Behind the News – December 2015
Dec 2, 2015 |
Terror and rocket report
Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency reported on Nov. 16 that October had been the worst month for terrorism in Israel in over nine years. In all, the month saw 602 terrorist attacks committed, with 11 Israelis killed and 80 suffering moderate to serious injuries.
Subsequently, five people were killed, and six wounded in two terror attacks on Nov. 19. An Israeli, a US citizen and a Palestinian were killed in a drive-by shooting in the Etzion district of the West Bank, while two Israelis were stabbed to death in Tel Aviv.
Earlier, Rabbi Yaakov Litman, 40 and his 18-year-old son Netanel were shot and killed in their car on Nov. 13 as they left the settlement of Otniel, near Hebron, together with Rabbi Litman’s wife and four other children, on the way to a family wedding. Islamic Jihad member Shadi Ahmad Matua was subsequently arrested, and found with the murder weapon. A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance allegedly attended the scene but left when its crew realised the victims were Jews. On Nov. 4, a Palestinian terrorist deliberately ran his car into two Israelis near Halhul, close to Hebron. Benyamin Yakobovitch, 19, subsequently died as a result of this attack. On Oct. 27, Richard Lakin, 76, died of wounds received in the Oct. 13 bus attack in Jerusalem, the third victim of that attack to die.
Elsewhere, between Oct. 20 and Nov. 16, Palestinian shooting, stabbing, stoning, Molotov cocktail and vehicular attacks continued on an almost daily basis, injuring scores of Israelis, many seriously.
On Oct. 26, and again on Nov. 8, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in open territory in Israel’s Negev.
Khamenei sets new conditions for enacting Iran deal
The Iran nuclear deal was officially “adopted” on Oct. 18. However, it appears that Iran is already testing the agreement, reinterpreting it and tearing up parts of it.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote a public letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Oct. 21 which stated: “The behavior and words of the US government in the nuclear issue and its prolonged and boring negotiations was also another link in their chain of hostile enmity with the Islamic Republic.” The letter appeared to include a series of new Iranian pre-conditions on implementing Iran’s obligations under the nuclear agreement that many analysts argued amounted to an effort to re-write its provisions.
These conditions included; that the US and EU must completely lift, rather than temporarily suspend, their economic sanctions, putting an end to any possibility that penalties could “snap back” in the event of Iran’s noncompliance, and also that sanctions against Iran for its support of terrorism and human-rights abuses must also be abolished. Khamenei also appeared to change the timetable for Iran to dismantle several thousand centrifuges, ship most of its enriched uranium out of the country and modify its plutonium reactor in Arak – postponing all these Iranian obligations until after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives Iran a pass on all “past and future issues (including the so-called Possible Military Dimensions or PMD of Iran’s nuclear program)” and sanctions are lifted.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials have also reportedly said they have stopped dismantling nuclear centrifuges in two plants, a core component of the nuclear agreement which was to be completed before Dec. 15 – though an IAEA report on Nov. 18 said some dismantling had begun. That report also said that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles, which are to be reduced down to 300 kg by Dec. 15 under the deal, have instead risen over the past three months by 460.2 kg to 8,305.6 kg.
Iran arrests more Americans
US Administration hopes that the Iran nuclear deal would lead to a thaw in relations between the two nations appear not to be reciprocated by the Iranian regime. On Oct. 15, dual American-Iranian citizen Saimak Namazi, a scholar and consultant who has advocated improved relations between the US and Iran, was arrested and imprisoned in Teheran by Iranian intelligence officers. Namazi, head of strategic planning at UAE-based Crescent Petroleum, joins several other American-Iranians in Iran’s custody, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who was convicted of spying following a secret trial in early October. In addition, Iranian media also confirmed that Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American information technology expert who mysteriously disappeared in Teheran during a visit in September, also had been seized as an alleged spy.
US officials have also reported a surge in the hacking efforts by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps directed against Obama Administration officials, as well as US journalists and academics, in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Iranian Minister for Industry, Mines and Trade, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh announced on Oct. 31 that, in line with orders given by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his ministry would implement a complete blockade on all American goods.
In a speech on Nov. 3, Khamanei also re-affirmed that the slogan “Death to America” is “backed by reason and wisdom” and will be forever justified. Reports further say there has also been a major crackdown on dissent within Iran, with numerous arrests of prominent reformist journalists, activists and cultural figures.
New Iranian-backed Gaza group has long range missiles
Israeli reports says Iran is believed to have supplied a new extremist group in Gaza, called Harakat al-Sabireen (“The Movement of the Patient Ones”), with Grad and Fajr missiles, projectiles that can reach Tel Aviv.
Hamas has banned the group, claiming it is spreading Shi’ite ideology. The group uses similar symbols to Hezbollah and reportedly receives salary funding directly from Iran.
Russian forces in Syria grow to 4,000
US officials state that Russia’s military force in Syria has grown to 4,000 soldiers across several bases – operating aircraft, rocket launchers and long-range artillery, and that the Russians have suffered combat casualties, including deaths. Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Western intelligence sources have told it that Russia is now flying Iranian arms into Syria, in breach of UN resolutions embargoing Iranian arms transfers.
Russia has also reportedly targeted Syrian rebels within twenty kilometres of the Israeli border with airstrikes. According to the Washington Institute’s Nadav Pollak, this would worry Israel because it could facilitate Hezbollah and Iranian activity closer to Israel than Israel has previously allowed.
US cuts aid to Palestinians in apparent response to incitement
The US State Department is reducing its annual economic aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) by 19.5%, from US$360 million to US$290 million. While State Department officials said that the decision to cut the aid was made before the latest outbreak of Palestinian violence, the cut was announced at a time of growing criticism from the US Congress regarding Palestinian incitement, including statements made by PA officials, which have fuelled a wave of terror attacks in Israel. On Oct. 22, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution which called on the PA to end incitement against Israel.
Israel makes Arabic compulsory in schools
On Oct. 28, Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset voted unanimously in favour of a Bill to make Arabic classes compulsory for all Israeli students from the age of six. This was the Bill’s first reading and it will now be passed on to a Knesset committee before returning to parliament for a second and third vote.
The Bill was introduced by MK Oren Hazan (Likud).
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.