Behind the News – April 2018

Behind the News - April 2018
A car ramming near Mevo Dotan in which two IDF soldiers were murdered

TERROR REPORT

On March 18, a 32 year old father of four was stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s old city by a Palestinian, who was subsequently shot dead by Israeli police. On March 16, two IDF soldiers were murdered in a vehicular attack near Mevo Dotan in the northern West Bank. The driver was arrested.
On March 18, IDF forces blocked and neutralised a Hamas terror tunnel which extended from Rafah, inside the Gaza strip, into Israeli territory (the sixth since operation Protective Edge in 2014). A separate terror tunnel was destroyed by the IDF in an air strike deep inside Gaza. The IDF also attacked Hamas targets in Gaza on March 15 after Palestinians detonated several explosives laid on the border fence with Israel on the northern part of the strip.

Meanwhile Likud MK and former Shin Bet security service director Avi Dichter revealed in the Knesset on March 5 that while the Palestinian Authority (PA) paid terrorists and their families US$347 million worth of pensions in 2017, the PA Budget for 2018 has increased those payments to US$403 million.

SIXTY ISRAELI ARABS JOINED ISIS

Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, reported that a total of 60 Arab residents of Israel have joined ISIS since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Thirteen of these ISIS recruits were killed in fighting, and two dozen returned to Israel and were arrested, indicted and sent to prison. Twenty others are still active in the Middle East and possibly other places.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS AND MISSILE ARSENALS FOR HEZBOLLAH

A former senior Syrian Army officer, now head of the Centre for the Detection and Monitoring of the Use of Chemical Weapons in Brussels, warned in early March that Iran is building and testing short-to-medium-range missiles armed with chemical warheads in Syria. General Zuhair al-Saqit also claims that Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy organisation in Lebanon, also holds chemical weapons, most of which were provided to it by the Syrian regime.

Saqit also said he can confirm, based on his own experience with North Korean chemical weapons experts in Syria, that the North Korean regime is supplying chemical weapons to Syria and assists in their installation and use against civilians.

NORTH KOREA’S WMD ACTIVITIES IN SYRIA

On March 14, United States officials told the Washington Free Beacon that they’re monitoring reports from Syrian news outlets that North Korea is nearing completion of a massive underground military complex near Bashar al-Assad’s hometown of Qardaha in Latakia. Construction of these facilities allegedly began in 2011 under the direction of North Korean advisors, and it is feared they could be used for chemical and even nuclear weapons development.

A UN report seen by the New York Times on Feb. 27 detailed North Korea’s long-standing and continuing role in Syria’s chemical weapons and ballistic missile programs, including advisers and shipments of dual-use components for chemical weapons programs as recently as January 2017.

Meanwhile, Israel officially confirmed for the first time on March 21 that it was Israeli forces that carried out an aerial attack in September 2007 which destroyed a North Korean-constructed plutonium nuclear reactor near al-Kibar in Syria just before it became operational.

IRANIAN MISSILE DEVELOPMENT ROCKETS AHEAD

Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace division, announced on March 7 that Iran had increased its missile production three-fold, although he provided no frame of reference. Iran already has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the region, and has been accused by Israel of constructing precision-missile facilities in both Syria and Lebanon.

Additionally, Behrooz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, claimed on March 5 that Iran could resume uranium enrichment up to 20% – suspended under the terms of the JCPOA nuclear deal – in under two days.

IRAN CONTINUES TO TARGET NEIGHBOURS

Bahrain announced on March 3 that it has rounded up over 100 persons associated with an armed network, reportedly established by Iran, suspected of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks against Bahraini Government targets.

Meanwhile, the well-known cybersecurity firm Symantec warned in a Feb. 28 report that an Iranian hacking group, named Chafer, is conducting activities throughout the Middle East. The Symantec report states that in 2017, Chafer’s targets included airlines, aircraft services, telecom firms, and technology companies serving the air and sea transport sectors in countries such as Israel, Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

ISRAEL AIDS PAPUA EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS

On March 8, earthquake-affected Papua New Guinea accepted a donation of 40 power generators from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Agency for International Development (MASHAV). The generators were sent in the wake of the Feb. 26 disaster in that country which killed upwards of 145 people and left many communities isolated and without services.

The generators were presented to PNG officials by Yaron Sultan-Dadon, the Pacific Islands adviser in the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, who toured earthquake-affected areas with Papuan PM Peter O’Neill.

In addition, Israeli trauma expertise has been deployed to Florida following the high school mass shooting there on Feb. 14. Experienced Israeli trauma counsellors and psychologists led sessions for about 600 Floridians – including parents, clergy, law enforcement and social workers.

ROYAL FIRSTS FOR ISRAEL

On March 1, Kensington Palace announced that Prince William would become the first member of the British Royal family to make an official visit to Israel.

A date for Prince William’s trip has not been confirmed.

In another first, Saudi Arabia has granted permission to Air India to cross Saudi airspace on its new thrice weekly flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. This announcement apparently sees the end of a long-standing Saudi ban on flights to Israel travelling through its airspace.

This move has been interpreted as yet another sign of a thaw in hostilities between Israel and Saudi Arabia, under the influence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The Crown Prince was also reported to have met with Israeli officials during a recent visit to Egypt, according to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

According to the London-based Arab newspaper, the meeting focused on efforts to normalise ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Middle East peace plan being developed by the Trump Administration.

ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVIST CONFIRMS ISRAEL’S MAVI MARMARA ACCOUNT

Almost eight years after the fact, a newly-surfaced 2014 account of the events surrounding the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 by a prominent pro-Palestinian activist appears to corroborate the accounts of the Israeli soldiers involved in it.

The incident in 2010 saw the death of ten Turkish activists after IDF forces were attacked while attempting to board the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara as it was trying to breach Israel’s Gaza blockade as part of a larger flotilla.

Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement which helped organise the flotilla, has apparently conceded that an activist on board the ship started the violence by grabbing a gun from an Israeli soldier. In a comment on a recently revealed secret Facebook group dedicated to anti-Israel activism, she wrote: “He [the activist] was responsible for some of the deaths on board the Mavi Marmara. Had he not disarmed an Israeli terrorist soldier, they would not have started to fire.”