Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - October 2016

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TERROR AND ROCKET REPORT

Six attacks in a 48-hour period shattered what had been a steady decline in terror in Israel over recent months.

The attacks occurred in Efrat, Hebron, Kiryat Arba, at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and outside Ma'aleh Adumim between September 16-18. Three soldiers and four civilians were lightly wounded while four terrorists, one of them Jordanian, were killed.

The Israeli Air Force struck three Hamas sites in Gaza on September 15 after a mortar shell landed in the Eshkol area a day earlier.

On August 24, a Palestinian was shot and killed after trying to stab Israeli soldiers near Yitzhar, south of Nablus.

A series of shooting attacks from the northern Gaza Strip targeted Israeli forces in the first week of September.


A MEETING IN MOSCOW?

Russia's Foreign Ministry announced on September 8 that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas had agreed "in principle" to meet in Moscow to discuss the prospect of renewed peace negotiations. However, no timetable for any meeting has been set.

Abbas has since claimed that whilst he is open to a meeting, Netanyahu had rejected the offer. Netanyahu insists that he is willing to talk to Abbas without preconditions, but that Abbas has been demanding prisoner releases and a freeze on settlement construction before a meeting can take place.

Netanyahu indicated on September 12 that a Russian-backed meeting could potentially take place in Luxembourg, if not Moscow.

The last talks between the two leaders broke down in 2014 and there is widespread scepticism among analysts as to whether any meeting will actually occur, or if it does, if it can renew serious peace talks given the current political climate.


ABBAS - A KGB PAST?

On September 7, Israel's Channel 1 News revealed that the name of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had been identified by Israeli academic researchers studying a document that listed past KGB agents.

The document came from the Mitrokhin archive, a collection of handwritten notes by KGB archivist Visili Mitrokhin, smuggled out of Russia to Britain in the 1990s and made public in 2014.

This document suggests that Abbas' code name was "Krotob" (or "Mole") and that he worked as a Soviet agent in Syria in 1983.

Abbas completed his PhD in history at Oriental College in Moscow the previous year.

The Palestinian Authority has denied this claim, alleging it is merely an Israeli attempt to discredit its leader.


HAMAS, AT A CROSSROADS, SEEKS FINANCIAL BACKERS

A 50-man entourage of Hamas leaders and aides, including top leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar, left Gaza via Egypt on Sept. 3 to solicit financial backing from the Gulf states.

It is believed Haniyeh may use the cover of a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca to relocate to Qatar as part of his presumed transition to head the terror group's political bureau, succeeding Khaled Meshaal, who is not seeking re-election. The position is based outside Gaza for strategic reasons.

Haniyeh is also expected to look for financial backing from Sunni states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Muslim charities, to fund Hamas' military activities.

Meanwhile, al-Zahar is reportedly set to travel on to Iran and meet Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an effort to see if Hamas can reconcile with Iran for the same purpose. It is understood Hamas would likely then have to choose between Iranian or Arab Sunni money.

Hamas has reportedly been pouring resources into its Gaza military infrastructure - spending around US$100 million per year, at least 40% of which is earmarked for constructing tunnels, according to Israeli media reports based on estimates by both Israeli and Palestinian sources.


HEZBOLLAH ON GOLAN BORDER

Syria and Hezbollah are developing a joint plan to launch a large scale operation in southern Syria - in close proximity to the Israeli border - to combat militant groups operating in the area, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency.

Unnamed military sources have indicated that "the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters have been working on a joint plan to end militancy in southern Syria, particularly near the Golan Heights."

Observers on the Israeli side of the border have witnessed fighting close by in southern Syria. The Israeli military has expressed ongoing concern to parties operating in the region, including Russia, regarding the presence of Hezbollah so close to the Israeli border.


CHLORINE BOMB ATTACKS CONTINUE IN SYRIA

Syrian medical workers and activists say there was chlorine gas attack on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Sukkari in Aleppo on Sept. 6 - the fourth such alleged attack in Syria over the past two months - which put at least 80 civilians in hospital.

Meanwhile, a United Nations inquiry confirmed in late August that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible for chlorine gas attacks in Syria in April 2014 and September 2015.

In 2013, the Syrian regime supposedly eliminated its chemical weapons stockpile after signing onto the Chemical Weapons Convention, but there have been frequent reports of chlorine gas attacks by the regime since then.


IRANIAN LINK TO NORTH KOREAN MISSILE LAUNCH?

An Israeli space expert, Tal Inbar, has flagged what appears to be evidence of Iranian involvement in the North Korean ballistic missile program.

Photographs released on Sept. 6 by North Korea of recent long-range ballistic missile launches show a certain shape of warhead attached to its Nodong missiles which Inbar says he first detected in Iran six years ago.

These warheads had not previously been detected in North Korea, he said.

Meanwhile, documents revealed by news outlets in Brazil and Venezuela appear to show that the Iranian regime signed an agreement with Venezuela in 2009 to develop a joint cruise missile program.


EXPLOSION DAMAGES ISRAEL'S SATELLITE INDUSTRY

The explosion of a SpaceX rocket on September 1 in Florida destroyed an advanced communications satellite developed in Israel, throwing the Israeli satellite industry into crisis.

Worth between US $200-300 million, the Amos-6 satellite was the most sophisticated built in Israel's history and had been leased by Facebook to expand internet access across parts of Africa.

The explosion has had a significant impact on company stock and has jeopardised a prospective merger with a major Chinese technology group.

An official with the Israeli aerospace industry indicated that producing a similar replacement satellite could take two years or more.


ISRAEL TO BUILD 30,000 ARAB HOMES

The Israeli Government has reached agreement with 15 Arab municipalities to erect 30,000 homes on state and private land in these communities at a cost of around NIS 1.41 billion (A$496 million).

Housing Minister Yoav Galant signed agreements with the municipalities on September 8. This initial stage of public housing is seen as a first step, with Galant saying he hopes 50 municipalities will eventually sign on and 200,000 homes in all be built.

He added that strengthening the Arab sector is a national interest, saying, "A country that expects loyalty must create equality."

Meanwhile, on Aug. 31, Israel signed an agreement at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm promising to transfer 30 million cubic metres of water to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Jordanian-Israeli Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project.

 

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