Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - December 2016

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ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

On Oct. 26, Israeli forces intercepted two eight-year-old Palestinian children armed with knives near the West Bank settlement of Migdal Oz. The children told investigators that they had been given knives, driven to the site and told to carry out attacks.

On Oct. 20, the Shin Bet announced that it had thwarted a major terror attack in Be'er Sheva by arresting four conspirators. The four, coordinated by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, had allegedly planned to hurl grenades at dancers in a reception hall, inflict further casualties using other weapons, and then abduct and bludgeon to death a soldier and hold his remains until demands were met.

On Oct. 31, a Palestinian policeman shot and wounded three soldiers at a checkpoint near Beit El in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, non-fatal attacks by Palestinians using guns, knives, explosives and rocks continued. On Oct. 23, a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel, but landed within the Gaza Strip. Israeli planes and tanks hit Hamas positions in response.


IRAN AGAIN FOUND IN BREACH OF NUCLEAR DEAL

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on Nov. 9 revealing Iran had exceeded the set limits for stockpiles of sensitive material outlined in the nuclear deal. This is the second time Iran has exceeded the 130-ton threshold for heavy water stocks.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 8, French energy giant Total signed a deal with the Iranian regime to further develop the world's largest gas field, becoming the first Western energy company to sign a major deal with Iran since the lifting of sanctions.


ASSAD'S FOREIGN LEGION

Likud MK Avi Dichter, formerly head of the Shin Bet, and now chair of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, told a delegation of Swiss MPs on Nov. 2 that Iran commands a force of around 25,000 Shi'ite Muslims, mainly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Syria, and uses these against Sunni rebels rather than ISIS. He also said that 1,600 Hezbollah fighters have been killed fighting for Assad.

Meanwhile, Reuters has reported that hundreds of Russian mercenaries are participating in ground fighting on behalf of the regime in Syria. While they are not officially part of the Russian armed forces, they are treated like soldiers in every other way, including being treated in Russian military hospitals and evacuated back to Russia in military aircraft when wounded.


NEW HAMAS LEADER IN GAZA

With Ismail Haniyeh set to replace Khaled Mashaal as head of Hamas' political bureau in Qatar, reclusive Hamas official Imad al-Alami has reportedly been temporarily appointed to take over from Haniyeh in leading the terror group in Gaza.

Born in Gaza, al-Alami lived for several years in Teheran and then Damascus before returning to Gaza after the start of the Syrian Civil War. Not much is known about al-Alami, who avoids the media spotlight, but he is generally regarded as being part of the pro-Iranian wing of Hamas. He reportedly suffered serious leg injuries during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

He will fill the post until elections are held for a permanent replacement, which are expected to happen soon.


WEST BANK ARMING FOR ABBAS SUCCESSION FIGHT

Ahead of the Fatah party convention on Nov. 29 - at which a new central committee and leadership council were expected to be elected - tensions continued to escalate in Palestinian refugee camps across the West Bank.

According to an observer in the Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus, senior Fatah leaders are buying loyalty and arming fighters in preparation for the succession battle that will ensue once the 81-year-old Palestinian Authority president dies.

Exiled one-time Abbas ally Mohammed Dahlan, arguably now his biggest rival, has a strong following in the Balata camp, where a population fed up with Abbas' failure to deliver for the people has turned against him. The PA has been sending forces into the camp where they have clashed with local gunmen.

The problems in Balata are reportedly echoed in other camps throughout the West Bank, sparking fears that these areas will become a flashpoint for widespread violence in a post-Abbas era.


ISRAEL WARNS OF PALESTINIAN WATER CRISIS

The head of Israel's Coordination for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has sent an urgent letter to the heads of UNRWA, Red Cross, USAID, the UN humanitarian aid coordinator in the West Bank and numerous Ambassadors concerning the refusal of Palestinian representatives to meet with Israelis to address water management.

With the joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Distribution Council having not met since 2010, Major General Yoav Mordechai highlighted that "the Gaza Strip almost completely relies on its aquifer, and the water quality in it has become very poor as a result of years of over-pumping and pollution."

The failure of leaders on both sides to meet and address water infrastructure and distribution could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis and breakdown in the security situation in the Palestinian territories, he said.


ATROCITIES IN MOSUL

ISIS militants have reportedly kidnapped thousands of Iraqi civilians to use as human shields in defence of its Mosul stronghold. According to the Iraqi military, ISIS militants kidnap civilians from neighbouring villages and force them at gunpoint to walk north towards Mosul, providing cover from the advancing Iraqi army in the south. Villagers who were able to escape have spoken of significant numbers of kidnapped with 90% of the 5,000 residents of Tulul al-Nasir taken by ISIS. Hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed for defying orders to march towards Mosul. A 19-year-old from the village of Safina said, "they killed 20 people in front of me", before he fled and walked for days to reach the safety of Iraqi security forces.

Meanwhile on the outskirts of Mosul, ISIS posters have been found that forbid the wearing of Western style underpants, such as boxer shorts or briefs.


PALESTINIAN BID TO JOIN INTERPOL FAILS

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed in an effort to join the Lyon-based international security organisation Interpol at its 85th General Assembly held in Bali, Indonesia on November 7-10. The PA was hoping to gain access to the 190-member state body in step with its concerted effort to pursue claims against Israel from within international bodies following the UN General Assembly recognition of Palestinian statehood in 2012. Israeli PM Netanyahu claimed credit for the outcome, saying, "The vote is a major achievement and reflects the change in Israel's international status and the success of Israeli diplomacy." The Palestinian delegation said the delay was due to "executive measures" and that they were confident their membership application would be approved next year.


ISRAELI DIPLOMAT VISITS DUBAI

In a further sign of thawing relations between Israel and the Arab world, Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon reportedly made a secret visit to Dubai in late October.

The purpose of the visit - which was conducted under tight security - was to attend a development conference in Danon's capacity as chairman of the UN Legal Committee. Israel's Channel 2 noted that the traditionally hostile Arab nation hosting a senior Israeli official was a significant development.

Meanwhile, last month, a delegation of seven senior Moroccan journalists visited Israel as guests of the Foreign Ministry. The delegation received political and military briefings, met with ministers, Knesset members and senior Supreme Court officials and also toured the Gaza border. Israel and Morocco have no formal diplomatic ties.