Despite all the violence and threats directed it at it Israel is the most peaceful and prosperous nation in the region. Israeli GDP is growing 4,3 percent so far in 2016, compared to 3.3 percent for 2015. Most of this is due to a ten percent increase in exports. Unemployment remains under five percent.
In the north, along the Syrian border, Iran is accused of encouraging more “accidental” fire into Israel. This firing has been increasing since August and peaked in mid-September. 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 a verbal protest but no artillery or air strikes in response. When it is unclear, the Israelis fire back. Since early August Israel has had an Iron Dome air defense battery on the Syrian border and the effectiveness of this system in destroying incoming rockets and shells has apparently discouraged deliberate fire into Israel. Otherwise the situation continues to be quiet on the Syrian border. Since August there has been more fighting on the Syrian side of the border as the Assad forces and their Iranian mercenaries fight to clear rebels from the Israeli border. Iran openly boasts (on Iranian media and to its Shia mercenaries in Syria and Lebanon) that Iran is winning in Syria and once the Syrian Sunni rebellion is crushed Israel will be the next target. For Syrians there is a special reason for this. In 2015 oil was discovered on the Golan Heights. There appears to be several billion barrels. Israel uses about 100 million barrels a year. Syria claims the Golan Heights but Israel holds the territory because it is high ground overlooking a lot of Israeli territory. Israel does not trust Syrian occupation of the heights, which Syria has used in the part to fire on Israelis below. UN troops have been there since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Israel defeated Syria in 1967 and took the Golan Heights. In 1973 Israel defeated a strong effort by Syria to regain the Golan Heights. Since then the UN has watched over an uneasy peace.
The Assad government is pushing the belief ISIL was invented and is backed by the Israel. This is a popular myth throughout the Middle East and Iran takes advantage of the growing economic and military links between Israel and the Sunni Arab oil states (led by Saudi Arabia) that are resisting Iranian efforts to gain control of Arabia, in particular the Moslem holy places (Mecca and Medina) in Saudi Arabia and oil fields concentrated along the west side of the Persian Gulf.
Israel recently convinced European donors to the Palestinians that much of the aid sent to the West Bank was being used to support terrorism. European nations long resisted the growing evidence that this was so but eventually the evidence that they were being duped became overwhelming and the Palestinians are seeing their European donors cutting back until the Palestinians can demonstrate that the diversion of funds has ceased.
This was only the latest incident regarding corruption in the use of foreign aid in the West Bank and Gaza. In early August Israel revealed that it had arrested two foreign aid officials who had been in charge of disbursing major huge amounts of foreign aid operations in Gaza. Since no one else will do anything Israel is prosecuting the two men, in large part because both aid officials were secretly working for Hamas and diverting much of the aid money to Hamas terrorist activities. One of the accused, Mohammed al Halabi, turned out to be a career Hamas operative who joined the Gaza branch of World Vision and worked his way up to a senior position where he could divert nearly $8 million in cash and aid materials to Hamas military and terror operations. World Vision is a major Christian charity that handles over $2.5 billion a year for aid operations in 90 countries. Many of the World Vision donors are Christian denominations or wealthy individuals. Some of the major World Vision donors refuse to believe Halabi could be guilty, despite evidence documenting the thefts and the many complaints of Gaza residents that foreign aid was not reaching them.
The UN continues to deny this sort of corruption exists and approves measures blaming Israel for all the problems in the Middle East. This is largely because of decades and bribes and threats used in the UN by many Moslem nations (particularly the Arabs and Iran) to take an anti-Israel stand no matter what.
With Islamic terrorism declining within, Egypt still has to deal with the Islamic terrorist threat next door. Egypt continues to support a renegade warlord in Libya who has been a big help with that. General Hiftar has become the most powerful man in eastern Libya because fover the last few years he rebuilt and still commands what is left of the pre-2011 Libyan Armed Forces. Hiftar has refused to recognize the UN sponsored GNA national government in large part because of mutual distrust. Many Libyans fear Hiftar could turn into another military dictator, like the late Kaddafii. Libyans note that next door in Egypt another general recently got elected president and is trying to make his rule permanent. Hiftar is aware of that and despite his longtime support for democracy in Libya he cannot escape the fact that he is a military man and a very effective one. Since early 2016 Hiftar has come under local and international pressure to support the GNA. He may do that, especially since Benghazi has finally been cleared of Islamic terrorists, something Hiftar can take a lot of credit for. Hiftar still has allies among powerful Arab nations, like Egypt and several Gulf oil states. In late July Hiftar was told by Egyptian and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) backers that continued support from them (and France) was contingent on his destroying the remaining Islamic terrorist groups in Benghazi by the end of August. Hiftar got that done and that was supposed to lead to a deal with the GNA. That is still a work in progress but Haftar remains in control of a powerful military forces that helps make the Egyptian border safe for Egypt and he has cleared most Islamic terrorists out of eastern Libya.
In the last few days Saudi Arabia told Egypt that shipments of free oil would be halted. This was because on October 8th Egypt refused to vote against a Russian peace proposal in the UN on the 8th. The Russian proposal was favored by Iran and the Iran backed Syrian government. All other Arab states opposed this, in large part because the Gulf Arabs and Iran are at war with each other. Not a shooting war, not yet, and the Saudis expect Moslem states they support financially to reciprocate by backing Saudi diplomacy and, in effect, recognize Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world. Egypt long held that position because of its long history of Arab leadership, even before Islam appeared in the 7th century. Egypt is broke and still dealing with Islamic terrorist violence. The Saudis are rich and have far fewer problems internally with Islamic terrorism. But for many Egyptians it is humiliating to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile one thing that the Egyptians and Saudis do agree on is better relationships with Israel. Along those lines Saudi Arabia has quietly stopped blocking access to Israeli news sites for its citizens.
October 13, 2016: In the north (Tayibe, near the Lebanon border) three Arab Israeli men were indicted for trying to carry out attacks in the name of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The three were arrested on September 14th, three days after the trio tried unsuccessfully to burn down a local sports stadium where a popular Arab singer was to perform. ISIL considers such entertainment un-Islamic. The police investigation found that the trio had been trying, unsuccessfully, to carry out some kind of pro-ISIL operation for a year. One of the three did consider carrying out a knife attack in Jerusalem but abandoned that plan when he realized his family home would be destroyed in retaliation.
October 10, 2016: Three Iranians were arrested in Italy trying to use forged Israeli passports. The three were deported to Turkey. In January an Iranian married couple were arrested in India trying to use forged Israeli passports. In 2014 two young Iranians were arrested in Kenya when they were caught using stolen Israeli passports modified to include pictures of the Iranians. The two were believed on their way to Israel, via Brussels and Israel confirmed that these were passports stolen from Israelis travelling abroad. The two insist they only wanted to get to Europe and ask for asylum. Kenya prosecuted the two and sent them jail for two years. In the past, most Iranians caught with fake Israeli passports were involved in some terrorist operation against Israel. As a result Israel has implemented several measures making it more difficult to forge Israeli passports.
October 9, 2016: In Jerusalem a Palestinian terrorist firing from a moving car killed two Israelis and wounded six others before he was shot dead. The attacker was a legal resident of Jerusalem and police are trying to find out where he got his gun.
In Gaza a local man died while building a new smuggling tunnel into Egypt. Since 2014 Egypt has shut down most of the smuggling tunnels and new ones don’t remain undetected for long.
October 7, 2016: America, Germany, Britain and Canada all warned their citizens to avoid Cairo on October 9th because of the possibility of Islamic terrorist violence. Even before this warning these countries had advised their citizens to avoid visiting Egypt until the Islamic terrorist problem was reduced.
October 6, 2016: In the north (Golan Heights) six Arabs were revealed to be under arrest and charged with trying to carry out terror attacks for Hezbollah. This investigation and arrests were kept secret until all the people involved could be identified and arrested. This all began back in late July a backpack containing several kilos (over five pounds) of explosives was found near the Lebanon border and appeared to come from 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. It turned out that one of the six arrested men had forgot where he had hid that backpack, leaving it there long enough for someone in the area to come across.
The United States confirmed that an October 3rd American airstrike in northwest Syria (Idlib province) killed a veteran Egyptian Islamic terrorist (Ahmad Salama Mabruk) who left Egypt earlier this year and became a senior leader with the al Qaeda affiliated al Nusra/Jabhat Fatah rebels in Syria. Long active with Islamic terrorist groups Mabruk was arrested in the Caucasus in the late 1990s and ended up in an Egyptian prison. He was freed by the 2011 revolution but by 2015 was seeking another sanctuary because of the growing counter-terrorism activity in Egypt. Mabruk has worked with several other Egyptian Islamic terrorists who went on to form, and still run, al Qaeda.
October 5, 2016: In the south rockets fired from Gaza landed near the Israeli border town of Sderot. What followed was unusual. Instead of promptly firing artillery back at the launching site or bombing a nearby building known to be used by the Gaza based groups that fire these rockets, Israeli aircraft bombed several major Hamas military facilities within hours and let it be known that this was how retaliation was going to be handled from now on. This change was prompted by the continued rocket attacks despite a ceasefire agreement. Since August 2014 Hamas has observed the ceasefire with Israel. But Hamas admits rockets and mortar shells are still fired from Gaza and since late 2014 has said it was seeking to shut down the smaller Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza that refuse to abide by the ceasefire. The new Israeli policy is meant to encourage Hamas to try harder to shut down those who violate the ceasefire. It’s rare for the rockets and mortar shells from Gaza to actually hit anything but occasionally they do and that makes the continued ceasefire violations a big deal with most Israelis. The new retaliation policy forces Hamas to risk civil war in Gaza with the many smaller groups that oppose it or see Israel destroy most of their new (since 2014) military capabilities. Meanwhile Iran is causing more problems for Hamas by increasing it financial and military support for Al Sabirin a Shia Islamic terrorist group in Gaza. Hamas provides sanctuary for Al Sabirin because it is an Iran backed group that is dedicated to carrying out attacks against Israel. Hamas provides support in order to continue receiving cash and other aid from Iran. Al Sabirin was founded in 2013 and sought to recruit 400 men but has only recently come close to achieving that goal. Until late 2015 (when Iran began sending more cash) growth was stalled because few Palestinians are Shia and not many were willing to convert for a job as a Shia Islamic terrorist. Iran had cut most aid to Gaza because Hamas supports the fight against the Assad government in Syria. That changed in 2015 when Iran increased its aid to Hamas but sent a lot more to Al Sabirin. At that point most of the foreign aid Hamas got was from Sunni Arab oil states. When Hamas gets too much pressure from Egypt or Israel about Al Sabirin violence some of the Shia terrorists will be arrested, and within a week, once things have quieted down, released. Unlike the smaller Sunni Islamic terror groups in Gaza, Al Sabirin has a dangerous sponsor.
October 4, 2016: In Egypt (Cairo) police killed senior Moslem Brotherhood leader Mohamed Kamal and another Brotherhood member in a shootout. This comes after reports that the two Moslem Brotherhood men were actually arrested the day before. Many Egyptians believe, based on past performance of their government, that the two men were arrested, refused to cooperate and then murdered.
October 3, 2016: In Egypt (Sinai) Islamic terrorist violence left at least nine dead from several attacks over the weekend. This was unusual because there has been a lot less Islamic terrorist activity in Sinai this year.
October 2, 2016: A year ago the “knife terrorism” campaign began in the West Bank. This was organized by the Palestinian Fatah group that runs the West Bank. For Fatah this has been a publicity success but as a terrorism effort it is a failure. The knife terrorism campaign has left 35 Israelis and four foreigners (including an American) dead and over 250 Israelis and foreigners wounded. But 249 Palestinians have died (64 percent of them while attacking, the rest during violent demonstrations) and thousands wounded or arrested. About 80 percent of the Palestinian deaths occurred in the West Bank while most of the remainder took place in Jerusalem. Palestinian media depicts unsuccessful attacks that result in attackers being killed or wounded as Israeli attacks against random (and innocent) Palestinians. This Fatah promoted violence was mostly 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. Over all the knife terrorism does nothing for the Palestinians except increase their poverty and Fatah propaganda about how glorious it is to die. In the end the Fatah Knife Intifada made Hamas look better compared to Fatah.
September 29, 2016: In Gaza another Palestinian died while working on a tunnel that was apparently designed to pass under the security fence and into Israel. This tunnel belonged to Islamic Jihad (one of the smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza). Most of the twenty tunnel deaths so far this year have been Hamas men, the most recent of those being in August. Tunnel collapses and accidents have been common in Gaza since 2007, when Hamas backed the construction of more smuggling and “combat” tunnels. Since 2007 over 400 Gazans have died in tunnel accidents. Hamas usually blames such collapses on natural causes (like heavy rains) but Israel believes Israel and Egypt efforts to limit lumber and cement shipments entering Gaza has played a role because many of these recent accidents seem to be the result of poor tunnel construction compared to earlier, sturdier and safer tunnels. As a result of all these accidents, which began to accelerate in late 2015, a growing number of Gazans are refusing to work in the tunnels because there is a widely believed (in Gazan) rumor that the real cause of all these tunnel collapses (including the unreported ones that didn’t kill anyone) are the result of new Israeli anti-tunnel weapons. This sort of thing has been mentioned in the Israeli media, but mainly in terms of new detection sensors not devices that could remotely trigger a tunnel collapse. Hamas denies Israel has any such weapon and Israel won’t discuss classified military matters like new tunnel detection sensors.
September 23, 2016: On September 13th Israel launched another recon satellite; the 375 kg (825 pound) Ofek 11. While the satellite achieved orbit it soon lost communications with ground control. Ofek 11 was built with “fail-safe” and self-repair software and it was hoped whatever was wrong could be fixed. After nine days ground control regained contact and it appears the Ofek 11 was operational. At least it was sending back digital images. So far it appears that Ofek 11 is fully functional but it is still unclear if it will remain so for eight years (at least), as it was designed to do.
September 22, 2016: In the north, across the border in Syria (Deraa province) a suicide bomber attacked a ceremony for the opening of a police station in a town (Inkhil) recently taken by FSA (Free Syrian Army) rebels. Twelve people died, most of them local civilians. FSA blamed ISIL or someone connected with the Assad government. FSA is fighting bother groups, mainly in Daraa and along the Iraq border. The FSA forces here are based in Jordan, where they have the support of Jordan, the United States and, very discreetly, Israel. Deraa province borders Jordan and Israel (which leaves FSA alone as long as FSA does not attack Israel).
September 21, 2016: In Turkey two local men tried to get into the Israeli embassy to carry out knife attacks but were stopped by Turkish police, who shot one man dead and arrested the other. No Israelis were hurt.
September 18, 2016: In the north an Iron Dome air defense battery shot down another two mortar shells fired from Syria. This was the tenth time Iron Dome had to deal with such rocket and shell fire since early September.