The United States has apparently changed its policy on allowing Palestinian leaders to freely enter the U.S. for whatever reason. Many Palestinian officials travel to America to denounce Israel and campaign for political and financial support. The current U.S. government has officially noted that the decades of Palestinian propaganda (mostly in Arabic, rarely in English) calling for the destruction of Israel and expulsion of all Jews from the Middle East is partly financed by fundraising in the United States. Since 2017 the Americans have convinced the UN and most Western nations to agree about designating Palestinian terror groups as international terrorists and subject to official and unofficial sanctions. These bans included other Arab Islamic terror groups that had long been allowed to operate openly in Western nations under the fiction that they were purely political organizations or charities. Earlier in 2019 Britain, after years of American and Israeli pressure, agreed to recognize Lebanon-based Hezbollah as an international Islamic terrorist group. The amount of evidence against Hezbollah is vast but because Hezbollah was backed (and created) by Iran there was an additional incentive to go along with the fiction. Hezbollah personnel have been discovered in Gaza assisting Islamic terrorist groups, especially those backed by Iran.
Iran is acting more belligerent than usual and talking about war with the Americans. The Gulf Arabs would like that, as would the more zealous supporters of the Iranian religious dictatorship. But Israel has quietly told the Americans that a war with Iran would not be good for Israel because Iran considers Israel a greater foe than the Gulf Arabs. Iran would, if there were war, try and launch as many of their ballistic missiles as possible at Israel. Some would have chemical warheads. If enough missiles were fired in a short enough period, the Israeli missile defenses would be overwhelmed and some of the Iranian ballistic missiles would get through. Iran would also order its bought and paid for allies in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Gaza (Islamic Jihad and maybe even sometimes ally Hamas) to attack with shorter range weapons. Best case is that all this mayhem would mean at least several hundred Israeli dead and worst case would be several thousand. Plus there would be prolonged combat on the Lebanese and Gaza borders. The Americans, at least the senior leaders, agree with Israel. The current American president does not want a prolonged shooting war with Iran or even an undeclared campaign of violence against Americans in the region. After all, Iran is coming apart from the inside. The additional sanctions increase the popular Iranian anger against their own government. The American would quickly recognize any new, truly democratic, Iranian government and seek a return to the American relationship with Iran before the 1979 revolt led by the Shia clergy. Before that, the Americans and Iranians had been close allies for decades. Israel was also an ally, but a less publicized one (because of the Palestinian issue).
Egypt And The Truth
Egypt continues to avoid accurately reporting casualties in Sinai. For over a year all the government reports are so many Islamic terrorists and government forces were killed “recently” and deliberately avoiding specifying precise time periods. This only applies to operations in Sinai, because that area, unlike most of Egypt, is thinly populated and has been effectively isolated from the rest of Egypt and the outside world in general. While this helps prevent the Sinai based ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and other Islamic terrorists from getting into the rest of Egypt, it also prevents journalists from getting in. There is still the Internet and travelers from Sinai. Thus it is known that the battle against Islamic terrorism continues and ISIL has been unable to launch more large-scale attacks. The security forces continue to carry out raids and Islamic terrorists are arrested and killed. But the exact extent of this activity is now unknown. This loss of accuracy in reporting was gradual and is now standard.
The Egyptian campaign against ISIL in Sinai began in February 2018 and was, at the end of 2018, proclaimed a success but details were often unavailable, unclear or not credible. Egypt had always restricted media access to Sinai and tried to control what independent versions of Sinai events that did get out. During all of 2018 Egypt claims to have killed 464 ISIL personnel and arrested over 7,000 people suspected of some involvement with ISIL (members, support or doing business with ISIL). There was a lot of collective punishment, notably destroying the homes of families with one or more members in ISIL or closely associated with ISIL. The military established tight travel controls with numerous checkpoints. Despite all that ISIL continued to operate, although at a lower intensity. During 2018 ISIL carried out dozens of assassination operations in Sinai, most of them succeeding. Even the failures (usually against senior commanders or officials with better security) were unnerving because they usually implied that ISIL had intel capabilities which could obtain secret movement plans for senior officials. The army did locate and raid dozens of ISIL camps and safe houses, uncovering documents verifying ISIL was still very much in business.
At the start of 2018 ISIL in Sinai was thought to have 1,300 active members. There appear to be fewer of them now, but still at least a few hundred to nearly a thousand. All these army operations led to more than a thousand roadside bombs, landmines and other explosives being disabled or destroyed before they could be used (to kill, on average, more civilians than anyone else). Hundreds of ISIL motorbikes and other vehicles have been seized along with hundreds of rifles and machine-guns and large quantities of ammo and other military equipment.
Until early 2018 Egypt would, at least once a month, release a summary of recent operations and the list always contained details of many hideouts and much equipment (and weapons) seized as well as many (often fifty or more) mines and roadside bombs disabled. Yet as 2018 went on these press releases became less precise and even vague (as in not specifying in which time period the events took place). By the end of 2018, the press releases were no longer mentioning the “2018 campaign against ISIL” indicating that this massive operation was unofficially over.
The intense military activity in Sinai made it difficult for the local economy to operate and that led to hundreds of thousands of civilians becoming destitute and dependent on food aid provided, irregularly, by the military. All this cost the army a lot of popular support (for operations against ISIL) it had had in early 2018. This has apparently become a major issue for military commanders in Sinai and now the anti-ISIL operations are being scaled back and more attention is being paid to cultivating the support of local civilians.
These counter-terror operations were also doing a lot of damage to Sinai based smuggling operations. The government told the smugglers (usually Bedouins) that if they wanted to avoid these counter-terrorism raids, don’t work with the Islamic terrorists, especially ISIL. That has had some impact although by now most of the Sinai tribes have turned against ISIL, which is still the primary Islamic terror group operating in Sinai. The reduced Islamic terrorist activity is also made possible because Egypt has greatly reduced access between Gaza and Egypt. Gaza is still a sanctuary for several Islamic terror groups but because of continued Hamas violence against Israel Gaza is difficult to get in or out of. That leaves a much diminished ISIL as the major terrorist threat in Sinai. ISIL can still attract some recruits and other support but, as happened in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere ISIL made too many enemies and is declining. ISIL has tried moving to other parts of Egypt but has not found any part of the country as “hospitable” as Sinai.
May 21, 2019: Israel has noted that a lot of people in Gaza were ordering small items from mail-order firms. These items came into Gaza via the Israeli postal service and when the postal inspectors began checking these small items earlier this month it was found that many of these small items were dual use or primarily military. The Israeli informant and media monitoring networks confirmed this. So now these small mail order items (like rifle sights, military boots and scientific tools used to build bombs and missiles) are checked and most of them are now being blocked. For the second time in a week, inspectors found many parcels containing military equipment. Today 200 parcels were seized while on the 14th 172 were seized. This mail order smuggling is apparently organized and now the scrutiny at the Gaza border is as well.
May 20, 2019: With Egyptian assistance, Hamas and Israel have worked out and agreed to a six-month ceasefire. By the terms of the deal, there will be more economic concessions the longer the ceasefire lasts. Rarely do these ceasefire deals last long as Hamas is unwilling to prevent smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza from violating the terms of these deals. Hamas later pointed out that this was officially a “temporary ceasefire” and subject to immediate cancellation if either side believed the other was not keeping their part of the deal.
May 19, 2019: In Egypt, near Giza and the pyramids, Islamic terrorists used a crude roadside bomb against a tourist bus. Eight foreigners and four nearby Egyptians were wounded. In late 2018 a similar attack here killed three foreign (from Vietnam) tourists and an Egyptian guide. That was the first such attack on tourists since 2017. These attacks cause foreign tourists to cancel visits to Egypt, or at least to the pyramids, for a few months or longer. The police response to the most recent attack was swift and the next day police raided hideouts for the Islamic terror group Hasm and killed twelve suspects in gun battles. Hasm was among the usual suspects and those killed were armed and in possession of bomb-making materials and plans to use them. Tourism accounts for 11 percent of the Egyptian GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the workforce. Currently, unemployment (about 8 percent) is falling and the government wants to keep it that way. 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 2081 was 9.9 percent and has been going down for several years now.
May 18, 2019: In southern Syria (Quneitra province), an Israeli airstrike apparently destroyed at least two targets that were probably Iranian.
May 17, 2019: Syrian air defenses near the Israeli border reported “strange objects” coming from Israel. The next day the Syrians fired anti-aircraft missiles at more of the “strange objects” but did not report anything shot down. Foreigners in Damascus report hearing two explosions outside the city, indicating another successful Israeli air strike. Israel rarely comments on its airstrikes at the time they occur. These days Syria always reports that its air defense systems have shot something down after each Israeli airstrike, but do not present any evidence (like the wreckage of what was shot down). So far Israel has regularly demonstrated it can shut down (permanently with bombs or temporarily with countermeasures) Syrian air defense systems. The Israelis don’t destroy all the Syrian air defense systems because that would be expensive and Israel only needs to shut down systems that attempt to interfere with Israeli airstrikes or surveillance missions. This approach also intimidates the Syrians and Russians (and anyone else using Russian air defense systems). This Israeli policy avoiding damaging Russian air defense systems as long as Russia does not try to interfere with Israeli air operations. One reason Russia is exasperated with Iran is that the Iranians fail to appreciate the technical and military superiority the Israelis have when it comes to air defenses and how to defeat them. The Russians are being practical while the Iranians are believing their own press releases.
May 16, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas released 30 fire balloons towards Israel. Three landed in wooded areas and started small fires that were quickly put out. The others apparently landed in the desert. But two days later one of the fire balloons was found in a military base. The payload had not gone off and started a fire and the device was safely removed.
May 15, 2019: Thousands of Palestinian civilians gathered at border crossings in Gaza and the West Bank and tried to move into Israel. In Gaza, there were several riots along the border fence. All this was to commemorate the 71st anniversary of The Nakba (Day of Catastrophe, the victory of Israel in the 1948 war that led to 600,000 Arabs fleeing what is now Israel, and an equal number of Jews fleeing Arab countries.) At least 47 Palestinians were wounded. These protests did not accomplish much, as usual. Partly because of that Hamas canceled the usual Friday border protests scheduled for the 17th.
May 14, 2019: The United States released aerial photos of an IRGC (Quds force) training camp in Lebanon, near the Syrian border. The camp was apparently set up just over the border in the hope that it would not be bombed by the Israelis.
May 13, 2019: A government official from Qatar was once more allowed to enter Gaza with $10 million in cash. Most of it is being distributed as hundred dollars bills, one to each family in Gaza. This is still acceptable to Egypt and Israel because it ensures that most of the money goes to needy Palestinians and not Hamas, which would use it for military purposes. Qatar, an Iranian ally has provided Hamas with over $1.1 billion in aid since 2012 but told Hamas in January that it was halting its $10 million monthly payment to keep the Gaza electrical supply system operating because Hamas was diverting aid money to military uses. During 2018 Qatar cut most cash aid to Hamas. Partly this is because it is so difficult to get the cash into Gaza but the main reason is that Qatar wants the cash to go towards improving the economy and living standards for Gaza residents. Iran backs Hamas in preferring to use most aid, especially cash to improve military forces and the ability to carry out terror operations in Israel and Egypt. Qatar continues to provide cash for Gaza, but only if Qatari officials can supervise use of that money. This restricts the ability of Hamas to divert the aid to military projects. Since January that “cash directly to the people” policy has been accepted as a compromise. Qatar says it will halt these payments if it finds that Hamas is trying to get the cash from Gaza families.
May 10, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Hamas said it had fired two rockets into Israel. In response, Israeli officials said there was no evidence of these rocket launches. Apparently, Hamas made the announcement to try and demonstrate it was doing something to respond to the growing Israeli airstrikes (which are standard after every attack on Israel).
May 9, 2019: One of the most pro-Iran groups in Iraq is the Hezbollah Nujaba. Currently, it consists of under 10,000 militiamen, most of them involved with neighborhood defense and not much else. But the group wants to become an Iraqi version of the Lebanese Hezbollah and that is encouraged by Iran and the original Hezbollah. This is of great concern for Israel because groups like Hezbollah Nujaba could control remote and thinly populated areas of western Iraq. From these desert areas, they could launch short-range Iranian ballistic missiles at Israel. This is similar to what the Iranian backed Shia rebels have been doing in Yemen against Saudi Arabia. Israel believes Iran has already installed ballistic missiles in southern Iraq, where they can reach Israel. Iraq is investigating the claim and willing to shut this down because it might involve Iraq in a war with Israel and that is not seen as a good thing.
May 8, 2019: Egypt is pressuring Hamas to prove that it is willing to cooperate with Egypt. That means curbing smaller rival Islamic Jihad which is backed by Iran and now said to have a larger stockpile of Iranian rockets than Hamas. Egypt controls one of the two main crossings out of Gaza (Israel controls the other) and Egypt can open or close its crossing at will. In the last two years, the crossing has mostly been closed. Egypt also keeps the smuggling tunnels out of Gaza shut down. If Hamas wants access to the outside world their best option is cooperation with Egypt. That has not been working because Hamas assurances cannot be trusted and blaming problems (with maintaining ceasefires) on Islamic Jihad does not work.
May 6, 2019: Israel is holding Iran responsible for the recent escalation of violence in Gaza. Iran backs the smaller, but more extreme Gaza Islamic terror group Islamic Jihad and even Hamas leaders admit that Islamic Jihad has become a troublesome rival, even if Islamic Jihad is much smaller than Hamas and has far fewer supporters in Gaza.
May 5, 2019: Israel used a UAV missile attack in Gaza to kill Hamed Ahmed Khudari, the man responsible to smuggling Iranian cash to Islamic Jihad in Gaza. The next day Israel posted a video showing the missile strike. Khudari ran a money transfer business in Gaza and was long known as the main reason that banned cash contributions were still getting into Gaza. In 2018 Israel revealed details of the Khudari operation and put him on their “known terrorist” list.
May 4, 2019: In the south, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza destroyed a building identified as the headquarters of the Hamas Cyber War operations. Some of these hackers had been noticed trying to disrupt Israeli networks or steal information and they were tracked back to this building. No Hamas casualties were revealed but the building (actually the wing of a larger structure) was a pile of rubble after the airstrike. This probably means that the surviving (and newly recruited) Hamas hackers will be working from home in the future. This was apparently the first time hostile hackers were counterattacked with an airstrike.
May 3, 2019: In the south, a Hamas or Islamic Jihad sniper in Gaza wounded two Israeli soldiers on the other side of the border fence. This triggered a weekend of escalating violence that led to Islamic Jihad and Hamas firing nearly 700 rockets and mortar shells into Israel on the 4th and 5th. These attacks killed four Israeli civilians and wounded 135. Israel retaliated with massive airstrikes and artillery fire that hit 280 targets. On the 6th Hamas agreed to another ceasefire, which at least halted this round of violence. At least 25 Gazans were killed and over a hundred wounded by the weekend of violence. Of the Palestinians killed in Gaza, 23 were identified and 74 percent were known Islamic terrorists. Of the 17 terrorists dead eight were from the Iranian backed Islamic Jihad, five belonged to Fatah, two from Hamas and one from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The weekend of violence was largely attributed to Islamic Jihad with Hamas making no meaningful effort to stop it.
The previous month (April) was the first in over a year in which no Israelis were killed by a terrorist attack. The “knife terrorism” attacks promoted by Fatah in the West Bank are rare now. These attacks began in 2015 but were largely unsuccessful and have been rare since 2018. Fatah also promoted the use of vehicles for terror attacks but these were equally unsuccessful and, as with the knife attacks, got more attackers killed than Israeli victims. In April there were 126 terror attacks, compared to 302 in March.
May 2, 2019: In the south, two rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. There was no damage. Earlier in the day, there were several Israeli airstrikes in Gaza against Hamas targets.
May 1, 2019: In the south, fire balloons from Gaza caused two brush fires in southern Israel.
In the West Bank, Israeli police conducted raids that led to the arrest of 17 terrorism suspects.
In Sudan, the AU (African Union) agreed that the military control had to go and changed their demand for the military to give up power within three months to two months. Last month leaders and representatives from Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad, Djibouti, Somalia, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan and Uganda urged the AU to make the appeal to Sudan’s military leaders who had recently helped remove dictator who had been in power for decades. Egypt and Ethiopia are Sudan’s most powerful neighbors and they are concerned about Sudan’s long term stability. The two-year transition Sudan’s military has proposed has failed to satisfy Sudanese pro-democracy groups and opposition political parties. Sudan has long been a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists and was once close to al Qaeda then Iran. The recently deposed Sudan dictator, after suffering pressure from the U.S., Egypt and Israel, backed away from its Islamic terrorism support. Israel encouraged this with some long-range airstrikes against smugglers transporting Iranian weapons to Gaza via Sudan and Egypt. The Sudan government still supports a lot of clandestine nastiness and the military is involved with a lot of that.