January 27, 2023:
In the south (Gaza) Israel retaliated against Islamic Jihad and Hamas for rockets fired at southern Israel. Iron Dome intercepted the rockets headed for populated areas. The Israeli airstrikes destroyed Islamic Jihad and Hamas rocket manufacturing and storage facilities. This was the first rocket attack from Gaza this year and violated the ceasefire in which Hamas agreed to prevent such attacks. The United States, Egypt and Qatar tried to discourage Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad from firing rockets. Hamas did cooperate but would not crack down on Islamic Jihad to stop them from launching rockets. Hamas fears triggering a civil war in Gaza if they try to control Islamic Jihad.
Israel now has Arab allies against Iran. A growing number of Moslem states are establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. After more than a century of increasing anti-Semitism, most of Israel’s Arab neighbors realized that Israel would be a valuable economic, diplomatic and military ally against common enemies like Shia Iran and Islamic terrorism in general. Israel is also the only nation in the region with nukes and reliable ballistic missiles, which are also used to put Israeli spy satellites into orbit. It is also the worst of times because Iran has personnel operating on Israeli borders and an increasingly effective Cyber War effort against Israel.
And there is growing dissatisfaction in the West and the Middle East with Palestinian leadership failures and rampant corruption. Palestinians are convinced that Israel has no right to exist and only pretend to negotiate a peace deal because that is useful for obtaining foreign aid. Arabs in general are now telling the Palestinians to take whatever peace deal they can because cash and other aid from Arab nations will continue to disappear unless the Palestinians solve their own problems with corruption and fixation on destroying Israel. Many Palestinians are willing to change but their corrupt leaders are not and use their war on Israel as an excuse to violently suppress any Palestinian opposition to the current suicidal policy.
Iran remains obsessed with destroying Israel and no one else in the region agrees with them on that goal. Iran’s presence in Syria is the current threat, so Israeli efforts to make a peace deal with the Syrian Assad government depend on convincing the Assads that with Israeli help they can survive declaring their independence from Iranian domination. Israel has long recognized this opportunity and in mid-2022 sent Basher Assad an ultimatum that, if he did not cease cooperating with the Iranians (especially the movement and storage of Iranian missiles to Syria), Israeli airstrikes would go after Assad and family members by bombing the many luxury residences (“palaces'') used by the Syrian family in and around Damascus. The Assads had earlier denied this degree of cooperation but this time Israel pointed out it was sharing intel with Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies and that means it is a lot more difficult for Assad to get away with lying to the Israelis. Arab nations and Israel were trying to get the Assads to switch sides and the Assads made a decision to stick with Iran without telling the wealthy Gulf Arab states he was hoping would invest in rebuilding the Syrian economy once the war was finally over. The Israelis did not follow through on their threat and it was believed that the Iranian threat to kill Assad and his family was a more compelling offer.
While Israel and its Gulf Arab allies can agree on supporting the Assads, the United States cannot and continues to oppose any peace deal with the Assads. Israel and the Arabs can afford to quietly ignore the Americans on this. The current American government has managed to damage relations with Arab oil states and that is unlikely to change until the 2024 American presidential elections put a new government in charge. In early 2023 it is unclear what the real situation is between the Assads and their other real or potential allies and not-unfriendly neighbors, as in Russia, Turkey, the Arabs states and Israel. Iran is on good terms with Russia and Turkey but not the Arab states, Israel or Western nations in general. Iran is weakened by four months of internal protests and growing economic sanctions. Most Iranians want to end the “war” with Israel. The Iranian religious dictatorship has an irrational hatred for Israel, the United States and many of its Arab neighbors. The Iranian government is justifiably paranoid about what Israel may be up to when it comes to resolving this deadlock. The Israelis do not release any information about their operations against Iran and there have been some spectacular ones in the last few years. There is growing popular support for Israel inside Iran and that has made it easier for Israel to recruit Iranians to assist them for operations inside Iran. Few would mourn the sudden demise of the Iranian religious dictatorship but that would be difficult to carry out because of the homicidal fanaticism regularly demonstrated by the religious government and their IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) enforcers.
Meanwhile Israel treats Iran as a major threat, especially because of the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has been at war with Iran in Syria for nearly a decade, during which Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes and a few commando operations against Iranian operations in Syria. This cost Iran a lot of lives and money, and is one of the things restive Iranians want to halt by pulling Iranian forces out of Syria and Lebanon. But first the Iranians have to shut down the Iranian religious dictatorship, which, as expected, resists efforts to shut down operations in Syria.
Iran controls irregular forces in Syria along with the more organized Hezbollah in Lebanon and the inept Hamas in Gaza. Iran also has ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and continued efforts to get guided rockets and short-range ballistic missiles into Syria and Lebanon. Hundreds of Israeli air strikes have prevented the guided weapons build up and formidable BMD (ballistic missiles defense) systems neutralize the use of missiles launched from Iran. So far the defenses have worked.
While Iran is the greatest threat to Israel, the main threat to peace in the Middle East is an increasingly aggressive Turkey. Currently Turkey is trying to restore its good relations with Israel. For over a decade the Erdogan government in Turkey demonized Israel in order to gain support from Arab neighbors. That did not work and Turkey had to use force and coercion to subdue and exploit Arab neighbors. Reviving good relations with Israel is now a major goal. One reason for this is the fact that many Turks wanted to keep good relations with Israel and now a lot more agree with that. The Islamic party in Turkey and its leader (Erdogan) are in danger of being voted out of office and every vote counts, especially those of pro-Israel Turks.
Inside Israel there is a growing possibility of political collapse and chaos within the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza). Palestinian officials running both of these areas have run out of ideas and support from their constituents. If such a collapse does occur, Israel will be expected to go in and sort it out. That will be a difficult and thankless task that no one else wants to deal with.
January 26, 2023: In the West Bank an Israeli raid to arrest some Islamic Jihad members planning attacks on Israelis resulted in none Palestinians killed, including three Islamic Jihad members. A fourth was arrested. The other six dead were Palestinian civilians hit by gunfire, most of it from the Islamic Jihad men who were firing wildly with automatic weapons at several Israeli soldiers. The Israeli fire was more accurate and aimed at the four Islamic Jihad men and their hideout. About twenty civilians were wounded. Palestinians blame Israel for defending itself and trying to stop groups like Islamic Jihad from attacking Israeli civilians and security personnel. Palestinians feel no sense of responsibility for instigating all this violence and many other Moslem countries go along with this.
January 24, 2023: In the north (the Lebanon border) Israeli engineers have, since 2014 built a fortified and electronically monitored border zone along the entire 140-kilometer Lebanese border. In 2020 Israel began installing more seismic sensors as part of a tunnel construction detection system that has already proved its worth on the Gaza border and a few times on the Lebanon border. The new sensor network is being expanded to more of the Lebanese border. In 2018 Israel found and destroyed five Hezbollah tunnels and began work to discourage and reduce, but not stop, Hezbollah tunneling efforts. Compared to Hamas in Gaza, Iran backed Hezbollah had a lot more cash and other resources for tunnel building and experimented with new techniques. Israel assumes that one or more of these tunnels may remain undetected and operational for a while under construction before they are detected. 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 expected the UN to pay closer attention to the military buildup Iran is organizing in Lebanon for the express purpose of attacking Israel. Hezbollah is banned from having any forces near the border and responded by building twenty 18 meter (59 feet) high observation towers. Israel did not object because they want Hezbollah to get a good look at the Israeli fortified and heavily patrolled border zone. This border control system has prevented Hezbollah, or smugglers, from getting across. Hezbollah could always monitor the construction of the border zone with quad-copers or larger Iranian UAVs. Trying to send some of these UAVs across the border demonstrated that the Israeli air defenses are also formidable along the border.
January 18, 2023: The United States and Israel confirmed that 300,000 rounds of 155mm munitions had been quietly shipped to Ukraine. Those shells are part of a munitions reserve the Americans maintain in Israel for the use of American or Israeli forces in an emergency. This reserve is owned and controlled by the United States and to be used when Israel asks for help and the Americans agree to supply it. The United States has similar pre-positioned stockpiles in South Korea, Kuwait and Europe. Sending the contents of this stockpile to Ukraine is not unexpected and the stockpile will be replaced over time.
January 17, 2023: Palestinian attacks on Israeli security forces and civilians have, so far this year, left about 40 Palestinians dead. The Palestinian media is controlled by Fatah, which rules the West Bank and encourages this violence against Israelis. While Israel has made itself a very hostile arena for Islamic terrorists. Palestinian terrorists are another matter. The problem is that while some Palestinians want to negotiate a two-state deal with Israel, the radical factions want to destroy Israel, to the exclusion of any other relationship. Dealing with the radical factions is a problem in most Moslem majority states and has been for over a thousand years. Add to that their high and chronic levels of corruption and you have an extremely difficult situation for Israel. The major obstacle to any peace deal was Palestinians insisting on Israel recognizing "right of return without discrimination." That means that the Palestinians who fled the newly formed Israel in the late 1940s, and their millions of descendants, can return to Israel and get all their abandoned property back. Israel would also have to pay compensation. While most of those original refugees are now dead, many Palestinians would not return, but enough could do so and change the demographic composition of Israel, turning it into a country with an Arab majority. This, for both the Palestinians and Israel, is the equivalent of “destroying Israel." Palestinian governments in the West Bank (Fatah) and Gaza (the more radical Hamas) refuse to consider compromise on the Arab Return issue and now demand that the only solution is to kill or expel all Jews from Israel so that Arab refugees can return. The neighbors (Arab and Turkish) don’t want a radical Palestinian government taking over Israel by force and have become increasingly open about opposing the Palestinian radicals. This helps but doesn’t solve the problem. These policies are being rejected by a growing number of Palestinians who note that Fatah and Hamas corruption and mismanagement are a major factor in creating poverty and anger among Palestinians. It’s obvious that Palestinians living inside Israel have a higher standard of living and less exposure to violence. Hamas runs Gaza like a religious dictatorship and that has led to armed resistance by Gaza Palestinians against Hamas misrule.
January 15, 2023: In the West bank, three Palestinian terrorists were killed by Israeli security forces during two incidents.
January 14, 2023: Israeli media found out about a recent secret visit to Israel by an unnamed senior Iranian religious leader who opposes the current religious dictatorship in Iran. The visiting cleric held meetings with senior Israeli officials, including the prime minister. The cleric then returned to Iran with assurances that Israel, including Israeli media, would keep his identity secret.
January 9, 2023: Israel has asked the United States for 25 of the new F-15EX fighter-bombers. These cost about $88 million each and the manufacturer is seeking export sales. The 1980s era F-15E fighter-bomber is still in service and demonstrates how well an updated F-15E design can work. Production of the F-15E is scheduled to end by 2023 and the EX keeps F-15 production going as a more advanced F-15E. This willingness to produce the EX should not be a surprise as there have been signs for a long time that an updated F-15 would be useful. As of 2008 the air force planned to operate its 36-ton U.S. F-15E for at least another ten years, and probably longer. In service for twenty years now, the F-15E can carry up to 11 tons of bombs and missiles, along with a targeting pod and an internal 20mm cannon. It's an all-weather aircraft that can fly one-way up to 3,900 kilometers. It uses in-flight refueling to hit targets anywhere on the planet. Smart bombs made the F-15E particularly efficient. The back seater handles the electronics and bombing, and the F-15E remains a potent air-superiority fighter, making it an exceptional combat aircraft. This success prompted Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Singapore and Qatar to buy it, paying about $100 million per aircraft. In the U.S. Air Force, the F-15E is one of the most popular aircraft for combat pilots to fly, even more so than the new F-22. The F-15EX is cheaper to operate, carries more bombs and can also carry the new hypersonic missile, which is too heavy for any other fighter and was designed to be launched from heavy bombers. Israel has similar large air-to-ground missiles and the F-15EX provides more capabilities to use them.
January 6, 2023: Israel introduced another upgrade for its Spyder (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) mobile air defense system that enables the Darby LR missile to intercept ballistic missiles. Spyder entered service in 2005. Spyder was initially available as a truck mounted version where one or more trucks carried a launcher (with four missiles) and another truck carried the radar and fire control system. In 2016 the Israeli manufacturer of Spyder revealed an even more mobile version that uses tracked vehicles instead of wheeled ones. Each tracked vehicle carries four missiles plus the radar and fire control system.
January 5, 2023: In Egypt a conference between the two rival Libyan governments ended in an agreement to resolve differences over elections and hold those elections as soon as possible. The Tripoli faction was represented by the chairman of the High Council of State while the Tobruk faction sent the speaker of their parliament. This conference did not come up with a timeline, only that both sides would work out problems delaying national elections. That’s what everyone has been working on for over a year. The obstacle is the Turkish occupation force, which insists that its treaty with the Tripoli government over offshore water rights. Turkey needs Libya to affirm those righting so Turley has a claim on offshore petroleum and natural gas. Not what Libya produces, but potential underwater deposits in waters between Libya and Turkey. The Tripoli (GNU) government illegally signed an agreement with Turkey in order to get Turkish intervention. There is no united government of Libya so the GNU could not pledge Libya to support the Turkish claims. Greece and the UN as well as most NATO nations oppose Turkey on this issue. Turkey will protect its offshore exploration and extraction operations with its navy and air force. Turkey believes Greece won’t be able to get other NATO members to assist in blocking Turkish oil and natural gas operations in the disputed waters. Both Turkey and Greece are NATO members but the NATO agreement doesn’t cover a situation like this and the Turks are taking advantage of that. The UN believes this deadlock will lead to partition, with Libya becoming two nations. Each will have some of the oil but most will belong to the Tripoli faction.
January 1, 2023: In southern Syria (Damascus), an Israeli airstrike shut down the main international airport while also killing two Syrian soldiers and wounding another two. The runways were damaged by anti-runway bombs that create deep craters in the cement runway that must be able to handle the weight of landing aircraft. Despite persistent Israeli airstrikes, Iran continues to fly in missiles and other weapons for use against Israel. Iran is unable to deliver oil to Syria anymore and that has caused major economic problems.
December 25, 2022: Despite the war in Ukraine, thousands of Russians want to vacation in Egyptian tourist resorts that cater to Russian visitors. The sanctions imposed on Russia now include bans on providing Russian commercial shipping or passenger aircraft with insurance for movement outside Russia. The airlines needed this insurance to operate outside Russia and this became a problem when Jordan announced it would not allow transports without insurance from using their air space. The only alternative was flying through Syria but the Russian government banned that as too dangerous. Egypt will allow the Russian flights, content with assurances that the Russian government will provide insurance for flights that reach Egyptian air space. Egypt needs the tourist income and many Russians are willing to pay for a temporary respite from the wartime atmosphere back home.
December 22, 2022: In Africa, Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission accused four former defense officials of participating in a corruption scandal that involved Israeli defense firm Elbit. The deal revolved around a $574 million procurement contract that included the purchase of a Gulfstream G650 Presidential Jet. Elbit supplied an anti-missile defense system. The plane cost $195 million “with accessories,” but investigators called the figure exorbitant. The complaint alleged the anti-missile system was overpriced by $45 million.
December 19, 2022: In southern Syria (Damascus) an Israeli airstrike on Iranian storage facilities outside the airport killed two Hezbollah gunmen guarding the site. Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shia militia organized in the 1980s by Iran and supported by Iran ever since.
December 30, 2022: In Egypt (100 kilometers east of Cairo), two ISIL gunmen on motorcycles attacked a police roadblock, killing two policemen while return fire killed one of the ISIL gunmen. This was the first ISIL attack in Egypt outside Sinai. Attacks continue across the Suez Canal in Sinai, where cooperation with Israel keeps ISIL on the defensive. Another factor is the 2018 Egyptian offensive against ISIL in Sinai. This operation began in early 2018 and continues to the present. So far this effort has killed some 400 Islamic terrorists and arrested over a thousand suspects. More than a thousand roadside bombs, landmines and other explosives were 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. These operations are also doing a lot of damage to Sinai based smuggling operations. The government is telling the smugglers (usually Bedouins) that if they want 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 another Hamas military campaign 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.