Gaza continues to suffer from poor governance because Hamas cannot control the smaller, but Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group. A key factor in keeping Hamas in power is the billion dollars in cash Qatar has supplied since 2012. The money is supposed to go to the poorest families in Gaza as well as pay the salaries of Gaza government employees. Hamas has never made a complete accounting of how the money is spent but from what is known most of the Qatari cash is diverted by Hamas for military and terrorist activities. Some of it goes to reward Hamas members jailed in Israel for terrorism and to Gaza families of terrorists who were killed. A large portion of the cash cannot be accounted for at all and this is apparently stolen by senior Hamas leaders. Other Moslem donors have halted payments to Hamas because they consider most of the money wasted. Qatar keeps it up because Qatar wants to remain on good terms with Iran, in case Iranian aggression towards Arab Gulf states escalates and succeeds. Iran cannot afford that kind of cash for Hamas and refuses to negotiate with Israel, as Qatar has done, to get the cash into Gaza.
In Egypt (Sinai) the war against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has succeeded in reducing violence. In 2019 there were 45 attacks on the security forces compared to 169 in 2018. ISIL cannot afford to lose the manpower it takes to fight the army or police. Instead more attention is paid to unguarded civilian targets. Destroying infrastructure often causes the collapse of the local economy and increased public anger at the government. In Sinai that has not happened, at least not the way ISIL hoped. Most civilians blame these attacks, and their impact on ISIL. That means ISIL tries to launch these attacks in areas with few people to see what’s going and use their cell phones to report who is responsible. ISIL prefers to operate areas with no cell phone signal but those are rare or wilderness with nothing to attack. Even with that “strangers” in rural areas stand out and are often reported to the police.
This situation baffles ISIL because the fundamental belief is that Moslems want Islamic rule and because that ISIL is fighting for, how can Moslems object. In many parts of the world the ISIL strategy works, or works a lot more successfully than in Sinai. ISIL leaders don’t want to admit that Sinai is somewhat unique because it is largely rural and Bedouin.
North Sinai in particular has always been an unruly tribal frontier for the government or any other outsiders. Until the arrival of better organized Islamic terrorists after 2000 the government could afford to ignore what happened up there. That began to change in 2005 when Hamas, a radical Moslem Brotherhood faction from Egypt, took over Gaza and turned it into a sanctuary for all many of Islamic terror groups including, by 2014, ISIL.
Outside of Gaza there were the Bedouins, who have long supported armed opposition to the government. Despite that the Bedouins quickly developed an openly hostile attitude towards ISIL because ISIL tries to impose harsh “Islamic” lifestyle rules on the Bedouins. That is one thing you should not even attempt. The Bedouins forced ISIL to back down frequently because of all this. This did not drive ISIL out of the area because the Sinai Peninsula is a big place (60,000 square kilometers) with only about 600,000 people, mainly in a few urban areas. Lots of places to hide out. ISIL is also accused of killing popular clerics who support Islamic terrorism but not ISIL and planning to become the only Islamic terror group in Sinai and eventually the world. The Egyptians found that the Islamic terrorism problem in Sinai got a lot worse once ISIL showed up. The Egyptians have mobilized several major operations to eliminate ISIL but all they have been able to do is contain it.
Security force commanders report that the ongoing (since February 2018) counter-terror operations in Sinai have so far left nearly a thousand Islamic terrorists, along with a few local tribesmen dead as well as over a hundred soldiers and police. Civilian deaths often occur when the troops call in air strikes (F-16s and armed helicopters) or artillery fire. Independent estimates of losses, based on Internet chatter, media reports and some plausible paranoia, believe that from January 2014 to mid-2018 some 3,000 Islamic terrorists were killed in Sinai, along with 1,200 soldiers and police. No estimates of civilian losses was made. That would include losses among pro-government tribal militias and many cases where it was difficult to tell if dead civilians were the result of attacks on innocent or partisan (pro-ISIL or pro-government) civilians and who the attacker was.
There is always some tribal feuding going on that kills civilians as well as deaths from criminal (bandits and smugglers) activity. Egyptian security services are also notorious for simply kidnapping civilians, using violent interrogation methods and if the interrogation proves fatal, denying they ever had the victim in custody. This has occurred in Sinai but, of course, there are never any official stats on how often. In some cases the disappearances are the result of Islamic terrorist or gangster activity or even a tribal feud. In Sinai the government is believed responsible for nearly a hundred lethal disappearances.
Egypt continues to avoid accurately reporting casualties in Sinai. Since early 2018 all the government reports is that 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 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. 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. The lower number is more likely based on the low level of ISIL activity.
ISIL insists that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza are not competent and that if ISIL were running Gaza things would be different. Most Gazans agree that Islamic Jihad or ISIL rule would probably be worse than what Hamas provides. All three Islamic terror groups are disliked or hated by most Gazans. Hamas cannot attack Islamic Jihad too hard because both Hamas and Islamic Jihad depend on Iran for financial and military (weapons and advisors) support. Islamic Jihad is more dependent on Iranian support and anything it does is with Iranian permission or ordered by Iran. ISIL has been driven out of Gaza but not northern Sinai.
March 17, 2020: In northwest Yemen, south of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, Shia rebels launched two remotely controlled boats armed with explosives in an effort to destroy an oil tanker or cargo ship coming through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which is the entrance to the Red Sea. The naval blockade force detected this and destroyed the two boats. The rebels are trying to disrupt Red Sea traffic, which is essential for Saudi Arabian imports and 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. Egypt is very active with the naval blockade of Yemen and even Israel discreetly passes on what information they pick up about Iranian operations in Yemen and the Red Sea. Israel has one Red Sea port but that one is not as economically important as Suez is for Egypt and several large Saudi ports are for Saudi Arabia.
March 13, 2020: In Egypt (Sinai) troops surrounded a building and called on the six men inside to surrender. The six were members ISIL and opened fire. The ISIL men died in the gun battle and one of the dead was identified as Faris Al Ansari a well-known and wanted ISIL leader. The other five were his subordinates. Ansari was well known because he led an ISIL faction that began as an Islamic terrorist group belonging to the Sawarka tribe. This is one of the three largest Bedouin tribes in Sinai. Until 2017 many Bedouin supported men like Ansari but after a series of ISIL attacks that killed many Bedouin, including tribal elders, the tribes united and turned against ISIL. At that point the Ansaris group had already switched allegiance from al Qaeda to ISIL and was considered responsible for some of the violence against Bedouin. Since then Ansari and other Bedouin members of ISIL had to stay clear of their kinsmen, many of whom were eager to report the presence of ISIL members. This is what may have led to the army to a specific building in the city of Rafah.
ISIL was angry at the loss of Ansari and retaliated by ambushing a vehicle carrying a senior police commander. They killed his driver but the commander and other police survived, returned fire and drove their attackers away.
March 12, 2020: The U.S. Army has successfully tested the Iron Dome systems it purchased recently for evaluation. Shortly after that the army decided not to buy any more Iron Dome batteries because Israel refused to supply the Iron Dome source code. The U.S. said the source code was essential for integrating Iron Dome into American air defense networks. The Israelis pointed out that the U.S. has been much less successful at keeping secrets than Israel. One solution to this problem is to have the Israelis do the necessary source code modifications. For the moment that proposal has not been accepted. The U.S. Army wanted to use Iron Dome in places like Iraq where American bases are being hit with rockets fired by Iran-backed Iraqi militias.
March 4, 2020: In Syria there were two Israeli airstrikes overnight. One was in central Syria (Homs province) and the other in the south (Quneitra province) near the Israeli Golan Heights. Both attacks apparently involved Iranian rockets or missiles being moved to Lebanon or firing positions near the Israeli border. Syria said its air defenses intercepted some of the Israeli missiles but there was no proof. Satellite photos usually show if attacks are successful by revealing destroyed buildings or other obvious damage.
March 3, 2020: A group of Libyan commandos completed their training in Egypt and returned to Libya with some Egyptian commandos and advisors as well as assault boats and special weapons contributed by the UAE. The total forces consists of fifty personnel and work for the LNA (Libyan National Army). These commandos are apparently going to be used to attack the ships that are transporting Turkish troops and weapons to Libya to oppose the LNA and support the desperate UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) Libyan government in Tripoli. There are two Libyan governments and the other one is the HoR (House of Representatives) government based in eastern Libya. The H0R has effective military capabilities in the LNA (Libyan National Army). The LNA has been fighting since April 2019 to take the last GNA stronghold of 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.
In late 2019 Turkey began supplying a lot more weapons to the GNA and during the first week of January 2020 began sending troops. This is all about keeping the GNA alive. The problem is that the GNA is not a government, national or able to establish any accord with anyone. The Turks back the GNA because the GNA approves of the Moslem Brotherhood and many other Islamic radical groups that Turkey approves of. The UN is unwilling to block the Turkish intervention and European nations are divided. Several Arab nations are willing to back efforts to expel the Turks from Libya and that effort is escalating. The LNA has a major advantage because it controls most of Libya including most of the oil production and export facilities. The LNA has shut down oil exports to force the GNA to surrender.
March 2, 2020: In the north (Golan Heights) a sniper on the Syrian side of the border attempted to hit Israelis and failed. The Israelis fired missiles at the area where the fire was coming from.
March 1, 2020: In the south (Gaza) a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel but landed on the Gaza side of the border.
In central Africa Congo has agreed to resume full diplomatic relations with Israel. Twenty years ago Israel was forced to withdraw its ambassador because Congo had called their ambassador home and not sent another one. Now Congo is appointing a new ambassador and expecting one from Israel. This is mainly about reviving mutually beneficial relationships. Israel had diplomatic relations with the decades old Mobutu dictatorship that was overthrown in 1997. Israeli businessmen operated in Congo during the three decades Mobotu ran the place and continued to do so after Mobutu was overthrown. Many of those Israeli deals were of questionable legality, as were most of the foreign investments in Congo. Israel pointed out that it would be easier to identify Israelis guilty of these activities and prosecute them if Congo and Israel had diplomatic relations. Noting how well that has worked for other African countries, the new Congo president ordered the diplomatic relationships restored.
February 27, 2020: In the north (Golan Heights) Syrians reported that several Israeli helicopters crossed into Syria and attacked several targets. This came several hours after an Israeli UAV fired missiles that hit a vehicle and killed Amad Al Tawil, a senior Hezbollah commander.
In the south (Gaza) Israeli air defense systems detected a UAV flying out of Gaza, over the Mediterranean, towards Israel. A jet fighter was sent to shoot down the UAV and did so when the UAV was at an altitude of about 500 meters and twelve kilometers off the coast.
Israel revealed that it had seized $4 million in cash Iran was trying to transfer to Hamas in Gaza. Israel discovered who was handling the transfer, an international currency exchange firm owned by Zuheir Shamlakh, and went after them. Most of the foreign cash Hamas receives for any reason is still diverted to military purposes.
February 26, 2020: Less than a week after Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia reached an agreement on the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s) operation and the distribution of Nile River water, Ethiopia changed its mind and refused to attend a meeting in the U.S. to sign the deal. This is no surprise because GERD has been a major issue in Egypt for a long time. A decade ago Egyptian concern for its downstream water rights led to sharp diplomatic protests and saber rattling. This new agreement addresses issues like filling the GERD’s reservoir, policies regulating water release during droughts and procedures for handling emergencies related to the dam. The agreement was announced in Sudan on February 14. The United States, taking the role of “external mediator,” hosted a late January meeting in Washington that helped hammer out the “joint responsibility” for managing drought crises agreement. The U.S. has good relations with Egypt and Ethiopia while Sudan wants the U.S. to remove it from the Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. A February 14 announcement described the deal as final but that wasn’t quite accurate. A couple of thorny issues remain unsettled. Ethiopia claims Egypt has dropped its demand that Ethiopia guarantee Egypt 40 billion cubic meters of water annually. Egypt claims it has not dropped the demand. The GERD reservoir’s fill rate is another issue. Egypt argues that if the GERD’s reservoir fills too quickly it will reduce the Nile River’s flow and thus limit the Aswan High Dam’s electrical generation capability. So Egypt wants seven years for the initial fill. Ethiopia, however, wants to fill it four years. Nevertheless, the agreement is good news. Once it is filled, the GERD’s reservoir will serve as a hedge against drought for all three nations. The GERD will also supply electrical power to a region running from Kenya and Uganda through South Sudan and Sudan to Egypt.
February 24, 2020: Outside of Damascus an Israeli airstrike destroyed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad facility. Most Islamic Jihad personnel are in Gaza where are currently trying to carry out attacks inside Israel. Israel believes the Syrian facility is supporting the Gaza efforts.
February 23, 2020: In the south (Gaza) Israeli troops shot dead an Islamic Jihad Islamic terrorist who was trying to plant a bomb near the border fence. Israeli troops then crossed the border to retrieve the body. Israel was deliberately recovering the bodies of Islamic terrorists near the border fence in order to identify them than keep them to trade with Hamas for the bodies of two dead Israeli soldiers as well as two deranged Israeli civilians who had wandered into Gaza and seized by Hamas. This new tactic annoyed the Islamic terrorists so much that Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired about a hundred rockets and mortar shells into Israel. Most (90 percent) were either intercepted or landed on an uninhabited area. But one rocket landed in a playground causing some damage but no casualties. Israel responded with several airstrikes which killed two more Islamic terrorists and destroyed several structures used by Islamic Jihad along some of their equipment. Being a much smaller organization, Islamic Jihad has fewer valuable targets to retaliate against. Hamas, as the government of Gaza, and many more targets. Islamic Jihad has a larger branch in Syria and Israel has been hitting targets there in response to Islamic Jihad violence in Gaza.
February 20, 2020: In westen Syria (Latakia province), one kilometer from the Hmeimim (or “Khmeimim”) Russian airbase Syrian forces report being hit by missiles fired by unidentified aircraft off the coast. The Syrians have some of their S-300 air defense batteries in this area but since their arrival in late 2018 these S-300 systems have not been used in combat. It took about a year for the Syrian crews to be trained and out of that came Syrian complaints that the S-300 radar could not find or track Israeli F-35 stealth fighters. The Syrian S-300 operators doubt the S-300 is very effective against any Israeli weapons, including the less stealthy cruise missiles and F-16 fighters. The Syrians claim the Israelis have EW (electronic warfare) equipment that can jam or deceive the S-300 radars and guidance systems in S-300 missiles. Russia is believed to still have a veto over when the Syrian S-300s can be used and apparently has not yet allowed the Syrian S-300s to fire on Israeli attackers. In China, a recent article in a state-controlled newspaper came right out and said the S-300 does not work and that the Chinese should know because they bought the system from Russia and fixed the problems by developing their own, improved version of the S-300 called the FD-2000. This system is available for export, to just about anyone can pay, including the Syrian government.
February 13, 2020: An apparently Israeli airstrike in Syria (Damascus) destroyed an Iranian facility, killing four Iranians and three Syrians. Israel would not confirm that this was their airstrike. Satellite photos released several days later showed five warehouses and a nearby Quds headquarters building had all been turned into rubble. A bomb shelter had suffered partial destruction.