December 11, 2018:
Because of the newly discovered Hezbollah tunnels Israel wants the UN to openly hold Hezbollah and Iran responsible for violating the 2006 Lebanon peace deal and for continuing to prepare for another war against Israel. The UN has tried to avoid doing that because Iran is very difficult to deal with and there is a lot of anti-Israel sentiment in the UN (much of it bought and paid for or based more on ideology than reality). The newly revealed Hezbollah tunnels are the kind of proof Iran and the UN would rather not deal with. Israel is not letting up and is pressing the UN to act on the thousands rocket launching sites Hezbollah has built near the border, in areas the UN peacekeepers are supposed to be monitoring. In addition, Israel has evidence of Iran illegally flying weapons and missile components into Lebanon and setting up a factory near the Lebanese capital (Beirut).
Unlike the Hamas tunnels in Gaza, the situation is quite different in the north. For one thing there are 10,000 UN peacekeepers on the Lebanon border as part of the peace deal that ended the 2006 war with Hezbollah. The UN force is supposed to detect and prevent (or at least report) cross-border violations of the peace deal. Israel is not blaming the UN force for failing to notice anything about the tunnels but the Israelis expect the UN to pay closer attention to the military buildup Iran is organizing in Lebanon for the express purpose of attacking Israel. The UN is being given access to what Israel knows about the tunnels and is being pressured to conduct an investigation on the Lebanese side of the border. Hezbollah will resist that and that will force the UN to acknowledge that Hezbollah and Iran are very much the aggressors here.
Israel confirmed the obvious by revealing how they had quietly assigned several of its officers and NCOs with experience detecting tunnels on the Gaza border to a location near the Lebanon border to gather data on the underground characteristics of land on up there and how the techniques developed for the desert terrain of the Gaza borders could be applied in the north. This team was called “The Laboratory” and their goal was to precisely locate the Hezbollah tunnels and their depth. Not much has been revealed about the tech Israel used to successfully find tunnels dug (often very deep and quiet but not quiet enough) under the Gaza border but it is believed to use passive (they just listen) seismic sensors, ground penetrating radar and computer modeling similar to what geologists use to find oil and natural gas deposits. Normally geologists used active sensors that require controlled explosions to cause seismic waves to reverberate underground and, like radar, give sensors a better idea of what is down there. Israel did not want to alert the tunnel builders or let them know when they were being found. Israel had to track the tunnels as they passed the border into Israel. The passive sensors can also build an estimate of how deep the tunnels are and other details of their construction. When the tunnels are finally exposed Israel can compare the exact position and composition of the tunnels with the model created by the passive seismic system and refine the predictive model.
Hezbollah and Hamas can adapt to the Israeli sensors if they know more about them and for that reason, details are kept secret. Once a tunnel is found military engineers and civilian contractors come in and use drilling, excavation and explosives to create an entrance to the tunnel. Robots, similar to bomb disposal robots, go in first to report what is down there and map the tunnel and that is followed by troops going down. Israel, the United States and South Korea have compared experiences because North Korea has been, for a long time, building tunnels under the DMZ (border zone between the Koreas) and South Korea is not sure all of them have been found. Iran financed and North Korean technical people advised in the construction of the Hezbollah tunnels.
Iran Needs Another Plan
While Iran has shifted most of its hostile propaganda towards Israel and America lately (because of the sanctions and the embarrassing situation in Syria and Lebanon) the Arab states in the region are still well aware of how Iran continues seeking to dominate or even occupy and rule some of its Arab neighbors. That led to these Arab states accelerating their growing economic and military relationships with Israel. These growing links had long been kept secret or simply denied. The Iranian threat made it possible for Arab governments to go public with their efforts to make an ally out of Israel as well as a trade partner. Arab rulers knew this shift was coming but after decades of anti-Israel propaganda, it was difficult to go public with these activities. Now it is and while there is some resistance, a surprising number of Arabs see the alliance with Israel as a plus. The irony of this was that before the 1979 revolution in Iran, Israel and Iran were on very good terms with each other. But now Iran denounces the alliance between Arabs and Israel and that sort of talk keeps the Israeli-Arab alliance going.
Gulf Arabs had long supported Hamas but no longer because they found Hamas to be unreliable and incompetent. In desperation Hamas allied itself with Iran, even though Iran is at war with Sunni Arabs, which includes most Palestinians. Most Arab states do not want to see another Israeli invasion of Gaza. It would get thousands of Gazans killed as well some (probably less than a hundred) Israelis. There is general agreement by Israel and their Arab allies that the forces Iran has assembled in Syria and Lebanon are a far greater threat than Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas competitor, Fatah, which runs the West Bank, remains quiet. Fatah still gets financial aid from Gulf Arabs and sees Hamas reckless behavior as eventually destroying Hamas and leaving Fatah in charge of Gaza once more.
Arabs see other positive developments. The Americans have revived sanctions in Iran and hurt Iran economically. The continued inability of Iran backed groups in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon to do any serious damage to Israel makes Iran look weak. The Iranians don’t like that, the Arabs do and most Israelis are willing to give this strategy a try. This includes a change in the ROE (Rules of Engagement) for Israeli forces guarding the Gaza border. The Israelis will now increase their use of force against Hamas organized “popular demonstrations” that try to get Hamas members into Israel. This border violence will now be met with more lethal force against those to try to damage or get across the border fence and against anyone trying to throw explosives or fire bombs across the fence. The Israelis have lots of vidcams on all this border violence and Hamas has had a hard time portraying its paid protesters as victims. Israel just raised the price of that violence, at least for the Gazans Hamas has recruited for this activity. A November ceasefire, brokered by Egypt reduced the violence quite a bit.
One Gulf Arab state, Qatar, is siding with Iran because its emir and the ruling family feels that is a wise move. After all, long-term the Iranians have always been the local superpower. Qatar tends to play by the rules more than Iran and helped negotiate, with Egypt, a November 8th ceasefire that was promptly broken by Hamas as soon as Qatar delivered the agreed upon $15 million in cash. This was for unpaid (for months) government employees in Gaza. Qatar agreed to make these payments for six months in return for the ceasefire which, like all the others Hamas agreed to, Hamas or some other Islamic terror group in Gaza soon violated. Qatar wanted to end the state of war between Hamas and Israel and hoped cash and public support would do it. That may backfire because Israel reports that Qatar is ignoring evidence that some of the $15 million payroll money is going to Hamas military personnel, which Qatar said would not happen. Moreover, the second delivery was $25 million, another violation. Qatar is very wealthy (it has the highest per-capita income in the Persian Gulf) and its ruler has been increasingly active in backing change in the Arab world. Qatar was an early supporter of the Syrian rebels, including the Islamic terrorist groups and urges political reforms throughout the Arab world, something that has polarized Arabs everywhere.
December 10, 2018: Israel released audio recordings of Hezbollah digging its tunnels under the border and into Israel. Videos of Hezbollah men in the tunnels have also been released. Israeli officials admit that they kept their knowledge of the Hezbollah tunnels quiet since early 2016 when Israeli experts confirmed the existence of at least one tunnel. This allowed Hezbollah to continue building the tunnels and gave Israel time to locate them precisely. If Israel had made public its work searching for the tunnels Hezbollah could have altered its methods to make the tunnels more difficult to detect. Israel wanted to make sure it had undeniable proof of the tunnel operation, which was a clear violation of a 2006 UN resolution. Israeli officials did acknowledge in 2015 that they were investigating complaints from Israeli civilians on the border that they could hear the sound of something going on underground. At that point, the Israeli military suspected the tunnels were there but needed proof.
In the south (Gaza), 32 Palestinians, led by Hamas organizers, were wounded when they tried to force their way through the security fence. Several thousand Palestinians were involved. Since these Hamas organized border operations began in March, 330 Palestinians (and one Israeli) have been killed and over 20,000 Palestinians wounded. Hamas called off the border demonstrations as part of the November ceasefire and calls these demonstrations nonviolent, which they are not. But the post ceasefire demonstrations are much less violent and aggressive so Israel tolerates them, for the moment.
December 9, 2018: In the north, Israel warned Lebanese civilians living close to the border, where Israel is destroying Hezbollah tunnels, to evacuate their homes temporarily because there is a possibility that the tunnel demolition could cause building above the tunnels to suffer damage when the tunnels collapse.
December 8, 2018: In the north, on the Lebanon border Israeli tunnel hunters found (or precisely located) a second tunnel Hezbollah had constructed into Israel. Preparations are being made to breach and destroy the second tunnel so its location was not revealed. It was mentioned that a third tunnel and been found and was still being monitored. The first Hezbollah tunnel was breached on the 4th and at that point, Israel confirmed that it had quietly installed seismic sensors on its side of the Lebanon border and some of them were very close to the border. Israeli troops had to fire warning shots when some Hezbollah men crossed the border in the fog to try and examine, removed or at least destroy some of these sensors.
In Egypt, police say they have located and killed the two Islamic terrorists who carried out the November 2nd attack on two buses carrying Christian (Coptic) pilgrims, killing seven and wounding 16. The attack took place 220 kilometers south of Cairo. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen were suspected and ISIL later took credit for the attack. Police tracked the fleeing gunmen into the Western Desert and two days later attacked the ISIL base camp the shooters were believed to be operating from. None of the 19 Islamic terrorists in the camp would surrender and all 19 were killed in the subsequent battle. Large quantities of weapons, equipment and documents were seized. But it turned out that the gunmen who fired on the Copts were not among the 19 dead. Yesterday the police encountered two Islamic terrorists in an area near the scene of the November 2nd attack and found that they had some of the property of the dead Copts, specifically a cell phone. The weapons found with the two dead Islamic terrorists were also similar to the ones used in the November 2nd attack.
December 7, 2018: The November 11 incident in Gaza, where an Israeli commando team was unable to complete its mission because it encountered a group of armed Hamas fighters who challenged them, was not just a commando raid. The commandos killed the Hamas gunmen (including a senior commander) but lost one of their own and another was wounded. A helicopter arrived within minutes and got the team out while an airstrike assisted in keeping more Hamas gunmen from intervening. It later came out that those commandos had been in Gaza since September, passing as foreign aid workers from an Arab country. The team contained medical specialists so the team maintained its cover by providing free medical care. The team rented an apartment but snuck out at night to meet with local informants, do reconnaissance and plant sensors. These commando missions in Gaza are quite common and most are never detected by Hamas, or if they do find out about it they say nothing unless they have managed to kill or wound some of the Israeli troops. Hamas members were shocked to discover how long and openly the Israeli agents had operated in Gaza and wondered who else was doing the same thing.
December 5, 2018: Russia backed the Israeli anti-tunnel operation on the Lebanon border, which Iran did not appreciate. Russia, as always, is caught between its desire to maintain good relations with Israel while also maintaining a working relationship the Iran, Turkey and the Assad government of Syria.
December 4, 2018: Israel announced a new active combat area had been created on the Lebanon border because Israeli forces located several tunnels Hezbollah had dug under the border and that Israeli forces were going to be busy for some time digging down and getting into and destroying those tunnels. Israel released a video taken by an Israeli robot that had entered the Hezbollah tunnel earlier in the day. This tunnel was 40 meters inside Israel and was illuminated. The robot video showed two Hezbollah men approaching from the Lebanon side and then fleeing when the robot ejected a small flash explosive that can be used to illuminate a dark tunnel or scare off someone who is not expecting to find an unidentified and apparently hostile robot in their tunnel (which was 25 meters underground).
December 3, 2018: In Gaza, a Hamas court convicted and sentenced to death six Gaza residents accused of spying for Israel. This trial was believe linked to the November incident when an Israeli commando team was discovered operating in Gaza for an extended period. Gaza residents are always being accused by Hamas of spying for Israel and are regularly executed (often in error). Hamas really isn’t sure who is spying for Israel, only that such spies do exist and report the location of Hamas leaders and key facilities at every opportunity. Many of these spies are not working for Israel as much as they are fighting Hamas. While Hamas can still generate cheering crowds to celebrate the latest Hamas victory, most Gazans feel otherwise and quietly wish the Hamas leadership dead. Hamas has executed about twenty Gaza residents for spying since 2007.
November 29, 2018: In Syria, an Israeli airstrike hit Iranian bases south of Damascus, or at least that is what Jordanian media first reported and later eyewitness accounts confirmed there were numerous large explosions that went on for about an hour. Syria said its air defenses shot something down but could not produce any wreckage and Israel would only say they had not lost any aircraft or sent any into Syria. That does not rule out a missile strike, because Israel has some new air-launched missiles that strike targets as a ballistic missile would. This would be the first reported Israeli airstrike in Syria since September. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed in the Golan Heights but it is not clear which side of the border. It was later revealed that the attack was carried out by short-range ballistic missiles and air-launched (apparently from outside Syria) surface to air missiles.
November 25, 2018: Syria is apparently granting citizenship (and Syrian passports) to thousands of Iranian mercenaries like Hezbollah from Lebanon, some Iranians and Shia from other countries Iran recruited to fight in Syria. These newly created Syrians will be wearing Syrian Army uniforms as they take up position near the Israeli border. Israel suspected that Iran was planning this and now has to respond before these Iranian forces can carry out any attacks (as Iran has vowed to do) on Israel itself. Iran is desperate for a win because their recent efforts to hurt Israel have all been very embarrassing failures.
Egypt and Sudan have agreed to conduct joint military patrols. Both nations are concerned about spillover violence from Libya. The joint border forces will also combat terrorism and cross-border crimes.
November 22, 2018: In Gaza ISIL, which had long helped (for a fee) smuggle Iranian weapons into Gaza, has canceled that arrangement by seizing for its own use a recent Iranian weapons shipment that contained Russian Kornet ATGMs (Anti-tank guided missiles). ISIL was not angry with Iran but with Hamas, an Iran-backed Islamic terror group that runs Gaza. Hamas had agreed to tolerate an ISIL presence in Gaza because Iran needed ISIL cooperation to smuggle weapons into Gaza. But Hamas also needed to please Egypt which continues to block use of the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Israel controls the other one, which is the conduit for all the foreign aid, which the Israelis search thoroughly for weapons and other contraband. So Hamas recently agreed to Egyptian demands that ISIL activity in Gaza be limited and offenders be arrested. ISIL is the major terrorist threat in Egypt and Gaza was a sanctuary for them. Hamas complied and ISIL retaliated by seizing the arms shipment.
In other Sinai news, Egyptian security forces carried out two raids in the last 48 hours that left 12 Islamic terrorists dead and large quantities of weapons and explosives seized.
November 19, 2018: Israeli officials revealed that the Russians had recently proposed to the Americans and Israelis that Iran was willing to withdraw its troops and mercenaries from Syria in return for the United States lifting some of the sanctions it just re-imposed. Such a deal would be difficult to implement. Israel and the U.S. do not trust Iran to observe the terms of any such deal and it is unclear just how many sanctions Iran wants lifted. The Syrian government and the Turks have a say in this but the big problem is trust and the fact that Iran is in big economic and political trouble back home because of how the corrupt religious dictatorship has mismanaged the economy for decades. Within a week the American made it clear they would never consider accepting a deal like this and that the sanctions are one of the most effective methods of persuading Iran to reduce its violent activity in Syria and other nations.