Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – April 2024

Mar 26, 2024 | AIJAC staff

New Palestinian PM Dr Mohammad Mustafa (Image: Wikipedia)
New Palestinian PM Dr Mohammad Mustafa (Image: Wikipedia)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

More than 15,000 projectiles of various types have been fired at Israel since October 7, at least 9,000 of these from Gaza. The IDF had suffered 251 fatalities in Gaza as of March 19. 134 hostages are still held there, at least 34 of whom have been confirmed dead. 

Several senior Hamas officials were killed this month. Hamas’ number three, the deputy commander of its military, Marwan Issa, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on March 11. On March 6, Israel eliminated Hamas rocket commander Omar Atiya Daruish Aladdiny. Hadi Ali Mustafa, reportedly in charge of planning international attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets, was killed in Lebanon on March 12. Muhammad Abu Hasna, a Hamas official allegedly responsible for stealing humanitarian aid and distributing it, was killed in a strike next to a UNRWA distribution centre in Rafah on March 13. 

Israeli forces again took control of Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, in an operation beginning on March 18, acting on intelligence Hamas had re-established a command and control centre there. Over three days, the IDF arrested around 300 terror suspects and killed 140 gunmen, including Faiq Mabhouh, head of operations in Hamas’ internal security force.

An Israeli soldier was fatally stabbed on March 14 at the Beit Kama Junction in Israel by an Israeli Arab citizen, and there have been numerous terror attacks and attempted attacks in the West Bank.

 

HAMAS THREATENS GAZANS WHO ASSIST AID DISTRIBUTION

A Hamas-linked website warned on March 11 that any Palestinians in Gaza who cooperate with Israel in the distribution of humanitarian aid would be regarded as collaborators, which means they would be liable to be put to death. Hamas executed the head of the Doghmush clan of northern Gaza on March 14, alleging he was collaborating with Israel and seizing aid. Israel has been seeking to work directly with Palestinians in Gaza to distribute aid, potentially as a prelude to them taking on a leadership role in the enclave post-war. Hamas is reported to have been stealing around 60% of the aid that enters Gaza.

On Feb. 29, around 100 Palestinians in a huge mob that swarmed a convoy of aid trucks Israel had organised with Palestinian businessmen to bring aid to northern Gaza were killed – either trampled in the stampede, run over as the truck drivers escaped, or shot by Palestinian gunmen. Contrary to reports, no Israeli forces fired on the crowd, but soldiers did fire on a group that advanced towards them after the trucks left.

 

NEW PA PM

On March 14, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appointed his ally, former Finance Minister Dr Mohammad Mustafa, 69, as the new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The previous PM, Mohammad Shtayyeh, and his government resigned in late February.

This occurred amid American pressure to reform the Fatah-controlled PA in the leadup to possibly retaking power over Gaza, which was governed by the PA until a 2007 Hamas coup. Mustafa will be tasked with forming a new administration made of professional technocrats. 

However, analysts almost universally agreed that Mustafa’s appointment offered very little hope of progress in ridding the PA of its intrinsic problems, such as corruption and involvement in terror, given his lack of independence or political power.

 

LEBANESE BORDER VIOLENCE UPDATE

At the end of February, Hezbollah rejected a French ceasefire proposal in the violence between Israel and Hezbollah that would have seen Hezbollah withdraw to ten km from the border. 

As of mid-March, Hezbollah claimed to have carried out 1,200 strikes against Israel since October 7. 

A Hezbollah anti-tank missile killed an Indian national and injured nine other foreign nationals on March 5. 

Since October 7, the IDF has targeted more than 3,400 Hezbollah sites including 120 observation posts, 40 weapons depots, and 40 command centres, and killed some 300 operatives, mostly members of Hezbollah, including five senior commanders. 

 

HOUTHI ATTACKS CONTINUE UNABATED

Houthi attacks against international shipping and US and European naval forces have continued unabated since November on a near-daily basis, with  US and European forces regularly destroying Houthi missiles and loitering munitions, as well as maritime and underwater drones. On March 9 alone, US, British and French forces shot down at least 28 Houthi drones. 

The last round of joint US-UK strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen was launched on Feb. 24, striking underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, drones, air defence systems, radars and a helicopter.

On March 2, the British-owned cargo ship the Rubymar, struck by the Houthis on Feb. 18, sank, causing a potential ecological catastrophe. The Swiss-owned cargo ship MSC SKY II was struck on March 4. On March 6, the Houthis struck a Greek bulk carrier, killing three crew members. 

 

NEW ANTI-ISRAEL TERROR GROUPS IN EUROPE

According to a March 12 report, European authorities have foiled several terror plots since October 7, some involving suspects posing as refugees. Police in Austria and Bosnia arrested two separate groups of Afghan and Syrian refugees carrying arms, including Kalashnikov assault rifles and pistols. Pictures of Jewish and Israeli targets were found on suspects’ mobile phones. Additionally, Italian authorities detained three Palestinians suspected of being members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a designated terror group. 

 

UN REPORT ACKNOWLEDGES HAMAS’ SEXUAL VIOLENCE

On March 4, the United Nations released a report acknowledging there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that some victims of Hamas’ October 7 attacks were subject to “rape and gang rape”, often followed by their murder. The report highlighted a pattern of victims, primarily women, found naked, bound and shot, across multiple locations. Additionally, women and children taken back to Gaza as hostages by Hamas faced rape, sexualised torture, and cruel treatment, the report said. 

 

IRAN ELECTION SEES RECORD LOW TURNOUT

Iran’s March 1 parliamentary election saw a historically low turnout of 41%, the lowest since the 1979 revolution. Out of the country’s 61 million voters, only 25 million voted for its parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the influential body responsible for overseeing and appointing the successor to ageing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reformists and critics were barred from participating in the elections, including previously mainstream regime figures such as former president Hassan Rouhani and former Intelligence Ministry head Mahmoud Alavi. 

Meanwhile, new reports from human rights groups say Iran executed a total of at least 834 people in 2023, the highest number since 2015. NGOs say that, in the wake of the mass uprisings following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, Iranian authorities have been using the death penalty to spread fear and prevent further protests. 

 

IRAN’S FISSILE MATERIAL STOCKS CONTINUE TO INCREASE

The March 2024 periodic reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran again noted an increase in the Iranian stockpile of fissile material to 5,525 kilograms of enriched uranium, a tonne more than in November last year. An insignificant decrease in the amount of 60% enriched uranium was also noted, to around 121.5 kilograms. Experts say Teheran can now produce enough military-grade uranium for more than a dozen atomic warheads within a few weeks.

 


Stranger than Fiction

LOVE AND BALLOONS KNOW NO BORDERS

One unexpected effect of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah is that users of dating apps in Israel and Lebanon are increasingly seeing profiles of people from each other’s countries. The apparent cause is the IDF blocking some global positioning system (GPS) signals to disrupt Hezbollah attacks. It is reported that more than 60% of profiles on the dating app Tinder in Lebanon in February were from Israel. Some in Lebanon reportedly believed it was a Mossad trick to discover information about Lebanese residents.

In its March 5 report on the issue, the National, a UAE newspaper, spoke to some of those affected. One Israeli jokingly said he hoped to be called up to serve if the IDF entered Lebanon, so he could have the opportunity to meet some of the matches.

A comment from Lebanese user Omar was revealing in terms of how Lebanese people are incited to hatred of Israel. He said, of the Israelis showing up on his app, “I keep seeing them and they’re absolutely gorgeous, but I can’t do anything because we’re divided by an apartheid wall and a genocidal army that doesn’t take too well to Arabs.” 

What he calls an “apartheid wall”, most would call a secure border, and he clearly doesn’t realise that Israel has an Arab population of around two million, some of whom serve in that army. 

But if dating apps caused bemusement in Lebanon, an Israeli balloon caused far more consternation after it landed in the town of Habbouch, a few kilometres from the Israeli border.

Local authorities were concerned because they were unable to translate the Hebrew writing on the suspicious heart-shaped object. However, these fears were assuaged when it was ultimately revealed the inscription read “Happy Birthday.”

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