Israel is about the only country in the region at peace. Syria has a raging civil war with Lebanon and Jordan both dealing with related Islamic terrorist violence and threats. Egypt has an Islamic terrorist problem because the 2011 Arab Spring uprising went wrong with another general ending up (in 2013) the replacement for the long-time former general Mubarak who was ousted in 2011. Because Israel is at peace and prospering most Arabs in the region blame Israel for causing all the Islamic terrorist violence and, in conjunction with the CIA, creating ISIL. Putting this into a global perspective let us note a recent survey of the security situation worldwide. This effort produced a list of the most dangerous countries as of early 2015. These were (starting with the most dangerous); Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Ukraine and Egypt. Lots of danger around Israel but the Israelis, to the envy of their neighbors, has suppressed terrorism. This despite most Arab nations being quite open about their desire to destroy Israel.
Egypt has continuing problems with the civil war in neighboring Libya. Despite that Egyptians are still trying to sneak across the border to take jobs Libyans are not accustomed to performing. Weapons stolen from Libyan government warehouses during the initial 2011 Libyan rebellion continue to find their way into Egypt, keeping local gangsters, terrorists and smugglers who supply Gaza armed and more dangerous. The effort to isolate Gaza is not working well as Egypt continues to find evidence that, despite a wide buffer zone along the Gaza border, the smugglers are simply building longer tunnels.
The Islamic terrorism is concentrated in Sinai, where disaffected Bedouins along with al Qaeda and ISIL inspired volunteers from non-Bedouin Egypt continue to battle soldiers and police. Despite all all that at the end of March Egypt joined a Saudi Arabia led coalition to put down a successful rebellion of pro-Iran Shia tribes in Yemen. Some Egyptian warplanes joined those of several other Arab oil states to bomb the Shia rebels and attempt to get the elected government back in power. That did not turn things around for the Yemeni government and the Saudis do not want to lead a ground invasion rather they want Egypt or Pakistan to do so. Pakistan flat out said no.
Egyptian public opinion supported sending fighter-bombers and a few warships, but not ground troops, against Yemen. Too many Egyptians remember the last Egyptian involvement in a Yemeni civil war. That one got 10,000 Egyptian troops killed between 1962-67 and is unfairly blamed for the Egyptian defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. Egypt’s new president (a former general) is not enthusiastic about sending troops into Yemen either but Egypt needs the loans and gifts from the wealthy Gulf oil states. Egypt has agreed to send troops to Saudi Arabia for “joint maneuvers” with Saudi forces. That will probably take place near the Yemen border and could quickly turn into the land invasion. The Gulf Arabs do have a legitimate reason for keeping a lot of their troops out of Yemen. Iran is more and more threatening and while Pakistan refused to send troops they did promise to come in with troops if Egypt were invaded. The only likely invader is Iran, so Pakistan, also dependent on Saudi generosity, has not entirely backed away. Besides, Pakistan is Sunni and has nukes which is some protection against threats from a future nuclear armed Shia Iran.
The terrorist violence in Sinai has not diminished much. So far this year 150-200 a month die from Islamic terrorist related violence in Sinai. Most of the dead are terrorists but the army, police and civilian deaths continue as well. Egypt has noted that the bomb building skills of the Sinai based Islamic terrorists have improved and it is believed that ISIL and Hamas have arranged for more experienced bomb builders to be brought into Sinai and Gaza, where Hamas now provides sanctuary for local Islamic terrorists and ISIL personnel. In return these terrorists do not attack Hamas, even though several rival (and even more radical) Islamic terror groups in Gaza call for a joint effort to overthrow Hamas and replace it something more radical. Right now ISIL and Sinai Islamic terrorists need sanctuary more than they need a more radical religious dictatorship in Gaza. Besides, most Gazans are fed up with Hamas and that cannot be ignored.
All this is trouble for Egypt which fears ISIL will become established enough in Sinai to extend its operations to the more densely populated parts of Egypt on the other side of the canal (what Egyptians call the “mainland”). What makes this prospect so vivid is that ISIL followers in Sinai have taken to putting beheading and execution videos on the Internet. Egyptian security officials also note that one reason there are fewer bombing in the “mainland” is the shortage of competent bomb makers. One way to track that is to note the continuing incidents where inexperienced bomb builders are killed when their creations go off accidentally. That rarely happens in Sinai but is still common elsewhere in Egypt. ISIL wants to change that but needs to get its people across the Suez Canal. That is not easy because most of the existing Islamic terrorists are based in northern Sinai and it is a long way, and many checkpoints and inspections, before you get to the canal. Meanwhile the mainland terrorists use a lot of fake (to tie up the police) and ineffective (making noise and smoke but little damage) bombs to keep the security forces busy and the population terrified.
In Gaza foreign aid groups complain that despite the arrival of over a billion dollars in aid not a single home, destroyed during last years’ 50 Day War, has been rebuilt. What the foreign aid groups don’t mention (to avoid getting chased out of Gaza by Hamas) is that reconstruction of military facilities has taken precedence, including building new tunnels into Egypt (mainly for smuggling) and Israel (exclusively for terrorism). Only about a quarter of the pledged (mainly by Arab oil states) aid has arrived so far in part because the donors note Hamas is embarrassing the donors by not using the money for what is was intended to do (aid the Gazans who lost their homes in the 2014 war). .
Nearly 50,000 Egyptians have left Libya since February to escape the growing Islamic terrorist violence there. This flight was triggered by a February 15th ISIL video showing 20 Egyptian Christians (Copts) being beheaded on a Libyan beach. Many Egyptians still work in Libya doing jobs Libyans will not or cannot do and being paid for with oil income. This is a common practice in all Arab oil states. Before the 2011 revolution over a million Egyptians worked in Libya. But the growing chaos in Libya has sharply cut oil production and many Egyptians are returning because they are losing their jobs or not getting paid. Since mid-February Egypt has declared war on ISIL but has not carried out any more air strikes against ISIL targets in Libya since February. Meanwhile the growing violence in Yemen has caused nearly 1,500 Egyptians to flee their jobs there and return to Egypt.
Meanwhile Israel has to worry about Iran betting nukes. The ruling clerics of Iran have come right out and said all sanctions must be lifted as soon as a deal is signed. In the West getting the currently negotiated proposed deal approved is more complicated because of democracy and divisions in the leadership between those who want to do any kind of deal (just to be done with the economic and political problems caused by the sanctions) versus those who demand proof (intrusive and unscheduled inspections) of Iranian compliance. Israel has made it clear that it will only accept true compliance and verifiable proof that the Iranian nuclear weapons program is shut down. So after much diligent negotiating there is really no agreement. The sanctions remain in place. The Iranian negotiators also believe that if they can get any sanctions lifted the West would have a more difficult time restoring them because of Iranian misbehavior. Some Western leaders underrate this vulnerability but at least this potential Iranian ploy is not totally ignored by everyone in the West. This makes this particular scam less likely to work especially if the Iranian negotiators continue trying to manipulate their Western counterparts. Currently there is a June 30th deadline to reach an agreement on the current proposal or else more sanctions would be imposed. Iranian negotiators (and, according to local gossip and Internet chatter, most Iranians) believe that the deadline can at least be extended and additional sanctions avoided. To Iranians that would be a victory. Meanwhile the U.S. admitted that the “military option” was still available to the United States if sanctions did not succeed in getting the Iranian nuclear program shut down. Israel keeps saying the same thing.
The Israeli border with Lebanon has been quiet since January, although Hezbollah is making more threatening noises. On the Syrian border there have been no direct attacks across the border and even the stray bullets and mortar shells are less frequent. But al Nusra (an al Qaeda affiliate) Islamic terrorists have taken control of most of this border and Hezbollah personnel have been seen there as well. Israel has been accused of collaborating with al Nusra by treating some badly wounded al Nusra men. This is apparently more of an arrangement to gain information and a peaceful border. Ultimately al Nusra wants to destroy Israel and they are not giving that up. As long as two Syrian Army strongpoints remain active on the border the Islamic terrorists who want to attack Israel will have to wait.
April 16, 2015: Kuwait has agreed to provide development loans of $300 million a year to Egypt for the next five years.
April 15, 2015: A West Bank politician (Khalida Jarrar) belonging to the Palestinian parliament (Palestinian Legislative Council) was indicted on a dozen charges related to terrorist activity against Israel. She was arrested on April 1st and is being held until her trial. The Palestinian parliament has been unable to function since 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza and prevented any further Palestinian elections. While that dispute is still unresolved, the last elected members of parliament continue to be politically active.
Israeli police arrested 29 Hamas members in the West Bank.
April 13, 2015: Russia agreed to lift its ban on shipping S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. These missiles would make it much more difficult for Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities and would mean higher Israeli losses. There was a similar problem in neighboring Syria. In 2013 Russia and Syria insisted that shipments of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems (similar to the U.S. Patriot) had arrived in Syria. When Israel confirmed this was indeed the case Israeli aircraft bombed the warehouses holding this equipment in 2014 before the S-300s could become operational. Israel remains determined to prevent the S-300s from becoming operational in Syria. The S-300s are a threat to Israeli aircraft and Israel will continue its air raids in Syria to stop any new weapons from getting to Lebanon and Hezbollah and to halt activation of the S-300 anywhere in Syria or Lebanon. If Syria wanted to get the S-300s operational quickly they would need the help of Russians, who would probably become casualties from the Israeli air attacks. The Russians might risk it because they have seen their weapons used on the losing (Arab) side in the Middle East for over four decades. Sure would be nice to turn this around. An attempt at this would tempt Russia to introduce more than a few troops and technicians to help activate the S-300 systems. Even then, the Russians would be up against more experienced and determined troops and risking another embarrassing defeat. This game of bluff has been played out in private by Russian and Israeli diplomats for years. The three Israeli air raids on Russian weapons in Syria in 2013 and even more in 2014 were the Israeli response to Russians flying in more missiles (anti-ship and less capable anti-aircraft systems.) The Russians keep changing their minds on the S-300s, which, if operational, can detect and attack aircraft 200 kilometers away, deep inside Israel. Against this threat Israel has electronic protection on its warplanes, but these defenses are not perfect and commercial aircraft are unprotected. In short, Israel cannot afford to allow S-300s into the region, not with terrorist groups like Hezbollah or al Qaeda standing by to get their hands on these missile systems. The Russians could have delivered the S-300s in 2010, when they were ordered, but did not. The delay was all about the Russians understanding the Israeli situation and not wanting to trigger a response that would hurt Russia. This agreement to delay delivery also covered orders for Iran, which Russia has decided to allow, in order to punish the West for sanctions on Russia because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine..
April 12, 2015: Egypt announced it would impose harsher punishments (up to life in prison) for those caught using or operating smuggling tunnels from Gaza. Despite a 1,000 meter buffer zone Hamas is allowing tunnel construction to continue and Egyptian police have found very long tunnels. Hamas allows the tunnels to move weapons and Islamic terrorists (including those fighting Egypt) as well as consumer goods. Most of the people building and operating the tunnels are Palestinians from Gaza but some Egyptians are employed in operating and financing the tunnel construction. Police recently found the longest (2,800 meters) smuggling tunnel they had ever encountered. The tunnel was three meters (10 feet) underground and extended so far into Egypt in an effort to avoid detection. The most common way for these tunnels to be found is police noting (or being tipped off about) activity (people and goods going in and out) of the building containing the tunnel entrance. Police fear there are more of these long tunnels and are expanding the areas they monitor for tunnel entrance activity.
April 11, 2015: Israel is expanding its Yahalom Combat Engineer battalion. This unit specializes in finding and destroying tunnels. The unit was created in response to all the Hamas tunnels discovered in 2014 and is now being doubled in size to deal with similar Hezbollah tunnels on the Lebanese border.
April 10, 2015: Egypt was angry, but not surprised, to discover that hospitals in Hamas controlled Gaza were treating Islamic terrorists wounded while fighting Egyptian security forces. Hamas always denied that it was supporting these terror groups and still does. But the discovery of who some of these “special patients” were puts into question anything Hamas says. Meanwhile Hamas also has problems with ISIL in Syria, where a major Palestinian refugee camp was captured by ISIL on the 5th and Hamas officials there were publically executed and in one case the head of a Hamas leader was displayed on a pike. Even among Islamic terrorist groups this is considered disrespectful. Hamas officially opposes ISIL, mainly because its major financial backers (Arab oil states) insist. But many Hamas members support ISIL and some have gone and joined ISIL.
April 9, 2015: Another Arab Israeli who went to join ISIL in Syria has been reported dead. As many as two dozen Arab Israelis have gone off to join ISIL in the last two years and about a third of them are believed to have been killed. Most of these Israeli ISIL men keep in touch with their families vis cell phone or Internet and provide information on the extent of Arab Israeli activity within ISIL.
April 7, 2015: The leader of Hezbollah appeared on Syrian TV and praised the proposed peace deal between the UN and Iran that would limit the Iranian nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions. The Hezbollah leaders pointed out that Iran is the main financial supporter and weapons supplier for Hezbollah and that Hezbollah is using that aid to prepare for another war with Israel.
April 5, 2015: In Egypt (Giza) police got a tip on where the founder (Hamam Mohamed) of one of the more active Islamic terror groups was staying and organized a raid. Mohamed was alone but spotted the approaching police and opened fire. He was killed in the subsequent brief gun battle. His hideout contained a bomb workshop with 18 bombs in various stages of completion. The group Mohamed led specialized in attacking police.
Pakistan told Iran that it would not, despite pleas from Saudi Arabia, join the Saudi led coalition (Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt) fighting Shia rebels in Yemen. At the same time Pakistan assured Saudi Arabia that Pakistan would provide military assistance if the territory of Saudi Arabia were invaded. In early
March Saudi Arabia had asked Pakistan to join a Sunni Arab coalition against Iranian aggression and send warplanes, warships and a brigade of troops to help deal with the Shia rebellion in Yemen. Pakistan declined apparently because it was not willing to antagonize Iran. The Saudis were dismayed by this refusal because they have been a generous provider of financial aid to Pakistan for decades. In the past the Pakistani response has been different. Pakistan got a similar request in 1979 when Shia clergy led a revolution against the Iranian monarchy and talked of attacking the Sunni Arab states. For most of the 1980s Pakistan had an armor brigade stationed in Saudi Araba and Pakistan served as a threat to eastern Iran, which borders Pakistan. Since then Pakistan and the Shia religious dictatorship in Iran have learned to get along. About 20 percent of Pakistanis are Shia and Pakistan has its hands full trying to shut down Sunni Islamic terrorists attacking those Shia and anyone else who opposes them. Those attacks on Shia anger Iran and Pakistan does not want to make that worse. With Iran on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, Pakistan apparently feels the Saudis will need Pakistani nukes and that will keep the Arab money flowing into Pakistan.
March 31, 2015: Israel revealed that it had conducted another successful round of tests of their new anti-aircraft/missile system by intercepting and destroying a short range ballistic missile and other targets representing manned aircraft. The first battery of this new Magic Wand (David’s Sling) system, with a range of 160 kilometers, will enter service in 2016. This was supposed to happen in 2014 but there were technical problems that had to be fixed.
March 30, 2015: The U.S. has agreed to lift the arms embargo imposed on Egypt 21 months ago when the military led a popular movement to oust an elected government that proposed turning Egypt into a religious dictatorship. Egypt called for the restoration of this aid because Egypt is in the midst of fighting Islamic terrorists, especially in Sinai and the Libyan border and now in Yemen as well.
March 28, 2015: The Arab League agreed to finance and staff a quick reaction force of 40,000 troops to deal with future emergencies. This force would be mostly Egyptian and Saudi and be based in Egypt or Saudi Arabia (or alternate between those two countries). The two day Arab League meeting also backed the Saudi led coalition to defeat the pro-Iran Shia rebels in Yemen.