Israel: Friends , Frenemies and Worse

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July 19, 2022: The American president left the Middle East three days ago without accomplishing his key goals in Saudi Arabia. These included the Saudis increasing oil production to make up for a self-imposed cut in American production, as well as an open Saudi commitment to the new alliance between most Arab states and Israel. This problem is the Saudis don’t trust this particular president, a view shared by most Americans. The current U.S. leader has the lowest approval ratings of any U.S. president and his party is headed for massive losses in the next two years as members of Congress face the voters and his own party can’t come up with a viable candidate for the next presidential election in 2024.

The presidential visit went better than expected because changes in official U.S. policy towards Iran were very unpopular in Israel and Saudi Arabia and the American leader admitted that the use of military force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program might be necessary. Saudi Arabia did announce that Saudi Arabia would officially open its air space to all commercial air traffic. The Saudis described this decision as not specifically about Israel, but in reality it is because the Saudis already allowed (since 2020) overflights of Israeli commercial aircraft, but only as far as the UAE (United Arab Emirates) after the UAE officially recognized Israel in 2020. The Saudis implement pro-Israeli measures in this manner or do it quietly. The Saudis and the UAE have long been allies and the more entrepreneurial UAE often adopts policies the Saudis are initially reluctant to follow but, when the Saudis deem it safe for them, they do follow. During the recent American visit, everyone was polite and no one on either side said anything to make the situation with the Americans worse than it already is

The current U.S. government ignores the fact Iran has been run by a religious dictatorship since the 1980s and is facing more opposition from the Iranian people because of that. The Palestinians were promised a resumption in financial aid ($316 million) and support for a two-state solution. The Palestinian media makes it clear that they want Israel destroyed but that was not mentioned during the discussions with the American president. The Palestinians have lost much of their foreign aid, including that from Arab oil states, because so much of it is used to support terrorist against Israel or is stolen by what passes for government in the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudis also said the two-state solution was needed for the Saudis to make official peace with Israel, even though they understand that a two-state deal is not possible with the current Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza. The Saudis have a problem because they have been major promoters of anti-Israel rhetoric since the 1940s and find it difficult to openly change course, like most other Arab oil-states have, especially when faced with growing military threats from Iran. For example, the Palestinian government is financed by Iran. The current American government refuses to recognize the Iranian threat for what it is even as Iran openly supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is selling its armed UAVs to Russia, which has still not caught up in that category of military equipment.

July 17, 2022: In the north (Lebanon border) Israel downed a Hezbollah quadcopter by using EW (electronic warfare) tools. The downed UAV was a Chinese-made DJI quadcopter being used for surveillance.

In Iran there was a funeral for a senior Iranian naval officer who was described as dying a martyr, which is how Iran describes the deaths of a growing number of Iranian involved with nuclear weapons research or terrorist attacks on Israelis. Iran does not like to discuss these deaths but the funerals must be held although the circumstances of the deaths are often withheld. Iran did not blame Israel for the death so it may have been related to some accident within the Iranian navy.

July 16, 2022: The American president left Saudi Arabia after a four-day visit to the Middle East than involved meeting with Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi leaders.

July 15, 2022: Hours after the American president left Israel Hamas in Gaza launched two rocket attacks, each with two rockets on targets in southern Israel. One of the rockets was intercepted because it was headed for a residential area while the other three were ignored by Iron Dome because they were headed for open ground. Early on the 16th Israel responded by using ground penetrating bombs to destroy an underground Hamas rocket component storage bunker. This was obvious because of the large secondary explosion caused by sixteen tons of explosives and rocket propellants stored there detonating. The loss of this material will reduce Hamas production of new rockets for a while. Iran assists in smuggling in rocket components.

July 11, 2022: Iran has offered to supply Russia with UAVs of various types and capabilities. Iran is one of the few countries that support the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has already sent the Russians some weapons via the landlocked Caspian Sea, which borders Russia and Iran. The UAVs are expensive and the economic sanctions on Iran and cash flow problems have already limited foreign military operations Iran supports, especially those against Israel in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

July 7, 2022: Persistent and increasing anti-government protests in all urban areas (not just Tripoli and a few other large cities) has put all Libyan leaders under pressure to compromise, hold national elections and address the self-inflicted economic problems that are impoverishing all Libyans. There is also an embarrassment factor, with both Turks and Arab nations seeing the deadlock as confirmation that Libya cannot maintain its existence as an independent state. Regional and tribal divisions have always been stronger in Libya than in neighboring states like Algeria, Egypt and Sudan. These neighbors have maintained their national unity for centuries with Egypt being one the oldest nation-states in the world. The implication is that Libya is worse than a failed state, it was never really a unified state at all. Over half a century of oil wealth created a unique incentive to unite under a monarchy, then a more durable dictatorship that eventually failed in 2011. If the stubborn factions don’t unite, “Libya” as a unified state will disappear and more traditional and ancient regions and city-states will return, each with a portion of the oil wealth and unable to prevent neighbors from annexing neighboring portions of what used to be Libya that are worth having because of the oil and natural gas. Egypt has been planning for something like this since the oil and natural gas were discovered. Now the opportunities for annexation have never been better.

July 6, 2022: In the north, across the Syrian border in Quneitra province, an armed Israeli UAV used a missile to kill the Lebanese commander of Hezbollah forces in Quneitra. Since the 1980s the Lebanese Hezbollah Shia militia has been supported financially and with weapons by Iran. After 2011 Iran ordered Hezbollah forces into Syria to protect the Shia Assad government and later to take control of the Syrian side of the Israeli border and work with Iranian troops to launch attacks on Israel. This attack was part of a Israeli effort to prevent Iranian forces from operating close to the Israeli border gaining support from the border population in the border provinces of Quneitra, Daraa and Suwayda. Total population of these provinces in 2011 was 1.4 million but only about 20 percent of that was on or near the border. After the 2011 Civil War began much of the Sunni population fled. How much remains on the border is unclear but is apparently at least 100,000. Only Queneitra and Daraa border Israel. Israel has occupied most of Queneitra province since the 1967 War and the Israeli controlled area is mostly the Golan Heights. This is the high ground overlooking northern Israel and the Syrians made a major and ultimately failed effort in the 1973 War to retake Golan. Control of the Daraa border with Israel was sought by Iranian forces but Russian and Syrian troops blocked many of the Iranian efforts and are now pushing away Iranian-backed forces already there.

July 2, 2022: In the north, off the Israeli maritime border with Lebanon, an Israeli warship used a missile too destroy a Hezbollah UAV that was approaching an Israeli offshore natural gas platform. Lebanon disputes the location of the platform and insists it is in Lebanese waters. Those threats are why Israeli warships patrol the area and the platform is equipped with some weapons as well.

Further north, outside the port of Tartus, a missile, apparently from Israel, hit a target described as an Iranian (surface to air) system that recently arrived by ship. Iran suffered heavy losses when weapons were transported by truck via Syria. Some systems are too heavy for air transports and ships are the only option. Syria will sometimes attack these at sea before they reach Syria. Today’s attack also wounded two civilians. This was the 16th Israeli airstrike in Syria so far in 2022.

June 30, 2022: Israel has joined a U.S. sponsored regional air defense network called MEAD (Middle East Air Defense Alliance). Israel is a vital component of MEAD, which includes other Middle East nations, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE that have purchased American air and missile defense systems like Patriot and THAAD. MEAD makes sense with Israeli participation because Israel not only purchased Patriot, but also developed a similar but superior system called David’s Sling as well as the unique Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. Israel also developed and uses Iron Dome against rocket and mortar attacks as well as new systems that can detect and destroy low and slow cruise missiles which Iran has successfully used to evade Saudi air defenses and attack oil infrastructure targets. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been regularly attacked by Iranian ballistic missiles and cruise missiles launched by Iran-backed Shia rebels in northern Yemen. This need for Israeli air defense systems played a role in the 2020 American sponsored effort to secure diplomatic recognition of Israel by Arab states in the Middle East, and led to Israel exporting some air defense systems to the UAE for protecting commercial aircraft from missile attacks.

June 28, 2022: In Qatar, two days of negotiations between the United States and Iran over lifting economic sanctions ended unsuccessfully because the Americans believed Iran was making unreasonable demands and was not serious about the Western efforts to end the sanctions. Iran refused to allow verification Iranian claims that it was not continuing work on nuclear weapons. China, Russia and some European nations were willing to drop verification demands but the U.S. was not and a growing number of European nations were supporting this demand.

June 27, 2022: Russia and Iran signed a new agreement that expanded economic and political cooperation between the two nations. This agreement ignores that sanction currently imposed on Russia and Iran and formalizes the cooperation between the two oil producers to evade Western efforts to prevent Iran and Russia from exporting its oil. The new agreement also confirms joint efforts to support each other militarily. Iran has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while Russia backs Iranian threats to other Middle Eastern oil producers. This does not include unofficial Russian agreements in Syria that keep Israel and Russia from going to war because of continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia continues to support Iranian efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi government.

June 26, 2022: Iran conducted the second test of its 52-ton, three-stage solid fuel Zuljanah SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle). The test was declared a success even though the satellite put into orbit exploded after a short time in orbit. The last stage, which carries the satellite and uses small maneuvering rockets to achieve a suitable orbit before releasing the satellite. Zuljanah is one of two solid fuel SLVs being tested. The other one is the 82-ton Simorgh, which is an upgraded multi-state liquid fueled SLV that has conducted six test launches and none were a complete success. The first test was declared a success because it was only meant to see if Simorgh could successfully reach a lower (sub orbital) altitude. Early versions of Simorgh used liquid-fuel rockets but over the years more and more solid fuel stages were added until it was completely solid fuel and similar to the American Minuteman ICBM of the 1960s. A solid fuel Simorgh is seen as a solid fuel ICBM that could reach the United States. In 2009 Iran successfully tested its first ballistic missile with a solid fuel rocket motor that could reach Israel. Up until then Iran's missiles that could reach Israel all used liquid fuel, which meant it took hours to get the missiles ready for use. Solid fuel missiles can be ready for action in minutes. This is a big deal, as Israeli satellites and spies can detect liquid fuel rockets being readied for action. No so for solid fuel missiles. Israel has anti-missile missile systems, which work better if they have some advance warning of an enemy launch. Some of the SLV tests were conducted from a mobile (large truck) launcher parked near a stationary launch platform used for liquid-fuel rockets.

June 23, 2022: In Syria, the main airport outside Damascus was reopened after being since June 10th because of an Israeli airstrike on the main runways. Israel expects Syria to halt Iranian use of the airport to fly in military cargo.

Turkish security personnel arrested several people allegedly involved with an Iranian intelligence operation. The Iranians intended to kill or kidnap Israeli tourists in Istanbul. An Israeli diplomat was identified as a principal Iranian target. Turkish media later reported five Iranian citizens were arrested in connection with the plot.

In Iran the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) head of intelligence, Hossein Taeb was removed from his job. He is the highest ranking IRGC official to love his job recently and confirms rumors that senior IRGC leadership is finally reacting to the growing number of Iranian nuclear scientists and IRGC officials who have died under suspicious circumstances. There have also been more unexplained explosions as well as obvious attacks against Iranian nuclear weapons development facilities. Unlike Iran, Israel does not take credit for operations inside Iran unless they are announcing the results of a major secret operation inside Iran that cannot be described without admitting Mossad (foreign intelligence organization) involvement. Something Israel definitely does not comment on is the growing number of Iranians working clandestinely to destroy nuclear weapons facilities and other weapons production. Many of these Iranians were knowingly or unknowingly doing it in cooperation with Israel. Mossad has a reputation for taking better care of foreign operatives than Iran does. This is why Iran tends to blame these attacks on accidents rather than confirming that Israelis and Iranians are responsible.

All this explains the recent dismissals of senior IRGC intelligence and internal security officers. For several years Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Guardians Council of twelve senior clerics have been criticizing IRGC performance in defending Iran from attack. This is apparently why the head of the Guardians Corps was replaced. This organization is an elite IRGC unit with over 10,000 troops responsible for personal protection of Khamenei, Guardians Council members and their families. Israel does not go after those the Guardians Corps protects but a growing number of Iranians, even during public protests, call for such violence against the senior leadership. Khamenei noticed that for years these public protests now occurred in provinces that were long dominated by a pro-IRGC population. The protests were mainly about government corruption and mismanagement of the economy. There are fewer IRGC recruits coming from these provinces, which are also suffering from the growing poverty in Iran.

Blaming all these woes on foreign enemies does not work when the causes are internal. It is unclear how extensive this purge of IRGC leadership is or will be. The replacements for dismissed IRGC commanders are expected to turn things around. Such efforts could make the situation worse because corruption within the IRGC and the Guardians Council is one problem that is not discussed openly. Some senior clerics have criticized the corruption in their ranks but that has not had much impact, other than the occasional demotion of such critics. The corruption is most evident within the families of the senior clergy, especially sons and grandsons who openly flaunt their wealth. These playboys have been punished within the family and forced to adopt more discrete and less openly lavish lifestyles.

June 21, 2022: In southern Syria (Daraa province) more Russian backed Syrians are dying. There have been 260 attacks (leaving 214 dead and many more wounded) so far this year against Syrian military personnel, most of them carried out by Iran. This level of violence remained fairly constant for three years until 2022. This is part of the undeclared war between Iranian and Syrian forces going on there since 2018. Anonymous assassins use pistols and hidden bombs to kill those who work, or worked for government forces or Russia and Syria backed local militias. There are also attacks against former members of ISIL and other militant groups. These victims had accepted amnesty. Russian and Assad forces openly force Iran-backed groups and individuals out of the area. There is no open violence because Iran, Syria and Russia are still officially allies. Israel sometimes fires on Iranian forces operating in Daraa, especially near the Israeli border. Israel also shares intel with Russia and Syria about Syrian officers who are secretly working for Iran. The Iranians pay well, and in dollars. Israel will sometimes release evidence of this to the media, so that Iranians back home have another reason to oppose Iranian foreign wars. Negotiations have been underway between Iran and Russia/Syria since 2020 but have not made much progress. The covert Iranian violence is just another incentive for Syria to get the Iranian agents out of the area. In 2022 much of the violence is from other groups, some of them criminal gangs retaliating against those who refuse to pay for protection from the violence.

June 20, 2022: Israel confirmed that Israel and Turkey have recently stopped “several” attempted attacks by Iran-supported terrorists targeting Israelis.

June 13, 2022: An Indian economic delegation arrived in Israel to resume negotiations with Israel for a free trade agreement between Israel and India. There is already growing trade between the two countries. In 2021 trade between India and Israel totaled $6.3 billion and keeps growing. Israel has become a major supplier of modern weapons to India and has a lot more non-military tech to offer. A lot of trade deals regarding tech involve a lot of negotiations because of the Indian bureaucracy. A free trade agreement would eliminate a lot of those hassles, especially those that involve tech transfer to India or establishing manufacturing operations in India for Israeli products.

June 12, 2022: Israel sent Syrian leader Basher Assad an ultimatum that if he does not cease cooperating with the Iranians, especially the movement and storage of Iranian missiles to Syria, Israeli airstrikes would go after Assad and family members by bombing the many luxury residences (“palaces”) used by the Syrian family in and around Damascus. The Assads had earlier denied this degree of cooperation but this time Israel pointed out it was sharing intel with Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies and that means it is a lot more difficult for Assad to get away with lying to the Israelis. Arab nations and Israel were trying to get the Assads to switch sides and the Assads made a decision to stick with Iran without telling the wealthy Gulf Arab states he was hoping would invest in rebuilding the Syrian economy once the war was finally over. The Iranian threat to kill Assad and his family was a more compelling offer.

In Iraq powerful Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr gave up on his eight-month long effort to form a new government and ordered the 73 members of his parliamentary coalition to resign, which they did. The 2021 national election was a defeat for pro-Iran parties and an unexpected victory for the Sadr coalition, which won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. He had momentum and the best chance of forming a majority coalition and forming a government that would make good on his promise to do something about government corruption. Sadr was unable to get enough ethnic or religious coalitions to join him and form a government. Even then, Sadr would have to achieve a two-thirds vote in parliament to elect a new president. This is seen as a win for Iran. Meanwhile parliament was not idle. Even without a new government it could pass new laws and last month approved a law making it a capital (death or life in prison) crime to have any contact with Israel or Israelis. This was a win for Iran because 84 percent of parliament voted for it. Iraq never recognized the existence of Israel and a state of war still exists with Israel. The new law caused problems with the West, especially the United States, because Western trade with Iraq often involves Jews with dual (Israeli and their home country) passports. Other Arab oil states have not only recognized the existence of Israel, but established diplomatic, economic and military relationships. One reason for this is Iran, which has been calling for the destruction of Israel since the 1980s. Before that, Iran followed its ancient practice of tolerating all religions. In 1979, when Iranian religious leaders played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy, it became fashionable to oppose everything (including religious tolerance) that the monarchy supported. This was not popular with many Iranians who realized that one reason for Iran being the traditional local superpower was religious tolerance. Islamic conservatives consider that heresy and that was another custom that was not an Iranian tradition. At the same time, anti-Semitism was becoming less of a factor in Christian and Moslem majority countries. The new Iraqi law is seen as a win for Iran and a defeat for Iraq because in practice the new law makes Iraq less able to cooperate with Arab and Western nations it depends on economically, diplomatically and militarily. Many Iraqis, particularly Kurds, openly opposed the new law and still do. Iran may not be very good at creating progress but the religious dictatorship there has been very successful at causing disasters and decline for the Iranian people. The new Iraqi law does not become official until it is ratified by the president of Iraq. Since 2018 that has been Barham Salih, a veteran Kurdish politician. Salih got the job by obtaining the support of most members of parliament. He was seen as a practical choice, someone who would moderate the sometimes-radical laws that get passed mainly for show because parliament knows that Salih will not confirm it and take the heat for members of parliament who silently agree with him.

June 10, 2022: In southern Syria (outside Damascus) an Israeli airstrike against the international airport inflicted substantial damage that halted normal operations for nearly two weeks. Russia, Iran and the Assads were angry about this unpresented attack on key infrastructure. Israel wanted to remind the offended nations that Israel was fighting for higher stakes than anyone else. Iran has been trying to destroy Israel for decades and they keep getting closer, as in southern Syria and the Israeli border. Israeli attacks against Iranian convoys carrying weapons to Syria and Lebanon were regularly detected and destroyed. Iran had tried making deliveries by sea but Israel arranged for these ships to be attacked. Iran was now trying to get new missiles into Syria via the Damascus airport.

 

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