January 28, 2021: Israel had a good year in 2020 when it came to security. There was a lot less terrorist violence and military threats. For example the terror attacks/Israeli dead for the last three years were 430/3 in 2020, 564/ten in 2019 and 581/sixteen in 2018. This trend may reverse in 2021 because of more violence in the West Bank. More major foreign aid cuts are threatened if the ruling Fatah party continues using aid money to reward jailed terrorists and the families of dead terrorists. These payments gave Palestinians an economic incentive to commit terrorist attacks and it worked, as it has done throughout the Arab world. The Palestinians are urging a newly elected American government to restore aid cuts made to the West Bank over this issue. Fatah has threatened more attacks be made as part of an effort to get aid restored.
Another disruptive trend in the West Bank is the recent agreement between Fatah, which controls the West Bank and Hamas, which rules Palestinian Gaza, to put aside their feud and once more hold elections to select one government for both West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. While Fatah is dominant in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, there are partisans of Fatah and Hamas in both areas and, if the election result is contested by either party there will be more violence, some of it directed at Israelis and the growing number, currently 100,000, of West Bank Palestinians who have jobs in Israel or in Jewish West Bank settlements. To get these jobs Palestinians have to pass an intense background check. Working in Israel means higher pay, better working conditions and more opportunities.
Palestinians working in Israel peaked at about 140,000 in 2000 and fell after that because Fatah declared war on Israel. The cause of the war was an Israeli two-state peace proposal that many Palestinians wanted to accept (and still do) but the Palestinian radicals, who wanted Israel eliminated, rejected and threatened to attack Fatah and Israel if the peace proposal was accepted. As has happened so many times before, opportunities in the Middle East were lost because radical factions insisted it was not enough and an insult to Islam. That has long made it difficult for Middle Eastern governments to operate and still does.
Israel defeated the 2000 “Intifada” terror campaign by 2005. But as long as Palestinians had free access to Israel, Fatah urged and encouraged them to attempt attacks inside Israel. The Israelis responded with tighter border controls and that kept the terrorist threat low in Israel. Fatah insisted they had a right to keep trying to kill Israelis and, for over a decade, Arab and Western nations kept providing aid to the West Bank and Gaza despite the fact that more and more of it was used to support and encourage more terrorism against Israel. Gradually more donor states, Moslem and non-Moslem, admitted the Fatah misuse of aid money and cut their aid, often to nothing. It was not just the Fatah support of terrorism but the growing Fatah corruption which meant a lot of the aid was stolen to enrich Fatah leaders. Palestinians also opposed the Fatah policy and Fatah was forced to tolerate more and more Palestinians renouncing terror to pass the background check and work in Israel. Jobs in Israel have now become a more crucial part of the Palestinian economy even more so than it was back in 2000.
The post-2000 ban on Palestinian workers was unpopular with many Israeli employers, but the threat was so great that Israeli employers had to pay more to import and hire non-Moslem foreigners for as long as there was a threat that Palestinian workers were likely to try and kill Israelis. Both Israel and the former or potential Palestinian workers knew that a growing number of those Palestinian workers could be trusted to work in Israel. For those who violated that trust they faced prison or worse if they played any part in an attack. Anyone associated with these untrustworthy Palestinians would have a more difficult time getting a work permit. The growth of these trustworthy Palestinian workers was something neither Israel nor Fatah wanted to publicize lest the Islamic radicals declare war on Palestinians working or seeking to work in Israel. This might trigger a civil war in the West Bank, something Fatah did not want but the radicals were divided about.
Hamas does not care about any form of collateral damage from forcing Palestinians working in Israel to cooperate with terrorists. Most Palestinians recognize that Hamas is hard-core about attacking Israel, which is why Hamas has a hard time gaining political traction in the West Bank. Palestinians know that Hamas policies produce more poverty and casualties for Palestinians. The only thing that got Hamas control of Gaza during the last Palestinian elections in 2007 was the belief that Hamas would be less corrupt than Fatah. That was true in 2007 but became less so ever since. Hamas forbids working in Israel and punishes anyone who protests about Hamas corruption.
With a new government in the United States, Iran sees a chance to get sanctions lifted and a return to the 2015 deal that halted Iranian nuclear weapons research in return for lifting of sanctions. The U.S. caught Iran cheating, which Iran is still doing, and invoked the “cheating clause” of the 2015 agreement to revive sanctions. That made foreign aggression more difficult for Iran and played a role in continuing public protests against the government that for decades has declared Israel must be destroyed and allies of Israel, like the United States, punished. Iran is now at war with most of the Arab Gulf states because Iran wants to take charge of the Moslem shrines at Mecca and the annual pilgrimage as well as leadership of the Moslem world. This sort of thing seems absurd to Arabs but Iran has shown itself capable of all manner of dirty deeds and devious plans against Arab states.
A growing number of Arab states are making peace with Israel and those countries want the new American government to recognize this new alliance and its goals of containing Iranian aggression. China, Russia and a few Western European nations want to lift sanctions on Iran and restore the 2015 deal. If the United States rejoins this 2015 coalition, Israel threatens to attack Iran before Iran can attack Israel with nuclear weapons. Iran says it will respond to Israeli threats by firing ballistic missiles at Israel with conventional (high-explosives) warheads if nuclear warheads were not available. It is implied that Iran would also fire missiles at Israel’s new Arab allies, especially the UAE.
The reality is that Iranian leaders don’t want a war with Israel or the Gulf Arabs. Such a conflict would do enormous damage to Iran and Iranian chances of victory are slim to none. Iran prefers undeclared war, which it has waging more and more since the 1980s. This includes supporting a lot of terror attacks against enemy states as well as assassination of Iranian exiles who know, and say, too much. China and Russia don’t care about this because Iran does not harm them. The Europeans are willing to do business with Iran if they receive the same immunity. The rest of the world has no such immunity and is not seeking any. Iran only backs off when it has to or, in place like Israel, has not been able to get into.
Israeli threats are one thing but in Syria Iran is suffering more and more damage, and casualties, as it tries to establish itself on the Israeli border and at last carry out some deadly attacks. So far only Iran is taking losses but they are optimistic because they are slowly establishing a presence near the Israeli border. The sanctions make this effort more difficult because there is not as much money available since 2018 to mercenaries or offer as many bribes as Iran used to offer. Killing Israelis is expensive and Iran needs more cash for that, and to placate growing popular unrest back in Iran. The religious dictatorship used lethal force against the demonstrations in 2019 and killing over a thousand protestors reduced the size and ferocity of the protests. But the angry Iranians are still there and their numbers are growing as their standard of living continues to decline. These Iranians blame that on the billions Iran continues to spend each year on its war against Israel and the Gulf Arabs. It is no secret that the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are very expensive, but there is more popular support for that sort of thing because most Iranians agree that Iran should regain its ancient status as local superpower and do it without impoverishing or endangering the Iranian people.
January 27, 2021:
The Middle East continues to be one of the most corrupt regions on the planet. The extent of this corruption c
an be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2020 the least corrupt nation in region was UAE (United Arab Emirates), which ranked 21st out of 180 nations. The most corrupt was Syria and many other Arab states were on the “most corrupt” end of the list. Corruption is measured annually in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Yemen/15, Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/12) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (Finland, New Zealand and Denmark) are over 84.
The current UAE score is 71 (same as 2019) compared to 61 (61) for Israel, 15 (15) for Yemen, 67 (69) for the United States, 33 (35) for Egypt, 25 (26) for Nigeria, 44 (44) for South Africa, 21 (20) for Iraq, 40 (39) for Turkey, 53 (53) for Saudi Arabia, 33 (30) for Ukraine, 47 (45) for Belarus, 56 (58) for Poland, 80 (80) Germany, 65 (65) for Taiwan, 40 (39) for Turkey, 40 (41) for India, 30 (28) for Russia, 61 (57) for South Korea, 42 (41) for China, 18 (14) for North Korea, 36 (37) for Vietnam, 85 (85) for Singapore, 74 (73) for Japan, 37 (40) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 31 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (26) for Bangladesh, 25 (26) for Iran, 19 (16) for Afghanistan, 28 (29) for Burma, and 25 (28) for Lebanon.
UAE’s corruption score has not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 68. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and to make money in that business you must be known as a an honest trading partner. Israeli corruption is largely internal and less present when making trade deals. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangster than others. But overall the UAE is a place where foreigners, and locals, feel comfortable doing business. Before the recent peace deal with Israel, there was always some unofficial Israeli business being done in the UAE.
January 25, 2021: In southern Lebanon six Israeli F-35s were seen in the air where they could be easily photographed. This F-35 mission was to demonstrate to Lebanese and Iran-backed Hezbollah that Israel still rules the skies. The F-35 usually fly at night where neither eyes nor radar can spot them, much less stop them. Operations over Lebanon and Syria are common for the F-35, which regularly carried out missile attacks on Iranian targets throughout Syria. Most of the missiles are launched from Israeli aircraft inside Lebanon, Israel or Jordan and, rarely, from inside Syria. Syrian and Russian air defense system keep trying to bring down an Israeli aircraft and keep failing. Russia has its latest S400 air defense systems guarding its bases in northwest Syria. The S400 radar can see almost all of Syria and into adjacent nations. The Russians have had a hard time detecting Israeli bombers, especially the F-35s. Syria is armed with the older S300 systems and they regularly fire lots of missiles at the Israelis and have yet to bring down an aircraft. The Syrians have shot down some Russian aircraft by accident. Syria urges Russia to at least try but the Russians know that if they try and fail it will a lot more difficult to get export orders for the S400. So Russia watches and tries to figure out how to defeat Israeli aircraft,
January 23, 2021: In the south (Gaza) there was a large explosion in a northern Gaza house. The building was badly damaged and over thirty nearby civilians were injured. Incidents like this are increasingly common because Hamas is storing more and more rockets in homes or commercial buildings not prepared to handle such dangerous items.
In Egypt police arrested several key members of a Moslem Brotherhood cell operating in Cairo. This network was led by and Egyptian member of the Moslem Brotherhood.
January 22, 2021:
In western Syria (Hama province) Israel launched another airstrike against Iranian forces. Five separate targets were hit, one of them a missile storage warehouse. There were over fifty casualties, most of them Syrian army soldiers, the rest Iranian mercenaries. There were some civilian casualties, caused by fragments of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles fired at the Israeli air-to-ground missiles. Syria claims the fatal fragments were from Israeli missiles destroyed by Syrian missiles.
In the north (Lebanon) Israel shot down a UAV that crossed the border into Israel. Examination of the UAV wreckage will determine what model UAV is was and whether it was equipped for reconnaissance or attack (carrying explosives.)
January 20, 2021: Foreign economists now believe that
Egyptian GDP growth is expected grow faster in 2021 than earlier thought. In late 2020 the estimate was for two percent growth in 2021 but that has been raised to nearly three percent.. One reason for the improved recovery estimates is the unexpected growth of foreign tourists in late 2020. Earlier in 2020 tourism income fell by 80-90 percent from 2019 levels. Normally tourism accounts for 11 percent of the GDP and provides jobs (directly or indirectly) for 12 percent of the work force. There was no quick fix for the tourism problem although by mid-2020 some of the foreign tourists were starting to return.
January 19, 2021: In the south (Gaza) a rocket was fired towards southern Israel. The rocket did no damage. Israel retaliated with tank cannon fire at Hamas positions in northern Gaza. Israeli airstrikes went after Hamas bases deeper inside Gaza. On the 17th two rockets were fired from Gaza out to sea. Israel suspects that a violent lightning storm over Gaza triggered the launch. Israel responded with airstrikes on tunnel construction projects in Gaza.
In Egypt, for the second time since October, Egypt is hosting peace negotiations between the two rival government in Libya. The weaker government, the GNA, is backed by Turkey while the stronger government, the HoR, is backed by Egypt, most Arab states and Russia. The two Libyan factions are now seriously trying to work out details of a united, elected government.
January 17, 2021: In the north (Golan Heights) gunfire could be heard across the border in Syria where unidentified gunmen attacked a Syrian army checkpoint and killed three soldiers. The attackers apparently were not Israeli or Iran-backed militia, which leaves rebels who controlled this area until 2018. Not all of the rebels left, usually because many of them were from this area.
In Egypt (north Sinai) ISIL bombed a natural gas pipeline that carries Israeli gas to Egypt. The damage was quickly repaired and the customers did not notice any interruption for gas supply. ISIL has been attacking Sinai pipelines for years and the gas facilities in Sinai have been modified to resist these attacks.
January 14, 2021: The U.S. designated Egyptian Islamic terror group HASM (Harakat Sawad Misr or Arms of Egypt Movement) as an international terrorist group whose leaders are subject to American sanctions that would hamper travel and use of the international finance system. A week later the U.S. identified two HASM leaders who were living in Turkey and applied the sanctions to them while also informing Turkey.