Behind the News – December 2020
Nov 27, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Rocket and Terror
Two rockets were fired into Israel pre-dawn on Nov. 15, one landing near Tel Aviv. Both fell in open areas and caused no damage or injuries. Israeli forces struck Hamas military targets in Gaza in response. Hamas claimed the rocket fire was accidental, caused by lightning.
On Oct. 21 and 22, three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. The IDF also uncovered a new Hamas attack tunnel into Israeli territory in late October.
On Nov. 17, IDF forces detected and defused explosive devices laid in Israeli territory near the border with Syria. In response, Israeli fighter planes hit a variety of Syrian and Iranian military targets in Syria.
On Nov. 11, the IDF reported shooting down a Hezbollah drone.
Palestinians resume security ties with Israel
On Nov. 17, the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced the immediate renewal of security co-operation with Israel. It had dramatically reduced co-operation with Israel in May in protest against the proposed Israeli extension of sovereignty to parts of the West Bank in accordance with the Trump Administration’s peace plan.
Analysts say the PA’s decision was likely influenced by Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential elections, as well as Israel’s pledge to suspend any plans to extend sovereignty as part of normalisation deals reached with the UAE and Bahrain.
The PA also agreed to accept NIS3 billion (A$1.216 billion) in tax revenue that Israel had collected on behalf of the PA from taxes on imports and exports. The PA had previously refused all such transfers for several months. These tax revenues amount to 70% of the PA budget.
Hamas condemned the PA’s decision, and the success of recent reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, the main faction controlling the PA, is now in question.
According to a US State Department report leaked in late October, notwithstanding current severe cash-restraints on the Palestinian economy, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to prioritise its “pay for slay” scheme which financially rewards convicted terrorists and their families, in spite of new international aid conditions designed to prevent these payments.
To circumvent these new conditions, the PA decided in early November that approximately 7,000 former prisoners would cease receiving direct payments and instead be transferred to “work” in jobs across Palestinian military, security and civilian institutions, receiving government salaries at least equivalent to their previous payments.
Iran threatens to limit IAEA inspections
On Nov. 2, Iran’s Parliament passed a resolution stating that unless Europe restores economic relations with Teheran to satisfactory levels, the Government must increase uranium enrichment levels to 20% from the current 4.5% and install more advanced centrifuges. The resolution also warns that Iran will stop implementing the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which allows for extended International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring.
The latest IAEA report on Iran, dated Nov. 11, states that Iran now has 12 times the stockpile of low-enriched uranium permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal, and has enriched some of it up to 4.5% purity, whereas the deal only allows 3.67%. Iran now has enough fissile material to build two nuclear warheads if further enriched, which could be achieved within six months using Iran’s existing centrifuges. Teheran has also introduced advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at the Natanz facility in breach of the JCPOA, the report said.
Iran’s new underground nuclear sites
Images taken on Oct. 21 show Teheran has started building a new underground plant at the Natanz nuclear site. These seem to confirm an earlier IAEA report that Iran would build an underground facility to assemble advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. The new plant is a breach of Iran’s 2015 JCPOA commitments and is designed to replace a site at Natanz destroyed in a blast in July that some sources have attributed to Israel. Experts estimate that it will take two years or more before the new plant is fully operational.
Iran cyber shenanigans
Waves of unsophisticated but damaging ransomware attacks against Israeli companies between mid-October and mid-November have been traced to Iranian hackers, although not directly to the Iranian regime.
Separately, Facebook removed several Iran-based fake accounts and pages encouraging protests against Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu.
In late October, the US seized more than 100 websites used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies in Iraq. Iran had been actively trying to interfere in the recent US Presidential elections, including sending threatening emails to Democrats pretending to be from the far-right group The Proud Boys.
US to reward Israel for not opposing F-35 sales to UAE
Israel announced on Oct. 23 that it would not oppose the US sale of “certain weapon systems” to the UAE, seemingly referring to the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets. The announcement followed a meeting between Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz and then-US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper at the Pentagon, where they signed a joint declaration confirming the US commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region.
According to the Breaking Defence website, as part of these assurances the US is likely to grant Israel “direct access to highly classified satellites such as the missile detection birds known as SBIRS and ensure Israel gets critical defence platforms in a very short time by using production slots planned for the US armed forces.”
The report also claimed that the US will allow Israel to purchase some “very special” weapon systems that are not manufactured by Israel, and Israel may also obtain “deeper access to the core avionic systems of the F-35” – considered crucial to retaining Israel’s advantage as more Arab states purchase F-35s.
The recent agreements of the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan to normalise relations with Israel continue to give rise to numerous firsts. For example:
• On Oct. 19, the first commercial flight from Abu Dhabi to Israel landed in Tel Aviv, returning later that day with an Israeli travel trade mission on board.
• On Oct. 28, the UAE signed a deal to sell Israeli wine from the Golan Heights in Dubai hotels, restaurants and wine stores.
• On Nov. 8. the first flight carrying tourists flew from Tel Aviv to Dubai. It was a charter flight with the Dubai-based carrier flydubai.
• Two Israeli delegations were scheduled to visit Sudan in November and December for discussions on defence, agriculture, trade, aviation and migration.
• In the first official visit by Bahraini ministers to Israel, Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed Bin Rashid Al Zayani travelled to Israel on Nov. 18 to meet with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and sign a memorandum of understanding on direct flights between Tel Aviv and Manama.
• The Fresh Market in Dubai’s Ras Al Khor area opened the first-ever display of Israeli produce in the UAE on Nov. 14.
Latest Israeli and Palestinian COVID-19 numbers
As of Nov. 16, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, Israel had 324,755 total coronavirus cases, of which 8,377 were still active and had resulted in at least 2,745 deaths. In the West Bank and Gaza there had been a total of 63,867 cases and 572 deaths. There were 8,263 active cases.