The Iranian threat has become more ominous as Iranian officials escalate their threatening gestures. This puts Iran in an embarrassing situation because the reality is that Iran does not really have the capability to launch an effective attack on Israel. They can carry out attacks that will likely fail and undermine Iranian credibility throughout the region as well as insider Iran itself. In addition to all the Iranian bases and facilities hit with airstrikes over the last few years, the Israeli military recently revealed that in 2017 Israel had detected and thwarted a major Iranian effort to hack into the Israeli domestic warning system. In the last year, alone Israeli Cyber War defense efforts have thwarted 130 Iranian Internet-based attacks on Israel. At the same time, similar Israeli attacks on Iran are succeeding. Details of these Cyber War operations are usually kept secret by attacker and defender alike so as not to give potential Cyber War foes a better idea of what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes the defender will have traps prepared (“honeypots”) that will deceive the attacker into believing they are succeeding when in reality they are being closely observed and their techniques noted and analyzed. When you hack what is a secret enemy facility to begin with it is especially difficult to assess your success or failure. Along those lines, the chatter coming from Iran is that their nuclear enrichment (turning uranium into weapons-grade material) facilities are again suffering massive equipment failures (the centrifuges were apparently hacked again, as they were nearly a decade ago by Stuxnet).
Iran is a much greater threat to the Arab Gulf states than anything else and Israeli leaders admit this is the main reason Arab states, after so many decades, are finally recognizing that Israel is more useful as an ally than a foe. That may not last beyond the current Iranian threat to Arab states, which is both religious and territorial. The previous Iranian government (the monarchy) coveted Arab oil but was held in check by the Western powers. Any new Iranian government will probably be secular and democratic. Before the Iranian theocracy took over Israel and Iran were on good terms. When that status returns the Arabs may see Israel differently. But that is then while Arabs and Israel as allies is now.
Iran desperately needs a win and Yemen is one area where that is still possible, despite numerous defeats there. For one thing, Iran still has a lot of support from leftist politicians in the West. This is partly resentment against the United States, which has always been the primary supporter of Saudi Arabia, and Gulf Arab oil states in general. Now the majority of legislators in the American Congress are willing to demand the U.S. halt military aid to Saudi Arabia. This is unlikely to pass into law but if it did it would be a major win for China, as well as Iran. The Saudis would be forced to seek other nations as a reliable weapons supplier and China has already proven itself capable of producing and selling (without any strings) modern weapons to Gulf Arab nations. The best example is missile equipped large (Predator size) UAVs. Despite the widespread use of American technology, Israel might be able to replace bomb and missile American suppliers in some cases.
While the Iranian Information War campaign (with the help of Russia) to demonize the Arab coalition in Yemen, continues more Western analysts are pointing out that the main cause of civilian casualties are the Shia rebels, who deliberately use civilians as human shields. Arab armies will attack anyway but the Shia rebels are setting up those civilian deaths mainly to manipulate Western media. This has been more obvious during the current ceasefire. The main cause of ceasefire violations, and dead civilians, has been Shia rebels.
The Iranian smuggling efforts are no longer able to bring in ballistic missiles (broken down and later reassembled under the supervision of Iranian technicians) into Yemen. There is still some threat from Iranian UAVs, but while these are smaller and easier to smuggle in there appears to be a limited number of them left in Yemen because of the numerous Arab air raids (in the last month) against bases they operate from. The Saudis are pleased that the ballistic missile attacks have been halted along with the reduction of armed (with explosives) UAV attacks. The Arabs will probably prevail in Yemen but it is the only one of Iran’s wars where Iranian prospects are good. Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Lebanon are all more expensive and less likely to provide the Iranian theocracy with a much needed victory. That means the growing domestic protests will become more of a threat.
The Egyptian Spin On ISIL In Sinai
The Egyptian campaign against ISIL in Sinai, that began in February 2018, was at the end of 2018, proclaimed a success but details were often unavailable, unclear or not credible. Egypt restricted media access to Sinai and tried to control what independent versions of Sinai events that did get out. During a year of fighting Egypt claims to have killed 464 ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) personnel and arrested over 7,000 people suspected of some involvement with ISIL (members, support or doing business with ISIL). There was a lot of collective punishment (destroying the homes of families with one or more members in ISIL or closely associated with ISIL.) The military established tight travel controls with numerous checkpoints. Despite all that ISIL continued to operate, although at a lower intensity. During 2018 ISIL carried out dozens of assassination operations in Sinai, most of them succeeding. Even the failures (usually against senior commanders or officials with better security) were unnerving because they usually implied that ISIL had intel capabilities that could obtain secret movement plans for senior officials. The army did locate and raid dozens of ISIL camps and safe houses, uncovering documents verifying ISIL was still very much in business.
At the start of 2018 ISIL in Sinai was thought to have 1,300 active members. There appear to be fewer of them now, but still nearly a thousand. All these army operations led to more than a thousand roadside bombs, landmines and other explosives being disabled or destroyed before they could be used (to kill, on average, more civilians than anyone else). Hundreds of ISIL motorbikes and other vehicles have been seized along with hundreds of rifles and machine-guns and large quantities of ammo and other military equipment.
At least once a month the military releases a summary of recent operations and the list always contains many hideouts and much equipment (and weapons) seized as well as many (often fifty or more) mines and roadside bombs disabled. Yet as the year went on these press releases became less precise and even vague (as in not specifying in which time period the events took place). By the end of 2018, the press releases were no longer mentioning the “2018 campaign against ISIL” indicating that this massive operation was unofficially over.
The intense military activity in Sinai made it difficult for the local economy to operate and that led to hundreds of thousands of civilians becoming destitute and dependent on food aid provided, irregularly, by the military. All this cost the army a lot of popular support (for operations against ISIL) it had in early 2018. This has apparently become a major issue for military commanders in Sinai and now the anti-ISIL operations are being scaled back and more attention is being paid to cultivating the support of local civilians.
These counter-terror operations were also doing a lot of damage to Sinai based smuggling operations. The government told the smugglers (usually Bedouins) that if they wanted to avoid these counter-terrorism raids, don’t work with the Islamic terrorists, especially ISIL. That has had some impact although by now most of the Sinai tribes have turned against ISIL, which is still the primary Islamic terror group operating in Sinai. That is largely because Egypt has greatly reduced access between Gaza and Egypt. Gaza is still a sanctuary for several Islamic terror groups but because of continued Hamas violence against Israel Gaza is difficult to get in or out of. That leaves a much diminished ISIL as the major terrorist threat in Sinai. ISIL can still attract some recruits and other support but, as happened in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere ISIL made too many enemies and is declining. ISIL has tried moving to other parts of Egypt but has not found any part of the country as “hospitable” as Sinai.
February 14, 2019: Mossad revealed how during 2018 it had provided key information that aborted four Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, interim President Juan Guaidó said he wanted to work with Israel to identify and arrest or expel Iranian backed Islamic terrorist operations in Venezuela, along with any other criminal organizations Iran created. Venezuela currently has two rival presidents. The other one is Nicolas Maduro, the head of the leftist party that ruined the economy and blatantly rigged elections. Maduro is no longer recognized by most South American nations and many in Europe and elsewhere. If Maduro is ousted, so is Iran, which the Israelis would be eager to assist with.
For over a decade Israel has warned of Iranian and Hezbollah backed companies in Venezuela benefitted from the leftist government there that is blatantly anti-Israel and tolerant of Islamic radicalism. Israel believed these commercial operations are a cover for teams of terrorists intent on kidnapping Jewish residents of, or visitors to, Venezuela. The captives would then be smuggled back to Lebanon and used to extract prisoners and other concessions from Israel. This never happened, in part because most of the 22,000 local Jews left Venezuela since the leftists came to power in 1999. When the Iranian threat became apparent, more Jews left and those still around took precautions. In neighboring Colombia, the army captured documents as early as 2008 showing that leftist rebels had close, but secret, ties with Venezuela. It is believed that similar arrangements were made with Hezbollah.
February 13, 2019: Israeli intelligence believes that Hamas is willing to risk another war with Israel in order to obtain more foreign aid from donors who have halted such aid because so much of it is stolen or diverted to military uses. Hamas is also under pressure from the more extreme Islamic terrorist groups in Gaza. These more radical groups are much more eager to trigger another war with Israel. In the past few days, Hamas has arrested dozens of Gazans who belong to these more radical groups. This is mainly to discourage these groups from attacking Hamas. These smaller groups are encouraged by the many Arabs, including officials from Gulf Arab nations who still back Hamas and Fatah and the Palestinian ambitions to destroy Israel. Yet, if Hamas brings on another war with Israel many of the dead will be Gaza civilians became, as Islamic terrorists like to put it, “involuntary martyrs.” That sort of thing is not popular in the Moslem world and especially among Palestinians.
February 11, 2019: In the north (Golan Heights), Israeli tank fire destroyed what turned out to be an Iranian observation post near the Israeli border. Two Iranians died in that attack. Apparently as a result of this attack and several recent airstrikes on Iranian bases in Syria Iran has pulled back its forces from the Israeli border. These forces are being moved to bases closer to the Iraq border, making it easier to move them into Iraq if necessary. If Iran sets up missile launchers in Iraq aimed at Israel the Israelis would bomb them and the Iraqis now it do not want to get involved in that sort of thing.
In the south (Gaza), Egyptian troops pumped toxic gas into a smuggling tunnel from Gaza. When Egyptian then sent troops into the tunnel, they found that two Palestinians had died. Earlier in the month, three Palestinians had died in similar incidents. Egypt has found and destroyed 37 of these tunnels in the last year. The unidentified toxic gas is meant to disable or chase away any hostile Gazans in the tunnel but like most “non-lethal” measures the results are better described as “less lethal.”
Russia once more proclaimed that Israeli airstrikes in Syria were illegal. At the same time, Russian officials agree that Israel has the right to defend themselves. Russia also refuses to open fire on Israeli aircraft or missiles. The Russians want to avoid a demonstration of Israeli countermeasures that work. This would reduce confidence in Russian weapons, which are an important export item for Russia.
February 8, 2019: In the south, on the Gaza border, Hamas continues to sponsor the weekly mass demonstrations near the border fence. These events usually result in the mob surging towards the fence to provide human shields for armed Hamas men who will try to cut through the fence, plant bombs or thrown explosives at Israeli troops. Today about 8,000 Gaza residents showed up and two of those attacking the fence were killed and 80 wounded. Since March 2018 some 220 Gazans have been killed.
February 7, 2019: In Jerusalem, an Arab man killed an Israeli woman. The next day a suspect was arrested in the West Bank.
February 6, 2019: In the south, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel, doing no damage. In retaliation Israeli tank fire Hamas guard post inside Gaza.
In northwest Syria (Latakia province), Israel identified a new assembly plant for GPS guided rockers outside the port of Latakia and near the Hmeimim (or “Khmeimim”) Russian airbase in Syria. This is apparently a rebuilt version of a similar facility destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2018. The new one technically belongs to Syria and many of the components are dual-use items imported by Syrian companies.
February 4, 2019: Ukraine and Israel have become allies of sorts and Israel has been purchasing Ukrainian EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment that has been successfully used against the Russians by Ukrainian forces. A recent example of this is the Ukrainian Kolchuga passive sensor system. This system is built to passively (just by listening) detect a wide variety of Russian military equipment, including nearly all their air-defense systems that use active sensors (radars and control signals). Israel purchased a Ukrainian Kolchuga M system in 2018 and it was operational late that year. This made it easier to locate and monitor all Russian air defense systems in Syria, especially the mobile ones. That was a key element in the ability of the Israelis to destroy Syrian air defense systems which were used against Israeli attacks even after Israel warned Syria not to do so.
February 3, 2019: In the south, on the Gaza border, Israeli soldiers arrested five Gazans who had cut their way through the border fence and were heading into Israel when arrested. Some of the men were carrying knives and were taken in for questioning to determine if they were Islamic terrorists or economic migrants. Earlier in the day on the Jordanian border, a Jordanian man was arrested after he got through the security fence there. Israel is building a wall along the Gaza border which will make it more difficult for anyone to get through.
Gaza based Islamic terror group Islamic Jihad released a video of a January incident when one of their snipers shot an Israeli officer in the head, or rather in the helmet. The helmet stopped the bullet, as is usually the case with current models of combat helmets (using composite materials). In response to that sniper incident, Israeli tank fire killed one Palestinian and wounded two others. Islamic Jihad is the most pro-Iran Islamic terror group in Gaza.
February 2, 2019: Egypt offered to open the Rafah crossing to Gaza if Hamas would cease its weekly mass demonstrations on the Israeli border. Hamas did not respond to this offer right away.
Elsewhere in Egypt (the Western Desert), the air force bombed an Islamic terrorist hideout which was then seized by police. Eight of the Islamic terrorists were dead and several survivors were arrested. The camp had stockpiles of weapons and supplies as well as three four-wheel pickup trucks. There were attempts to camouflage the camp to hide it from aerial observation but the Egyptian air force has heat sensors on its recon aircraft that can detect such camps at night in the desert.
At the Israeli border, Hamas organized more mass demonstrations with 10,000 civilians operating at several locations. There were also hundreds of armed Hamas members, who comprised most of the Gazans wounded while trying to get through the fence or while throwing rocks or fire bombs at Israeli troops.
January 30, 2019: In the south (Gaza), Egypt agreed to temporarily and occasionally open the Rafah crossing. In early January Fatah withdrew its representatives from the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt. This is the only crossing on the Egyptian border and without Fatah participation in managing that crossing Egypt was unwilling to continue opening it temporarily. The Rafah crossing has been closed most of the time over the last few years because of disputes between Hamas and Egypt.
Outside Jerusalem, a Palestinian woman armed with a knife was shot dead when she attacked an Israeli policeman.