Behind the News – August 2018

More than 1,000 fires have been started by incendiary devices launched from Gaza

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

The conflict between Israel and Hamas fighters in Gaza continued to escalate in July, with the most intense exchanges of fire since the 2014 Gaza war. 

In mid-July, following Israeli air raids in response to the wounding of an Israeli soldier in a grenade attack and ongoing arson attacks, Palestinian groups fired around 200 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza into Israel, with around 30 intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system. 

Three Israelis were wounded when a projectile hit a home in Sderot, and the courtyard of a synagogue was also hit. Israel responded with further air raids.

On July 20, a Palestinian sniper shot dead an IDF soldier, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, 20, along the security fence surrounding Gaza. 

In response, the Israeli Air Force carried out a further series of aerial attacks on Hamas military targets. 

Following the escalation, a ceasefire was reached on July 21, however, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad indicated that the ceasefire does not include arson terrorism, which continued.

On July 25, Israeli soldiers dispersing youths attacking the Gaza fence came under sniper fire, leaving an officer moderately wounded. Israeli forces attacked Hamas military positions in response, killing four members of Hamas’ military wing.

PALESTINIAN ARSON ATTACKS CONTINUE 

Over the last three months, the total number of fires in Israel caused by incendiary devices tied to balloons, kites, condoms and even inflatable pool toys launched from Gaza totalled more than 1,000. With an average of 10-20 fires per day, as of July 17, the fires had destroyed more than 10,000 acres of forest and agricultural land, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage.

On July 16, a deceased falcon was found with a flaming cloth attached to its leg near Habesor Stream in southern Israel.

TENSION HEATS UP ISRAEL-SYRIA BORDER

Despite assurances from Russia that Iranian forces and their proxies in Syria would be kept away from the border with Israel, reports have emerged that fighters from Iran and Iranian-supported militia, including Hezbollah, are embedded among the Syrian forces battling to regain control of southwest Syria from rebel groups. The Iranians are reportedly camouflaged as Syrian forces and are integrated with their Syrian comrades mere kilometres from Israel’s border.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has requested Russia help to evict Iranian military forces from Syria, but on July 18, Russia’s Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan said that while Russia was keen to see Israel and Iran avoid a military confrontation, “Iran is not a country that you can put pressure on. This is a big state, pursuing an independent foreign policy.”

On July 8, the official Syrian news agency SANA said Syria’s missile defence system had thwarted an Israeli attack on the T4 base near Homs, which is known to be housing Iranian forces. Alleged Israeli attacks in Syria were also reported on July 11, July 13 and July 15.

On July 11 and 13, drones infiltrating Israeli air space from Syria were shot down.

On July 24, a Syrian Air Force Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli air space. After attempts to warn off the pilot failed, Israeli forces shot down the plane with patriot missiles.

PA TIGHTENS BELT RATHER THAN END “PAY FOR SLAY”

Both Israel and Australia have cut funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over a refusal by the PA leadership to stop making monthly payments to terrorists and their families.

After failing to receive assurances that no Australian money was being used to “pay for slay”, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced on July 2 that the A$10 million in Australian aid earmarked for the PA would be reallocated to the United Nations to spend for humanitarian purposes in the Palestinian Territories.

That same day, the Knesset voted to freeze around US$44 million in payments Israel provides after collecting taxes on the Palestinians’ behalf. This is the amount spent by the PA on its martyrs’ fund.

Earlier this year the US passed the Taylor Force Act, which restricts US funding to the PA until “pay for slay” is abolished. 

Palestinian leaders, however, insist they will continue to make payments from the so-called martyrs’ fund, with veteran Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi claiming the Palestinians had a legal obligation to continue to fund “pay for slay.”

HOW IRAN’S NUCLEAR TROVE WAS CAPTURED

The New York Times (July 15) published new revelations regarding Israel’s capture from a Teheran warehouse of top-secret and highly sensitive Iranian Government files outlining the extent of Iran’s nuclear program and ambitions.

Having barely six and a half hours to achieve the task, the undertaking involved cutting through dozens of safes, disabling alarms and getting out of the country with a half-ton of the material, including 50,000 pages of documents, discs, videos and memos, outlining Iran’s continuous work to develop and source the material necessary for a nuclear weapon.

Newly published revelations from the Iranian archive also appear to show that Iran was closer to a nuclear bomb design than previously thought. These include evidence of a giant metal chamber at the Parchin military base believed to be intended for conducting high-explosive neutron experiments, which are tied to implosion-type nuclear warheads. The documents also had repeated references to uranium deuteride, a substance used to produce neutron initiator mechanisms for some nuclear bomb designs and not used for any other purpose.

IRANIAN TERRORISM IN EUROPE AND SOUTH AMERICA

In early July, an Iranian attempt to bomb the Iranian opposition group Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MeK) rally near Paris was thwarted thanks to intelligence provided by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to France, Germany and Belgium. Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, Austria, reportedly contracted a Belgian-Iranian couple to carry out the attack, but was detained and charged by German authorities after Belgian police caught the couple carrying a large amount of explosives in their vehicle. 

Also in July, Argentine Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral requested Russia arrest Ali Akbar Velayati, who currently is serving as a senior foreign affairs adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei. A warrant for Velayati and seven other Iranian officials over the massive bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 has been in place since 2006. 

ISRAEL SHOOTS FOR THE MOON

Israeli media has reported an unmanned Israeli probe, built by the companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, is scheduled to blast off this year and touch down on the moon on 13 February, 2019. It is expected that in addition to conducting experiments, it will unfurl the Israeli flag on the moon.

If the landing is successful, Israel will become the fourth nation which has achieved a controlled landing on the moon’s surface.

ISRAELI COMMUNICATIONS CRUCIAL IN CAVE RESCUE

The amazing rescue of 13 Thai youngsters trapped in the Chiang Rai cave system, completed on July 10, was a truly international effort.

Israel’s contribution to the rescue was the Maxtech communications system, which allowed rescue workers in the cave to communicate where other radio systems failed.

A Maxtech employee flew from Israel to Thailand with the equipment in his suitcase after the company was contacted to provide assistance in the rescue effort. 

Following its role in the rescue, Maxtech CEO Uzi Hanuni, who refused any payment, said he would like to set up a team that can travel the world with the product and quickly respond to emergencies.