January 29, 2016:
In the West Bank a majority of Palestinians there still back the four month old “knife terrorism” campaign organized by the local leadership (Fatah). This was done mainly to make the corrupt and incompetent Fatah more popular in the West Bank but opinion polls show that most Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held right now. While Hamas is hated by the people of Gaza, West Bank Palestinians don’t experience Hamas cruelty daily while they do endure the corrupt and inept rule of Fatah. The Fatah pro-terror media campaign has also convinced most Palestinians it is Israel that is refusing to negotiate peace when in fact it is the Palestinians who turned down two peace deals in the 1990s and instead tried terror campaigns to get more. Both of these “intifadas” failed and Fatah has sold the illusion that the third intifada (the “knife intifada) will succeed. Since 2000 Palestinian media constantly pushed the idea that Israel has no right to exist and must be destroyed. Palestinians who disagree with this must either emigrate or keep silent. For most Palestinians it is easier to simply praise the knife. The knife terrorism campaign has, since September, left 26 Israelis (and one American) dead and over 250 wounded. But 149 Palestinians have died (mostly in failed attacks). Palestinian media depicts unsuccessful attacks that result in attackers being killed or wounded as Israeli attacks against random (and innocent) Palestinians. Over all the knife tactic does nothing for the Palestinians except increase their poverty and Fatah propaganda about how glorious it is to die. Fatah and Hamas are supposed to hold another round of unifications talks in Qatar during February. Fatah and Hamas are supposed to hold another round of unifications talks in Qatar during February.
The Iranian Threat
Israel believes the Russian intervention in Syria will, in the short term, lessen the possibility that Hezbollah will start another war with Israel. Long-term the Russian presence means Hezbollah will get some modern weapons and useful training from the Russians, who do not consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The rest of the world does but for Russia Hezbollah is a useful ally in Syria. Russia was also a major force behind the July 2015 peace deal with Iran that is lifting most of the economic sanctions on Iran. This means Hezbollah will get more cash from Iran. The sanctions led to Iran reducing annual payments to Hezbollah over ten percent. Hezbollah understood that Iran was short of cash because of sanctions and low oil prices but pointed out that the missing cash was even more of a problem because Hezbollah had suffered over 8,000 casualties fighting for the Iranian-backed Assad government in Syria. This is actually bad news for Israel because over 10,000 Hezbollah militia men and hundreds of combat leaders have obtained valuable combat experience. More to the point a lot of that experience is gained fighting alongside Russian forces and learning how to fight a conventional war. This will cause Israel problems in the future. Meanwhile Hezbollah has not been ignoring its rockets (more than 50,000 of them) stored in portable or underground launch sites in over 200 Shia villages near the Israeli border.
There was joy among Hezbollah members as well as Iranians and Russians when the sanctions on Iran began to go away this month. That means more cash from Iran. Hezbollah needs that money badly because of the increasingly effective Israeli effort to uncover and cripple the many criminal activities (drugs, smuggling, fraud) that Hezbollah uses to finance its activities. While Iran supplies up to a billion dollars a year Hezbollah also depends on hundreds of million dollars a year from illegal activities. Many of these are outside Lebanon and Israel has intensified its effort to uncover details of these schemes and turn over the evidence to local authorities for prosecution. Since 2001 Israel has received a lot more assistance from the United States, who have more access in the international banking system and that is useful when seeking out Hezbollah misbehavior. The economic damage this intel effort has done to Hezbollah has been considerable. Israel can tell because there are more reports from Lebanon about Hezbollah cutting spending (payroll, bribes, purchases) a lot. Russia and Iran will not (and actually cannot) make up these losses and Hezbollah gets angrier at Israel because Moslems have been taught that if anything goes wrong it is probably the fault of Israel.
In addition to threats from Hezbollah and Hamas Israel also has to prepare for Islamic terrorist attacks on the Syrian border. So far Israel has managed to negotiate what amounts to truces with Islamic terror groups that control parts of the Syrian border. The peace on the Syrian frontier is fragile and Israel is working closely with Jordan (which faces a similar threat) to coordinate responses to any terrorist threats from Syria. Israel and Jordan have long cooperated in dealing with terrorist threats.
There are still some sanctions on Iran and more may be added because Iran refuses to halt its ballistic missile development. Iran says this is mainly for use in destroying Israel but the new missiles have longer range that threatens a lot of Europe. Iran also recently boasted of its growing number of underground missile launch, storage, maintenance and production facilities. Israel has made it clear that Iran is still a threat and will be closely watched by Israel. Meanwhile Israel has created the most effective anti-missile network in the world. Much of these systems are locally developed and made and proven in combat.
The main defense against Iranian long range missiles is the Arrow system. This has been in service since 2000 and has racked up an impressive string of successes in test launches. Originally designed to deal with short and medium range ballistic missiles, it was built to protect Israel from Syrian and Iranian attack. Israel now has three Arrow batteries in service. An Arrow battery has 4-8 launchers and each launcher carries six missiles in containers. The two ton Arrow 1 has been replaced with the 1.3 ton Arrow 2, which can shoot down ballistic missiles fired from Iran and these are being augmented with Arrow 3s. Shorter range Stunner missiles and Magic Wand are meant to complement the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which can take down rockets with a range of up to 70 kilometers. Iron Dome has a unique feature in which the radar system computes where the incoming rocket will land. If the rocket will not hit an inhabited area, it will be ignored. Otherwise, an interceptor missile will be fired. Stunner will be used against larger rockets that will be aimed (by Syria or Hezbollah) at large urban areas, and these will almost always get a Stunner fired at them. This is part of the Magic Wand system for defending Israelis from aircraft and short range rocket attacks. Magic Wand is expected to eventually replace the 17 Hawk anti-aircraft batteries and, eventually, the six Patriot batteries. Because of the long range of the Stunner it only takes two Magic Wand batteries to cover all of Israel.
Egypt continues to have problems with Islamic terrorists although the violence is confined to a few areas. A larger problem is the floundering economy. Terrorist attacks on tourism caused a lot of damage while corruption and government incompetence continue to cripple economic growth. The government has managed to keep a lid on public anger over economic problems by getting billions in loans (mostly from China and the West) and gifts (from Arab oil states) but those sources are running dry and the government must deal with the corruption and inept bureaucracy if there is to be any real improvement in the economy.
Most of the Islamic terrorist violence is found in a small portion of the Sinai Peninsula and, given the size of Egypt is not a major threat. Since 2013 about a thousand people a year have died from Islamic terrorism. About half the dead are terrorists (actual or suspected), most of the rest civilians. Most Egyptians oppose Islamic terrorism, if only because it tends to kill lots of innocent civilians and cripple the economy. But in a few rural areas, mainly in northern Sinai, there are populations willing to support Islamic terrorists. Outside of Sinai there a lot of people who are Islamic conservatives and are more tolerant of Islamic terrorism. But these terrorism supporters have to be careful because the neighbors are often willing to alert the police about any pro-Islamic terrorist activity in the neighborhood. There are about 10,000 members of the Islamic Brotherhood, from which most Islamic terrorists come (after denouncing the non-violent policies of the Brotherhood). While fewer than one percent of Egyptians support any form of terrorism, that’s still more than half a million people. More worrisome is the growing activity of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups. Even other Islamic terror groups fear ISIL because ISIL is very lethal and considers anyone not ISIL a target. The security forces don’t consider ISIL a long-term threat because ultra-violent groups like this are self-destructive and tend to burn out sooner rather than later.
January 27, 2016: Hamas admitted that seven of its men had died because of a recent tunnel collapse (the result of heavy rains). The seven were actually rebuilding a “combat tunnel” destroyed by Israel during the mid-2014 “50 Day War”. Fatah accused Hamas of wasting the lives of their members working on tunnels, especially the ones used mainly for smuggling goods (which Hamas taxes heavily).
That makes ten Hamas men killed so far this year in tunnel accidents. Israelis living near the Gaza border complain that they can sometimes hear (or feel) Hamas tunnel building efforts. In 2014 the Israeli military said they would erect a detection system to locate new tunnels so they could be destroyed. The detection system has been delayed because of defense spending cuts but now the government says the detection system is coming soon.
January 26, 2016: Israel accused Hamas of recruiting (via bribes or coercion) Gaza residents with travel permits (to the West Bank, Israel or elsewhere) to participate in terrorist attacks against Israel. Because of this Israel closed its border crossings with Gaza until Hamas agreed to stop this recruiting and actually did so. Israel issued over 100,000 of these travel permits to Gaza residents in 2015.
January 23, 2016: A rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel. There were no casualties or property damage in Israel because the rocket landed in Gaza and detonated. Increasingly rockets fired from Gaza fail to perform as expected. Israel responds to each attack with an air raid on a Hamas terrorist facility. There have been six rockets fired from Gaza so far in 2016.
In Jerusalem a 17 year old Palestinian died when the bomb he was carrying (to use against Israeli soldiers) went off prematurely, killing him. At his funeral Fatah declared the dead terrorist a hero. The father and grandfather of the dead bomber also died trying to kill Israelis.
January 20, 2016: Israel arrested five Palestinians in the West Bank and accused them of working for Hezbollah to carry out a terror attack in Israel. Hezbollah has been seeking, without much success, revenge for Israel killing Hezbollah commander Samir Kuntar in December 2015. Russia is demanding that Hezbollah cease the attacks on Israel. Iran is apparently saying the same thing, but not in public. Iran wants revenge as well because Kuntar was also working directly for them. Russia and Iran understand, where Hezbollah does not, that starting another war with Israel right now is not a good idea.
January 11, 2016: In Libya unidentified jets bombed ISIL facilities in the coastal city of Sirte. Some ISIL leaders blamed Egypt and in response Egypt sent more troops to the Libyan border to guard against any ISIL retaliation. Egypt supports peace in Libya, but generally does it peacefully.