In the West Bank and Israel the Fatah sponsored “knife terrorism” campaign appears to be ending even though opinion surveys in the West Bank and Gaza still show a lot of support for the attacks, especially among the young (15-29) people who most often participate. Yet attacks have sharply declined (by over 70 percent) since the first ones last October.
Israeli police have, so far this year, disrupted 77 terror attacks. These included 15 bombings (five using a suicide bomber), seven kidnappings and 34 shooting attacks. For all of 2015 239 attacks were disrupted indicating that terror activity was declining this year. Suicidal “knife terrorism” attacks have lost their popularity despite Fatah still pushing them energetically in all the Palestinian media. This can be seen in the number of Palestinian terror attacks disrupted each year. It was 217 in 2014, 187 in 2013 112 in 2012 and 88 in 2011. In the last year 31 Israeli civilians died from terror attacks with 93 percent of those deaths occurring after the knife terrorism campaign began eight months ago. Since 1948 2,576 have died from terror attacks inside Israel. Nearly five percent of those dead were foreigners. Palestinian terrorism efforts have never recovered from the defeat they suffered, when Israel adopted new tactics that largely shut down the terror campaign the Palestinians began in 2000. Fatah and Hamas have been trying to revive that effort ever since and have largely failed. Since 2014 the police have also arrested and indicted 302 Jews for terror attacks on Palestinians. Most of these occur in the West Bank and there have been a growing number of convictions.
Israel is 68 years old. It’s population has multiplied to 8.5 million, ten times what it was in 1948. While most Israelis (75 percent) are Jewish, nearly 21 percent are Arabs (most Moslems) and 4.4 percent are other minorities (mostly non-Moslem). The Israeli economy is the most advanced and fastest growing in the region. Compared to Europe, Israel has a population that is growing (2.2 percent last year) and an economy more robust than any in Europe.
The Troubles With Tunnels
Israel finally made public its plans to deal with Hamas tunnels. This has become a big issue in Israel, mainly because a recently released government document showed that within the government there was a lot of anger at the military for not detecting the extent of the Hamas tunnels into Israel until the mid-2014 war in Gaza. The military managed to keep much of this dispute quiet as it sought a solution. Now the military believes it has one. The main result of this a new security fence being built along the Gaza border. Costing several billion dollars, it won’t be complete until 2018. The effectiveness of the new tech has been confirmed by tests against new Hamas tunnels. Two of these have been found in the last month. Also very helpful was the capture and interrogation of several Gaza men with experience in the tunnels. One of those captured had a lot of experience building the tunnels and supplied lots of details, which are being confirmed with the new newly discovered tunnels. Since 2014 it has been no secret (to Israelis, the Gaza population and the foreign aid donors) that Hamas was spending a lot of money and effort on rebuilding “combat tunnels” destroyed by Israel during the mid-2014 “50 Day War”. Israelis living near the Gaza border have been complaining for over a year 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, officially because of defense spending cuts, but the real reason was the new tech needed was not ready yet and not enough was known about how the new tunnels were being built. All that has apparently changed.
Hamas has also had big problems with Egyptian efforts to cripple smuggling operations, using the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, that long provided much of Hamas income. As a result of all this tunnel trouble Israeli intelligence believes that there will not be another war with Hamas in 2016. Beyond that, the risk of another war remains as long as Hamas controls Gaza. That control is difficult to maintain as long as Hamas is broke. While Arab states pledged billions in aid after 2014 war less than 15 percent of that money has arrived. The Arab governments won’t say so publicly but they believe Israeli accusations of aid being diverted to military projects, particularly rebuilding the tunnels and Hamas military facilities destroyed in 2014. Egypt confirms many of the Israeli claims. The U.S. has delivered all of the $277 million it pledged but, like many other Western donors, now insists that future aid is dependent on Hamas using it for the people of Gaza, not the next war with Israel. Meanwhile Hamas rule in Gaza becomes more harsh as critics are threatened, terrorized or jailed in an unsuccessful effort to curb the growing popular anger at Hamas.
The Solution In Sinai
In Egypt the counter-terrorism effort in northern Sinai is showing more signs of progress. Egyptian and Libyan intel experts agree that a growing number of Sinai based Islamic terrorists are moving to Libya, The main reason for that dangerous journey is to get away from the increasingly effective Egyptian counter-terror operation. This effort has been assisted by an informal alliance between Egypt, Israel and Hamas to drive ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) from the area. ISIL is everyone’s enemy but that sharing of information has made other Islamic terror groups in northern Sinai more vulnerable. Hamas doesn’t care about that because most of the smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza and northern Sinai are hostile to Hamas. Since 2013 over 700 Egyptian soldiers and police have died fighting groups like the Moslem Brotherhood, ISIL and smaller groups based in Gaza. Islamic terrorist casualties have been in the thousands. The pressure has been particularly heavy since late 2015 and some smaller Islamic terror groups appear to have disappeared. Some may have dissolved and at least one or two merged with others. Since 2013 about a thousand people a year have died from Islamic terrorism. About half the dead are terrorists (actual or suspected) and the rest usually civilians. Most Egyptians oppose Islamic terrorism, if only because it tends to kill lots of innocent civilians and cripple the economy. But in a few rural areas, mainly in northern Sinai, there are populations (usually Bedouin tribesmen) willing to support Islamic terrorists. Outside of Sinai there a lot of people who are Islamic conservatives and are more tolerant of Islamic terrorism. But these terrorism supporters have to be careful because the neighbors are often willing to alert the police about any pro-Islamic terrorist activity in the neighborhood. While fewer than one percent of Egyptians support any form of terrorism, that’s still more than half a million people.
May 8, 2016: In Egypt (south of Cairo) four ISIL gunmen opened fire on a van full of police and killed eight of them. This was the most successful (in terms of people killed) ISIL attack in non-Sinai Egypt so far. ISIL has few friends and a lot of enemies in Egypt and has a hard time surviving in the more populated areas of Egypt. But ISIL needs attacks like this to show the world (and potential recruits and donors) that they are still a presence in Egypt. Not much of a presence so far but they are hanging on.
May 7, 2016: Israeli warplanes hit two Hamas facilities in Gaza. This was in retaliation for continued fire into Israel from Gaza. Earlier in the day it was a rocket and since May 4th at least twelve mortar shells have been fired into Israel. These were usually directed at the increased number of patrols seeking (with new sensors or intel) to detect Hamas tunnel building activity. This indicates that the new Israeli detection methods have not only found two tunnels recently but are also close to finding more. Given all the foreign aid Hamas has diverted to this tunnel rebuilding effort having all the new tunnels detected, and Israel making it clear that all new ones would be found as well, would be a major defeat. Israeli aircraft or artillery hit targets in Gaza after each incident of fire into Israel.
May 2, 2016: In Gaza Islamic Jihad. one of the smaller Islamic terrorist groups there, reported that one of its members had been killed in a “training accident” in northern Gaza. This usually means a bomb going off accidentally or a tunnel collapse.
April 24, 2016: Sudan has once again raised the disputed Halayeb and Shalateen Triangle border issue with Egypt. Sudan apparently sees Egypt’s decision to give Saudi Arabia two Red Sea islands as a diplomatic opportunity. Sudan said that it would favor international arbitration to resolve the Shalateen Triangle dispute. The source of the dispute is Ottoman ruler Muhammad Ali’s decision in 1820 to put Sudan under his direct political authority. Sudan exercised de facto control over the Shalateen Triangle from 1899 to 1958 because a 1909 survey placed the region in Egyptian territory. In 1958 Egypt reasserted control and sees this as another opportunity to mend relations with Sudan. This follows an early 2015 agreement between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia to resolve their dispute over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile River Grand Renaissance Dam project. Egypt was concerned about its water supply. Ethiopia wants to produce electricity. Sudan also has water worries. The Ethiopian government said that it would not disrupt the river’s flow. Downstream countries (like Egypt and Sudan) will receive priority on electricity.
April 19, 2016: In Egypt Islamic terrorists fired rockets at an army patrol in northern Sinai and killed six soldiers and wounded eight others.
April 18, 2016: In Jerusalem a bomb went off in a bus, killing one person (the Hamas suicide bomber) and wounding 19 others.