Israel received its first Sky Dew aerostat (aerodynamic unpowered blimp) system recently and sill use to provide more protection from Iranian air attacks. Sky Dew carries radars and other sensors to monitor large land areas for low, slow intruders like fire balloons or UAV cruise missiles. The first Sky Dew is being installed along the northern border where Iranian armed UAVs are a growing problem. Another Sky Dew may be installed in the south, along the Gaza border, where fire balloons are less of a problem..
Hamas, which runs Gaza, has been relatively quiet so far this year as it tries to negotiate a cease fire that would improve the Gaza economy. Economics is something Hamas has ignored since it took control of Gaza in 2007. Polls show both Hamas and Fatah (which runs the West Bank) are seen as unfit to rule by over 70 percent of Palestinians.
Israel, along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf Oil states are very angry with the Americans because the U.S. is not only offering Iran a revival of the 2015 sanctions treaty, but also a modification of the terms to make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Billions of dollars in frozen accounts would be returned to Iran and if the Americans went ahead with taking the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its Quds Force off the list of known terrorists there would be a lot more violence in the Middle East. Iran saw the 2015 treaty suspended by the Americans in 2018 because of Iranian cheating. Then came the 2020 American presidential elections, which put into power what is now recognized (by numerous polls) as the most unpopular and inept American president ever. One reason for this unpopularity is current American policies towards Iran and reduced support for Arab resistance to Iranian violence. This has driven many Gulf oil states into an economic alliance with Russia to drive up the price of oil. This policy makes it easier for Iran to smuggle more of its heavily discounted oil to customers. That plan survived the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine and even more economic sanctions.
Because of this new American attitude, Israel has carried out several major attacks on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Some earlier attacks were in cooperation with the United States but the most recent ones were done with the help of Iranians who also oppose the nuclear weapons and the current Iranian religious dictatorship. Israel makes it clear it will launch a major air and missile strike against the Iranian nuclear program if Iran gets close to creating a working nuclear weapon. Israel’s new allies among the Arab Persian Gulf oil states will cooperate with such an attack, as they are already being hit by Iranian missiles, cruise missiles and guided rockets.
Israel has had locally developed nuclear weapons since 1970 and used these weapons as the ultimate deterrent to any serious effort to destroy Israel. Israel can deliver their nukes several ways. This first method was aircraft-delivered gravity bombs and later air-to ground missiles. Then came ballistic missiles plus cruise missiles that can be launched via torpedo tubes from a submerged Israeli sub. Israel never acknowledged it has nukes and continues to maintain them and several delivery systems. This has deterred everyone except Iran, which since the 1980s has been ruled by a religious dictatorship that was obsessed with destroying Israel.
The Russian Relationship
Israel has always had good relations with Russia, which was one of the first nations to recognize the new state of Israel in 1948. This played a role in Russian Jews being allowed to migrate to Israel starting in the 1970s. Currently about 15 percent of the Israeli population are either those who migrated from Russia or their descendants. Many of these Russian Jews came from Ukraine, where the current leader is a Jew elected president in 2019 because he backed more economic and security connections with NATO and the West. Despite that Russia worked hard to maintain its good relations with Israel and in 2016 Russian leader Vladimir Putin described Russia and Israel as “unconditional allies”.
Thousands of Russian Israelis have demonstrated in support of Ukraine after the recent invasion. The Israeli government refused to openly criticize the Russian invasion of Ukraine and used its good relationship with Russia to help negotiate an end to the fighting and the war. Israel has reacted to the more limited 2014 Russian attacks on Ukraine by halting cooperation with Russian efforts to develop modern UAVs. Because of its even closer relationship with the United States, Israel has never provided Russia with lethal weapons or weapons technology. At the same time Israel has sold over a billion dollars’ worth of weapons to Moslem majority Azerbaijan, another former part of the Soviet Union that borders Iran and Russian backed Armenia. In late 2020 there was a brief war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that the Azeris won, in part because of the Israeli weapons.
Selling weapons to Ukraine was another matter and Russia apparently told Israel that such sales could reduce Russian cooperation in Syria against Iran. Most Israelis support Ukraine, but the Iranian threat is very real and next door, so Israeli politicians cannot ignore it unless they want to lose their next election. Russia has already suffered major economic losses from the additional economic sanctions imposed after the February 2022 invasion and may end up a much-reduced military power. This could include the withdrawal of their forces in Syria. Even with that, Russia remains a major nuclear power with a large enough arsenal to trigger the nuclear apocalypse that became a reality in the 1960s and has kept the peace between the nuclear powers ever since. Vladimir Putin openly threatens to use nukes to keep NATO nations from supporting Ukraine militarily. NATO is sending in lots of weapons anyway, but not NATO forces. Israel wants to stay off the Russian nuclear targets list.
March 28, 2022: Foreign ministers from Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Bahrain, Morocco, Israel and the United States met in southern Israel (Negev) to discuss expanding diplomatic and trade relationships. Iran was not a topic for discussion because those matters are handled in less public meetings. The Negev meeting was about long-term commercial matters and the prospects of other Arab countries recognizing Israel. The American Secretary of State (foreign minister) was reminded that everyone else at the meeting was not pleased with the generous terms the U.S. was offering Iran to get sanctions lifted and Iran to again promise it was not developing nuclear weapons. There is growing opposition within the United States against this treaty, which the Arab foreign ministers pointed out is turning Arab nations against the United States, or at least the current government.
The Palestinians were not invited to this meeting because the Palestinian obsession with destroying Israel, and relying on Iranian aid to do it has made the Palestinians more an enemy than anything else.
March 27, 2022: While Israel is not providing weapons to Ukraine, this has not prevented foreign subsidiaries of Israeli firms from doing so. In Germany Dynamit Nobel Defence . a subsidiary of Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael began shipping 2,600 RGW90 portable anti-tank rocket launchers. RGW90 is an 8 kg (18 pound) recoilless rifle weapon that fires a 90mm warhead that can penetrate all vehicles except the frontal armor of modern tanks. RGW90 can hit a vehicle size target at 500 meters over 90 percent of the time. When ambushing Russian armored vehicles the Javelin ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) can hit the tanks from up to 2,500 meters while the RGW90 or similar weapons take care of everything else. Israeli forces have been using RGW90 for over two decades. Germany and other NATO nations have been donating and delivering thousands of portable anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the last few weeks. Ukraine has been able to purchase additional weapons and these orders are quickly approved, usually in a week or so. This is very fast because Ukrainian forces need these weapons now. Israel can sympathize with that and Russia is apparently not objecting to weapons from foreign subsidiaries ‘of Israeli firms being sold to Ukraine.
March 24, 2022: Three more F-35s were delivered to Israel, flown in by Israeli pilots from the United States. This gives Israel 33 of the 75 F-35s it has ordered. These will provide three fighter squadrons, all based at an airbase in southern Israel with numerous dispersal (wartime) locations. Putting all three squadrons in one base makes it easier to maintain the F-35 and apply upgrades. The first F-25 arrived in 2016 and the last of the 75 is supposed to arrive by the end of the decade, if not sooner.
March 23, 2022: In western Ukraine, 15 kilometers from the Polish border and near the city of Lviv, a $6.5 million Israeli field hospital opened, staffed by a hundred Israeli volunteers, most of them doctors and nurses. The hospital has 150 beds, operating rooms and uses ten large tents and classrooms in an adjacent school for treating patients. The Israeli staff sleep in nearby dormitories. The hospital is there mainly to treat refugees from other parts of Ukraine where Russian artillery and missiles have destroyed many homes and businesses. The field hospital also has some Ukrainian doctors and nurses and is establishing relationships with other Ukrainian hospitals. Some of the Israeli staff are Ukrainian or the children of Ukrainians who moved to Israel years ago.
The field hospital and other non-lethal aid is appreciated but Ukrainians want Israeli weapons. Ukraine tried to purchase Iron Dome rocket defense systems from Israel in 2019 and Israel refused. Israel would not sell weapons to Ukraine before the Russian 2022 invasion because of Russian cooperation in Syria where Israel regularly attacks Iranian forces trying to get close enough to the Israeli border to launch attacks. Israel carries out these air strikes without interference from Russian air defense systems or jet fighters in Syria to support the Assad government against rebels, including a large number of ISIL Islamic terrorists.
Israel still will not sell any weapons to Ukraine. You won’t see Russian troops using any Israeli weapons either and that is part of the price Israel has to pay to keep its population safe from Iranian attacks and decades of pledges to destroy Israel completely. Iran will use nuclear weapons for this, once it completes development of a workable nuke that is rugged enough to work in a ballistic missile warhead. Israel did send a field hospital to Ukraine and other non-lethal assistance without visibly angering Russia.
March 22, 2022: In the south, four Israeli Jews were killed by a local Bedouin who was an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) supporter. The killer was also an Israeli citizen and used a knife to attack people before armed civilians shot him dead.
Most of these knife attacks take place in the West Bank and began in 2015 when Palestinian leaders called for suicidal “knife terrorism” attacks. These attacks soon lost their popularity despite Fatah still pushing them energetically in all the Palestinian media. This can be seen in the number of Palestinian terror attacks disrupted each year. It was 217 in 2014, 187 in 2013 112 in 2012 and 88 in 2011. In the last decade knife attacks are less common and almost always occur in the West Bank or Jerusalem. Since 1948 some 2,600 Israelis have died from terror attacks inside Israel. Nearly five percent of those dead were foreigners. Palestinian terrorism efforts have never recovered from the defeat they suffered, when Israel adopted new tactics that largely shut down the terror campaign the Palestinians began in 2000. Fatah and Hamas have been trying to revive that effort ever since and have largely failed.
March 21, 2022: Recent commercial satellite photos showed the extent of a February 16 Israeli airstrike, using six large UAVs, on an Iranian UAV storage warehouse in rural west Iran. Israel has still not officially taken credit for the attack, which the Iranians describe as a fire that got out of control. Iran admitted it was an Israeli attack on March 20th. The satellite photos show precise and total destruction of the facility. The warehouse stored hundreds of the large UAVs, which are disassembled and smuggled into northern Yemen where Iran-backed Shia rebels use them to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
March 18, 2022: The commander of U.S. CENTCOM (Central Command), who manages all American forces in the Middle East, confirmed that the United States considers Iran the major threat in the region. The U.S. backs Israeli efforts to attack Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. Iran often attacks American forces in retaliation. The improved diplomatic, economic and military relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab states since 2020 is mainly about the Iranian threat that both Americans, Israelis and Gulf Arabs face. Because of the increased cooperation between Arabs and Israel since 2020 Israel became part of CENTCOM instead of EURCOM (Europe). The main reason Israel was long part of EURCOM was that Israel had better relationships with European nations than its Middle East neighbors. Even Iraq, long one of the most virulent critics of Israel, has mellowed and come to admit that Iran was a larger threat and Israel was useful in diminishing that threat. For that reason, Iraq wants the few (about 2,500 trainers and advisors) American troops in Iraq to remain as long as Iran is a threat. The Shia Arab majority in Iraq also knows that the Kurdish minority (about 20 percent) has long sought and accepted Israeli military assistance and benefited from it.
March 15, 2022: In the West Bank Israeli police arrested a known Palestinian terrorist but were attacked by other Palestinians armed with firearms or just rocks. There Palestinians were killed. There was less violence as two other wanted Islamic terrorists were arrested.
March 13, 2022: In northern Iraq, Iran launched a dozen cruise missiles at targets in or near Erbil, the capital of autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq. Some of the missiles landed near the American consulate but caused no damage or casualties. Other missiles did hit buildings and the damage was substantial for the palatial home of a wealthy Iraqi Kurd. Iran later took credit for the attack, explaining that it was directed at a mythical Israeli Mossad Base near Erbil. The mansion, used by the wealthy and influential Iraqi Kurd and his family, was demolished when no one was home. The bombed-out ruins were open for the media, who took lots of pictures. Iran had no explanation why their guided projectiles seemed to land randomly, except on the mansion. Iran said the attack was revenge for an Israeli airstrike in Syria last week that killed two senior Quds Force commanders. Kurdish officials speculated that the attack was made at a time when no one was in the mansion and avoiding any casualties was an objective, so the attack would serve as a warning rather than something demanding a retaliatory attack. The Kurds believe the attack was more about Iran reminding everyone that Iraq is subordinate to Iran and foreigners as well as Iraqis must remember this.
March 12, 2022: Russian troops are now patrolling the Syria-Israel border along the Golan Heights. Russia says it has expelled all Iran forces from the border region and will keep them out. This is part of an effort to reduce the need for Israeli attacks on Iranian forces operating in Syria. This is part of an effort to enable the Syrian government, still a dictatorship run by a Syrian Shia Arab Assad group, to abandon decades of dependence on Iranian military and diplomatic support. The Assads are seeking to joint an Arab alliance that is cooperating with Israel against Iran. Israel does not want to ruin its relationship with Russia, which is an unofficial ally of Israel against Iran.
March 7, 2022: In southern Syria (Damascus) another Israeli air strike against Iranian targets left two Iranian Quds Force colonels dead and six Iran-backed militia wounded. Iran responded with threats of retaliatory attacks to avenge the loss of two Quds Force officers. This was the seventh Israeli airstrike in Syria for 2022.
March 2, 2022: At the UN Egypt, along with the 140 other members, voted to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine. There are 193 member nations and 35 abstained while five, including Russia, voted against the resolution. Egypt voted against Russia even though the state-owned Russian atomic energy corporation Rostom is supposed to begin construction of a nuclear power plant in Egypt that will contain four reactors and solve Egypt’s energy shortage problems once all four reactors are operational in 2031. The first one will be producing 1,200 megawatts of electricity by 2028, if construction starts on time. The massive economic sanctions on Russia appear to stall the Egyptian power plant projects. As of late March Russia was still reassuring Egypt that the Ukrainian matter would be resolved and the nuclear plant work would not be disrupted. Russia did not reveal how it was going to take care of this. That is an issue because two weeks after the UN resolution it was clear that the Russian invasion had failed and a week after that the Ukrainians were counterattacks and regaining ground while Russia scrambled to replace losses and avoid an embarrassing defeat. Ukraine was demanding the Russia withdraw from Ukraine, including Crimea and portions of eastern Ukraine Russia has occupied since 2014. To preserve the $29 billion Egyptian Rostom deal Russia has to get out from under the Western sanctions. This calls for Russia to get out of Ukraine and possibly agree to pay billions in reparations for the deaths and damage their invasion caused.
February 24, 2022: In southern Syria (Damascus) another Israeli air strike against Iranian targets. Three Syrian soldiers died. This was the seventh Israeli airstrike in Syria for 2022.
Russia launched a “limited invasion” of Ukraine, advancing from about six directions, plus an airborne assault on an airport near Kyiv. Several ballistic missiles hit Kyiv at 4 AM local time. Within 24 hours Ukraine reported that about fifty people had been killed by the missile strikes, and about 150 wounded. Military casualties were about twice that during the first 24 hours of combat, where Russian airstrikes, mainly via ballistic missiles, were against military targets. Russia hoped to wipe out most of the Ukrainian air force but discovered that most of the aircraft had been dispersed to remote locations where they could land and take off on highways and operate safely at low altitudes. Commercial satellite photos were soon available to provide a more accurate picture of what was happening.
Russia invaded Ukraine and this put Israel in a difficult position because of how Israel was dealing with Iran and getting help from Russia. Iran needs cash to keep its wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq going. Israel is preparing to carry out airstrikes on the Iranian nuclear program if they get too close to producing a bomb. Arab oil states will allow Israeli warplanes to unhindered passage to and from such a mission. Iranian threats against its Arab neighbors have caused more resolve to resist and the Arab peace deals with Israel are a nightmare scenario Iranians never expected to experience.
February 26, 2022: In Iran (the capital Tehran) several dozen Iranians protested the Russian invasion of Ukraine and did so outside the Russian embassy. This protest was technically illegal but more accurately represented the attitudes of most Iranians. Enthusiastic Iranian media support for the Russian invasion was criticized by many senior Iranian officials because the media sounded like it was just repeating the Russian justification for the invasion as self-defense against NATO expansion. Some Iranian government officials point out that Russia has claims on portions of Iran and Iran could be next on the Russian list of self-defense invasions. The Shia in neighboring Iraq also protested the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
There were mixed signals elsewhere in the region. Western nations criticized Israel for not condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Actually, Israel did announce that it supported Ukrainian territorial integrity. Israel has an important relationship with Russia in Syria and Israel does not want to endanger that because it makes it easier to carry out airstrikes against Iranian forces in Syria. Russia needs its relationship with Israel more that it needs an alliance with Iran. For that reason, Israel and Russia are often described as frenemies and have consistently behaved as such.