Israel: No Easy Way Out Of This Mess

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December 24, 2020: The West Bank Fatah government calls for war against Israel still produces a lot of attacks in the West bank. In the last year there have been nearly 600 rock throwing incidents, 90 stabbing attempts and twenty firebomb attacks. Fatah, the political party that has ruled all Palestinians until 2007 (when Hamas gained control of Gaza), and the West Bank since the 1990s, openly calls for the destruction of Israel. Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 because they were seen as less corrupt than Fatah. Hamas was also much more into using violence against Israel, and that came with a cost to all Palestinians. When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 they refused to allow any further elections. This left the Palestinians divided with Fatah still controlling the West Bank, where 60 percent of Palestinians lived. Holding elections is one thing; both Hamas and Fatah agreeing on the outcome is another matter. Both Fatah and Hamas openly condemn Arab states that recently made peace with Israel or are considering doing so. That means Fatah and Hamas are openly criticizing the UAE and Saudi Arabia, long the most generous Arab donors to Palestinians. No more, mainly because of the corruption that kept much of that money from getting to Palestinians that needed it. Fatah and Hamas are both turning to Iran for military and economic aid. At the moment Iran cannot afford to give much. Fatah sees Iran favoring Hamas and the Hamas plan to use subversion and violence to eliminate Fatah in a reunited Palestinian government. Fatah is desperate, having lost most foreign aid and about to lose more because of its refusal to stop diverting a large fraction of foreign aid to reward imprisoned Palestinians who have killed or at least attacked Israelis. The families of dead terrorists also receive payments. All this encourages Palestinians to undertake attacks.

The Fatah refusal to make peace with Israel is a major reason Israel has been able to establish diplomatic relations with a growing number of Moslem (especially Arab) states. Fatah and Hamas both use violence to prevent the emergence of any political opposition, so any new Palestinian unification election would present just two choices. Opinion polls indicate if a third party, one pledging to not act like Fatah or Hamas, could win. That option is strongly opposed by Hamas and Fatah and there is no easy way out of this mess.

Syria

Russia is trying to make the best of a bad situation in Syria by encouraging peace talks between Israel and the Assad government of Syria. This is referred to as the Russian Plan B, a desperate but plausible ploy to avoid the unwelcome presence of Iran and Turkey in Syria and take advantage of Israeli eagerness to make peace, even with the Assads, if that got Iran out of Syria. That is something Israel and Syrians (and everyone else) can agree on. The war in Syria should be over by now but it isn’t because the foreign factions, especially the Iranians and the Turks, have unresolved issues. Iran is obsessed with destroying Israel and is not having much success at all. Turkey wants to eliminate Kurdish separatists (both Turkish and Syrian) from Syria and that is proving very difficult. The Americans want to keep ISIL down and support their Kurdish allies while Russia wants to prop up the Assad government in order to keep the airbase and port facilities arrangements they have obtained from the Assads. Discussions are underway and kept under wraps.

Yemen

The Iran-backed Shia rebels in Yemen are now making a major effort to attack Red Sea shipping, which has an impact on Israel. These attacks are the result of Iran changing its tactics in Yemen. The Shia rebels are slowly losing territory to more numerous government forces. Saudi air defenses continue neutralizing ballistic and cruise missile attacks. In response Iran has switched to attempting to disrupt Red Sea commercial traffic by damaging tankers and cargo ships using mines and remotely controlled bomb boats. The Iranians have been shifting to naval strategy for most of 2020 and it is starting to pay off as more and more commercial ships are suffering damage, What the Iranians need is more successful attacks on Red Sea shipping, including a few large ships being sunk. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are very vulnerable to this Iranian strategy. Disrupting Red Sea traffic interferes with the growing percentage of Saudi Arabian imports and exports that move though Red Sea ports. The Saudis want to reduce reliance on Persian Gulf ports. Red Sea security is even more critical for Egypt. Nearly 20,000 ships a year pass through the Red sea headed for the Suez Canal, which earns Egypt nearly $6 billion a year in transit fees.

December 23, 2020: Italy has identified Hezbollah as the source of amphetamine (meth) pills that are increasingly showing up in Europe. The most popular form of meth is actually Captagon, which is the trade name for fenethylline, a synthetic variant amphetamine. Italy seized over fourteen tons of these pills (worth about a billion dollars) in the last six months and they all came from Lebanon, where Hezbollah controls the drug trade. This form of amphetamines has fewer bad side effects (like increased blood pressure) than conventional meth. Fenethylline is still pretty potent and by the 1980s most countries had either outlawed it or made it a prescription drug. Now the most common form of fenethylline is Captagon, which is widely available in the Middle East. Fenethylline was even manufactured by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in a captured drug factory using raw materials smuggled in from Turkey. Captagon is considered a major problem in the Middle East because there is so much illegal use of it. It is the stimulant of choice among many Syrian rebels as well as pro-government forces. Their source has been Lebanon, where Hezbollah has become a major producer and supplier of Captagon throughout the region.

December 22, 2020: In Morocco and an Israeli delegation met with government officials to finalize the details of implementing normal diplomatic and trade relationships. This is the fourth Moslem nation to establish relations with Israel this year. Sudan did so in October, Bahrain in September and the UAE in August. Saudi Arabia is considering such a move and meanwhile agreed to open their air space to Israeli commercial aviation. Indonesia is believed to be discussing establishing ties and Turkey is discussing restoring close ties it had with Israel before an Islamic party gained control of the Turkish government in 2000. By 1980 Israel had made peace with Jordan and Egypt.

Israel and the UAE have had covert relationships for over a decade but making it formal is all about Iran and Turkey. These two nations aspire to “lead” the Moslems in the region, at the expense of Arab Moslems. This new alliance is, in part, because of the realization that Israelis are also Semites while the Turks are Turks and the Iranians are Indo-European. Such differences matter, especially in the Middle East where Arabs are beginning to see Israel as an important Semitic state that differs only in terms of religion (mostly Jewish), greater prosperity, nuclear weapons and the most powerful military in the region.

Regarding Gaza, the Israeli government seized $4 million Iran was trying to transfer to Hamas via local money changing firms in Gaza. That business is legal but some of the firms also smuggle in cash from Iran and other criminal operations. If Israel detects smuggling and can prove it in an Israeli court, the cash can be seized. Hamas needs this money to pay its security forces and other employees. Most donors, including Arab Gulf states, have stopped financing Hamas and in response Sunni Hamas turned to Shia Iran for support.

In Turkey the parliament approved an 18 month extension of Turkish military forces in Libya. In response Egypt said it continue its policy of not intervening militarily.

December 17, 2020: In Egypt (Sinai) two roadside bombs in separate attacks killed three soldiers and wounded ten.

December 16, 2020: An Israeli Dolphin class submarine was seen passing through the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea and then towards the Persian Gulf. Since 2014 Israel has been obtaining German built Dolphin class submarines that are equipped with fuel cell based AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) system which enables them to stay under water for over a week at a time. The Dolphins in general are also very quiet, and very difficult to hunt down and destroy. The first three Dolphins didn't have AIP. Germany delivered all three of the AIP Dolphins by 2019. The first three non-AIP Dolphins arrived in 1998-2000. The second three Dolphins cost about $650 million each, with Germany picking up a third of the cost on two of them. The first two Dolphins were paid for by Germany, as was most of the cost of the third one. This is more of German reparations for World War II atrocities against Jews. The three older boats have since been upgraded to include larger fuel capacity, converting more torpedo tubes to the larger 650mm size, and installing new electronics. The fuel and torpedo tube mods appear to have something to do with stationing the subs off the coast of Iran. Larger torpedo tubes allow the subs to carry longer range missiles, which could include cruise missiles with nuclear warheads. The larger fuel capacity makes it easier to move Dolphins from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Although Israel has a naval base on the Red Sea, Egypt, until 2012, did not allow Israeli subs to use the Suez Canal. So the Dolphins were modified to go around Africa, if they had to. Improved relations with Egypt, which is also threatened by Iran, changed that Suez Canal policy.

December 15, 2020: Over the last two weeks Israel ran successful tests demonstrating three different air-defense systems communicating with each other using a centralized target detection and fire control network. This enabled each system to successfully attack targets it was likely able to destroy. This test also showed that Iron Dome was capable of destroying an incoming cruise missile. Other incoming weapons included unguided rockets, a ballistic missile and UAVs.

December 12, 2020: Israel confirmed what journalists and intel agencies in other countries have been reporting about Iranian forces in Syria. Israel revealed that it had carried out over 500 attacks on Iranian forces and bases in Syria during 2020. Most attacks were from the air but artillery (cannon and missiles) were also used as well as a few ground operations. As a result Iran has reduced the number of locations where is bases troops or stores equipment. There are fewer Iranian forces, most of them foreign mercenaries, The mercs are expensive and Iran is obliged to pay for medical care or death benefits as part of the compensation offered its mercenaries. Over a thousand mercenaries and at least a hundred Iranians have been killed or wounded by these attacks. Iran has not yet found a way to retaliate but so far has remained in Syria and moved most remaining forces to bases in northern and eastern Syria. These are also attacked but it costs the Israelis more to do so. Israel also revealed that it had also been conducting Cyber War attacks against Iran, both in Syria and in Iran itself. The Iranians have responded with its own Cyber War attacks, but these have done little damage.

December 10, 2020: Egyptian negotiators visited Gaza to discuss a long-term peace deal between Hamas and Israel. These negotiations have been underway sporadically for years. Egypt wants peace in Gaza, Hamas is not so sure. Current Hamas patron Iran definitely does not want peace in Gaza.

December 8, 2020: Egypt revealed that its counter-terrorism operations in Sinai had killed at least 40 Islamic terrorists since September. These operations also led to the arrest of nearly 30 suspects. The security forces lost six dead and many more wounded, mainly while carrying out thousands of patrols and hundreds of sweeps and raids. All this activity uncovered 440 Islamic terrorist hideouts or weapons storage sites. Engineers disabled or destroyed 160 explosive devices used by the Islamic terrorists. Six vehicles and 32 motorcycles were also seized. The violence continues in northern Sinai because Egypt does not want to or cannot deploy enough troops to the area. With more forces patrolling and manning checkpoints the Islamic terrorists would be isolated and vulnerable to extermination. In that case Egypt sees the risk that the Islamic terrorists, most of them ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) will move into the rest of Egypt. ISIL would be more vulnerable there but they could survive at a lower level of operations. ISIL was unable to establish itself, much less survive, in Israel and Libya has become a very hostile place for them. ISIL goes where there are targets and the least risk of being exterminated by counter-terrorism efforts.

December 6, 2020: In Iran an unidentified group of Iranians added an Israeli flag and a “Thank You Mossad” sign below it. This was draped from a bridge over larger banners condemning Israel for the recent killing of an Iranian IRGC officer and scientist who played a key role in the Iranian nuclear weapons development program. Owning an Israeli flag is a major crime in Iran. Displaying it and then posting photos on the Internet can get you executed.

December 1, 2020: In Syria (Damascus) an Israeli air strike killed eight Iranian mercenaries guarding an Iranian arms storage site south of the city.

November 30, 2020: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency criticized the UAE (United Arab Emirates), but not Egypt, for providing air and logistics support for Russian military contractors in Libya. The UAE and Russia have been supporting the LNA (Libyan National Army) for years and have long provided lots of equipment and some troops for the LNA. It is unclear why the U.S. government would now make an issue of that support. While Turkey is seen as an invader, Russian forces, which have been supporting the LNA for over three years, is seen as an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are actually fighting each other in Libya, where Turkey supports the other, weaker, faction. Neither side is fighting anymore because of a ceasefire. In addition to Russia the LNA is backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. That has also stopped, for the moment. The Libya fighting resulted in NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion.

November 29, 2020: On the Syria/Iraq border an unidentified UAV used a missile to kill an unnamed senior IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps) officer whose car was crossing the border after midnight. Three other IRGC men in the vehicle also died. Iran believed Israel was responsible. This “assassination” comes a day after a key Iranian nuclear weapons scientist was ambushed and killed outside the Iranian capital. Iranian officials are openly calling for retaliation but so far have not been able to deliver. This makes the Iranian leadership look weak and that just makes those leaders more determined to make the Israelis and Americans pay for the growing list of successful operations to thwart Iranian efforts in Syria and back in Iran where efforts to build a nuclear weapon plod on.

November 28, 2020: President Sisi of Egypt visited South Sudan looking for support in its battle with Ethiopia over GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) on the Blue Nile. Egypt put out a list of ten reasons Egypt wants to improve relations with South Sudan. Two specifically addressed the Nile: “Enhancing the existing cooperation between the two countries in the field of water resources and irrigation and maximizing the utilization of the Nile River resources”; “The Nile River should be a source of cooperation and development as a lifeline for all the peoples of the Nile Basin nations.”

November 27, 2020: Sudan confirmed that an Israeli government delegation visited Sudan on November 23 and met with Sudanese security officials and discussed defense-related issues. In late October Sudan and Israel agreed to open trade and economic ties. The Sudan and Israeli negotiators called for normalized relations, which some media reported as diplomatic recognition. Not quite. But trade and investment deals are in the offing. Until this announcement Sudan was officially at war with Israel. The negotiations and trade agreements indicate that a state of war no longer exists. Now Sudan is calling on Israel for help in defense matters. This is something many African states have done successfully.

November 25, 2020: In the south (Golan Heights) Israeli aircraft dropped thousands of leaflets on Syrian villages near the border warning residents to stay away from Iranian or Hezbollah bases near the border. The civilians know where these bases are and some will do business with those in the bases. These leaflets made it clear that Israeli airstrikes on these Iranian bases and camps would be a regular occurrence.

November 22, 2020: In Saudi Arabia, the first meeting between the Israeli leader and the Saudi crown prince was held in a Saudi Red Sea coastal town. The Saudis denied the meeting took place and the Israelis had no comment. The Israeli leader was accompanied by the head of Mossad (the Israeli CIA). For months it has been rumored that the Saudis were reaching out to Israel for help in dealing with Iranian aggression in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudis are particularly concerned about Yemen, which has always been a troublesome southern neighbor. The official Saudi position for over half a century is that Israel must be destroyed. That has turned into efforts to establish formal diplomatic, trade and military links with Israel. Most Arab leaders see this as necessity to deal with Iran and other real or potential foreign threats from Turkey, Russia, China and so on. While Arab leaders have accepted the need for such a change, most of their subjects have not and recent opinion surveys confirm this threat.

Iran announced that it was fed up with unjustified Israeli attacks on Iranian military advisors in Syria. From now on Iran would inflict serious damage on Israel if the airstrikes continued.

November 21, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) there was another airstrike against Iranian mercenaries guarding weapons stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were fifteen deaths of Afghan and Iraqi gunmen working for Iran. The attackers were believed to be Israeli but the Israelis rarely confirm these attacks.

November 19, 2020: Egypt is hosting another round of Palestinian reconciliation talks aimed at forming a unified Palestinian government by holding elections in Gaza and the West Bank. This would select a new Palestinian parliament that Egypt hopes would be anti-Iran. That parliament has not functioned since 2007.

 

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