October 29, 2019:
A year ago Egypt opened a second Gaza crossing (Salah al Din), about four kilometers from the current (and still active) Rafah crossing. Like Rafah, the new crossing handles most of the commercial and food aid traffic going in and is open about 15 days a month. Egyptian troops and police handle security but Hamas, or Gazans in general, are constantly attempting to bribe Egyptian security personnel to allow contraband (weapons and explosives, as well as illegal drugs) through, and eventually enough border guards will be for sale to resume regular contraband and weapons imports. The Egyptian government and most Egyptians oppose that smuggling because some of those weapons end up being used against Egyptians. This is one of the many explosive issues that entangle Hamas. Egypt and Israel in Gaza.
Hamas is trying to establish stable economic relations with Egypt and to do that they have to curb the many smaller, and often more radical, Islamic terror groups in Gaza. There are also some clan-based criminal gangs that suffered heavy financial losses after Egypt shut down nearly all the smuggling tunnels in the last few years. Many of the smaller Islamic terror groups are affiliated with or inspired by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and consider Hamas illegitimate or simply not terrifying enough. Hamas links with Shia Iran also anger pro-ISIL groups and this has led to attack on Hamas facilities and personnel. Hamas also has to deal with over a decade of self-inflicted economic mess it has created. Fighting with Israel has consequences and growing poverty in Gaza is one of them. Hamas has now been forced to deal with the economic mess it has created.
Egyptian efforts to pacify Gaza and Hamas are part of an effort to halt the Hamas aggression against Israel. Nothing can be done in Gaza as long as Hamas is at war with Israel. After years of efforts, Egypt finally worked out a peace deal in May that established a workable ceasefire and an enormous reduction of violence on the Gaza-Israel border. Any peace in Gaza is precarious because there are so many angry and armed factions. This creates a troublesome neighbor neither Egypt nor Israel wants.
The Egyptians do not want to get too cozy with Hamas. In part, this is because Egypt is on good terms with the Gulf Arab oil states who are at war with Iran. Then there is Israel, which has become a valuable partner for Egypt when it comes to dealing with ISIL and other Islamic terrorists in North Sinai. Israel is also on good terms with the Gulf Arabs. The Egyptian government needs all the help it can get because there is growing popular unrest at the slow recovery of the economy and the growing prevalence of government corruption.
Egypt describes the continuing Islamic terrorist violence in Sinai as a war of attrition against the religious zealots. Egypt prefers to play down the continuing problems with the Bedouin minority in Sinai. For Egypt Sinai is the land of opportunity and constant headaches.
Israel is closely monitoring what Iran is doing in Syria now that Iran and Russia are dealing with the need to back Syrian forces moving to regain control of the Kurdish controlled northeast (especially Hasaka province) and deal with the Turkish forces crossing the border there.
Israel continues to attack any Iranian moves towards Israel, especially the Israeli border. The Iranians have more than Turkey and Israel to worry about. The Syrian effort is costing Iran a lot of money, which they cannot afford. The humiliation of constant defeats in the form of Israeli airstrikes and loss of Iranian lives has enraged the Iranians. But it has not empowered them to do any better. So far Iran has tolerated the losses and continues to pour resources into permanently establishing itself in Syria. Iran is determined to finally achieve a victory over Israel using the growing presence it has in Syria, but is encountering resistance from Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and most NATO nations. Now there is the Turkish invasion that has made the Iranians a potential battlefield opponent of the Turks. Iran has not made clear just how far it is willing to go in opposing the invading Turks but the quickly became moot as Russia negotiated a peace deal between the Kurds and all their opponents (Turks, Iranians and Syrians. Over the last four centuries, Iran has fought the Turks many times and usually lost. The same pattern with Israel and over the last two centuries Russia has also been a difficult foe. Back in Iran most Iranians are more willing to recognize what a bad place Syria is for Iran and, since 2017, there have been more and more public protests about that, and other shortcomings of the Iranian government.
The only thing that keeps the Syrian Army capable of offensive operations is Russian, air, artillery, logistics, training and special operations support. Destroying the Idlib rebels or dealing with the invading Turks is not possible without Russian support. Turkey, Russia and Iran have always agreed with the Assads that the Americans have to leave eastern Syria and cease carrying out airstrikes in Syria. The Assads don’t like to discuss the fact that Iran is at war with Israel and getting Israel to stop defending itself is not going to happen. The Assads also prefer to not discuss the fact that they would like the Turks and Iranians to leave. That is not practical at the moment and is the cost of victory over the rebellion that almost drove the Assads out of power after 2011. Now the Assads have an opportunity to make a deal to keep the Turks out (except for their border security zone) and after that, maybe the Iranians as well. That will eliminate most of the Israeli airstrikes.
The Assads can live with the 30 kilometers deep (into Syria) Turkish security zone if the Turks can indeed provide security in that zone. On the negative side the Turks plan on resettling many of the three million Syrian Sunni Arabs who fled to Turkey since 2011. Many of these Syrian refugees were deliberately encouraged (with bomb and artillery attacks on residential areas) to leave because they were rebel supporters. And then there are the Kurds.
Israel has become easier to do business in. The World Bank does an annual “Ease of Doing Business” survey to point out which nations are easier for foreign investors to operate in. Israel has been moving up this list as the government responds to popular calls for less bureaucracy and hassle for everyone. For 2020 Israel moves up from 49 (out of 190) to 35. Two years ago Israel as at 54th place. It’s been noted that the countries at the top of this list tend to have the most robust and successful economies. The top ten on this list are New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, South Korea, the United States, Georgia, Britain, Norway and Sweden. In the Middle East, the smaller Arab Gulf State nations do the best, with the UAE ranked 16 and Turkey at 33.
October 26, 2019: In Egypt, the government (actually parliament) extended the nationwide “state of emergency” another three months (until January). The state of emergency is similar to martial law and unpopular for obvious reasons. The state of emergency gives the government nearly unlimited power to investigate anyone anyway they can, arrest and hold people without warrants or obligation to bring charges and basically run the country like a dictatorship. The three decades of Mubarak rule, which ended in 2011, was made possible by a permanent state of emergency and getting rid of that was one of the main demands of the 2011 rebels. The current state of emergency began in April 2017 because of increased Islamic terrorist activity, especially efforts to attack Israel from Egyptian territory. So far Egypt has continued to uncover and attack or arrest Islamic terrorists all over Sinai and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the country. The martial law is generally unpopular and the government is under growing popular pressure to end it.
In northwest Syria (Idlib province) American commandos raided the hideout of ISIL
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. While the commandos sought to take Baghdadi alive the ISIL leader fled to a tunnel system under his hideout and was trapped there by the commandos. To avoid capture he blew himself up. Biometric tests of the remains confirmed it was Baghdadi, as did members of his family who shared the compound with him. The death of Baghdadi will have some impact on ISIL, especially since there is no clear successor to Baghdadi, who was also the founder of ISIL and set the tone for the organization from the beginning seven years ago. Baghdadi began in 2010 when he became the new leader for the Iraq branch of al Qaeda. Seeking ways to expand, he split from al Qaeda and formed ISIL, the supreme Islamic terror organizations that all others must follow, or else.
As with bin Laden’s hideout, the Baghdadi compound had plenty of ISIL related documents and those were seized and promptly gone over for information about other ISIL personnel or targets in Syria. Time was important here because many ISIL personnel in the area realized the danger they were in as soon as news of the Baghdadi raids got out. Veteran ISIL members knew from experience that the Americans had perfected this “prompt follow-up with captured intel” technique years ago. Everyone realized it was dependent on speed. Within 24 hours of the Baghdadi raid, there were dozens of other raids by American, Turkish, Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian forces to capture or kill ISIL members mentioned in al Baghdadi documents.
The Baghdadi compound was four kilometers from the Turkish border but not in an area controlled by Turkish forces. The compound was in an area run by an al Qaeda Islamic terror group that sometimes collaborated with the Turks. In this case the exact location of Baghdadi was confirmed by a joint American-Turkish-Iraqi intelligence effort. Baghdadi stayed in touch with kin and ISIL subordinates in Iraq via trusted men who acted as couriers and their travels could be detected and tracked. That’s how bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were found.
October 24, 2019: An American owned business jet flew from Israel to Saudi Arabia (with a two minute strop over in Jordan). No one is saying who was about or what the purpose of the visit was.
The U.S. government imposed sanctions on three Gaza businessmen it accuses of handling money laundering and illegal cash transfers for Hamas. These sanctions make it more difficult for these men to do business with many banks.
In the south (Gaza), the regular, since March 2018, weekly protests against Israel and efforts by many to force their way into Israel, took place again. The number of people showing up for these demonstrations is way down and those that do participate are often hardcore veterans of this. As a result, more of them get shot at by Israeli troops for throwing things at the Israelis or getting through the fence and refusing to halt.
October 23, 2019: In Lebanon, there have been a growing number of spontaneous protests against corruption, government incompetence and Hezbollah participation in all that for their own benefit. Hezbollah leaders are blaming Israel for all the economic and other problems in Lebanon. That just makes most Lebanese angrier at their own government and Hezbollah.
On the Israeli border, another Israeli UAV crashed. Hezbollah claimed one of its members downed the UAV with a shotgun. Israel pointed out that they use dozens of UAVs along the Lebanese border every day, many of them small ones like the one that went down today. As a result of that heavy UAV use, at least one or two UAVs are lost along the border each month. The smaller ones, like the one that crashed today, have no useful information an enemy can obtain by examining the wreckage.
October 22, 2019: Britain has joined a growing number of European nations in lifting its ban on direct flights to the Egyptian Red Sea resort center at the southern tip of Sinai (Sharm el Sheikh). Britain, and many other nations banned direct flights to Sharm el Sheikh in 2015 after an ISIL bomb destroyed a Russian airliner taking off with 224 (most of them Russian tourists) on board. Islamic terrorists attacking foreign tourists is meant to hurt the economy, and, in theory, the government. The direct flights may help but Sharm el Sheikh is still a depressed area because of the airliner attack. The government is also building high concrete or steel walls around key Sharm el Sheikh areas. This angers the locals, who are largely Bedouin and rarely on good terms with the government.
These attacks caused a sharp decline in foreign tourism and it can take years to lure the tourists back. Normally tourism accounts for 11 percent of the Egyptian GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the workforce. The impact of the Sharm el Sheikh attack was enormous. Back in 2010, just before the 2011 uprising, Egypt brought in $13 billion for that year from 14.7 million tourist visits. The 2011 revolution cut that to $8.8 billion (9.8 million tourists). It bounced back to $10.5 billion (11.5 million tourists) in 2012 but was down by more than 50 percent (5.4 million visits) by 2016 because of the Russian airliner attack.
That terror campaign was not eliminated (as a major threat) until 2016 but it took a while to convince foreign governments. By 2017 tourist income was back up to $7.6 billion (8.3 million visits) and in 2018 it was nearly $10 billion (11.3 million visits). So far this year 2019 is headed for a $13 billion total. If the Islamic terrorist activity can be kept under control the tourist income will exceed pre-revolution levels. Egypt is confident it can achieve this goal because of a little discussed, but vigorously enforced 2015 counter-terrorism law that was meant to limit the ability of Islamic terrorists to exploit news of their violence. The 2015 did not outlaw the reporting of terrorist attacks but controlled it. The law imposed fines of up to $30,000 for violations that resulted from quick and often inaccurate reporting of terror attacks. Such inaccuracy and sensationalism were what the terrorists wanted. The 2015 law did frustrate Islamic terrorists operating in Egypt and enabled the security forces to operate more effectively as well as making it easier for government shortcomings in counter-terrorism operations to be downplayed. The government media spin was eventually exposed but by then the Islamic terror incident in question was no longer in the news. Internally the media manipulation was popular because it improved the image of Egypt to foreign investors and tourists. Most Egyptians put the economy first and this is especially true with tourism which employs a lot of Egyptians unlike the Suez Canal and the growing natural gas industry, which employ far fewer people and make it easier for corrupt officials to steal more of the money.
Sharm el Sheikh has been a target before and the government had long ago increased security. Before 2015 it had been ten years since there was a major attack. A July 2005 bombing attack killed some 70 people. Interrogations and evidence found in raids led the police to believe the attack was largely the result of local Egyptians upset at operations by security police in reaction to an earlier terrorist attack. During that investigation, over 3,000 people were arrested, which upset many of the locals. The terrorists involved in the July attack were also influenced by the current wave of enthusiasm for Islamic radicalism but were directing it at the Egyptian government, not foreigners. With the arrival of ISIL in 2014, Egypt faced the worst Islamic terrorist threat ever, and it took the airliner bombing to convince them of that. Meanwhile, the Israeli resort complex at Eilat (north of Sharm el Sheikh) has long employed better security because Israel is the primary target of more Islamic terrorist groups. There used to be a ferry between Eilat and Sharm el Sheikh but that was shut down. Since 2000 and the Palestinian resumption of attacks on Israel it has been more difficult for most Arabs to get into Israel, even as a tourist.
The main problem in Sinai has always been the hostility between the Bedouin and the ethnic Egyptians who dominate Egyptian government, the economy and the security forces. The Bedouin are a tiny minority (less than half a percent) in Egypt but are about a third of the population of Sinai. Out in the rural areas Sinia they are often the majority. Many Bedouin will support Islamic terrorists, for revenge or money. The government has been able to reduce this support but not eliminate it.
October 19, 2019: Kurdish leaders in Syria and Iraq are calling on Israel to help the Syrian Kurds resist the Turkish invasion. There is little Israel can do as they never had troops stationed with the Kurds and Israeli airstrikes are directed at Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq.
In Egypt (north Sinai), mortar shells hit houses killing four civilians and wounding twelve. This is believed part of an Islamic terrorist effort to persuade civilians to support them or at least not cooperate with the police.
October 18, 2019: In the West Bank, a Palestinian man armed with a knife tried to get past a checkpoint and was shot dead when he failed to halt.
October 17, 2019: In Egypt, 17 members of the Gaza based Islamic Jihad Islamic terror group were released from prison. This was apparently the result of negotiations with Hamas and Islamic Jihad over reducing violence against Israel and Egypt by these two groups. Hamas is cracking down on Islamic terror groups in Gaza that will not cooperate with Hamas. Islamic Jihad has Iran as a patron and has been ordered to make deals.
The United States negotiated an end to the Turkish offensive in Syria by persuading the Kurds to pull their forces out of the 30 kilometer security zone voluntarily. The Turks agreed to halt their operations for 120 hours so the Kurds can complete their withdrawal in peace. This also led to a massive movement of nearly 300,000 Kurdish civilians from the zone. About ten percent of them entered Iraq. Iran does not back this agreement but is in no position to block it. Meanwhile, there is ISIL and the Syrian Kurd run prison camps for captured ISIL members as well as their wives and children. These camps have largely remained intact. There were some escapes but many of those escapees were quickly killed or captured. ISIL is hated by almost everyone in the region and has been reduced to a scattered Islamic terrorist group in parts of Iraq and Syria.
October 12, 2019: In Egypt (north Sinai,) a truck carrying civilians was hit by an explosion, leaving nine dead and six wounded. Elsewhere in north Sinai, a bomb was planted in an armored vehicle that went off and wounded six soldiers.
October 5, 2019: In the south, two rockets were fired from Gaza but malfunctioned and crashed inside Gaza. The rockets were detected by the Israeli air defense system and the area where the rockets seemed to be headed for had their warning sirens go off.