In the north (Lebanon) two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, apparently in response to information that the Israeli prime minister would be making a visit. One of the rockets was intercepted by Iron Dome while the other one landed in an uninhabited area. There were no casualties or damage. Israel retaliated with artillery fire into Lebanon against Palestinian groups that maintain a preens in southern Lebanon and occasionally fire into Israel.
In the south, Gaza is suffering a major economic depression because Israel refuses to open its one border crossing for Gaza to allow full resumption of goods entering Gaza. The blockade was caused by Hamas breaking its latest ceasefire agreement in May when it launched a major rocket attack on Israel. The attack was a big mistake because Hamas underestimated Israeli defensive and counterattack capabilities and within days was pleading for Egypt to quickly arrange another ceasefire to replace the one Hamas just broke. Not trusting Hamas, Israel finished demolishing most Hamas military assets, including weapons production, before agreeing to another ceasefire. Egypt was not happy with Hamas either, which carried out the surprise attack without even mentioning the possibility of such a thing during the negotiations taking place in Egypt when the May attack began.
Egypt controls the only other border crossing to Gaza and is allowing marginally more cargo through than Israel. Egypt also has a lot of complaints about Hamas, which does not directly attack Egypt but does support several Islamic terrorist groups that very much attack Egypt. For years Hamas lied to Egypt about the continued use of Gaza by anti-Egypt Islamic terrorist groups. Finally, Egypt cut most Hamas access to Egypt and imposed restrictions on when and how often the border crossing with Gaza was open. That worked, and with intel and border security cooperation from Israel, which has a long shared border with Egypt, suppressed most of the Islamic terrorist activity in Sinai and the rest of Egypt. Despite that, Egypt continued to broker negotiations between Hamas and Israel, even though Hamas was now accepting aid from Iran, which is at war with Egypt and other Arab states in the region. Iranian aid has kept Hamas alive and made it possible for Hamas to launch the May attack in an effort to gain more Palestinian voter support over rival Fatah in the West Bank. It worked, for a while but now Fatah is the one having second thoughts about elections to choose who will rule both Gaza and the West Bank.
Another curious side effect of the May war between Hamas and Israel was that China defended Hamas, an internationally acknowledged Islamic terrorist group, against Israel. China’s propaganda bureaucracy has, since 2018, actively encouraged anti-Semitism despite the fact that China has been a major investor in the Israeli economy, especially in high-tech firms. Chinese support for Hamas is seen as part of the Chinese effort to dampen Moslem criticism of what China has been doing to its own Moslems.
The American Connection
Another after-effect of the May war was making more Arab states realize that Israel had developed, and demonstrated in May, effective defenses against the kind of weapons Iran has been using and providing to allies like Hezbollah, Hamas and Shia rebels in Yemen.
Iran wants to repeat in Syria what it has been doing in Yemen for several years. In Yemen Iran perfected an effective way to attack Saudi Arabia by arming Shia rebels in Yemen with over a thousand ballistic missiles and UAVs during the last seven years. Most of these were aimed at southwestern Saudi Arabia. Less than one percent of those UAVs and missiles hit anything of consequence in Saudi Arabia. Iran is seeking to carry out a similar campaign against Israel using Iran backed militias in Syria. That has not been working out so far because Israeli intelligence capabilities and airstrikes have been much more effective in Syria than Saudi efforts in Yemen. This despite the fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia have similar aircraft, smart bombs and air defense systems.
Iranian operations in Yemen had one positive side effect for Saudi and UAE fighter pilots. While not as efficient as the Israelis, Saudi and the UAE were allies in Yemen from 2015 to 2020 and their pilots and ground forces gained a lot of practical combat experience. By 2020 Saudi and UAE pilots are much more accurate and confident than they were during the first two years (2015-16). On the ground the Saudis and UAE supplied artillery and troops trained to quickly and accurately request and direct air and artillery support. All these ground teams have a year or more of combat experience and it makes a difference. The U.S., which supplied most of the combat aircraft, and pilot training, for the Saudis and UAE had long urged both nations to do more to improve the quality of pilot selection and training. The UAE was more receptive and the differences showed up in Yemen early on. After thousands of combat sorties together the Saudi and UAE pilots were a lot more equal in capabilities.
Arab states, including Iraq, are seeking help from Israel and the United States to improve air defenses against Iranian ballistic missiles and UAVs used as cruise missiles. The Americans point out that the most successful weapons against the Iranian missiles and UAVs have been developed by Israel, which now has diplomatic relations with the UAE, and other Arab states are considering doing the same because Israel is the most technically advanced country in the region and a primary target for Iranian aggression. Israel has also been the most successful at fighting back against Iran. This is popular in Arab countries, as is the Iranian inability to retaliate against Israel. Not only that but Israel, although majority Jewish, has a population where the majority is quite literally Arab, or Semitic. When founded in the late 1940s, over half the population consisted of local Semites, either Jews forced out of Arab countries where they had lived for over a thousand years, or Arabs who did not flee the newly created Israel when surrounding Arab nations declared war on Israel and told Arabs living there to leave until Arab armies could wipe out the Jews. That never happened and it took four failed attempts to convince Arab nations that the Israelis could not be defeated militarily. Today 20 percent of Israelis are descendants of Arabs who did not leave after Israel was founded. Most are Moslem, with the remainder Christian. The Jews whose ancestors came from other Arab states in the 1940s and 50s were later diluted by the arrival of more European, American and Russian Jews, but the majority of Israelis still resemble their ancient ancestors who were identical to their Semitic neighbors and spoke Aramaic, an ancient version of the Arabic still spoken by a few Arab and Christian minorities in the region. Two thousand years ago Hebrew was a related language to Arabic used for religious occasions and few Jews knew it. When modern Israel was founded, Hebrew was revived as a national language that all Jews could accept. But half of Israelis still speak some Arabic and a minority still use it at home. This includes Jews whose families that never left the region when the Romans killed, enslaved or dispersed the Jewish population 1900 years ago after yet another rebellion against Roman rule. The Middle East is one part of the world where old customs never entirely disappear and are often revived.
In effect the Americans are brokering the growing cooperation between Israel and Arab states against common enemies and to build a stronger regional economy via more trade with Israel. The UAE has led this move, in part because the UAE, with no Jewish minority, is very similar in attitudes and outlook to Israel. For decades UAE entrepreneurs have recognized this and formed secret trading relationships with Israel. The UAE government accepted Israeli help in dealing with Islamic terrorists and the increased Iranian threat. The UAE finally convinced the other Arab states that they had more to gain by establishing diplomatic, economic and security relationships with Israel. The UAE was the first to officially establish diplomatic relations and that is already leading to more business deals between the two countries as well as more people from the two countries visiting each other.
Misery In The North
In the north (Lebanon) Hezbollah, an Iran-created and backed Shia Islamic terrorist group, is suffering hard times. Heavy Hezbollah casualties in Syria since 2013 are unpopular in Lebanon, among Shia and non-Shia alike. Now Hezbollah spends more time placating Lebanese than Iranians. Hezbollah still threatens Israel but the threats are less convincing because of its losses in Syria and Lebanon.
It’s even worse for Iran in neighboring Syria, with the Assad dictatorship restricting Iranian access to many parts of the country. Iran is still allowed to operate along the Israeli border and Iranian weapons convoys are not blocked. There have been fewer of those convoys because of increasingly accurate Israel airstrikes on these shipments, making the Syrian route a lot more expensive. Iran is trying to shift this smuggling to the longer and potentially more dangerous sea route.
July 19, 2021:
In northern Syria (Aleppo) an Israeli airstrike destroyed several Iranian warehouses containing weapons and ammunition for Iran-backed militias. The bombs set off large secondary explosions because of the explosive items in some of the warehouses. The noise and fires were visible from the city.
In Egypt the government was relieved when Ethiopia announced today that the second period of reducing Nile river flow to fill the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) was completed because there was now enough water behind the dam to operate the two electricity producing turbines already installed. Ultimately there will be sixteen turbines operational. Egypt had threatened a military attack on Ethiopia if the second fill did not cease.
July 17, 2021: Israel released its estimate of the Hezbollah threat in the north (Lebanon). Hezbollah is believed to have 150,000 rockets. Most are unguided and short range (under 40 kilometers) but about one percent of those rockets are long range (160-650 kilometers) and most of these are guided. There are also over a hundred UAV cruise missiles with a one-way range of 400 kilometers. Israel believes that Hezbollah could launch up to 3,000 rockets a day, which would soon decline to a thousand a day and less as Israeli air, missile and artillery strikes hit launch sites and stockpiles. Israel will send in ground forces and has many “surprises” planned for Hezbollah if they attack. Such a Hezbollah offensive is very unpopular with most Lebanese, as is Hezbollah itself.
July 16, 2021: The United States has renewed its donations to the UN for Palestinian aid by transferring another $135 million. That makes $313 million so far this year. This was done with strings attached. The UN promised to prevent the money from being diverted to support terrorist activity. The Americans take the UNs word for it but Israel does not and had documented and exposed past Palestinian diversion of aid money to support terrorist activities.
July 14, 2021: In the West Bank Israeli security forces surrounded two buses carrying about sixty students from nearby Birzeit University and took half of them into custody for supporting Hamas terrorist operations. Many of the students discussed or boasted about their pro-Hamas activities and Israeli police investigated and found most of the claimed activity was real.
July 12, 2021: Egypt is threatening war with Ethiopia over management of Nile River water. The dispute has been going on since 2011, when Ethiopia began construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt has a much larger and better equipped military than Ethiopia and spends twenty times as much each year on its armed forces. That does not mean the Egyptian military threat to Ethiopia is decisive.
Egypt is mindful of all this and threats of war on Ethiopia over the GERD project probably does not involve an invasion of the entire country. It also does not include an attack on the nearly complete and partially filled reservoir of the GERD dam because that would cause an enormous flood downstream in Sudan and into Egypt. GERD is more important to Ethiopia than Egypt and is costing $5 billion, which is seven percent of Ethiopian annual GDP. With the completion of GERD and its electricity generating capacity, Ethiopia will finally be able to bring electrical power to over half of Ethiopians who do not have it. GERD controls the flow of the Blue Nile, the major tributary of the Nile, supplying 85 percent of the Nile River that supplies 90 percent of the freshwater for 140 million Egyptians and Sudanese. Sudan is already reporting drops in Blue Nile water flow of up to 50 percent. Sudan blames this on the speed with which Ethiopia is blocking Bule Nile flow to fill up the GERD dam more quickly. Ethiopia announced the start of the “second fill” period on July 5th.
War over how GERD will manage water flow to Egypt and Sudan is a threat to Ethiopia, but not a major one and Ethiopia knows it. Ethiopia is a difficult country to invade and even more so now that the Blue Nile water is in play. This has a lot to do with Ethiopian stubbornness in resisting Egyptian attempts to dictate terms on how the GERD will manage the huge quantity of water in its reservoir and when water is released. Military action by Egypt and Sudan is a threat but one that has costs for Egypt and Sudan in the long run. It’s one of those intractable situations that desperately needs a solution. There has been progress in working out a compromise but that has been slow going and unpopular in Ethiopia and Egypt. Sudan is caught in the middle because Sudan only recently overthrew a dictator who had ruled the country as an “Islamic state” that was backed by Iran. Sudan has patched up relationships with the West in order to get economic aid and some assistance in resolving the GERD dispute. The continued flow of Nile River water is a matter of life or death for Egypt, which finds its options seriously limited by practical realities.
Currently Egypt is trying to demonstrate some serious military threat capability against the dam, especially since GERD is located on the Blue Nile River that eventually flows through Sudan and is 20 kilometers, cross country, from the Sudan border. From the beginning of construction there has been a large military presence around the GERD and that force will apparently remain after construction is complete. While getting to GERD is easier than reaching Addis Ababa, the Ethiopians are aware of the vulnerability.
With that in mind, during late 2020 Egypt and Sudan participated in a week of joint military exercises. Egyptian Air Force aircraft and army commando forces are participating in the exercise. This military cooperation is all about the GERD project. A month earlier Egypt and Ethiopia and Sudan held peace talks but failed to agree on how to resolve their GERD disagreements. Egypt calls the dam a threat to Egypt’s existence.
The GERD reservoir’s fill rate is another issue. Egypt argues that if the GERD’s reservoir fills too quickly it will reduce the Nile River’s flow and thus limit the Egyptian Aswan High Dam’s electrical generation capability. Egypt wants seven years for the initial fill. Ethiopia wants to fill it in four years. Once filled, GERD’s reservoir will serve as a hedge against drought for all three nations. GERD will also supply electrical power to a region running from Kenya and Uganda through South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt.
July 10, 2021: In the north (Lebanon border) an army patrol came upon and arrested some smugglers who were in the process of carrying bags full of weapons into Israel. Troops found 43 weapons, most of them pistols. Smuggling, involving drugs and weapons is a big business in this area with Israelis and Lebanese involved. Often the Lebanese smugglers are working for Hezbollah, which is often the case with weapons.
In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) a pro-Iran militia fired unguided rockets at an SDF (Syrian Kurdish militia) base that hosted foreign troops, mainly Americans. The rockets caused no damage or casualties but did demonstrate the continued Iranian efforts to inflict some damage on the United States and Israel.
July 9, 2021: In the Iranian capital (Tehran) there was an unexplained explosion in or near a government warehouse. This came at the end of the day in which there was a nationwide hacker campaign against the passenger railroad service in which false “official” emails announcing train cancellations or delays. The government reported chaos among users of the railroad and a very public embarrassment for the government.
July 8, 2021: In Belgium a fake terrorist threat against airport security, spotted by Israeli security personnel who provide additional security for flights to the Middle East, was believed to be an Iranian test of Israeli security. Israelis are often on these flights and there was an Islamic terrorist bombing of this airport in 2016 that was later discovered to be aimed at Jewish passengers.
July 3, 2021: In the south (Gaza) an Israeli airstrike demolished a Hamas rocket and weapons factory. This was in retaliation to the recent Hamas use of dozens of arson balloons, for of which started fires on the Israeli side of the border.
June 28, 2021: In Iran a former (1997-2005) Minister of Intelligence gave an interview to an Iranian-language website in which he revealed that Israel did indeed have a growing number of Iranians acting as agents or informants as a form of protest against the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and the religious dictatorship that has misruled the country since the 1980s. The former minister believed that because of this support for Israeli operations inside Iran more senior officials are at risk of attack. As recent attacks have demonstrated, the Israelis are careful planners who take their time to carry out difficult attacks flawlessly. In contrast the IRGC is embarrassingly unable to strike back. As a result of the interview the government has been more vigilant and effective detecting and suppressing similar incidents.
Because of the Israeli activity in Iran, a growing number of Iranians are supporting Israel, some of them openly. Before the religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s, Iran and Israel had been on good terms since 1950, when Iran was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to officially recognize Israel. Given the dismal track record of the Iranian religious dictatorship, the good old days are looking better and better. Iran demonstrators have been saying this in public, which was one reason the IRGC was ordered to use lethal force to suppress the demonstrations. This works for a while then the demonstrations return.
June 27, 2021: Leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq met in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to discuss terrorism, economic development and the continuing problems with the Palestinians. This was the first time an Egyptian leader visited Baghdad since the 1990s, when Egypt withdrew its ambassador to protest Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Iraq has been improving its economic, diplomatic and military relations with Sunni Arab countries in an effort to resist Iranian aggression. Iran is at war with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt over Saudi control of the most holy religious shrines in Mecca and Medina. One thing Arabs can agree on is resistance to Iranian control of anything belonging to Arab states.
June 26, 2021: Iran is promoting Iranian pilgrims visiting a Shia shrine in Jordan, the western neighbor of Iraq that also has a border, and peace treaty, with Israel. Jordan welcomed this and confirmed that Jordan was safe for Iranian pilgrims, who had long stayed away from the Shia shrine because of threats from local Sunni groups who consider Shia shrines heresy. Jordan also has a short coastline on the Red Sea and Iran did not interfere with an Iraqi project to build an oil pipeline into Jordan so that the oil has a shorter sea voyage to European customers. The shrine could attract over half a million Iranian pilgrims a year, in addition to visits by Shia from other countries like Iraq and Kuwait. The transit fees for the oil pipeline and pilgrim spending are a major boost to the economy but puts a lot of Iranians near the Israeli and West Bank border.
While Jordan was the first Arab nation to make peace, or at least a durable ceasefire, with Israel in the 1970s, it was not until 1994 that a formal peace deal was signed. But now Jordan fears another flood of Palestinian refugees because of the violence generated by the Hamas/Fatah rivalry and anger over the halt in aid from Arab nations. Jordan fought a war with its Palestinian refugees in 1970 and expelled most of them. Those who remain are still anti-Israel and could pose another threat to the Bedouin rulers of Jordan. So while Jordan has a formal peace treaty with Israel and has faithfully maintained good relations, it is now very vocal about supporting Iran and opposing more Arab states from establishing good relations with Israel. Those Arab states have already abandoned the Palestinians because of corruption and treachery. Jordan has first-hand experience with that and conducts some unusual diplomacy in an effort to stay ahead of a renewed threat from Palestinians.
June 24, 2021: Recent revelations of international defense spending confirm why Israel has maintained its lead, aside from a strong survival instinct. Iran is losing ground in its efforts to keep up with increased defense spending everywhere else. The global growth in defense spending is in response to threats from China, Iran and North Korea. Two nations, the United States and China, now account for more than half of global defense spending. The U.S. is still in the lead, accounting for 39 percent while China accounts for 13 percent. Some major spenders spent less in 2020, including Saudi Arabia (-10 percent), Turkey (-5), Iran (-3) and Pakistan (-2.8). These declines were caused by severe economic problems. Saudi Arabia has to devote more money to maintaining living standards since world oil prices fell sharply after 2013 and have not recovered to 2013 levels. Saudi Arabia is still the biggest spender in the region, spending $57.5 billion in 2020 compared to Israel ($21.7 billion), Turkey (17.7), Iran (15.8) and Pakistan (10.4). Global defense spending in 2020 increased 2.6 percent, to $1.96 trillion. This occurred despite the covid19 global recession. Covid19 can be cured with newly developed vaccines. The threats from China, Iran and North Korea are less resistant to a quick cure.
June 23, 2021: In Egypt the container ship Ever Given was finally released from Egyptian captivity after a settlement was reached over the Egyptian demand for nearly a billion dollars from the owner of the ship. Nearly three months of negotiations were embarrassing for Egypt and details of the settlement were not released but apparently were for less than half what Egypt demanded and payable in installments. Litigation will apparently continue and that may lead to a further reduction in what was described as extortion payments.
June 18, 2021: Turkey announced it is suspending activation of the Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. The S-400 equipment will remain “packed and inactivated.” The suspension comes in the face of heightened U.S. economic and political sanctions. The Air Force is very concerned because the bad relations with the U.S. included Turkey being removed from the F-35 consortium and barred from buying the F-35. Senior Air Force officers regard suggestions that Turkey buy Russian jets as being unrealistic. The politicians making the suggestions do not understand that Russian aircraft will require massive and very expensive changes to Turkish Air Force maintenance, repair and service operations. The new Russian have been seen operating in Syria as have Israeli and American F-35s. The American aircraft are still superior and arch-enemy Greece is getting at least 24 of them, and soon.
June 17, 2021: In the north Golan Heights, locals across the border in Quneitra province are attacking Syrian and Iranian forces operating near the Israeli border. There have been three attacks so far this month.