In the West Bank the “knife terrorism” campaign organized by the local leadership (Fatah) continues. This is all about making the corrupt and incompetent Fatah more popular in the West Bank but opinion polls show that many (but not most) Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held right now. Moreover polls show enthusiasm for the knife terrorism campaign is waning. While Hamas is hated by the people of Gaza, West Bank Palestinians don’t experience Hamas cruelty daily while they do endure the corrupt and inept rule of Fatah. The Fatah pro-terror media campaign has distracted many Palestinians from their problems with Fatah but also convinced many that Israel is refusing to negotiate peace when in fact it is the Palestinians who turned down two peace deals in the 1990s and instead tried terror campaigns to get more. Both of these “intifadas” failed and Fatah has sold the illusion that the third intifada (the “knife intifada) will succeed. It isn’t and that is one reason Hamas has not gotten involved. Since 2000 Palestinian media constantly pushed the idea that Israel has no right to exist and must be destroyed. Palestinians who disagree with this must either emigrate or keep silent. For most Palestinians it is easier to simply praise the knife until it all blows over. The knife terrorism campaign has, since September, left 27 Israelis (and one American) dead and over 250 wounded. But 170 Palestinians have died (65 percent of them while attacking). Palestinian media depicts unsuccessful attacks that result in attackers being killed or wounded as Israeli attacks against random (and innocent) Palestinians. Over all the knife terrorism does nothing for the Palestinians except increase their poverty and Fatah propaganda about how glorious it is to die.
Fatah and Hamas are holding another round of unifications talks in Qatar during February but there is still no agreement. Meanwhile Fatah leaders announced that they would never negotiate with Israel again. At the same time Hamas officially (via diplomats from major Moslem nations like Turkey) let Israel know that Hamas was not planning any major attacks and was not joining in the Fatah sponsored “knife terrorism” campaign in the West Bank. Hamas could not say this itself because it has to pretend to be mobilizing for war with Israel and constantly supporting like-minded groups. Hamas is still doing the supporting and many Islamic terrorist groups have sanctuary inside Gaza. While not technically a violation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas it is seen as a way for Hamas to facilitate attacks against Israel without having to take responsibility. Both Israel and Egypt disagree which is why Gaza remains largely inaccessible because of the blockade Egypt and Israel enforce.
In Gaza Hamas is believed to have over a thousand men working on new “attack tunnels” into Israel. So far this year at least a dozen Hamas men have died because tunnel collapses brought on by heavy rains. Much of the work involves rebuilding a “combat tunnels” destroyed by Israel during the mid-2014 “50 Day War”. Fatah accused Hamas of wasting the lives of their members working on tunnels, especially the ones used mainly for smuggling goods (which Hamas taxes heavily). Israelis living near the Gaza border complain that they can sometimes hear (or feel) Hamas tunnel building efforts. In 2014 the Israeli military said they would erect a detection system to locate new tunnels so they could be destroyed. The detection system has been delayed because of defense spending cuts but now the government says the detection system is coming soon. There is some urgency to this because Hamas is admitting that it has to do something spectacular to divert the Gaza population from the miserable economic situation Hamas has caused. By continuing to shelter Islamic terror groups that keep firing rockets into Israel (in violation of the ceasefire deal with Hamas) Israel keeps limiting access to Gaza. Israel believes that Hamas will again be extending its tunnels into Israel and growing pressure Hamas is under means Israel has to deploy the new tunnel detection sensors quickly.
By providing sanctuary to Islamic terror groups that operate in Egypt Hamas has made an enemy of Egypt. Thus since 2012 Egypt has been limiting the ability of Gaza residents to enter or leave Gaza via Egypt. Worse, the Egyptians have gone after the smuggling tunnels. The most successful tactic has been filling the smuggling tunnels with water. This began in 2013 when the Egyptians dug small canals for seawater that could then be pumped into tunnels discovered. It was eventually found that flooding permanently destroyed the tunnel better than any other method because it caused the sandy soil in the area to collapse and remain unstable. It is believed that only about twenty tunnels are still operating and every week several of those are discovered and flooded. The army engineers have learned that you have to not only flood the tunnels but keep flooding them because the Palestinians can obtain pumps to remove the water and repair the damage. But if you keep the tunnel flooded long enough it collapses and has to be rebuilt as if there were never a tunnel there in the first place. Egypt has also created a buffer zone along the border by moving Egyptians out and destroying all buildings. This means tunnels from Gaza now have to be over a kilometer long and deeper as well to evade detection. To make matters worse Egyptian police watch buildings within a few kilometers of the Gaza border for signs of a tunnel entrance. The police are less likely to take bribes from smuggling tunnel operators because Gaza based Islamic terrorists have killed a lot of Egyptian police and soldiers in the last few years.
Hamas publicizes its preparations for another war with Israel. Hamas believes that if they can inflict enough damage on Israel by killing or capturing soldiers and civilians they can prompt Moslem and Western countries to pressure Israel to allow more access to Gaza and send more aid. Hamas also hopes that Israel bombs and ground forces do enough damage inside Gaza to allow Hamas to get away with portraying itself as a victim and again persuading other nations to help.
This will be difficult because the Arab donors no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the recent Iranian announcement that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its 1.5 million Palestinians since 2005. Iran has supported Hamas early on. There were recently more rumors that Iran had stopped supporting Hamas. Iran had decreased its support, in large part because of the sanctions and low oil prices but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt and that has turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. The Iran link makes Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations are concerned. Hamas has made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response to Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Gulf oil states like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid (which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders) but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and their effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians.
Israel recently revealed that in the last few months it has been subject to a growing number of Internet based attacks from Iran. Some of the attacks were “serious” but Israel would not reveal the extent of the damage done and much about these attacks is still under investigation. While Israel has some of the best Internet defenses on the planet, many of the recent Iranian attacks relied more on psychology than software skill. This method of attack is known as spear fishing (“phishing” as hackers spell it). Spear fishing is a fishing operation where targets are carefully chosen and researched before putting together the attack. Despite the Israeli Defense Ministry having software and user rules in place to block spear fishing attacks there are so many email accounts to attack and you only have to get one victim to respond to a bogus email with a “vital attachment” that must be “opened immediately”. Among the targets for these attacks were over a thousand active duty and retired generals as well as senior civilian officials in the government and the Internet security industry. Despite this recent Iranian activity the Internet based attacks on Israel were down in 2015. Israel Cyber War experts still believe that Israel has a considerable edge in technology over the rest of the world.
Israel continues to openly proclaim that their main priority in Syria is eliminating the Iranian presence. When pressed Israeli officials admit that this means preferring an Islamic terrorist group, even ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) running Syria if that meant Iran was gone. To Israel Iran is a more formidable threat than any Sunni Islamic terrorist group. On the plus side Israel believes the Russian intervention in Syria will, in the short term, lessen the possibility that Iran backed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon will start another war with Israel. A growing number of Israelis believe that Syria cannot be saved as a unified state but that peace will come only when Syria is partitioned. This is anathema to most Arabs and some are already accusing Israel of working on some secret scheme to make partition happen.
Israeli leaders openly admit that they doubt Hezbollah (in Lebanon) or Hamas (in Gaza) will start another war with Israel in 2016, but beyond that there is still a major threat from these two groups. Both Israel and Russia have come to an understanding that they will not get in each other’s way in Syria and that deal seems to be working.
In Egypt the Islamic terrorism is declining but not disappearing. A massive military presence in northern Sinai (near Gaza) has largely suppressed (but not eliminated) the Islamic radical groups that have long thrived up there. Yet there are still Islamic terror attacks every week. Most now occur in the more populated parts of Egypt along the Nile River. In 2015 138 police were killed in Islamic terrorist violence. But most of the dead since the military staged a coup in mid-2013 have been soldiers, civilians and Islamic terrorists. Security forces are still arresting several hundred people a week. Most are quickly released, some are prosecuted and some are simply never heard from again.
In 2014 a former general ran for president and won but Egypt is again the police state it was before the 2011 revolution. And as with the pre-2011 Mubarak dictatorship the current government has largely eliminated large-scale 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.
February 17, 2016: Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at a Syrian army base south of Damascus. This created more explosions as ammunition and explosives exploded as well. This was the first such attack in 2016 and there were several in 2015. Israeli warplanes have made dozens of attacks in Syria since 2013, several of them to destroy Russian weapons being moved to Lebanon (by Hezbollah) and all to prevent more violence against Israel.
February 8, 2016: Hamas denied Israeli accusations that Islamic terrorists wounded in Egypt, including members of ISIL, have been treated in Gaza hospitals. Many Palestinians who have left Gaza confirm that Hamas has long supported other Islamic terror groups and that includes treating wounded “holy warriors.”
February 7, 2016: In Gaza a senior Hamas military leader (Mahmoud Eshtewi) was executed after confessing to spying for Israel. Eshtewi admitted that he supplied Israel with information about where the most senior Hamas military commander (Mohammed Deif) was during the mid-2014 “50 Day War” with Israel. The subsequent Israeli missile attack wounded Deif and killed his wife and child and other Hamas personnel. A year later Israel confirmed that Deif was still alive and hiding in Gaza. Israel considered Mohammed Deif a mass murderer and have been after him since the 1990s. Apparently Eshtewi was able to contact Israel (or was contacted) and obtained a high enough price to sell out Deif. Exactly how Eshtewi was found out is unclear and this was very embarrassing for Hamas as Eshtewi was a Hamas member since the 1990s but was quickly suspected of being the informant and was arrested in January 2015.
January 31, 2016: In Gaza Hamas held a military parade to commemorate the many Hamas members killed or injured in the last month building or repairing tunnels. Part of the parade featured a “captured Israeli Merkava tank”. The tank seemed real from a distance but if you got closer (as many cell phone photos did) you could see that it was a fake. The “tank” was a realistic shell of a Merkava mounted on a truck. Up close you could see the truck wheels underneath the “tank.”
At the same time Fatah officials were admitting that since the knife terrorism began in September 2015 Palestinian security forces had disrupted 200 attacks on Palestinians and arrested over a hundred Palestinians in the process. Hamas publicized this admission mainly because this Fatah cooperation with Israel only occurs when Fatah is going after Hamas members in the West Bank. Fatah has always maintained some cooperation (or collaboration as Hamas would put it) with Israel in order to keep Palestinian security forces from being outlawed and destroyed by the Israelis.