Israel faces potential threats from three increasingly unstable neighbors (Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon). All are related to the aftereffects of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. That movement encouraged Islamic terrorist groups because these organizations were hailed as heroes for long supporting resistance to Arab dictatorships. But the Islamic terrorists are also hostile to democracy, which is what most Arabs want. Actually, most Arabs just want a better life and some are willing to consider a religious dictatorship. The Islamic radicals were the most organized group in Arab dictatorships (as they use mosques as bases and even dictators go easy on mosques) and tended to win the first elections. In Egypt the new Islamic rulers tried to establish a religious dictatorship and that brought another mass uprising and an army coup. The Islamic radicals are trying to get organized and some want to use violence to get their way. That has not worked in the past and just makes a mess. That is now playing out in Egypt. In Syria the initial rebellion is not over yet, mainly because the Assad dictatorship is getting strong support from Iran and Russia. Lebanon has long been a democracy but a 1975-90 civil war ended with an Iran supported sectarian (Shia) militia (Hezbollah) still seeking Shia dominance. Hezbollah support for the Assads in Syria has stirred up the sectarian differences that got the 1975 civil war going and threatens to reignite. While all this weakens traditional enemies of Israel, it does put more Islamic terrorists in play, since the unsettled situation in these three countries has attracted a lot of foreign Islamic terrorists. All of whom see the destruction of Israel as a primary goal. So while the conventional military threat may have been reduced by the Arab Spring, the terrorist threat is greater.
The Egyptian security forces have sent more personnel into Sinai and are openly admitting that the current raids and sweeps are meant to crush the Islamic terror groups in Sinai and isolate Gaza (a Palestinian territory run by Islamic terror group Hamas since 2007). In the last two months the Egyptians have made nearly 400 arrests in Sinai and killed over 100 Islamic terrorists. Over 10 tons of weapons have been seized so far, many of them had come from Gaza. There are now almost daily clashes in Sinai between Egyptian security forces and Islamic terrorists. Since June the Egyptian military has found and shut down some 95 percent of the Gaza smuggling tunnels. They are aiming for 100 percent by demolishing all buildings within a kilometer of the Gaza border. Shutting down the tunnels has reduced Gaza GDP by about 15 percent. The tunnels were built to get around cargo checks and customs fees at the official crossings from Egypt and Israel. Hamas made up for its lost customs income by charging the tunnel operators fees. Egypt tolerated the tunnels until this year, when they realized that they were a major source of personnel and equipment for the growing number of Islamic terrorists in Sinai. These terrorists were originally supposed to be attacking Israel but have increasingly become hostile to the Egyptian government as well. Meanwhile, the 2 months of pro-Morsi (the Islamic activist president deposed by mass demonstrations and an army coup in July) demonstrations have left over a 1,200 dead in Egypt, most of them Morsi supporters. Most Egyptian counter-terrorism efforts are concentrated in the areas (along the Nile River) where most Egyptians live. The Sinai (where only about 1 percent of Egyptians live) has, until recently, been seen as a minor nuisance. That has changed.
Despite a common interest in dealing with Syria, Israeli-Turkish discussions about improving relations have stalled. The Islamic government in Turkey is still full of anti-Israeli politicians who are hostile to any cooperation with Israel. It’s all about the “Israel must be destroyed” line that has been pushed by Islamic states since Israel was created after World War II. That, in turn, is part of the Islamic hostility to non-Moslems that has been active in the region for centuries. Turkey tried to get away from this attitude after the Ottoman Empire dissolved in the early 1920s. But that period of secularization in Turkish politics disappeared as more and more Turks sought to reconnect with their Islamic past. This trend had to sacrifice decades of close diplomatic and economic relationships with Israel. Not all Turks agree with this change but enough do to make it official policy. Pro-Israeli Turkish officials continue to push for restoring close ties with Israel.
Israel sees the Russian effort to get Syria to voluntarily surrender its chemical weapons as a scam that is really meant to halt any American or NATO air strikes against the Assad forces. Discussions about this deal have halted any air strikes and Israel believes the discussions will be dragged out indefinitely as the fighting in Syria continues. Without those air strikes the rebels will suffer more losses (mainly civilians) and the Assad government will be able to hang on longer. Assad believes with enough time (free of air attacks) and enough aid from Iran he can beat the rebels into submission. Israel would like to see the Syrian chemical weapons (intended mainly for Israel) gone but doubts that this will ever happen, especially with the Assads in power. Even if current stocks were destroyed, the Assads could easily replace them.
Israel has long been suspected of having chemical weapons, but there has never been any proof. Israel may have had chemical weapons but destroyed them when Israel began producing nuclear weapons in the late 1970s. American intelligence believes that Israel stopped producing these weapons in 2004 and has an arsenal of 80 warheads. This is the ultimate deterrent to any foreign country trying to use chemical or nuclear weapons against Israel.
Although there continues to be anti-Israeli violence in the West Bank, the Palestinian terrorists continue to be stymied in their efforts. In response more Palestinians are being given work permits in Israel and there are fewer trade restrictions on what is allowed into the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of anti-Israel terrorists among Palestinians, and as long as that situation exists there will not be a return to the open borders that existed two decades ago.
September 19, 2013: In Cairo two bombs were found on the subway and defused. Outside of Cairo police raided a camp Islamic radicals had set up and arrested 60 men as suspected Islamic radicals. 3 of those taken were already wanted for being part of a group that killed 12 policemen last month.
September 18, 2013: In southern Egypt several thousand soldiers and police entered the town of Dalga (population 120,000), which Islamic radicals had seized control of in July after the army deposed an Islamic national government. Dalga is nearly 20 percent Christian and the Islamic radicals proceeded to burn churches and murder any Christians who opposed them. News of this got out and the new military government was embarrassed by the large number of attacks on Christians in Dalga. The Christians down there fear that the additional security forces will soon be withdrawn and the Islamic radicals will come back worse than ever.
In Sinai a suicide car bomber hit an Egyptian army armored personnel carrier and killed 9 soldiers. In the nearby Sinai town of Rafah a large bomb destroyed a building housing Egyptian intelligence troops. This left 10 soldiers and 7 civilians wounded. Another bomb in Rafah went off near an army checkpoint.
September 17, 2013: An Egyptian court confirmed the earlier government order to freeze the bank accounts of the Moslem Brotherhood. This cuts the amount of cash the Islamic parties have available and weakens their ability to put pressure on the government. In northern Egypt (Sharqia province) Islamic terrorists ambushed an army patrol, killing 2 soldiers and wounding 3.
An Israeli Arab family revealed that one of their sons had gone to Syria last month to fight for the rebels and they had received news (and photos) that he had been killed. This was the first Arab-Israeli known to have gone to join the Syrian rebels and gotten killed. There are several others known to be in Syria. Israel fears that some of these Israeli Arabs will join Islamic radical rebel groups and return with the intention of committing terrorist acts against Israel. This terrorism is becoming very fashionable among young Arab-Israeli men.
In the West Bank a wanted Palestinian terrorist was killed during an Israeli raid seeking to arrest him.
September 16, 2013: The Egyptian government will shorten the nightly curfew from 7 to 5 hours and extended the state of emergency (martial law) by 2 months. The state of emergency was first declared on August 14th, when the army cleared 2 large camps outside Cairo that were occupied by Morsi supporters from other parts of the country. About 1,000 people were killed in that operation.
September 15, 2013: Egypt accused Hamas of planting (or allowing other Islamic radical to do so) mines and bombs along the Gaza border with Egypt. These are used to attack Egyptian troops patrolling that border. Such activity has long been seen along the Gaza border with Israel, and the Israelis are regularly shooting at Palestinians trying to plant these devices. Many Palestinians have been killed and wounded because of that, along with a few Israeli soldiers injured by bombs that do get planted.
September 14, 2013: In the Sinai Peninsula the Egyptian military launched an offensive against Islamic terrorists. Within 5 days 29 Islamic terrorists had been killed, 30 arrested, and several caches of weapons and bomb making materials were seized. The army suffered about a dozen casualties, including 3 dead. The offensive continues, mostly in the north near Gaza. Police also raided Islamic radical camps set up outside Cairo (housing demonstrators who went into the Cairo to call for Islamic president Morsi to be reinstated). Some people from these camps formed mobs to attack police stations near the camps.
September 13, 2013: As usual, Friday brought more pro-Morsi demonstrators out on to the streets. Friday is the Moslem day of prayer and the day when the Mosques have the most people showing up to pray and hear sermons. Most of the clerics are pro-Morsi. In Cairo there are also more anti-Morsi demonstrations, and police are having a more difficult time keeping the pro and anti-Morsi crowds apart.
September 12, 2013: For the first time Egyptian armored vehicles have entered Gaza, with two M-1 tanks going past the fence marking the border zone. The tanks did not go past the wall that marks the extent of Hamas controlled territory.
September 11, 2013: In the northern Sinai (Rafah, a town near Gaza) 2 suicide car bombs killed 7 soldiers and 2 terrorists. Over the last week army raids in the area have killed 30 Islamic terrorists and arrested at least as many.
The government will enforce the prohibition against unlicensed clerics preaching in Mosques. There are believed to be about 55,000 such illegal preachers, most of them Morsi supporters.
September 9, 2013: In Sinai 1 Islamic terrorist was killed when the terrorists clashed with soldiers along a road.