Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – August 2021

Jul 29, 2021 | AIJAC staff

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Rocket and Terror Report

Two rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel on July 20. One was intercepted by Israeli defences, the other landing in open space. The IDF responded with artillery fire at targets in Lebanon.

No rockets have been fired from Gaza since a ceasefire was announced between Israel and Hamas on May 22, but Palestinian terrorist groups launched incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel during the first week of July, prompting Israeli retaliatory strikes against Hamas military targets. 

Stone throwing, Molotov cocktail and knife attacks, along with rioting, continued throughout the West Bank, including one incident that resulted in the death of a Palestinian after he threw an IED at a soldier. 

On July 9, Israeli security forces foiled a weapon smuggling attempt from Lebanon attributed to Hezbollah. It included 43 handguns, magazines, and silencers.

 

West Bank Unrest after killing of dissident 

Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the streets for weeks to protest against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its President Mahmoud Abbas in unrest sparked by the June 24 beating death of PA critic Nizar Banat while in PA custody. Banat was a candidate in the parliamentary elections Abbas called off in April. 

The protests were met with brutality from PA security forces, some in plain clothes. Multiple witnesses said the Palestinian police used pepper spray and beat protesters with batons, and targeted women and journalists. 

Earlier in June, PA security forces reportedly arrested 49 Palestinians, and interrogated dozens more, in a crackdown on those suspected of affiliation with ousted former Fatah heavyweight Mohammad Dahlan. 

 

New “pay for slay” system

On July 6, the PA held a ceremony to announce a new system for making regular payments to terrorists imprisoned by Israel, and to the families of terrorists who died in the act, known as “pay for slay”. PA Telecommunications Minister Ishaq Sider explained the payments could now be collected at ATMs at postal bank branches using a special card. Previously, the PA had disbursed the payments through banks, but these have refused to continue participating after Israel threatened sanctions. The PA then used post offices, but recipients had complained about long wait times and other problems. 

On July 11, Israel’s new security cabinet authorised the deduction of NIS 597 million (A$244 million) from the regular payments Israel makes to the PA of tariffs collected on its behalf. This sum corresponds with the amount of “pay for slay” payments made by the PA in 2020.  

 

Power and water shortages lead to unrest in Iran

Amidst a heat wave and drought, Iranians are suffering as the regime is unable to provide basic services such as power and water (see box below), sparking widespread unrest.

Rising food prices and extreme water shortages led workers across several industries to strike following pay cuts, as protests against the regime were held across Iran in early July. 

Particularly significant were the extensive anti-regime protests launched by Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority in the country’s western Khuzestan Province, starting on July 7. Several protestors were reportedly killed by live fire from regime forces.

 

Cyber-attack on Iran’s railway system 

On July 9, Iran’s railway network suffered a major disruption, with train cancellations and delays, following a cyber-attack. The hackers posted a message on the electronic boards at some train stations urging Iranians to call a phone number for explanations – that number was for the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

Earlier, on July 3, a commercial ship Tyndall, previously owned by an Israeli company, was attacked in the Indian Ocean. Sources blame Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for the assault. 

Meanwhile, satellite imagery published in July suggests major damage after an alleged drone attack on Iran’s Karaj facility on June 23. Equipment in the factory – which manufactures centrifuge parts for Iran’s nuclear program – was destroyed beyond repair, according to analysts. 

 

Hezbollah storing weapons next to school: IDF

The IDF alleged on July 14 that Hezbollah is storing rockets, military-grade explosives and other weapons in a residential building in the southern Lebanese village of Ebba only 25 metres from a school with 300 students. It said an explosion at that warehouse would be half the size of the Beirut port explosion last year that killed at least 211 people. 

A 2020 report by the ALMA Research and Education Centre identified at least 28 missile launching and storage sites belonging to Hezbollah in civilian areas of the Lebanese capital of Beirut, including next to high schools, clinics, hospitals, golf clubs, soccer fields and fast-food chains. 

 

UAE embassies open

On July 14, almost a year after Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced they were normalising ties, the UAE officially opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Declaring it a great honour, Ambassador Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah added: “This is just the beginning. Both countries are innovative nations and we will harness these new approaches for the prosperity of the countries.”

Earlier, on June 29, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid opened the Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, and signed an economic and trade agreement with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. 

 

Honduras opens embassy in Jerusalem

On June 24, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett inaugurated Honduras’ embassy in Jerusalem. Honduras is the fourth country, after the United States, Guatemala, and Kosovo, to open its embassy in Israel’s capital, while Hungary and the Czech Republic have opened diplomatic offices. 

 

Israel-South Korea vaccine swap deal

Under an agreement signed on July 6, Israel sent South Korea 700,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine due to expire at the end of July or August, and will receive the same number from supplies earmarked for South Korea later this year.

Several weeks earlier the PA had signed, but then backed out of, a similar arrangement that would have seen it receive approximately one million doses. The PA claimed the doses were too close to expiry, but the same batches were used to vaccinate Israeli teenagers or sent to Korea.

 

Israeli and Palestinian COVID numbers

A surge in Delta variant COVID cases in Israel saw spikes of over 1,000 new cases per day on several days in mid-July, and a rise to more than 8,800 active cases as of July 20. However, numbers of serious cases requiring hospitalisation remained low. 

As of July 20, Israel had seen 13,399 more cases and 23 deaths since June 23, while 71.34% of Israelis were fully vaccinated and 78.15% had received at least one dose. 

In the Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank, as of July 20, there had been 9,984 new cases and 39 deaths since June 21, while 10.54% of people had been fully vaccinated and 14.9% had received at least one dose. Gaza saw 2,584 new cases over the same period.

On July 12, Israel’s Health Ministry announced healthcare providers could begin giving third vaccine doses to adults with impaired immune systems, making Israel the first country to do so.

 


Stranger Than Fiction

 

The not so final countdown 

As a symbol of the Iranian regime’s commitment to the destruction of Israel, there is a clock in Teheran’s Palestine Square that counts down the days till that event will supposedly happen in 2040. The timing is based on a prediction made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in September 2015 that Israel would “cease to exist in the next 25 years.”

However, something has happened that Khamenei didn’t predict. Little more than four years after it started its countdown at 8,411 days on “Quds Day” on June 23 2017, the clock has stopped working due to the power cuts sweeping Iran. 

Amidst an intensive heat wave and drought sweeping the Middle East, multiple power outages have been occurring on a regular basis. Among the reasons are poor infrastructure and ageing equipment, mismanagement and corruption and exceptionally high demand for power due to cryptocurrency mining. The cryptocurrency mining has been outlawed because of the power it consumes, but continues illegally.

The drought has led to a drop in the generation of hydroelectricity, and international sanctions have prevented investment in Iran’s electricity grid, contributing to the lack of infrastructure renewal, while the heatwave has spiked power demands for cooling. 

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, helpfully tweeted, “Perhaps instead of developing nuclear weapons [Iran] should concentrate on developing renewable energies.”

Outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has apologised for the rolling blackouts, which have affected all aspects of Iranian life, including telecommunications, water pumps and traffic lights.

They have also been one of the motivations for widespread protests against the regime. 

There is no word on whether the stoppage means Israel has been granted an extension, but perhaps it’s not Israel’s survival Iran’s rulers should be concerning themselves with. 

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