August 31, 2016:
The Israeli economy continues to thrive while the economies in neighboring Moslem nations stagnate or decline. Israeli unemployment is under 5 percent which is the lowest rate in the region. Arabs, especially Palestinians, blame Israel for their poorly performing economies. The real cause of the economic woes is corruption and bad government in general. But few Moslem governments are willing to admit that.
The most dangerous Islamic threat to Israel is not even Arab. In Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently reminded everyone that the official Iranian position is that any Moslem nation (especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey) that improves relations with Israel is betraying Islam. Along those lines Khamenei also repeats his belief that the United States cannot be trusted and he makes a big deal about how the economic sanctions the July 2015 treaty lifted are not the main economic problem Iran has to deal with. The main problem for Iran is the two years of very low oil prices, which is Saudi Arabia’s way (along with some other local Sunni oil states) to put the hurt on Iran. One reason for seeking nuclear weapons is to give Iran the ability to persuade the Saudis to ship less oil and let the price go up. After that there will be the demand to let Iran run the Moslem holy places in Mecca and Medina. The Saudis are not willing to make deals that involve Iranian domination of the region and remain firm on their oil policy. Khamenei regularly lets the Iranian people know that their continued poverty is the fault of the Gulf Arabs and their allies (especially Israel and the United States). What Arabs and Iranians both downplay is that the American fracking technology is changing the oil market. Even with record low prices the fracking industry survives and as the price of oil goes up more fracking operations resume production. Add to that recent natural gas deposits discovered and rapidly developed in Israel coastal waters and you can see why political relationships are shifting in the Middle East.
Seen from the other side of the Gulf Arab nations have been getting closer to Israel for years and are now quite open about it. Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) created and sustained the Islamic terrorism but can’t admit that. Israel is the most successful local power when it comes to dealing with Islamic terrorism and is willing to work with Arab states and not make a big deal about where all the Islamic terrorism comes from in the first place. That’s a problem the Arabs in particular and Moslems in general have to deal with.
Meanwhile Israel has become a tourist attraction for Russians who can still afford to travel to the Middle East but want to go somewhere that is not threatened by Islamic terror attacks and is hospitable to Russians. Then there is the fact that nearly 20 percent of Israelis have Russian ancestors. Russia is still a major source of Jews emigrating to Israel. Russians in general admire Israel for being resourceful and able to defend themselves in a rough neighborhood. Thus while Russia is currently an active ally of Iran, Russia and Israel continue to have good diplomatic and trade relations. Since 2015, when most Russians stopped going to inexpensive Egyptian resorts because of the terror threat a growing number have trying out the more expensive Israeli resorts. Most of these Russians go home and report that the higher cost of vacationing in Israel is worth it because so many Israelis speak Russian and are nostalgic for Russian culture. You get what you pay for.
Egypt Relives The 1990s
In the early 1990s radical factions of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, frustrated at their inability to achieve peaceful reforms, turned to terrorism and were defeated. Two decades later the Islamic terrorists are again attacking the Egyptian economy, especially tourism which accounts for 11 percent of the GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the work force. This time there are still radical factions of the Moslem Brotherhood but most of the damage was done by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This led to a 15 percent decline in tourist income for 2015. The October 2015 ISIL bombing of the Russian airliner is a good example of the new approach. So far in 2016 tourism income is down nearly fifty percent. And as with the pre-2011 Mubarak dictatorship the current government has largely eliminated large-scale anti-government demonstrations and is concentrating on Islamic terrorist groups, which the Mubarak government fought and defeated in the 1990s. The economy is worse than it was under Mubarak and at least the government is paying more attention to that.
The current ruler (a former general named Sisi) got elected in 2014 mainly because he was seen as responsible for forcibly removing the ineffective (in reviving the economy) and unpopular Moslem Brotherhood from control of the government in July 2013 via a military coup. Making that removal stick has led to over 2,000 dead since then, mostly Moslem Brotherhood supporters and Islamic terrorists operating in the Sinai Peninsula. Some 20,000 (or more) Moslem Brotherhood members are in jail. About 3o percent of the dead have been soldiers and police, which has made the counter-terrorism effort into a quest for vengeance by the security forces.
Attacks on soldiers and police continue but the security forces are fighting back and the terror attacks diminish as more and more of the most violent opposition groups are taken apart. This is how Egypt defeated a major Islamic terrorist uprising in the 1990s. But that victory did not cure the disease, it only addressed the symptoms. Egypt is still looking for a cure. But in the meantime Egyptians have to eat and have some hope of a better life. Thus the economy is the major concern of the government and everything else is secondary. Because of that the security forces have been getting a lot of cooperation (and tips) from Egyptians who may not like Sisi and the return of authoritarian government, but like Islamic terrorists even less. Yet underlying all this religious strife is the more fundamental problem of corruption and the inability to manage the economy efficiently. What happened in 1990s started again in 2011 with the same sorry results and no long-term solution for fundamental problems.
At its height in 2015 there were over 500 ISIL members in northern Sinai and a much smaller number elsewhere in Egypt. Since then ISIL has had to deal with attacks from everyone, including other Islamic terrorists groups. For example ISIL is opposed by Hamas in Gaza as well as most Moslem Brotherhood factions. In Sinai ISIL found, and is now losing, some support with local Bedouin backed Islamic terror groups. The Egyptian security forces have been concentrating on ISIL since late 2015 and that convinced the Bedouins that ISIL was more of a liability than an asset. As a result ISIL has not been able to carry as many attacks as it once did. In addition to losses from operational (combat and suicide attacks) some ISIL men have left Sinai and shown up in Libya. Fewer new recruits are joining ISIL in Sinai, which got large so quickly in 2015 by attracting the more radical members of other Islamic terror groups in Sinai and Gaza. Most of those are now dead or disillusioned. Many have deserted and returned to their original groups, where they confirm the image of ISIL as counterproductive and a failed idea. The leader of the local ISIL forces was killed recently and there is apparently a shortage of suitable candidates to replace him.
August 25, 2016: In the south, off Gaza, an Israeli patrol boat came under fire from the shore. The happened as the Israelis were arresting two Palestinian fishermen who tried to take their boat into restricted areas and refused to turn back.
August 24, 2016: Israeli warplanes bombed three Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. These three targets, near the Syrian border, were known to be involved with supporting Hezbollah operations in Syria. This was the second such attack this month. The other one was on the 3rd when Arab media reported that Israeli warplanes destroyed four trucks (carrying Hezbollah weapons) north of Damascus. Israel rarely acknowledges air strikes like this but in April the Israeli government did reveal that it had carried out dozens of air raids in Syria and Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah weapons. In Lebanon Israeli aircraft also use smart bombs and missiles to attack Hezbollah weapons storage facilities that are found to contain new (usually Iranian or Russian) missiles. In addition to the air strikes since 2011 there have been a smaller number of ground (command0) operations. There have been several Israeli air strike in Syria since 2015 that were apparently part of an effort to destroy ballistic missiles being moved, or already moved from Syria to Lebanon. Israel also believes that Iran backed Hezbollah now has 150,000 other rockets, most of them short range (20 kilometers or less) installed along the Israel border, often in or close to homes and government buildings. Because of its commitments in Syria Hezbollah is not interested in another war with Israel just now but that attitude is expected to change depending on how the war in Syria ends. At the moment the Syrian government (backed by Iran and Russia) is winning but that war isn’t over yet.
August 22, 2016: In the north (Golan Heights) fire from the Syrian side of the border landed in Israel but did no damage and appeared to be unintentional. In response Israeli aircraft attacked a Syrian Army artillery position. When the fire from Syria is deliberate the Israelis always fire back, but if it appears to have been the result of fighting between government and rebels forces inside Syria, which is the cause of most bullets, rockets and shells crossing the border, there is sometimes just a verbal protest but no artillery or air strikes in response. When it is unclear, the Israelis fire back.
The United States advised American citizens in Gaza to leave because of the growing tensions between Hamas and Israel. The fear is that this could lead to some of the more radical Islamic terror groups (or factions of Hamas) attacking or kidnapping Americans in Gaza, even if the victims were there as aid workers. Islamic radicals in Gaza have done that sort of thing before.
August 21, 2016: In the south a rocket from Gaza exploded between two homes outside the Israeli border town of Sderot. No one was hurt but the Israeli response was the largest seen in Gaza since 2014. Over 40 Hamas military targets were hit with air strikes and artillery fire. There were no fatalities but Hamas lost a lot of weapons, equipment and buildings.
August 20, 2016: In Turkey the parliament approved the June agreement with Israel that restores the close diplomatic and economic relations the two countries had until the formal break in 2011. Even before Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in 2011 relations between the two countries had been going downhill since 2007, when the AKP (Islamic Justice and Development Party) won reelection and party leader (and Turkish president) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to turn on Israel in order to increase influence in Arab countries. It soon became clear that this was not working out so well but the AKP leaders were not willing to back down. By 2011 Turkey had cut most of its extensive diplomatic, economic and military ties with Israel. It took four more years of Islamic terrorist violence inside Turley and isolation from Israeli economic and military cooperation, to change enough minds in the AKP (which is still Islamic). The new agreement does not eliminate all the anti-Israel attitudes AKP has created and encouraged inside Turkey but does make it easier for Israel and Turkey to cooperate in dealing with Islamic terrorism, especially the threat from ISIL.
August 19, 2016: Military intelligence revealed that a backpack containing several kilos (over five pounds) of explosives found near the Lebanon border in July apparently belonged to Hezbollah. At first the owner of the explosives was unclear as a local farmer had stumbled across the backpack by accident. Smugglers often stash small shipments near the border for later pickup and delivery inside Israel. At first police (and local civilians) thought the explosives belonged to one of the criminal gangs that controls smuggling in the area and that the ultimate buyer would be one of the Israeli criminal gangs known to use small bombs to attack other gangs or intimidate businesses into cooperating with various criminal scams. The smuggling gangs bring contraband (usually drugs) into Israel tend to avoid working for Islamic terrorists since that attracts a lot more unwelcome attention and results in more severe punishment for arrested smugglers. But Hezbollah has long controlled much of the illegal drug business in Lebanon and controls much of what goes on in southern Lebanon. Israel suspected that Hezbollah was pressuring smugglers to move Islamic terror related stuff across the border or be killed or barred from the border area. These suspicions were apparently correct in this case. It is no secret that Hezbollah and Iran (which founded and funds Hezbollah) are desperate to carry out some terror attacks inside Israel but have had little success doing so.
August 18, 2016: In the West Bank Palestinian police raided a home in Nablus looking for illegal firearms. Two armed men in the house resisted and were killed after a brief gun battle. In the last two months Palestinian police have carried out dozens of similar raids and arrested over a hundred Palestinians while seizing dozens of weapons. Hamas complains that most of those arrested are Hamas supporters but in fact there is a growing crime problem in the West Bank and illegal firearms are often used on other Palestinians not Israelis.
August 17, 2016: In Egypt the local ISIL group (the “Sinai Province”) confirmed that Egyptian security forces had killed Doaa Abu Ansari, the head of the Sinai Province, on August 4th in the midst of a major counter-terror operation. Nearly fifty people during several days of raids, air strikes and searches for terrorists in northern Sinai. Many of the dead were initially unidentified but one of them was believed to be Ansari but more proof was needed to convince people that Ansari was really, really dead. The ISIL announcement was apparently triggered by internal confusion among ISIL members about who was in charge. There aren’t many active ISIL men left in Sinai and the ISIL announcement about Ansari’s death mentioned a new leader called Sheikh Abdullah who was otherwise unidentified. The security forces have killed over 200 ISIL men in 2016 and even more have apparently left the group, often by switching their allegiance to another terror group. Most of the Islamic terrorist violence in Sinai this year has been traced to non-ISIL groups and there has been no indication of any ISIL efforts to carry out another spectacular attack against tourism or any other high-visibility target. ISIL is having a hard time everywhere in 2016, especially in neighboring Libya.
August 16, 2016: Israeli soldiers and police raided the Fawwar refugee camp in the West Bank looking for illegal weapons. A mob of local men (mostly teenagers) tried to forcibly stop the raid. One of the locals was shot dead and over twenty were wounded. Two firearms were found along with lots of ammo and other weapons. Fawwar is known to be a source of many Palestinian ISIL supporters.
Later in the day Israeli police revealed that they have been disrupting Hezbollah efforts in the Internet (mainly FaceBook) to recruit Israeli Moslems to join Hezbollah and work with other Israeli Moslems to carry out terror attacks inside Israel. Police described several recent arrests related to this investigation, apparently to discourage other potential recruits. Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah there has been a growing problem with loyalty of Israeli Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population. A 2007 opinion survey of the Israeli Arabs revealed some scary attitudes. For example, 48 percent believed the Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel last year were justified, even though Israeli Arabs suffered a disproportionate number of the Israeli casualties (because most Israeli Arabs live in the north). Moreover, half saw the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers (which triggered the 2006 war) as justified, and 89 percent considered the Israeli attack on Lebanon a war crime (44 percent believed the Hezbollah rocket attack was a war crime.) A third of Arab high school and college graduates don't believe that six million Jews were killed during World War II (compared to 28 percent of all Israeli Arabs.) Israeli Arabs also have fears, like the possibility of mass expulsions from Israel (60 percent), or transfer of their communities to a new Palestinian state (62 percent). In fact, 68 percent would prefer to live in Israel even if there were a peace deal that led to the creation of a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Israel Jews avoid entering Arab towns of neighborhoods, and 68 percent fear civil unrest among Israeli Arabs. Since 2007 these anti-Israel attitudes among Arab Israelis has gotten worse and Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIL try to take advantage of it. ISIL has been the most successful, mainly because it is the most radical Islamic terrorist group and that appeals to the young (especially teenage) Moslem males who are most attracted to Islamic terrorism. Thus at least seven Israeli citizens (all Arabs) who have died fighting for ISIL so far. At least fifty Israeli Arabs are known to have joined ISIL.
August 14, 2016: In Germany a government intelligence report got leaked to the media and detailed evidence that Turkey has long supported certain “friendly” Islamic terrorist groups operating in Syria. The most notable of these groups is Hamas (Palestinians from Gaza) and the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood. Turkey always kept quiet about such support but it was an open secret that some Islamic terrorists had an easier time getting in and out of Syria via Turkey.
August 12, 2016: In Egypt 23 Egyptians left Libya after having been kidnapped during late July while passing through Brega (160 kilometers south of Benghazi). Many Egyptians still work in Libya, especially in the oil industry. Criminal gangs and rogue militias will rob and kidnap foreigners if they can. In this case the Egyptian government was able to call on allies in eastern Libya to get the 23 Egyptians freed after ten days.
August 11, 2016: American military intelligence revealed that since September 2015 ISIL appears to have lost 25,000 fighters in combat (mainly in Syria, Iraq and Libya). Thus about 45,000 ISIL fighters have died since 2013. It’s believed that ISIL currently has only about 20,000 fighters available, mostly in Syria and Iraq. There are a few thousand more in northern Libya, eastern Afghanistan and Egypt. In all five countries ISIL is under heavy attack.