Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – April 2022

Mar 30, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Israeli President Herzog in Ankara with Turkish President Erdogan (Image: Haim Zach / IGPO)
Israeli President Herzog in Ankara with Turkish President Erdogan (Image: Haim Zach / IGPO)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

No rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel between Jan. 2 and late March. 

On March 23, an Arab Israeli Islamic State supporter released from prison in 2019 rampaged through Beersheva, killing four Israelis and wounding two others with a knife in the worst terror attack in Israel since 2016. 

On March 19, an Israeli jogger was stabbed and injured in Jerusalem. The suspect was shot. On March 20, one police officer was moderately wounded and another lightly wounded in a knife attack in east Jerusalem. The suspect was detained. 

There were numerous other attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, including stabbings, car-rammings and Molotov cocktail attacks.

On March 20, Israel’s Shin Bet security service announced it had arrested two Israeli Arabs the previous month for acting on behalf of Hezbollah to smuggle weapons, relay information and plan attacks.

 

PLO SAYS IT RENOUNCES ALL AGREEMENTS 

On Feb. 18, Palestinian National Council (PNC) Deputy Chairman Ali Faisal announced on an official Palestinian Authority (PA) TV station that a decision had been taken to renounce all agreements by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the PA with Israel, and that “we have entered a path of resistance in all its forms.”

The PNC is the PLO’s highest authority. However, as of late March, no change had reportedly taken place with respect to security coordination between Israel and the PA, or other existing arrangements.

Meanwhile, on March 10, Israel announced that the number of permits allowing residents of Gaza to work in Israel would increase from 10,000 to 12,000, having previously been increased from 7,000 in October. 

In addition, agricultural exports from Gaza to Israel in January and February were reportedly up by 142% compared to the same months in 2021.

 

ISRAEL DESTROYS HUNDREDS OF IRANIAN DRONES

Israeli media reports say Israel sent six drones to attack the Kermanshah air base in Iran, located 450 km southwest of Teheran, in mid-February and destroyed dozens to hundreds of Iranian military drones stored there. 

In addition, two senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers were killed on March 7 in an attack, attributed to Israel, on a weapons warehouse in the Damascus area. 

 

IRAN STEPS UP REGIONAL ATTACKS 

On March 14, the IRGC fired 12 ballistic missiles at targets in Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq, damaging property but causing no injuries. Iran claimed it had targeted a “secret Israeli Mossad base,” in retaliation for the deaths of the two IRGC officers. However, Kurdish officials denied the presence of an Israeli base. Erbil’s airport, the home of a Kurdish leader, a TV studio and the US consulate were either damaged or in close proximity to the impact zone.

Meanwhile, on both March 10 and March 20, Iranian-sponsored Houthi forces based in Yemen used drones to hit multiple targets in Saudi Arabia, including oil and gas processing sites and desalination and power plants. 

On March 14, Israeli government websites were rendered unreachable for an hour as the result of a massive distributed denial-of-service cyberattack identified as likely the work of Iranian hackers.

 

IRAN’S BREAKOUT TIME NOW 2-3 WEEKS

A report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in early March indicated that Iran continues to ‘break out slowly’ towards achieving nuclear weapons capabilities. With almost 200kg of highly enriched uranium and more advanced centrifuges operating than ever, Iran is apparently now capable of amassing enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear warhead in less than a month.

At the same time, the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s atomic activities has reached a historic low. Following his snap visit to Teheran on March 4, IAEA head Rafael Grossi received an Iranian promise to promptly provide answers to inquiries regarding several alleged illegal nuclear activities currently being investigated by the agency. 

 

BRITISH HOSTAGES RELEASED FROM IRAN

On March 16, two British nationals departed Iran for London following their release from prison. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed in 2016 for five years, allegedly for seeking to overthrow the Iranian government, while Anousheh Ashouri had been sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in 2019 on charges including spying for Israel. Both denied the charges, and evidence against them was never produced publicly. Their arrests and release seem consistent with a pattern whereby the Iranian regime holds foreigners on bogus charges to gain concessions from their governments.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that “in parallel” with the release, the UK had repaid £400 million (AUD$711 million) for an arms sale that was cancelled following the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

 

ISRAELI PRESIDENT VISITS TURKEY

Israeli President Isaac Herzog made a landmark visit to Turkey to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 9, the first visit by an Israeli leader in 14 years, and the culmination of a recent Turkish push to normalise relations with Israel. Turkey has recently been working at improving relations with various countries across the region due to shifting geopolitical winds and Turkey’s growing economic problems. 

Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett participated in a surprise summit meeting in Egypt on March 21 with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

 

SAUDI CROWN PRINCE CALLS ISRAEL “POTENTIAL ALLY”

In an interview in early March with the Atlantic, Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for the first time referred to Israel as a “potential ally”, stating the Saudis “hope that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is solved” and mentioning future ventures with Israel and “many interests that we can pursue together.” 

One possible foundation for such pursuits is a new high-speed data cable currently being constructed under the Red Sea from Israel to Saudi Arabia by Google and Telecom Italia. It is due to be finished in 2024. 

 

ISRAELI ASSISTANCE TO UKRAINE 

Israel has taken an active role in assisting Ukrainian citizens since the beginning of the Russian invasion, including shipping Ukraine many tonnes of aid, much of it medical equipment and supplies. 

Israeli also opened a 66-bed field hospital in the western Ukrainian city of Mostyska on March 22. Staffed by more than 60 Israeli personnel, it will be able to service 150 patients at a time and includes an ER, men’s, women’s and children’s wards, obstetrics facilities, imaging and telehealth technologies, mental health services, a lab, a pharmacy and an outpatient clinic.

Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats in neighbouring countries have facilitated the evacuation of Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian citizens, as well as Israelis, from Ukraine, arranged airlifts of seriously ill Ukrainian children to Israel for life-saving treatments, and provided six giant electrical generators for Lviv’s main hospital. 

 

COVID REPORT

Like a rollercoaster, Israel saw off January’s massive Omicron wave with daily cases dropping to just over 7,000. However, by March 19, a new wave had developed and 13,803 new cases were reported on March 20. Sadly, 430 COVID deaths occurred between Feb. 21 and March 21.

The Palestinian territories saw a similar slackening of cases, but so far appear to have avoided following Israel into a new wave. 10,184 cases in total were observed in the West Bank between Feb. 21 and March 21, with 188 COVID-related deaths over the same period. Gaza recorded 6,894 cases.

 


Stranger Than Fiction

 

Disastrous Perspectives

It is often the case that “unique” perspectives regarding world events emerge from the Middle East, and that is certainly true regarding the Ukraine war.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) published a statement bemoaning Israel’s plan to absorb refugees from the war. The statement claimed that this would entail “1,000 housing units in settlements,” even though Israel’s published plans would place none of the arriving Ukrainian immigrants in the West Bank. The PA seems to regard all Israeli towns as “settlements”. 

The statement’s headline reads “Disaster for one is a greater disaster for another” (Translation by Palestinian Media Watch) – implying that the “disaster” for the Palestinians of Ukrainian refugees having 1,000 houses in Israel is “greater” than the disaster befalling Ukraine! 

Then there was a song performed at a Palestinian wedding by singer Mohammed Arani with lyrics such as “Harden your heart, oh Putin. Increase your attacks. Banish them to Palestine and we will marry Ukrainian women.” (Translation by Middle East Media Research Institute) Arani went on, “Also, we say to China: Why don’t you invade Taiwan? This way we will smash the nose of the Americans, who make the [Israeli] airplanes.”

For pure opportunism though, it’s hard to beat Kaveh Afrasiabi, who is on trial in the US charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Iran. Afrasiabi emailed the presiding judge on Feb. 28 requesting that his case be delayed for three months to allow him to travel to Ukraine to fight against the Russian aggression. He said he felt compelled to do this as a “life-long peace activist”, and added that it would set a good example for other Muslims. He also assured the judge that he wouldn’t then return to Iran.

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