Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – August 2023

Aug 1, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Armaments seized in Jenin (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Armaments seized in Jenin (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

Five rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on July 5, all of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. Israel struck Hamas targets in response. For the first time in a decade, rockets were also launched from the West Bank, though the IDF said they were primitive and posed no threat. 

Multiple attempted and successful stabbings, shooting and car-ramming attacks targeting both Israeli security forces and civilians occurred on both sides of the Green Line, leading to the death of an IDF soldier and injuries to civilians and security personnel.

Escalating IDF West Bank counterterrorism raids culminated in “Operation House and Garden”, a large-scale raid into Jenin on July 3 and 4 that resulted in the deaths of 12 Palestinian combatants and the destruction of terrorist infrastructure. One Israeli soldier was killed. 

In Israel’s north, the IDF thwarted at least two attempts to damage the security fence on the Lebanese border. It was also revealed Hezbollah fighters have occupied a small outpost in Israeli territory on Mount Dov since April. 

 

PA MOVES INTO JENIN FOLLOWING ISRAELI OPERATION

On July 12, Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas visited the Jenin refugee camp, laying a wreath for “martyrs” killed during the aforementioned IDF operation targeting terrorists and their infrastructure. The PA President denounced the operation, but subsequently deployed his own forces into the area to regain control from the armed gangs. Analysts say Abbas fears the influence of Iran-backed groups in the area and aims to avoid a Gaza-like situation being created. However, on July 19, unnamed Palestinian officials stated that the PA did not plan to crack down on armed groups in Jenin, and, while it wouldn’t tolerate anarchy and lawlessness, also did not plan to enter the Jenin refugee camp, the main source of recent terrorism from Jenin.

 

IRAN BUILDING WEST BANK PRESENCE

On June 26, following meetings with the leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas in mid-June, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted that “the continually growing authority of resistance groups in the West Bank is the key to bringing the Zionist enemy to its knees.” A Palestinian security source stated that PIJ had established several armed cells in the West Bank in the previous 18 months and has become a dominant force in the northern West Bank largely due to financial aid from Iran.

Meanwhile, on June 27, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced that Israeli defence authorities had recently seized millions of dollars of cryptocurrency from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, in charge of supporting Iran’s terror proxies, and from Hezbollah. 

 

PA REJECTS ISRAELI LIFELINE DEAL

On July 10, the PA rejected an offer by the Israeli cabinet to help prevent its collapse in exchange for stopping key anti-Israel policies. Israel offered to provide economic, tourist, and security measures to stabilise the PA if the latter agreed to halt activities against Israel in international forums, and end illegal construction in the West Bank, incitement against Israelis and payments to Palestinian terrorists or their families. The PA, despite its escalating financial troubles, refused the bailout offer and pledged to continue its anti-Israel efforts and the terrorist payments, even if it had little funds left. 

Experts said that the PA’s precarious position is partly due to corruption, mismanagement of funds, American funding cutbacks and loss of support from Gulf Arab states. 

 

ISRAELI-RUSSIAN KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ

It was recently revealed that Israeli academic Elizabeth Tsurkov, who also holds a Russian passport, had been kidnapped in Baghdad in March by Shi’ite militia Kataib Hezbollah – a terrorist group connected to Iran’s IRGC. Tsurkov was in Iraq doing fieldwork for her doctorate at Princeton University. 

Arab media has claimed Tsurkov’s kidnapping was masterminded by Teheran to provide a hostage to exchange for the release of an Iranian in Israeli custody. 

 

US INCREASES MIDDLE EAST MILITARY PRESENCE

The US Navy on July 7 repelled an attempt by Iranian boats to seize control of two oil tankers in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian vessels backed away when an American missile ship was sent to the area.

In mid-July, in light of increasing aggressive Iranian (and Russian) activity in the region, the US deployed additional F-35 and F-16 fighter aircraft and a navy destroyer to the area. These forces are joining other military assets the US already has in the Gulf region to help halt Teheran’s ongoing piracy against oil tankers. 

 

IRANIAN HEADSCARF POLICE RESUME PATROLS

Iranian state media reported on July 16 that the regime’s morality police were resuming controversial street patrols to enforce the compulsory dress code for women, including requiring them to cover their hair. The patrols had been discontinued after mass protests erupted ten months ago following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman detained for allegedly wearing an “improper” hijab. 

This new crackdown on headscarves comes amidst the Iranian regime executing 354 people in the first six months of 2023, the largest rate of execution in eight years. 

 

HERZOG VISITS WASHINGTON, NETANYAHU INVITED

Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the United States to meet with American President Joe Biden at the White House on July 18 and to address a joint session of the US Congress in Washington DC on July 19 to mark 75 years of Israeli independence.

The day before President Herzog’s arrival, a long-awaited invitation to hold a meeting in the US was extended by President Biden to Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Although no date has yet been set for his visit, the phone call between Biden and Netanyahu, described as “warm and long”, helped ease tensions between the two leaders.

 

ISRAEL RECOGNISES MOROCCAN WESTERN SAHARA SOVEREIGNTY 

On July 17, Israel announced it would recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, making it and the US the only countries recognising Morocco’s 1975 annexation of the disputed North African territory.

The US Trump Administration recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in 2020 in exchange for Morocco normalising relations with Israel. 

On July 19, Moroccan King Mohammed VI invited Israeli PM Netanyahu to visit his country. 

 

ISRAEL HELPED UAE THWART CYBERATTACKS

UAE cyber chief Muhammad al-Kuwaiti announced on June 27, during the Tel Aviv Cyber Week Conference, that Israel had recently helped stop a DDoS (distributed denial of service) cyberattack against his country. Israel also recently announced a joint platform with the UAE to combat ransomware hackers.

 

UK PASSES ANTI-BDS BILL 

The UK Parliament passed a bill on July 3 banning public bodies, such as local councils, from boycotting countries not under national sanctions, including Israel. Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, argued that the bill ensures UK foreign policy remains a government matter and safeguards minority communities, especially Jewish ones, from divisive campaigns and antisemitism. 

 


Stranger than Fiction

ARRESTED IRONY

Some react to criticism by trying to prove their critics wrong. Others respond with fact-free rage, denial and bravado. It seems pretty clear that the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces fall into the latter camp, even when their own actions end up proving their critics to be 100% correct. 

Responding to claims by a spokesman for the PA security services that there are no political arrests in the West Bank, local radio station reporter Akil Awawdeh wrote on his Facebook page on July 13: “For God’s sake. You should respect our minds more than that.” The PA security services responded to his expression of disbelief toward their claim they don’t carry out political arrests by arresting him that very same day – showing they can be nearly as efficient as they are hypocritical.

The PA has been regularly criticised by human rights groups for trying to stifle dissent by arresting people for criticising it on social media. 

The Ramallah-based human rights group Lawyers for Justice says it has addressed more than 300 political arrests by the PA this year alone, with more than 80 between the start of May and mid-July. The group says that, at the time of Awawdeh’s arrest, there were 52 such political prisoners in PA jails.

Awawdeh was released four days after his arrest, possibly due to uproar about it. However, it wasn’t his first brush with what passes for the law in the PA-controlled areas. Two years ago, he and several other journalists were severely beaten inside a police station for the heinous crime of covering a protest – a protest called to denounce the beating to death of Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat by PA security officers. Apparently, self-awareness and appreciation of irony are not prerequisites for employment with the PA security services. 

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