Israel: Russia Is Flexible And Enigmatic

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December 12, 2016: The recent elections in the United States brought to power a new president and legislature that agrees with Israeli criticisms of the 2015 agreement that lifted sanctions on Iran. The new American leadership announced that it will not only strictly enforce the 2015 treaty but will crack down on Iranian misbehavior in general. That could include declaring Iran in violation of the treaty and then terminating the treaty. In response the Iranian government threatened to destroy Israel and the Gulf Arab states if that were done.

This American change of outlook is crucial because the most dangerous threat to Israel is not even Arab but Iran. There Iranians are constantly reminded by their leaders that the official Iranian position is that any Moslem nation (especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey) that improves relations with Israel is betraying Islam. Iran also insists that the United States cannot be trusted and that the economic sanctions the July 2015 treaty lifted are not the main economic problem for Iran. That would be 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. Yet the low oil prices have hurt the Saudis as well and all the Gulf oil states recently agreed to lower production in an effort to get prices up. What Arabs and Iranians both downplay is that the American fracking technology is changing the oil market more than anything else. 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. Despite that most of the terrorism is aimed at Israel, Israel remains 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. Another problem Arab rivalries, particularly between Saudi Arabia (currently the wealthiest Arab state) and Egypt (long the most populous Arab state). The Saudis have organized the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf) like to expand its efforts against Iran to deal with Iranian influence in Lebanon and Gaza. That requires the cooperation of Egypt and Israel. To that end the GCC proposes a GCC+2 model with the +2 being Egypt and Jordan. Since Jordan has been a long-time ally of Israel (in the sense that the two neighbors have cooperated against Islamic terrorism for over four decades) that would make it more politically acceptable than openly declaring Israel as an official ally.

The +2 plan is having a problem with Egypt. Saudi Arabia is feuding with Egypt and has halted shipments of free oil since early October because Egypt refused to vote against a Russian peace proposal in the UN that 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. The Saudis expect Moslem states they support financially (Egypt has received about $5 billion a year since 2011) 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 a growing number of Egyptians openly support more economic cooperation with Israel.

Meanwhile Egypt must cope with its growing economic problems, made worse with the Saudi aid gone. So Egypt is trying to restore good relations with the Saudis without giving up its less confrontational relationship with Iran. The major problem for Egypt is internal. Iran is not a threat, a weak Egyptian economy is.

December 11, 2016: In Egypt (Cairo) Islamic terrorists set off a bomb in a church next to the Coptic cathedral killing 25 people (and wounding over 30) attending services. Copts are ten percent of the population and are a favorite target of Islamic terrorists.

December 10, 2016: Israel revealed that in October and November two Hamas sponsored plots were discovered and thwarted with 14 Palestinians arrested, most of them legal residents of Israel. The planned attacks inside Israel consisted of an one on a university campus in Jerusalem and the other the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in the West Bank in order to obtain the release of a convicted terrorist. Arabs who can legally live in Israel have better access to black market weapons (including assault rifles) and can freely move about the country. The arrested men had already obtained pistols, assault rifles and ammo.

December 9, 2016: In Gaza two more Hamas members died while working on a tunnel being built near the Israeli border. A week ago there were four similar deaths on the Egyptian border. Most tunnel deaths recently have been in deeper and more dangerous tunnels designed to pass under the Israeli security fence or the improved Egyptian security measures. Most of the 30 tunnel deaths so far this year have been Hamas men or Palestinians working for Hamas. 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.

In the north (across the border in Lebanon) Hezbollah announced that it had not complied with Russian demands that there be no retaliation against Israel for recent Israeli airstrikes on Hezbollah weapons warehouses and convoys in Syria. These rumors are believed by many Lebanese and Hezbollah members because Iran has openly called for Hezbollah to not get involved in another war with Israel, at least not until the rebellion against the Iran-backed Syrian government was crushed. Iran, Russia and Hezbollah agree on defeating the rebels but Iran and Hezbollah are unclear on exactly what else Russia wants. That’s because Russia and Israel are openly on very good terms while Iran and Hezbollah call for Israel to be destroyed (and have done so for decades). Russia has no official explanation for this seeming contradiction. Russia and Israel have always had good relations, even though Russia often backs Moslem nations that want Israel gone. In the current situation Israel and Russia are constantly negotiating deals that keep Israelis safe (especially Israeli pilots carrying out airstrikes against Hezbollah or anyone else posing an immediate threat to Israel). Russia has installed a modern air defense system (based on their S-300 missiles and a few jet fighters) in parts of Syria and Israel must exercise caution when attacking targets in Syria from the air. For that reason many of the recent airstrikes are launched by Israeli aircraft over Lebanon. The Israeli aircraft launch long range guided missiles at targets in Syria and generally report few if any details. Israeli defense officials did recently admit that it is government policy to prevent Hezbollah and Islamic terrorists in general from getting advanced weapons. Currently this includes chemical weapons, which Israel believes Hezbollah had received from Syria or Iran and was trying to smuggle into Lebanon. Recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria apparently interfered with that. Israel also admitted that it wants Iranian forces out of Syria and the Assad government replaced by someone not dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

In Egypt (the Nile River Delta) two Islamic terrorist bomb attacks left six policemen and one civilians dead. Most of the deaths were at a checkpoint where a bomb was planted and detonated. The other attacks used a roadside bomb against a passing police vehicle. In both cases the attacks were on roads heavily sued by foreign tourists visiting the nearby pyramids and other antiquities.

December 8, 2016: In the West Bank, at a checkpoint, a Palestinian man tried to stab a soldier with knife and was shot dead before he could do so. There are fewer and fewer of these “knife terrorism” attacks, which began during late 2015. This was organized by the Palestinian Fatah group that runs the West Bank. Fatah considers the knife terrorism effort a success but most Palestinians now see it as another Fatah failure and that feeds the current feud among the Fatah leadership. The knife terrorism campaign has left nearly 300 people dead, 86 percent of them Palestinians (64 percent of them while attacking, the rest during violent demonstrations). Worse, thousands of Palestinians have been 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.

The U.S. Congress approved another $619 million for Israeli research and development on their Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow-3 missile defense systems. The U.S. contributes technology as well as cash to these efforts and thus can use the Israeli tech in American weapons. The first battery of this new David’s Sling (Magic Wand) system, with a range of 160 kilometers, entered service in 2016. Arrow is the main defense against Iranian long range missiles and has been in service since 2000. Israel now has three Arrow batteries in service. An Arrow battery has 4-8 launchers and each launcher carries six missiles in containers. The two ton Arrow 1 has been replaced with the 1.3 ton Arrow 2, which can shoot down ballistic missiles fired from Iran and these are being augmented with Arrow 3s. Shorter range Stunner missiles used by the Magic Wand system are meant to complement the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which can take down rockets with a range of up to 70 kilometers. Iron Dome has a unique feature in which the radar system computes where the incoming rocket will land. If the rocket will not hit an inhabited area, it will be ignored. Otherwise, an interceptor missile will be fired. Stunner will be used against larger rockets that will be aimed (by Syria or Hezbollah) at large urban areas, and these will almost always get a Stunner fired at them. This is part of the Magic Wand system for defending Israelis from aircraft and short range rocket attacks. Magic Wand is expected to eventually replace the 17 Hawk anti-aircraft batteries and, eventually, the six Patriot batteries. Because of the long range of the Stunner it only takes two Magic Wand batteries to cover all of Israel.

December 7, 2016: Syria reports that an Israeli missile struck an airbase outside Damascus and another hit a target in Damascus. Several Hezbollah men were apparently killed and a cellphone video of the airport explosion circulated widely. That video indicated the blast was a secondary explosion, as in a missile setting off ammunition or missiles stored in a warehouse. In August Arab media reported that Israeli warplanes destroyed four trucks north of Damascus carrying weapons for Hezbollah. 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 February Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at a Syrian army base south of Damascus. This created more explosions as ammunition and explosives exploded as well. That 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.

December 4, 2016: In the south (near Gaza) an Israeli patrol boat off the coast arrested two Palestinian fisherman who were taking their boat into forbidden waters. That makes 105 Palestinians arrested off the coast like this so far in 2016. Some of the arrested Palestinian fishermen admitted that they had been using fishing boats to smuggle in explosives and other bomb making components since 2012. It was a lucrative business and worth the risk of arrest and damage or destruction of their boats when caught operating outside the agreed upon fishing areas. The Israelis knew this smuggling was still going on but had been unable to catch enough smugglers in the act to stop it. Hamas has been offering more cash for successful smuggling efforts since the mid-2014 50 Day War and the subsequent destruction of most of the smuggling tunnels into Egypt. This explains why in 2015 alone the Israeli coast guard arrested 71 Palestinian fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats off Gaza. The much higher incidence of fishing boats operating outside permissible fishing areas led to several incidents a week of Israeli coast guard boats firing on Palestinian fishing boats to force them to stop. During 2015 these incidents led to 24 Palestinians wounded and 16 fishing boats damaged. Most of these incidents occurred at night and it was believed that smugglers were tossing contraband overboard when detected.

Israel also decided to resume delivery of packages via the postal service to Gaza. This has been halted five months ago because weapons and bomb making components had been discovered hidden in a growing number of parcels. Israel did not say how this problem had been resolved but parcels, most of them at least, were now being delivered to Gaza.

November 30, 2016: Arab media reported that Israeli warplanes destroyed several trucks on the road between Damascus and Lebanon. The trucks were probably carrying weapons for Hezbollah from Russia, Iran or Syria.

November 29, 2016: Kenyan police arrested two Iranian men near the Israeli embassy. The two men, using a car belonging to the Iranian embassy, were taking pictures of the Israeli embassy. Israel and Kenya have long worked together to deal with Islamic terrorism. 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 insisted they only wanted to get to Europe and ask for asylum. Kenya prosecuted the two and sent them jail. In 2002 an Israeli hotel in Kenya was bombed killing fifteen people. At the same time two portable anti-aircraft missiles were fired, unsuccessfully, at airliners taking off from a nearby airport. Both attacks were traced back to Iran. Israel has long been on good terms with Kenya, and most non-Moslem African nations. Israel and non-Moslem African nations have a common enemy in Islam, and especially radical Islam. As Islamic radicals have become more active since the 1970s these alliances with Israel have become more popular in Africa.

In Libya dissident military leader Khalifa Hiftar made his second trip to Moscow, apparently after visiting Egypt. Russia is one of the few countries that can veto proposed UN resolutions against Hiftar, who has managed to keep Egypt, a few other Arab states and Russia providing support for his cause. Egypt allows banned goods (like weapons and ammo) cross the border unhindered. Russia is known to have printed new currency for the dissident HoR government Hiftar works with and has provided unspecified military support. Russia also provides HoR with some support inside the UN. Hiftar has regularly visited Egypt and Jordan to keep the aid coming. Egypt keeps quiet about its relationships with Hiftar. Egypt wants to keep its Libyan border quiet and Hiftar and the HoR control the Libyan side of the border.

November 28, 2016: In the north, Israeli warplanes bombed a building in Syria near the border that was believed used by local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces. Some ISIL men were involved in an attack on Israeli troops across the border.

November 27, 2016: In the north on the Syrian border four ISIL gunmen with a truck mounting a heavy machine-gun fired on an Israeli patrol inside Golan. Some mortar shells were also fired. The Israeli troops fired back and an Israeli warplane showed up quickly and destroyed the truck and killed the four Islamic terrorists. This was the first time ISIL has attacked Israel from Syrian territory. The Islamic terrorists involved were actually local Syrians who had formed a rebel militia in 2012 and later pledged allegiance to ISIL. This group has mainly been defending areas they and their tribal kin come from. The usual response to fire from Syria is Israeli artillery firing on Syrian army positions. Iran has been encouraging more “accidental” fire into Israel, especially the Golan Heights. The Syrian Army and their Iranian allies control most of the Syria-Israel border but there is still fighting along the border with several rebel groups. 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 there is a verbal protest but no artillery or air strikes in response. When it is unclear, the Israelis fire back.

Generally it continues to be quiet along the Golan Heights border. Israel expects this to change because 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.

November 26, 2016: Police arrested ten Palestinians as suspects in the arson believed to have started massive brush fires that recently broke out near Israeli cities. That may have been true but the main reason for the fires was a drought and the lack of preventive measures (clearing away a lot of the dried out vegetation or starting controlled fires to do it). Russia sent two seaplanes equipped to fight such fires with water dropped from low altitude.

November 25, 2016: In Egypt (north Sinai) two ISIL attacks in the last two days have left 11 soldiers dead.

November 24, 2016: I n Egypt (north Sinai) soldiers flooded some newly discovered smuggling tunnels. A week later four Palestinian men were found dead in the tunnel. This use of flooding and several other security measures since 2013 has greatly reduced the number of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

November 22, 2016: Israel accused Iran of smuggling weapons to Hezbollah and the Syrian military using commercial flights from Iran to Lebanon and Syria. Iran or Hezbollah controls airport security on either end of those flights and it is easy enough to move the weapons in luggage or cargo containers.

November 18, 2016: In south, near the Gaza security fence Israeli opened fire on a mob of Hamas supporters trying to get close enough to damage the fence. One civilian was killed and the rest retreated. These sort of attacks are increasingly common since the mid-2014 “50 Day War” with Hamas. That war ended with Hamas promising to abide by a ceasefire. But Hamas can allow, encourage or quietly sponsor unacknowledged attacks at Israeli border security forces. So Israeli border patrols are often fired on from the Gaza side and the Israeli troops fire back. Islamic terrorists inside Gaza will often fire on Israeli troops in the hope that the Israelis will fire back and hit some nearby civilians. The Israelis know about that ploy and patrols are trained to fire back if there is no other option but otherwise to fire into the air and leave the area. In addition to these attacks there are often large groups of Gazan civilians organized by Hamas or one of the smaller Islamic terrorist groups to move towards the border fence and do some damage. Anyone in the group who is killed or injured doing this is hailed a hero by Hamas and receives a cash payment.

In Egypt (north Sinai) a clash between soldiers and a large group of ISIL men left at least 24 of the Islamic terrorists dead.

 

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