March 13, 2019:
In Egypt, the government has completed the first phase of building the new town of Rafah. The original Rafah was torn down starting in 2015 because it was on the Gaza border and a popular place for smuggling tunnels into Gaza. There were nearly 2,000 buildings and structures there that could serve as the Egyptian end of a smuggling tunnel. Over 1,500 structures were torn down to create a buffer zone of cleared land over 1,000 meters wide. The new Rafah is two kilometers from the border and apparently too far to build smuggling tunnels. Moving Rafah caused a lot of anger among the thousands of people living there. Although they received new homes and assistance in moving the Rafah population had their lives disrupted and were forced to accept new homes in high rise apartment buildings. Using the apartment buildings made it easier to check basements for any smuggling tunnel activity.
Another complaint was that many Rafah residents lost income from Hamas for having a tunnel exit in their home or business. But the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) terror attacks in northern Sinai proved to be even more unpopular and the Rafah move proceeded without any major civil disorder. Hamas admitted that the loss of the smuggling tunnels was a major defeat for them, in part because Hamas had been getting over $200 million a month from fees and taxes it imposed on those operating the tunnels (to bring goods in and get people in and out). Now Gaza was no longer a safe sanctuary for ISIL or any other Islamic terrorists attacking Egyptian forces and killing lots of local civilians in the process.
The elimination of nearly all smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian/Gaza border demonstrated that Egypt was most definitely at war with Hamas, mainly because, despite many warnings, Hamas had allied itself with Iran, which had become the only major foreign aid donor Hamas had left and Iran was also eager to send weapons to Gaza as well. Despite this Egypt still acts as a mediator in continued efforts to form a common Palestinian government by merging Fatah (ruler of the West Bank) and Hamas. These negotiations have never succeeded, despite several signed agreements, because there are radical factions in Hamas that will never agree to Hamas losing sole control (to Fatah) of Gaza.
With most Western and Moslem aid donors no longer providing cash, Hamas is broke and the economy of Gaza fading fast because of the Egyptian/Israeli blockade (except for basics like food and medicine). Hamas has two options; make peace and lose control of Gaza or trigger another war with Israel which Hamas believes, like the last one in 2014, will lead to a lot of destroyed housing in Gaza and thousands of civilian casualties and cause an aid crisis that will compel foreign donors to resume sending large quantities of materials and cash, which Hamas can divert to its military needs. The only problem with this strategy is that the Israelis are now well aware of it and made it clear they have some new ideas for how to handle another Hamas war. Israel is not disclosing how this would go but the more lucid Hamas leaders fear it means that Hamas will not benefit from the next war as much as they did from the last one.
Hamas continues staging a growing number of violent demonstrations along the Gaza border which attempt to get Hamas fighters into Israel. That has not worked out as planned and after a year of this two Israeli soldiers have been killed along with over 250 Palestinians. Hamas calls this lopsided casualty toll a war crime and many UN officials and Western politicians agree without presenting any viable alternatives for the tactics Israel is using to defend itself.
There are a number of complications in Syria that have led to a stalemate. Iran has problems with Israel in Syria, as well as its own allies. The Iranians want the Syrian government (controlled by the Assad clan) to accept Iranian domination (as Hezbollah does in Lebanon) and agrees with Turkey that the Syrian Kurds should not get autonomy and should accept rule by the Iran backed Syrian government as well as Turkish control of border areas. Iran has a major problem in that no one wants them in Syria much less acting as an occupying military force in Syria dedicated to starting a war with Israel.
The Russians would prefer that the Turks and Iranians got out of Syria and that the Assads and Kurds worked out a compromise (which the two seem willing to do). The Americans, Israelis and most other Middle Eastern nations agree with this approach.
Israel wants Iran out of Syria and would prefer that the Kurds got their autonomy. Israel is willing to make a peace deal with Syria and Turkey. Israel has successfully attacked Iranian efforts to build a military infrastructure (bases, arms factories, forces on the Israeli border) in Syria and this has made the Iranian leadership angrier and very frustrated. Iran is seen as even more unstable and unpredictable than Turkey.
Russia has taken the lead in brokering agreements that would solve most of these disagreements. So far there has been limited success with only Israel willing to work with Russia. Israel and Russia have been cooperating in Syria for years but Turkey and Iran are determined to have their way despite the opposition they are encountering.
March 12, 2019: In the West Bank, a Palestinian man was shot dead as he came at soldiers brandishing a knife. In another incident, a Palestinian throwing rocks at soldiers was shot dead.
March 11, 2019: In the south, Israeli police bomb disposal teams were sent to deal with two explosive devices attached to balloons Hamas had sent over the border.
In Gaza Hamas ordered its senior military commanders take extra precautions because of fears Israel was planning a major event against Hamas before the upcoming April 9th Israeli parliamentary elections. The Hamas commanders must not travel alone at night, avoid using smartphones that have not been checked for Israeli modifications and not take gifts from anyone they do not know. Hamas forces were ordered to be more alert to the presence of Israeli agents, who often operate in Gaza for extended periods by passing themselves off as Palestinians.
March 10, 2019: In the south, Israeli warplanes attacked a Hamas base and two boats used by Hamas “naval commandos”. This was in retaliation for Hamas border violence yesterday.
March 9, 2019: In southern Israel, balloons, apparently from nearby Gaza, were found with explosives attached. Police warned hikers and others to stay away from the wooded area so it could be searched for similar items. Later in the day, a mortar shell was fired from Gaza into Israel.
Egyptian mediators have brokered another ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel. This one will include a halt to all border demonstrations and fire balloon attacks.
March 8, 2019: In the south, Israeli warplanes attacked several Hamas targets in Gaza in response to a rocket fired into Israeli earlier in the day. There were the usual Hamas Gaza border clashes today that left one Palestinian dead and over 40 wounded. Two Palestinians got into Israel and were captured by police, who found them carrying a grenade and a knife.
Egypt brokered a ten-day de-escalation agreement between Israel and Hamas. This deal had Hamas gradually halting violence against Israel in return for a partial lifting of economic sanctions. This agreement is not expected to work as it is apparent that Hamas has lost control over many smaller Islamic terror groups in Gaza and many Hamas leaders want an Israeli invasion as that would get foreign aid flowing again. This deal does not prohibit any other ceasefire deals.
March 7, 2019: In Egypt (outside Cairo), a policeman was wounded and seven Islamic terrorists killed as they tried to fight their way past a checkpoint.
Egypt has become self-sufficient in natural gas. This was accomplished by making deals with foreign oil companies to come in and get the newly discovered natural gas fields producing. Many bureaucrats wanted the government to do this but it was no secret that many Egyptian officials preferred a government-run natural gas industry even though that sort of approach would take a lot longer to achieve self-sufficiency for Egypt and the natural gas would be more expensive. But a number of government officials would get rich and have access to high paying jobs that required little effort. Using foreign companies makes it more difficult for the government to replace key management and other personnel with political appointees who know little about the oil and gas business but are loyal political allies of someone in power.
March 6, 2019: In Egypt (near Cairo) police carried out two raids against locations used by Hasm, a radical faction of the Moslem Brotherhood. In one raid there was a gun battle. The two raids left seven Islamic terrorists dead, including a group that was caught driving a truck to where a bomb was to be placed.
In southern Israel Hamas mobilized several hundred civilians for a night time demonstration at the border fence. One Palestinian was killed as the noisy demonstrators taunted Israeli troops and sought to terrorize a nearby Israeli village. Elsewhere along the Gaza border a mortar shell was fired into Israel, causing no damage. Israel responded with airstrikes against Hamas bases in Gaza.
Israel informed Egypt and Hamas that the many ceasefire agreements with Hamas had all been quickly broken by Hamas and Israel was considering a major military operation against Hamas to at least reduce the Hamas violence. Israel sees little possibility of getting Hamas to agree to or actually enforce any ceasefire or peace deal. In one recent case a deal was agreed to that, if complied with, would include Israel repairing the electrical transmission line between Gaza and Israel, expanding the fishing zone for Palestinian fishermen and allowing some foreign aid projects to continue. Hours after the agreement was signed someone in Gaza fired a mortar shell into Israel.
March 5, 2019: In Gaza, Israeli warplanes attacked a Hamas base in retaliation for increased Hama used of balloons carrying incendiaries or explosives into southern Israel.
March 4, 2019: The United States and Israel conducted a military exercise that involved the U.S. flying in a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile battery and setting it up for use. This includes integration with the Israeli missile defense radar system. Back in 2014 Persian Gulf Arabs began buying more anti-aircraft weapons that can stop ballistic missiles. There is one major flaw in all this. The Americans pointed out that all those Patriot (in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) and THAAD (on order for UAE and Saudi Arabia) anti-missile systems could be a lot more effective if they were part of a joint system. At that point, the United States could add its Patriot batteries and Aegis equipped ships stationed in the Gulf to the joint system. Adding Israel would be useful for all concerned and while that was unlikely back then the situation is different five years later. Meantime the Israelis are the only ones with long-range missile warning and tracking radars. This Arab aversion to cooperation led to none of them seeing a reason to buy long-range radars but recent Iranian missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, have changed that. Now cooperation is seen as a possibility, even a necessity. Currently, the U.S. has seven THAAD batteries and the UAE has two. The U.S. has built about 200 THAAD missiles so far. THAAD is, next to the Israeli Arrow, the most effective system for intercepting long-range ballistic missiles like those Iran has aimed at Israel.
In the West Bank, two Palestinians were shot dead as they attempted to run over some Israeli soldiers. This incident is part of a Fatah terror campaign started in 2015 in which West Bank Palestinians were urged to attack Israelis any way they could. Fatah assured those who did that their families would receive a large cash payment it the attacker died and those who were sent to prison would receive a monthly salary. This violence continues at a low level but since 2015 fifty Israeli civilians and security personnel have died along with 260 Palestinians. Hundreds of other Palestinians have gone to prison. Many foreign donors, including the United States and some European nations, have cut their aid to the West Bank in protest against the Fatah payments to Palestinians who carry terrorist attacks.
March 3, 2019: Israel revealed that a recent meeting, in Russia, between the Russian and Israeli leaders there was an agreement to carry out a joint effort to get all foreign forces out of Syria. Everybody wants the Turks and Iranians gone but the Syrian Kurds want some Americans to stay and Russia has treaty rights with Syria to operate an air base and a naval facility staffed with Russian personnel. This new agreement does not ban continued Israeli airstrikes against Iranian forces in Syria.
March 2, 2019: In the south Israeli warplanes attacked a Hamas base in Gaza as retaliation for balloons flown into Israel the day before. Some of the balloons were rigged to set fires when they landed. At night Hamas resumed nightly demonstrations at the main border crossing in an effort to wear down Israeli security forces at the Rafah crossing. These nightly efforts began a month ago as seemingly random small, but noisy, demonstrations of a few hundred people at various parts of the border.
February 28, 2019: Egypt released four Hamas members it had imprisoned. This was a goodwill gesture to persuade Hamas to agree to and abide by a ceasefire with Israel. Several ceasefire agreements have already been arranged and all were soon violated by Gaza based Islamic terrorists.
February 27, 2019: In the south, Israeli warplanes attacked several Hamas facilities in Gaza as retaliation for a balloon flown into Israel earlier in the day that carried explosives that went off and damaged an Israeli home near the border.
February 26, 2019: In southern Israel, the army completed a three-day unannounced drill to test the ability of reserve troops to mobilize and carry out combat operations. The exercise included live fire events as well as practicing tactical operations against Hamas forces inside Gaza.
February 23, 2019: In Syria, the commander of Iranian forces in Syria said that 90 percent of Iranian goals had been achieved and Iran was now concentrating on rebuilding the Syrian armed forces. Not mentioned was any efforts to destroy Israel and this was deliberately downplayed in an effort to avoid more Israeli airstrikes. Iran has withdrawn its forces from the Israeli border and has greatly reduced weapons shipments to Syria. The Israelis are still watching and apparently still willing and able to launch airstrikes on Iranian forces.
February 22, 2019: In the south, Hamas mobilized several thousand civilians for the weekly demonstrations at the border fence. One Palestinian was killed and 30 wounded as they sought to force their way into Israel.
February 20, 2019: In Egypt (Sinai), soldiers raided an Islamic terrorist hideout and killed eight Islamic terrorists believed to have been involved in recent attacks.
February 19, 2019: In the south, there was also a resumption in the use of fire balloons by Hamas. One landed on the Israeli side and caused a brush fire. This was the first use of fire balloons since early December.
In Egypt (northern Sinai) soldiers raided two locations used by Islamic terrorists and killed ten of them after an exchange of gunfire. Troops found large quantities of weapons and bomb-making materials.
Qatar, an Iranian ally that has provided Hamas with over $1.1 billion in aid since 2012, has told Hamas that it is halting its $10 million monthly payment to keep the Gaza electrical supply system operating. Over the last year, Qatar has cut most cash aid to Hamas. Partly this is because it is so difficult to get the cash into Gaza but the main reason is that Qatar wants the cash to go towards improving the economy and living standards for Gaza residents. Iran backs Hamas in preferring to use most aid, especially cash to improve military forces and the ability to carry out terror operations in Israel and Egypt. Qatar continues to provide cash for Gaza, but only if Qatari officials can supervise the use of that money. This restricts the ability of Hamas to divert the aid to military projects.
February 18, 2019: In Egypt (Cairo), a suicide bomber was intercepted near a marketplace popular with tourists. The Islamic terrorist detonated his explosive vest, killing himself and three policemen. A nearby civilian was wounded. It is common for Islamic terrorists to attack foreign tourists in order to reduce tourism. This is unpopular with the hundreds of thousands of Egypt who make a living from tourism.
February 17, 2019: In the south, an Israeli soldier was wounded by a bomb thrown by a Hamas fighter who had gotten close enough to throw it because of hundreds of civilian demonstrators Hamas mobilized to do just that. Once again the demonstration was violent and aggressive enough to get many Palestinians right up to the fence.
February 16, 2019: In Egypt (northern Sinai), fifteen soldiers were killed or wounded during a major clash with Islamic terrorists.
In Cairo, the Egyptian government issued a warning that the number of ISIL members coming to Egypt from Syria and Iraq was increasing, and the threat of these Islamic terrorists carrying out attacks sooner rather than later was the result. The government also revealed that ISIL in Sinai was getting more involved in Sinai based drug smuggling in order to finance their operations. This actually began a year ago but has now reached the point where ISIL is a major operator in the drug smuggling business throughout Sinai. The drugs include marijuana, methamphetamine heroin and opium.
In Gaza, Hamas began its use of nightly efforts to wear down Israeli border guards seemingly random small, but noisy, demonstrations of a few hundred people at various parts of the border.
February 15, 2019: In the south Hamas mobilized 11,000 Gazans for the weekly protests and attacks near the main border crossing. At least twenty Gazans were wounded.
In Egypt recently released data shows that the unemployment rate is now what it was (8.9 percent) before the Arab Spring revolution in 2011. The population has grown since then and the labor force now consists of 28 million. A growing number of women (currently 19 percent of the workforce) want to get jobs and that has put more pressure on the government to keep the economy healthy and expanding.