While ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has been nearly wiped out in Syria and Iraq, never really got started in Israeli controlled areas (including the West Bank), there are still several hundred active ISIL members in Egypt and even more in Libya. Israel and Egypt, plus a few other Arab states (like the UAE) are quietly cooperating to shut down ISIL in Libya.
The basic situation is that ISIL needs a base are and at the moment Libya is one of the most likely areas to operate in. This is essential for ISIL because a Libya base provides access to the rest of Africa as well as the Middle East via Egypt. There are still obstacles and restrictions. Getting across the Egyptian border is difficult as long as Libyan general Hiftar and his LNA (Libyan National Army) operate throughout eastern Libya. The LNA has more problems with the Egyptian border since the collapse of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Many of the surviving ISIL men are seeking to reach Libya via Egypt. Some of these ISIL personnel decide to join ISIL factions already established in Sinai (near the Israeli border) or western Egypt (near the Libyan border). This is the main reason why Hiftar still has a lot of support from Egypt and other Arab nations. Hiftar is genuinely hostile to Islamic terrorism but to the West he is seen as a potential new Libyan dictator. That is also an issue with many to Libyans, but not as important as personal safety and enough national unity to get the economy going again.
What it comes down to is Egypt officially supports the UN proposal for Libyan unity (which is hostile to Hiftar) while quietly continuing to support Hiftar. Egypt is a silent partner in the Al Khadim airbase the UAE is expanding in eastern Libya. Hiftar has long operated this airbase and now facilities are being added that can accommodate larger warplanes, like the F-16s that the UAE and Egypt both operate. Egypt is openly working with the Libyan National Oil Company to protect Libyan oil facilities and get the oil exported. Technically the UN opposes this but the reality is that Libya needs the money and the help in dealing with the ISIL forces still present. So everyone says one thing and does another as is the custom in this part of the world.
Egypt and Israel also cooperate in dealing with Hamas and the Islamic terrorist sanctuary that has developed in Gaza. The current unification effort by Fatah (which runs the West Bank) and Hamas is a sham, as Egypt well knows because they have been hosting the unification talks. Hamas is apparently waiting for the current Fatah leader to die of old age and then participate in elections they believe they can win one way or another. Israel wants to prevent this and Egypt agrees that Hamas has to go. In this they have the help of the United States and most Arab states in the region. Europe is divided on this issue and Iran sees it as an opportunity. This has produced some unusual behavior of late.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have gone public in support of an Arab-Israeli alliance to oppose Iran. Many (Arabs, Israelis and Iranians) believe that such an alliance won’t last long but that is not crucial. The alliance only has to last long enough to halt the spread of Iranian power and influence. Israel has been through this before. The peace deals with Jordan and Egypt have largely held even though there are ups and downs. The Israelis know that the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world go back to before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century and have waxed and waned ever since. Anti-Semitism is again widely tolerated in Europe. But the United States has a new president who grew up in and around New York City, built a fortune there, has a Jewish son-in-law, Jewish grandchildren and a pro-Israel attitude that is more decisive and imaginative than that of the last few American presidents.
Currently the Arabs of Arabia, or at least key leaders, have decided that decades of denouncing Israel, the one nation in the region with a functioning democracy, the most advanced and successful economy and the most powerful armed forces, ought to be rethought. So now Israel is seen as a potential ally not a battlefield opponent. As a result Arab journalists and leaders are speaking openly, and more frequently, about such an alliance. Some countries, like the UAE, can now speak openly of the discreet (and often not so secret) commercial, military and diplomatic links they developed with Israel over the years. To a lesser extent Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian connections are now admitted. The motivation here is survival against an increasingly aggressive Iran. Hang together or hang separately. Israel already has powerful allies for dealing with Iran and welcomes an Arab alliance, even if it won’t last, or at least will be under constant attack going forward, as was the case with the Jordanian and Egyptian peace deals.
Then there is a new generation of Saudi leaders. The young Saudi crown prince (and soon to be the king as his elderly father announced his abdication) pointed out that Iran is officially obsessed with destroying Israel while a growing number of Arabs see Israel as a potential ally. Everyone knows that before the current religious dictatorship took control of Iran in the 1980s Israel and Iran had many diplomatic and economic links, far more that Israel had with the Arab world. But Iranian religious leaders decided that Israel was at the top of the list of things that had to change. Next on the list was who should control the Islamic shrines in Saudi Arabia and so on. Iran has always been scary to its neighbors but was usually ruled by some aristocrat. Now that the Iranian Shia clergy (who were long known to be aggressive) are in charge it is time for neighbors to reconsider traditional alliances.
Israeli and Arab military officials are working out a joint strategy and procedures for how it will work. This includes many Arab nations quietly urging Hamas and Fatah to make a serious and public effort to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. The implication is that if the Palestinians refuse (which seems likely) or simply fail again then more Arab leaders will go public with their opinions on the hopelessness of the Palestinian leadership. That will lead to Palestinians becoming more isolated and dependent on charity from the West, Iran and Israel and that source of support is running out of patience as well. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and the effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians to do anything in their own best interest. Iran is making the most of this situation and few Palestinians will do much to stop it.
The Syrian Standoff
Israel has made it clear that they will fight if Iran tries to establish a military presence in Syria. That is complicated by the fact that Iran has allies in Syria; Russia and Turkey. What makes this interesting is that Turkey and Iran are traditional enemies of Russia, while Israel and the Gulf Arabs are not. What to do? Israel and Russia are trying to negotiate a deal to prevent a war between Iran and Israel over Iranian plans (already announced and underway) to establish bases in Syria and organize anti-Israeli forces for a final battle. Thus for Israel any long term Iranian presence in Syria is intolerable. Russia says it can work out such a deal but many Israelis are skeptical and Iran says such a deal is not possible. When it comes to opposing Iran Israel has some very public backing from Russia despite the fact that this puts Russia at odds with their two other allies in Syria. The Russians see the Israelis as a more powerful and reliable ally than the Turks or Iranians. Russia is also backing the Kurds in Syria and that is causing problems with Turkey.
The Israelis keep pointing out that Iran and their dependency Syria have, since the 1980s, openly called for the destruction of Israel. Many Westerners saw this as absurd while Russia sees it as an opportunity and the Israelis point out that they have nukes, the most effective military (and economy) in the region and no tolerance for more Iranian forces moving into Syria or agreeing that the Assads are a legitimate government. For Russia this is a challenge since as outsiders they realize that Israel is right and long-term a more dependable and desirable ally. But the current Russian government is getting by on uncertainty, deception and hope that something will work.
While Russian and Turkish officials have privately disapproved of Iranian plans to establish more direct control in Syria and Lebanon the U.S. and most European nations openly object to this Iranian strategy. France has been particularly opposed to the Iranian plans, in part because France has itself been involved in what is now Syria and Lebanon (the “Levant”) for nearly a thousand years. Over the last century Islamic radicals in the region have been more energetically trying to drive all non-Moslems out.
December 26, 2017: In the north (Golan Heights) Syria, with the backing of Iranian mercenaries, is negotiating with the rebels who control the area where the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet. Israel has said it will attack any efforts to put Iranian forces on the border and Iran is probably testing that threat. Iranian sponsored forces in Syria have already been hit with over a hundred airstrikes in the last few years, usually while trying to move weapons to Lebanon. But now Israel is targeting Iranian mercenaries (often led by Iranian officers from the Quds).
In Egypt fifteen Islamic terrorists were executed by hanging. The fifteen belonged to ISIL and had been convicted of taking part in a 2013 attack in Sinai that left nine soldiers dead. More Islamic terrorists will probably be executed in the aftermath of the recent (November 24th) ISIL attack on a Sufi mosque in Sinai that left 311 dead. ISIL had demanded that the tribe the victims belonged to cease cooperating with the security forces and attacked the Mosque to demonstrate how serious ISIL threats were. Whoever ordered this attack ignored how tribal politics works in Sinai. The tribe now had a blood feud with the attackers and the tribe was backed up by the Sinai Tribal Union, which represents the 24 Bedouin tribes of Sinai. Normally the tribes are hostile to the government but in this case they have a common enemy in ISIL, which seeks to rule the tribes even more harshly than the Egyptian government does. The Tribal Union asked for heavy weapons so they could win battles against the heavily armed and ruthless Islamic terrorists (many of them radicalized local tribesmen). The government does not want to do that because when ISIL is no longer a threat there will be problems getting the heavy weapons (mortars, heavy machine-guns and rocket launchers) back from the tribes. The government prefers to depend on the tribes for information and other cooperation (like persuading tribesmen who provide services for all sorts of criminals to report ISIL connections). The government has also announced a $5.6 billion infrastructure (public works) project for the Sinai and the implication is that this would mean jobs and other opportunities (not all of them legal) for the locals. The tribes fear that a lot of this money will be stolen by corrupt politicians and officers. The corruption and bad government have long been the main complaint the tribes had against the government. Egypt also does not want the Tribal Union to organize a large armed force to go after ISIL. In the past the tribes, with all the feuds they have with each other, could not easily form a larger force to oppose the government and the government wants to keep it that way. The government wants to use the situation to help suppress ISIL without creating an even more dangerous tribal army able to defy the security forces.
December 25, 2017: In Egypt (central Sinai) security forces searching an area for illegal weapons found eight such caches as well as a locally made bomb. Nine hostile gunmen were encountered and eight of them killed when they refused to surrender. One was captured.
December 23, 2017: In Egypt (outside Cairo) two gunmen fired into a crowded coffee house and fled. Two people died and eight were wounded. Islamic terrorists were suspected.
Throughout Israel (15 cities) there were anti-corruption demonstrations. This was prompted by the current prime minister being the subject of two corruption investigations. This sort of thing (corrupt politicians and anti-corruption anger) is more frequently seen in Israel. Actually it has been around since the 1980s when it became common for Israelis to observe that; “Israel is becoming a Middle Eastern country” and not in a good way. Increasing corruption and growing calls for more violence in response to Arab terrorism became a disturbing trend. Yet Israel has managed to remain more Western that Middle Eastern. Currently Israel is rated as one of 30 least corrupt nations on the planet. Israel is 28 out of 176 countries ranked in 2016 for ability to resist corruption. Israel has to work at this because the Middle East has long been one of the most corrupt regions in the world and staying clean is difficult. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea, Somalia or, since 2011, South Sudan) have a rating of under fifteen while for the least corrupt (usually Denmark) it tends to be 90 or higher. The current Israeli score is 64 compared to 17 for Iraq, 41 for Turkey, 46 for Saudi Arabia, 28 for Lebanon, 41 for Kuwait, 66 for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 29 for Iran, 25 for Afghanistan, 32 for Pakistan, 29 for Russia, 40 for China, 28 for Nigeria, 45 for South Africa, 40 for India, 72 for Japan, 37 for Indonesia, 53 for South Korea, 11 for South Sudan, 12 for North Korea, and 74 for the United States. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. Fixing an existing culture of corruption has proved a most difficult challenge. In the Middle East the UAE has been most successful at it and the Saudis have noted how beneficial that has been for the UAE and Israel.
December 22, 2017: Denmark became the latest European donor to admit that that much of the aid sent to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was being used to support terrorism. Norway has come to the same conclusion. Israel has been providing more detailed evidence of this to Western donors. 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.
December 20, 2017: Hamas has been arresting members of Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza that are launching rockets into Israel and promoting violent demonstrations near the border fence, particularly at the two crossings. Hamas has notified Egypt (which is still has regular contact with) that it wants to restore the ceasefire and is now actively dealing with the situation. Israel wants results not more excuses and broken promises.
December 19, 2017: In Egypt (northern Sinai) a rocket hit the al Arish airport, killing one soldier and wounding two others. The subsequent hunt for the attackers led to a gun battle nearby the next day that left five Islamic terrorists and one soldier dead.
December 17, 2017: In the south three rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel. One rocket landed in Gaza while the other two landed in Israel. One went off on a beach, damaging a nearby home and the last one caused no damage as it was an uninhabited area. Israel retaliated with tank gun fire against a known Hamas outpost in Gaza. Later that day Israeli airstrikes destroyed several buildings at a Hamas training camp. Since December 6th various Islamic terror groups has fired 27 rockets towards Israel and fifteen made it into Israel but either landed in an uninhabited area or were intercepted by Iron Dome. These attacks violate the ceasefire and were all in protest against the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Something the last few U.S. presidents hinted at but never were decisive about. Moslems and non-Moslems have been fighting over who can do what in Jerusalem for over a thousand years.
December 16, 2017: In the south a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel but landed in Gaza and damaged a home belonging to a known Islamic terrorist.
Elsewhere in Gaza Egypt opened the Raffa crossing for four days as a peace gesture. But the traffic was only one way (into Egypt) and only for humanitarian cases. Egypt would decide who would qualify. Egypt still holds Hamas responsible for supporting Islamic terrorists in Sinai. Hamas has tried to convince the Egyptians that this is not true but it is and the Egyptians know it.
December 14, 2017: Israel closed its two border crossings with Gaza in response to continuing Palestinian violence (at border crossings as well as rocket attacks) since the 6th.
December 12, 2017: In the south (Gaza) two Islamic terrorists riding a motorcycle exploded. Apparently they were transporting a bomb that malfunctioned. Israel said they had made no attacks in Gaza that day. The dead belonged to Islamic Jihad, not Hamas.
December 10, 2017: Israel revealed that it had destroyed another Hamas tunnel that had extended into Israel. The army would not say exactly where the destroyed tunnel was except that it was in an uninhabited area and extended several hundred meters inside Israel. Some announcement had to be made because last weekend there were several explosions near the border that were not the work of Palestinian terrorists. The tunnel was destroyed after being monitored for months. The army said there were other such tunnels that would be destroyed once they had been analyzed. Israel is using a new sensor network to detect tunnels and is still adjusting the sensors to get the most accurate data. The army believes that eventually the Palestinians will stop trying to build tunnels that can get past the sensor barrier because it is expensive to build these tunnels (that tend to begin deeper inside Gaza to avoid detection from the air) and a waste of resources if the Israelis can detect them all. This was the second such tunnel incident since October 30th when a similar tunnel was destroyed and Hamas suffered several casualties.
December 9, 2017: In Egypt officials representing Libyan military leader Khalifa Hiftar met with senior Egyptian officials. It was not a secret meeting but was not heavily publicized. The meeting was one of many recently and was used to work out details of current cooperation between the LNA (Libyan National Army) Hiftar rebuilt and led and Egyptian forces.
December 8, 2017: In the south three rockets from Gaza landed in or near the Israeli border town of Sderot. No one was hurt but there was some property damage from two rockets landing in the town of 20,000. Palestinian rocket attacks on Sderot (near the Gaza border) are not stopped by the Iron Dome anti-rocket system because Sderot is too close (two kilometers) from where the rockets are launched. Iron Dome is designed to take down missiles fired from at least four kilometers away. The basic problem is time. Missiles fired from two kilometers away arrive in 9-10 seconds, which is before Iron Dome can react.
December 6, 2017: The United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans were underway to move the American embassy there. This infuriated Islamic radicals and the Palestinians. But the major financial backers of the Palestinians (mainly the Gulf Arab states) managed to do something rare in the Islamic world; keep separate church and state in this matter. That ability to keep religion out of politics is one of the reasons the West has moved ahead while the Islamic world lags far behind when it comes to economic, scientific and military matters. The Arab oil states continued reminding the Palestinians that they had to deal with their corruption and unwillingness to recognize Israel if they wanted to see any significant aid (especially financial) from the Arab oil states. Meanwhile these Arab states continue to build military and economic relationships with Israel. There were a lot of Islamic clerics condemning the American pledge and urging violent demonstrations but the outrage generally remained on the street, and was not that widespread.
December 5, 2017: In Egypt an effort to buy another twelve Dassault Rafele jet fighters from France (after receiving the 24 it had ordered in 2015) finally succeeded. There was a problem at first when the French Finance Ministry looked at the Egyptian economy and eight billion dollars’ worth of French weapons Egypt had ordered since 2014 and expressed concern about the Egyptian ability to handle any more debt and pay for another billion dollars’ worth of Rafale fighters. But French politicians, eager to get the sale, pointed out that Egypt had new natural gas deposits and their economy was growing at 6 percent a year. Moreover Egypt had better relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia (which had helped financed some of the French weapons debt). The first 24 Rafales had cost nearly $6 billion, but that included establishing training and maintenance infrastructure for Rafales so more sales would increase the chances that Rafale would eventually replace many of older Mirages and F-16s Egypt has been using. By selling more Rafales Egypt the Egyptians would be able to provide maintenance and upgrade facilities in the region, lowering costs for other Arab Rafale users. By November the Finance Ministry agreed to withdraw its objections. The prospect of selling more Rafales to Middle Eastern nations, including Qatar, which is at odds with its fellow Arab oil states over how to deal with the growing Iranian threat, becomes easier with Egypt as a major Rafale user.
December 4, 2017: In the south Israeli missiles struck three military facilities on the outskirts of Damascus. Two are believed to be rebuilt or under the control of Iran while the third target was an SA-5/S-200 SAM (Surface to Air Missile) base. The SA-5 is a 1960s Russian design that Russia has updated and Syria received the latest S-200 version of the missile in 2010. Each seven ton S-200 missile has a range of 300 kilometers but Israel has apparently developed effective countermeasures for the anti-aircraft capabilities.
In Egypt (east of Cairo) police searching a desert area (Sharqiya province) found the Islamic terrorists weapons workshop they were looking for. Five Islamic terrorists were killed, six arrested and bomb components and other weapons were found in the workshop.
December 3, 2017:
In the north (Golan Heights) another mortar shell fired from Syria landed in Israel. It was apparently not intentional.
December 1, 2017:
In Syria (Damascus) several Israeli missiles struck a new Iranian base under construction south of Damascus. Later reports indicated that seven building were destroyed, seven heavily damaged and twelve Iranian personnel killed (plus a larger number of non-Iranian personnel). Russia said its anti-aircraft systems shot down some of the Israeli missiles but presented no proof (like missile fragments that can be identified as Israeli).