Behind the News – December 2021
Nov 25, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Rocket and Terror
No rockets have been fired from Gaza since Sept. 12 as at Nov. 18. On Nov. 8, Israel’s Iron Dome defence system intercepted a Hamas drone heading towards Gaza’s maritime zone.
There were numerous attacks and attempted attacks by Palestinians against Israelis during October and November, including stabbings, shootings, car ramming and throwing Molotov cocktails – none fatal.
The Mossad reportedly thwarted Iranian terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists and businessmen in Tanzania, Senegal and Ghana. This comes a month after Israel blamed Iran for thwarted assassination attempts against Israeli businessmen in Cyprus.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 12, Turkey arrested an Israeli couple on suspicion of espionage after they were seen taking photos of a presidential palace. They were released on Nov. 18 after intense Israeli diplomatic efforts.
Israel passes Budget
Israel’s first new budget in three years passed through the Knesset on Nov. 5, ensuring the continuation of Israel’s ideologically diverse and numerically shaky coalition Government.
Among its notable measures, the budget establishes three new Bedouin towns in the Negev and upgrades the status of the Druze majority town of Maghar in the Galilee, making it Israel’s first Druze majority city. It also allocates nearly US$10 billion (A$13.5 billion) over five years to improve services and welfare for Israel’s Arab minority.
Other notable budget measures include reforms to kashrut (kosher) certification, agriculture, banking and import arrangements, as well as programs to address Israel’s soaring housing prices.
Israel increases Palestinian work permits
On Nov. 6, as part of an ongoing effort to improve the Palestinian economy, the Israeli Government authorised a substantial increase in the number of permits for Palestinians to work in Israel and in industrial zones in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.
The cabinet approved an increase in the number of blue-collar permits by 11,900 above the current level of 130,000, while a new permit will see hundreds of West Bank Palestinian programmers and other engineers cleared for work in Israeli tech firms.
In October, Israel increased the number of work permits issued to Palestinians from Hamas-ruled Gaza by 43% to 10,000.
Israel increases attacks on Iranian targets in Syria
Israel reportedly stepped up the pace of its airstrikes in Syria in October and November. The attacks focused on Iranian targets, Iranian-affiliated militias, missile factories and arms depots, and weapons convoys carrying Iranian-made air defence systems and drones, some intended for Iran’s Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah.
There has been some speculation in Israel that these attacks may have been coordinated with Russia. Reports also suggest that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad may be seeking to reduce Iran’s influence on his country and the latest Israeli attacks on Iranian targets serve his interests.
Sheikh Jarrah families reject Israeli Court offer
Under reported political pressure from Palestinian Authority officials, four Palestinian families facing possible eviction for non-payment of rent to the Jewish owners of the land they live on in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have turned down a compromise offer from Israel’s High Court. The proposed compromise would have given the families the legal status of “protected tenants” and secured their occupancy for at least the next 15 years in return for nominal rent, without prejudice to their ongoing claims of ownership.
The rejection is seen as likely to influence 24 other families in similar circumstances to also rebuff the deal, keeping them on course for possible eviction in a case that has been before the courts for decades.
Similarly, in October, the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon published an interview with the head of the Jahalin Bedouin clan in which he said that PA pressure is preventing residents of his unauthorised village of Khan al-Ahmar – which Israeli courts have ordered evacuated – from accepting an Israeli offer to relocate them from the current dangerous and problematic site along the Jerusalem-Dead Sea Highway to a more desirable location.
Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists in Venezuela
A hacking group called Team HDP has breached the Venezuelan Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, exposing the names of alleged Hezbollah operatives and Palestinian terrorist groups running various criminal enterprises in the country, including arms and drug trafficking and money laundering, under the protection of the Venezuelan Government.
The close ties between the Venezuelan regime and Iran and its allies and proxies, including Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas, have been well documented for two decades.
Iraqi PM survives assassination attempt
Pro-Iranian militia are suspected of responsibility for a Nov. 7 attempted assassination attempt in which the Baghdad home of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was targeted by several explosive drones. Kadhimi was not hurt but seven security personnel were injured.
On Oct. 20, the al-Tanf US military base in Syria was attacked with Iranian drones and rockets, suffering heavy damage but no casualties. In response, on Oct. 29, the US sanctioned the commander of the military drone unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and individuals and companies connected to Iran’s drone program.
Libyan Presidential candidates flag ties with Israel
Both candidates in Libyan presidential elections – to be held on Dec. 24 – have reportedly flagged the possibility of joining the Abraham Accords and normalising relations with Israel. According to Israeli newspaper reports, officials close to the frontrunner, warlord General Khalifa Haftar, who has Saudi and US support, are saying Haftar has stated he will join the Abraham Accords if he prevails. A senior UAE official confirmed this report, and added that the other candidate, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, had also indicated to associates that he would join the Accords.
Blue Flag exercises
Seven countries – Germany, Italy, the UK, US, France, Greece and India – participated in October’s Blue Flag aerial military exercises in Israel.
For the first time, the chief of the United Arab Emirates’ air force, Ibrahim Nasser Muhammed Al-Alaw, attended the exercises as an observer, as did representatives of the Australian military. A photo posted online by a German photographer revealed that Jordanian planes also secretly participated.
In other military aviation news, Israeli and Saudi fighter jets both accompanied a US Air Force bomber circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula on Oct. 30. While the Israeli and Saudi planes did not fly together, it was the first time the two countries had cooperated on a military mission.
Israeli health officials are claiming third doses of the coronavirus vaccine have “saved Israel”, with cases of COVID-19 falling dramatically.
In mid-October, Israel was recording up to 10,000 new infections per day, but by mid-November the number of new cases had fallen to just a few hundred per day. Hospitalisations have also halved during this same period.
More than four million Israelis have received a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine, after Israeli scientists observed the vaccine’s efficacy appears to wane after six months.
In the Palestinian Territories, new case numbers have also dropped, from a peak of more than 2,500 new cases per day in September to around 200 cases per day in mid-November. Third vaccine doses have also been made available to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, although only 27% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been fully vaccinated.
Stranger than Fiction
Iran heroically captures its own oil
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy appears to have hit upon a novel solution to the problem of how to carry out an attack to impress the folks at home without any risk – you attack yourself.
On Oct. 24, the IRGC navy filmed itself carrying out a daring raid on an oil tanker. The tanker, so the story went, had been transporting Iranian oil in the Gulf of Oman when it was pirated by the US Navy. IRGC naval forces heroically slid down ropes onto its decks from helicopters, taking back control of the ship and sailing it away, the US Navy forlornly in pursuit.
The truth was somewhat different. The first hint was that the IRGC heroes were filmed from on board the tanker, the Vietnamese-flagged MV Southys, before they had even landed on it.
Then there was the US Navy’s response – they became aware of Iranian forces raiding a civilian ship, so they approached to observe, but did nothing beyond that. It appears that’s exactly what the IRGC wanted, conducting the “raid” in a manner the US Navy couldn’t help noticing, and then claiming to have triumphed over the US ships observing.
The Southys had reportedly been transporting Iranian oil to China in breach of sanctions, but China had refused the oil, so it was transported back to Iran – and then “saved” by the IRGC. Whether the raid was conducted to buttress the IRGC’s standing, or to cover the embarrassment of having the oil rejected, it did draw attention to an ongoing problem.
Money reaped from Iran’s illegal oil exports to China, reaching almost 800,000 barrels a day, has helped the regime to withstand economic sanctions and remain intransigent in relation to its nuclear program. And there’s nothing funny about that.