Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - December 2017

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ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

The month from mid-October to mid-November saw little significant terrorism, and no rocket attacks. A truck ramming and stabbing attack in the West Bank on Nov. 17 saw two Israelis injured, along with the 17-year-old attacker. Other car, gun and knife attacks were thwarted by Israeli forces, while attacks using rocks and Molotov cocktails continued.

On Nov. 11, Israeli forces shot down a reconnaissance drone that had entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights from Syria.


TERROR TUNNELS RETURN

On Oct. 30, Israel destroyed a terror tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel. The tunnel, discovered near a kibbutz, was one of several recently found by Israel using what Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has called "breakthrough technology".

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) admitted it had built the tunnel with the intention of kidnapping Israeli soldiers to exchange for PIJ members imprisoned by Israel. Twelve Palestinians from PIJ and Hamas were reportedly killed in the explosions and several more were injured, many as they rushed into the tunnel to rescue those trapped inside it. Notwithstanding Israel destroying the tunnel from its own territory, PIJ and Hamas denounced it as an act of Israeli "aggression".

The destruction of the tunnel came the day after UNRWA announced that another tunnel had been located under an UNRWA school in Gaza, an activity it described in the statement as "unacceptable".


PERMANENT IRANIAN BASE IN SYRIA

On Nov. 10, the BBC reported that a "Western intelligence source" had told it that Iran is establishing a permanent military base inside Syria, 14 km south of Damascus and only 50 km from Israel's Golan Heights border. Satellite images commissioned by the BBC show construction activity there between January and October. Israel has repeatedly warned that it would not allow such permanent Iranian bases to be established.

A permanent Iranian presence would also appear to be contrary to a joint statement on Syria by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 11. As explained in a special background briefing by unnamed senior State Department officials later that day, the statement "enshrines the commitment of the US, Russia and Jordan to eliminate the presence of non-Syrian foreign forces. That includes Iranian forces and Iranian-backed militias like Lebanese Hizbollah..." However, Israeli defence officials are reportedly troubled by the failure of the agreement to set deadlines for the Iranians and others to leave.


FINANCIAL COUNTER-TERROR EFFORTS HELPED END GAZA WAR

A book published on Nov. 7 sets out some of Israel's methods to fight terror by attacking its finance. Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism's Money Masters, by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel Katz of Shurat Hadin, a group that uses civil court cases to pursue terrorism's financiers and the financial institutions that facilitate them, sets out some of the activities against terror financing conducted over many years across various Israeli intelligence agencies.

One interesting revelation in the book was what happened during the 2014 Gaza War when Israeli intelligence discovered Hamas was smuggling US$13 million in cash into Gaza to pay its fighters and their families. Just as Hamas head of payroll Mohammed el-Ghoul, who was the Hamas liaison with Iran and various Gulf states, received the cash, an Israeli missile hit his car, killing him and incinerating the money. With no money to pay its increasingly disgruntled armed forces, Hamas asked for a ceasefire and within 48 hours of the attack, the war was over.


ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ECONOMIC AND SECURITY COOPERATION

Meetings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on economic and security cooperation have continued despite Israel's announcement that it had decided to halt all negotiations with the Palestinians until Hamas was disarmed, following the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement signed on Oct.12.

Economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians was discussed on Oct. 29 during a meeting between Israel's Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, also attended by US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. According to Greenblatt, the meeting led to "Meaningful steps forward on key economic issues - revenues, customs, and investment - that help support the search for peace."

Meanwhile security cooperation between Israel and the PA has been completely restored, according to PA police chief Hazem Atallah.

In July, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that security coordination with Israel was to be halted in response to Israel's placement of metal detectors near the entrances to the Temple Mount. However, Atallah noted on Nov. 8 that security coordination between the PA police and Israel largely continued despite the PA announcement. He said, "Even when it was stopped or cut or frozen or whatever, that did not apply to the police... We don't work for politics; we work for people."


SAUDIS SAY MISSILE FROM YEMEN FIRED BY HEZBOLLAH

On Nov. 9 Saudi Arabia called on its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately, in what some viewed as a declaration of war on Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.

The escalation came after Nov. 4 when Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at Riyadh's airport. The missile was intercepted by Saudi defences.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir accused Hezbollah, which is reported to have forces in Yemen aiding the Houthis, of firing the Iranian missile from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen. US President Trump blamed Iran for the missile attack and said, "A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down."

Iran denies providing missiles to the Houthis, despite reports that Iran is backing the Houthi rebels with funding, fighters and weapons including ballistic missiles.


MEXICO TO CHANGE VOTING ON ISRAEL AT UN

On Nov. 12, Mexican Foreign Minister, Luis Fernando Figari, informed Israeli Ambassador to Mexico, Yoni Peled, of a shift in Mexico's position with regards to the upcoming UN votes relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every year, a series of anti-Israeli resolutions are put to the vote in the UN General Assembly. In previous years, Mexico has supported all these resolutions as part of the non-aligned countries group in the UN. However, from April 2017, Mexico started siding with Israel in various forums, such as UNESCO and the WHO, by either abstaining or voting in line with Israel's positions.

Among the factors that apparently led to Mexico's policy change was the first-ever official visit by Israel's PM Netanyahu to Mexico in September.


FIFA STAYS NEUTRAL

The FIFA monitoring committee announced on Oct. 27 its decision regarding a complaint made by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) over matches played by five Israeli soccer teams based within West Bank settlements. The Palestinian delegation argued that these matches were located within Palestinian territory and were therefore against FIFA statutes, and if they did not cease, the Israel soccer federation should be expelled from FIFA. Israel argued that there are no permanent, recognised borders in the area so the statutes did not apply. FIFA rejected the Palestinian argument saying "the current situation... can neither be ignored nor changed unilaterally by non-governmental organisation such as FIFA," adding "FIFA... must remain neutral with regard to political matters."

 

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