIL men into a built-up area full of abandoned buildings. The Islamic terrorists dispersed to those structures and tried to hide but the soldiers methodically searched the area, finding and killing six more armed men. The ISIL group was equipped with explosives and blasting caps as well as assault rifles indicating they were going to assemble and place a roadside bomb somewhere and carry out an ambush.
An Israeli firm recently released a video showing a new version of their Drone Dome UAV detection system that used a short-range (two kilometers) laser. The video showed the laser destroying a swarm of at least eight quad-copters. The laser, guided by the low altitude radar and fire control system, methodically destroyed the UAVs one at a time. Israel also has a more powerful version of this new laser, with a longer range, for military use. Drone Dome is being marketed to commercial customers, especially airports, that want to keep UAVs away from airliners landing and taking off. Drone Dome obviously has military applications as well but is not considered a strictly military system. Israel is considering using Drone Dome on the Gaza border to intercept balloons carrying incendiary devices into Israel from Gaza. The Drone Dome fire control system may be able to spot and destroy the balloons (often a bunch of balloons carrying the payload).
February 10, 2020: Egypt, which has been brokering peace talks between Hamas and Israel, today warned Hamas that if they cooperated with Iran in any operations against Israel, or anyone else, Egypt would further tighten its blockade of Gaza and would even consider attacking Hamas targets in Gaza. This surprised Hamas, which assured Egypt that they would not misbehave at the orders of Iran. The next day Hamas ordered its followers to halt the recently resumed use of balloons carrying explosives sent into Israel. The resumed balloon use is a violation of the current Israel-Hamas ceasefire that Egypt brokered. Egypt was angry that Hamas was violating that agreement. Despite the Hamas order to halt, another balloon bomb crossed the border later in the day. It was unclear if this was the work of Hamas dissidents or another Islamic terror group in Gaza.
February 9, 2020: Over the weekend Russia again accused Israeli airstrikes of using civilian airliners to mask their airstrikes from Syrian air defense systems. Russia provided no evidence and no civilian airliner has complained. This is apparently another effort to support its ally Iran. Russia is unable to halt the Israeli airstrikes with the many Russian air defense systems stationed in Syria so some anti-Israel propaganda is better than nothing.
In Egypt (Sinai), security forces defeated an ISIL attack on a checkpoint. One of the trucks used by the attackers was also destroyed as the defeated Islamic terrorists fled. Two policemen and five soldiers were killed. There used to a lot more of these checkpoint attacks, usually by ISIL. Over the last two years, ISIL has suffered many defeats and is now in survival mode. There are still attacks, just fewer of them and many of those attacks fail.
In Ethiopia, the leaders of Algeria and Egypt met, while attending an African Summit, met to discuss their mutual concerns with Islamic terrorism and the continued fighting in Libya. It was agreed that the two nations would share more intelligence on terrorism but did not agree on how to deal with the Turkish military intervention in Libya. Algeria is on good terms with the Turks, Egypt is not.
February 8, 2020: In the south (Gaza border), Israeli artillery fired on two Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rockets fired into Israel earlier in the day. Elsewhere on the Gaza border a Hamas balloon bomb was found and disabled.
The United States confirmed rumors that the U.S. and Israel had formally agreed to coordinate anti-Iran efforts. Israel is concentrating on Lebanon and Syria while the Americans concentrate on Iraq in addition to maintaining a presence in Kurdish controlled northeast Syria. It had always been pretty obvious that the U.S. and Israel were cooperating is blocking Iranian efforts to build a “land-bridge” from Iran to Lebanon. That required Iran to get past American efforts in Iraq and eastern Syria to block Iranian road access to Syria and Lebanon.
February 7, 2020: In the south, near the Gaza border, a balloon bomb, using an RPG warhead, landed in Israel. Five others floated in from Gaza earlier in the day carrying various incendiary or explosive warheads. None of the balloon bombs caused any injuries and none went off before being disabled. Large scale use of balloon attacks stopped in mid-2019 and it started up again in mid-January.
February 6, 2020: In Syria (outside Damascus), three Israeli airstrikes hit Iranian bases, some of them shared with the Syrian forces. There was considerable property damage and at least 23 Iranian and Syrian personnel were killed and many more wounded.
In Israel (Jerusalem) twelve soldiers were injured when a Palestinian from Jerusalem drove a car into them then drove away. The driver was later arrested. Later a Palestinian fired on a soldier in another part of Jerusalem. Return fire killed the Palestinian shooter. In the West Bank, an Israeli civilian was fired on by a Palestinian and wounded. These three attacks were apparently prompted by Palestinian media calls for a violent response to a recent American peace proposal for the Palestinians. The American plan called for making the Israeli settlements in the West Bank permanent and creating a West Bank Palestinian state where all the borders were controlled by Israel. This addressed Israeli demands that the new West Bank Palestinian state does not have an easy way to become a sanctuary for terrorism or criminal behavior in general. In return, the Palestinians would receive billions of dollars in economic aid and the ability to import and export freely, except for items used by terrorists. The American proposal was dead before it was even delivered because the Palestinian leaders had already declared that the only acceptable action was the elimination of Israel and the expulsion, of death, of all Jews in the Middle East.
February 5, 2020: In Egypt (central Sinai), ISIL gunmen stopped a cab, ordered out the five passengers and murdered them. The dead were soldiers returning from leave.
February 4, 2020: The Israeli Navy revealed that it had detected and intercepted a sea-based weapons smuggling effort for Hamas in Gaza. This event took place last November and was kept secret for three months in order to use the information obtained from the smuggler boat and the two smugglers to locate and shut down the rest of the smuggling operation, which was based in Egypt and required the close cooperation of the Egyptians.
February 2, 2020: In Egypt (north Sinai), ISIL bombed a natural gas pipeline that carries Israeli gas to Egypt. The damage was quickly repaired and the customers did not notice any interruption for gas supply. ISIL has been attacking Sinai pipelines for years and the gas facilities in Sinai have been modified to resist these attacks.
January 28, 2020: The American president and Israeli prime minister met in the U.S. and announced a new U.S. proposal for a Palestinian peace plan. While the two Palestinian governments (Fatah and Hams) promptly denounced the plan and repeated their calls for the destruction of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the UAE backed the plan. These Arab states used to supply the Palestinians with a lot of foreign aid but have cut back or eliminated those donations over the last few years as the Palestinians proved incapable of dealing with their corruption (which saw much of aid stolen by Palestinian leaders) and lack of political unity. The Arab states that backed the American plan today later backtracked when they faced criticism from other Arab states that back Palestinian calls for a plan that destroys Israel.
January 25, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), near the Mayadeen army base, unidentified (but apparently Israeli) aircraft attacked two targets. One contained Iranian troops and the other Iranian Afghan mercenaries.
January 24, 2020: The UN reports that at least seven nations are violating the Libyan arms embargo and supplying weapons and other military aid to either side. Currently, Russia and Turkey are the biggest offenders, along with the UAE and Egypt.
January 23, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another airstrike against Iraqi Hezbollah militia on the Iraqi side of the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. It was unclear if this attack was carried out by American or Israeli aircraft as both nations have attacked this Hezbollah group here before.
January 21, 2020: The Israeli domestic intelligence service (Shin Bet, similar to the British MI5) revealed that it had disrupted (and thus prevented) over 560 “significant” terror attacks in 2019. This included 10 suicide attacks. Four kidnapping efforts and over 300 attacks involving firearms. This is a big increase since 2017 when Shin Bet disrupted about 250 attacks. The Palestinian terrorist activity is about the same earlier years but since 2015 suicidal “knife terrorism” attacks have lost their popularity despite Fatah still pushing them energetically in all the Palestinian media. This can be seen in the number of Palestinian terror attacks disrupted each year. It was 217 in 2014, 187 in 2013 112 in 2012 and 88 in 2011. Since 1948 some 2,600 have died from terror attacks inside Israel. Nearly five percent of those dead were foreigners. Palestinian terrorism efforts have never recovered from the defeat they suffered when Israel adopted new tactics that largely shut down the terror campaign the Palestinians began in 2000. Fatah and Hamas have been trying to revive that effort ever since and have largely failed.