Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - June 2016

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ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

While knife, pipe-bomb, Molotov cocktail and car attacks, as well as rioting and rock throwing, continued over the past month, there were no Israeli fatalities. Two rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on May 15 landed within the Strip, while two fired on May 7 landed in open areas in Israel. Between May 3 and 6, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad forces in Gaza carried out 20 mortar attacks against Israeli forces searching for and destroying a tunnel found under the border (see below). Israel responded with tank fire and air raids against Hamas military posts.

According to figures released on May 8, Israel's internal security agency the Shin Bet has foiled 77 terror attacks since the beginning of 2016, including five suicide bombings and ten other bombings, seven kidnappings and 34 shooting attacks. In that time, 34 Jewish suspects have been indicted on terror charges.


HAMAS TUNNELLING CONTINUES

On May 5, the IDF discovered a Hamas tunnel stretching from southern Gaza into Israel and estimated to be 30 metres underground. The tunnel was the second discovered within a month. The Shin Bet internal security service has announced that it has obtained a large amount of valuable information about the Hamas tunnelling program, including the locations of tunnels, from two Hamas members caught after infiltrating into Israel on April 6 and 16. This included reports that the tunnels are so elaborate that they have waiting rooms, showers and dining areas.

Israel has also reportedly begun sharing its tunnel detection technology with the US.

Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold told the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 24 that Israel estimates that Hamas has been stealing 95 percent of cement being transferred into Gaza that was intended to rebuild homes damaged in the last Gaza war - virtually all of it being used to reinforce attack tunnels into Israel.

The Shin Bet also announced on May 3 that Israeli forces had foiled an attempt to smuggle into Gaza four tons of chemicals used to make rockets.


TODDLER DEATHS RESULT OF HAMAS/PA POWER STRUGGLE

On May 6, three Gazan children aged three, two and two months died in a house fire caused by candles that were being used during one of Gaza's frequent electricity blackouts.

The deaths ignited an intense propaganda war between Hamas and the PA as each sought to place blame for the Strip's electricity crisis, and thus responsibility for the deaths of the children, on the other. The former blames its West Bank counterpart for failing to cover the costs of fuel, while the PA has retorted that the blame lies at the feet of Hamas "incompetence" and "corruption."

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh used the occasion of the funeral of the three toddlers to launch a diatribe at the PA on a range of grievances. PA President Mahmoud Abbas telephoned the children's father to offer condolences while Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah promised the family a new home and money.


SENIOR HEZBOLLAH COMMANDER KILLED

Hezbollah senior military commander Mustafa Badreddine, the leader of the group's External Security Organisation, a designated terrorist organisation in Australia, the US and elsewhere, was killed on May 10 in an explosion near Damascus airport.   

The US placed sanctions on Badreddine in July 2015 and in 2011 he was charged by the UN with the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Badreddine was appointed Hezbollah's military commander in 2008 following the assassination of then leader Imad Mughniyah, Badreddine's cousin and brother-in-law.

Hezbollah has blamed rebel groups in Syria for his death, but some commentators have suggested that an Israeli air strike may have been responsible.


IRAN CONTRADICTORY OVER MISSILE TESTS

On May 10, Iranian Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi was reported by the state-run Tasnim news agency to have claimed that, two weeks previously, Iran had test-fired a new "missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres and a margin of error of eight metres." However, the following day, Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehgnan told the IRNA state news agency, "We haven't test-fired a missile with the range the media reported."

The US Government also seemed confused with the Pentagon confirming the test, but the State Department saying it could not confirm the test.

Subsequently Ahmad Karimpour, a senior adviser to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Force, boasted that Iran could "raze the Zionist regime in less than eight minutes" with its missiles.


AL-QAEDA TO ESTABLISH EMIRATE? 

Its rival ISIS may be stealing the headlines, but terror group al-Qaeda has clandestinely moved many of its senior jihadists into Syria, where it is speculated the group plans to declare an emirate to rival the "Islamic State" declared by ISIS.

Its affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has been busy over the last few years laying the groundwork for such an entity by steadily building influence among the Syrian population in the areas where it hopes to rule.

This measured strategy is in stark contrast to the maximum shock and exposure tactics of ISIS - but according to Charles Lister, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, its objective of establishing an Islamic political entity is the same.

"Al Qaeda would present itself as the smart, methodical and persistent jihadi movement that, in contrast to the Islamic State, had adopted a strategy more aligned with everyday Sunni Muslims," Lister writes. 


SARIN ATTACK IN SYRIA

Haaretz reported that, in late April, Syria's Assad regime used sarin nerve gas against ISIS fighters who had attacked two vital air bases. Security reporter Amos Harel speculated that the regime may have returned to this advanced chemical weapon (it has previously reportedly used more primitive chlorine bombs) having agreed in 2013 to dismantle its stockpiles, partly because of the importance of the battles and partly because the backing of Russia gives it confidence it won't face sanctions for doing so.

ISIS has also used chemical weapons, possibly captured from the Assad regime.


IRGC CASUALTIES INCREASING IN SYRIA

On May 6, 16 Iranian members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and many foreign Shi'ite fighters under Iranian command were killed in a rebel attack near Aleppo. A further 21 IRGC fighters were wounded. Ali Alfoneh, in a paper for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that this brings the number of Iranians killed in Syria between Jan. 19, 2012 and May 10, 2016 to 400, all but six of whom served in the IRGC. The vast majority of these deaths have occurred since October 2015.


ISRAEL UPGRADES NATO TIES 

Israel has upgraded its ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and opened up a diplomatic mission in Brussels. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has noted the step as "important," citing how it will help boost Israeli security. A May 4 statement by NATO noted that in addition to Israel, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait will also establish diplomatic missions at the NATO headquarters, reflecting increased security concerns in the region held by the NATO powers.

Previously blocked from this level of NATO participation by Turkey, this upgrade for Israel is the latest signal of rapprochement between the two nations.

In other news, on May 22, Netanyahu signed off on an amended deal to develop Israel's recently discovered gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. It is hoped that the amendment would resolve the concerns of Israel's Supreme Court, which ruled a few weeks ago that the previous deal was unconstitutional because, to give the parties stability, it included a clause barring future Israeli Governments from changing the relevant laws.

 

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