Behind the News – December 2018

Israeli civilian bus destroyed by a Hamas anti-tank missile

Terror and rocket report

On Nov. 11, seven armed Hamas terrorists, including brigade commander Nour Baraka, were killed in a confrontation with undercover IDF special forces during an operation in the southern Gaza Strip. An Israeli officer was killed in the skirmish.

Subsequently, over Nov. 13-14, Hamas and other terror groups fired at least 460 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile systems shot down about 100 of them. The attacks damaged at least 20 homes, and left more than 70 Israelis wounded, and killed one, Palestinian worker Mahmoud Abu Asba. Hamas also used a Kornet anti-tank missile to target a bus that had just unloaded 50 soldiers at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, critically injuring one. In response, the Israeli Air Force attacked more than 160 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) targets within the strip. Seven Palestinians were killed. 

Earlier, on Oct. 26, the PIJ had launched about 40 rockets and mortar shells towards Israel.

Weekly “March of Return”-themed Friday Palestinian riots near the Gaza border with Israel continued throughout the period. 

Gaza gets Qatari aid

In early November, Qatari-supplied cash and fuel were brought into Gaza Strip – with the assistance of Israel – in order to stave off a humanitarian crisis in the troubled zone.

The cash was supposed to be used to pay for public servants’ salaries after the Palestinian Authority withheld funds from the Hamas-ruled enclave. A Hamas spokesperson said the money, which was supplied in cash and totalled US$15 million, also helped pay for medical care for those injured in recent border clashes with Israel. An Egyptian-negotiated deal will see Qatar provide a total of US$90 million to Gaza over several months.

Meanwhile, Qatar-supplied fuel has reportedly allowed most Gazans to receive eight hours of electricity per day, up from the four they were previously getting.

Despite these interventions, Qatar’s envoy to the Palestinians Mohammed Al-Emadi was pelted with stones as he observed one of the Friday demonstrations on the Gaza border with Israel. Gazan media blamed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for the attack.

Shin Bet: Hundreds of terror attacks foiled

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argamon: West Bank calm “deceptive”

The Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency) announced that it had thwarted 480 Palestinian terror attacks and prevented 590 potential lone-wolf attacks and arrested 219 Hamas cells in the West Bank over the past year.

In testimony to a Knesset Committee on Nov. 6, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argamon described the relative calm in the West Bank as “deceptive”, and said that Hamas leaders in Gaza and Turkey had actually been planning many attacks originating in the West Bank.

New US sanctions on Iran implemented

The US Government put in place a new round of economic sanctions against Iran on Nov. 5, following on from an earlier round of sanctions imposed in August.

The sanctions encompass Iran’s energy, banking, shipping and aviation industries, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that more than 100 multinational companies had already withdrawn from Iran as a result of US sanctions.

While waivers were provided to some of the largest recipients of Iranian oil, including China, India, Japan and Turkey, Pompeo explained that each of the waiver recipients had already reduced their purchase of Iranian crude over the past six months. He added he expected these countries to eventually reduce their consumption of Iranian oil to zero.

Iran behind major CIA breach

From around 2009 to 2013, Iranian cyberattacks compromised the US intelligence community’s internet-based communications system, used for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide, according to news reports.

As a result of the breach, both Iran and China reportedly unmasked many CIA informants leading to the deaths of about two dozen of them. By 2011, Iranian authorities had dismantled a CIA spy network in Iran, executing some of the CIA informants and imprisoning others. The report said it was unclear whether China and Iran cooperated in the attacks, but the former officials said the communications systems used in both countries were similar.

Also, Perth-based shipbuilder Austal revealed in early November that an “unknown offender” had hacked into its computer systems, accessing staff email addresses and phone numbers, as well as ship drawings and designs. Some of the information was then offered for sale on the dark web. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has determined the attack was most likely carried out by Iranian hackers. 

Iranian Assassination Plot in Denmark

On Oct. 30, the Danish intelligence agency PET announced it had foiled an Iranian assassination plot on its soil against the leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), a separatist group in Iran. This follows the assassination of another leader of the ASMLA in the Netherlands in November 2017 and a foiled Iranian terrorist attack targeting a Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) rally in France in June. Israel’s Mossad agency reportedly helped PET find the suspect, who was extradited from Sweden on Oct. 21.

Denmark recalled its ambassador from Iran and reportedly discussed additional sanctions on Iran with other European nations on Nov. 19. 

Alleged Hezbollah terror plot in Argentina

In mid-November, Argentinian police arrested suspected operatives of the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah who reportedly admitted they were planning to attack Jewish targets in the country.

Authorities, acting on intelligence provided by the Israeli Mossad, arrested two brothers and a cousin in Buenos Aires, and confiscated a number of guns, as well as explosive material.

In 1994, a Hezbollah truck bomb destroyed the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people.

Israel-Gulf States ties expand

On October 26, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and several senior officials publicly visited Oman to meet with its ruler, Sultan Qaboos. It was the first such delegation since 1996. Shortly after the visit, Oman’s Foreign Minister called for Arabs states to recognise Israel. 

A couple of weeks later, Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz attended a transportation conference in Oman and presented his plan for a regional railway which would connect Israel to the Persian Gulf at Muscat, passing through Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

On Oct. 28, Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev made the first ever public visit by an Israeli minister to the United Arab Emirates to watch the Israeli Judoka team compete in a tournament. Unlike in past sporting events in the UAE, the Israeli team was allowed to compete under its own flag, and when Israeli Sagi Muki received a gold medal, Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah was played. 

Former German concentration camp guard charged

A former SS enlisted man Johann Rehbogen, 94, went on trial in Germany on Nov. 6, accused of hundreds of counts of accessory to murder for the years he served as a guard at the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp. 

While Rehbogen is not linked to a specific crime, more than 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof and prosecutors argue that as a guard, he was an accessory to at least hundreds of those deaths.