Behind the News – February 2017
Feb 6, 2017 |
TERROR AND ROCKET REPORT
On Jan. 8, a Palestinian drove his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers getting off a bus on the Armon Hanatziv Boulevard in Jerusalem and then backed over them. He killed four soldiers and injured 15 others, some critically. The attacker was shot dead at the scene and the Palestinian Authority subsequently awarded his family a lifetime pension.
An Israeli police officer was killed in a car ramming attack during an operation to demolish an illegal Bedouin village in southern Israel on Jan. 18. Overall, stabbing and car attacks were down on previous months, while shooting, Molotov cocktail, IED and rock throwing attacks continued.
Overall, there were 1,381 terror attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 2016, down from 2,354 in 2015. Hundreds more attacks were thwarted by Israeli security services. 15 rockets fired from Gaza landed in Israel during 2016.
Meanwhile, Israel is suspected of a Jan. 13 air strike near Damascus which, according to Syrian reports, was aimed at destroying a shipment of Iranian precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles bound for Hezbollah.
GAZA’S ELECTRICITY CRISIS
A long-running dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over who should pay the excise tax on fuel purchased from Israel has led to Gaza residents currently receiving only around three hours of electricity per day, a particular hardship over winter. This has led to mass protests against Hamas throughout the strip, which Hamas suppressed. Other factors responsible include problems with power lines from Egypt.
By mid-January, Hamas had obtained promises of fuel from Turkey and Qatar, with Israeli approval. However, Al-Jazeera reported on Jan.17 that, following three days of talks in Moscow, the PA and Hamas have agreed to form a unity government – though there have been numerous similar announcements over recent years which did not eventuate.
Further, Palestinian Authority PM Rami al-Hamdallah announced on Jan. 3 that the PA had received approximately half the money it had budgeted for from foreign sources – US$640 million out of an expected US$1.2 billion – meaning the budget would be deep in deficit this year. However, in December, Hamdallah claimed the PA had received nothing from the US in 2016, whereas the State Department revealed it had provided the PA US$357 million in 2016, and a similar amount to UNRWA.
Meanwhile, in response to claims that British aid money is being diverted to pay the families of terrorists, the UK Department for International Development announced on Dec. 16 that going forward, it will fund only “vital health and education services” in the Palestinian territories.
WATER AGREEMENT REACHED
On Jan. 15, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories signed an agreement with Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA Minister of Civil Affairs, to renew the activity of the Joint Water Committee (JWC) set up under the Oslo agreements – which has not met regularly for more than six years. Under the agreement, the JWC will look at ways of increasing water supply to the West Bank and Gaza, including greater allocations, new drilling and the laying of a network of new pipes.
DID THE US COLLABORATE ON UNSC RESOLUTION 2334?
The Obama Administration denied it, but Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accuses the United States of actively collaborating behind the scenes to arrange the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334. Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Dermer claimed in late December that Israel had evidence it would give to the incoming Trump Administration backing the accusation.
Then on Dec. 27, Egyptian media published an alleged secret protocol of a meeting held on Dec. 15 in Washington, attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, with Palestinian Authority Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and UN Envoy Riyad Mansour.
According to the transcript, Kerry and Rice told the Palestinians that the US was ready to cooperate on the resolution they sought as long as it was “balanced” and also openly criticised Netanyahu for allegedly attempting to “kill the two-state solution.”
IRAN RECEIVES URANIUM, CASH AND GOLD
In a move approved by the outgoing US Administration, Iran is set to receive a huge shipment of nearly 130 tons of natural uranium from Russia. This uranium is compensation for approximately 44 tons of heavy water exported by Iran to Russia since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement went into effect late last year.
The White House has defended the uranium deal on grounds that uranium cannot be used in its natural form, and that the uranium will be subject to the monitoring and inspections of the JCPOA. Under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to buy natural uranium to “replenish” its stocks. However, the transfer follows reports that Iran is stockpiling uranium far above its current needs.
The transfer also comes after reports say Iran has received more than US$10 billion in sanctions relief from around the world in the form of gold and cash. This is a highly liquid form of money, and US lawmakers have raised concerns that these funds may be used to provide untraceable support to Iran’s terrorist allies in the region.
IRAN EXPANDS WEAPONS ACTIVITY
Iranian lawmakers have approved plans to expand the country’s military spending to five percent of the national budget, more than double the current amount, including plans to race ahead with development of a long-range missile program.
Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal was signed last year, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
This comes on the heels of the recently leaked tape of a confession by the mastermind of the Saudi Embassy attack in Iran in Jan. 2016 that the attack was carried out with the prior connivance of the Iranian Government.
ETHNIC CLEANSING IN SYRIA?
As the war in Syria lingers on, reports say a joint effort by Iran, Syria, and Russia is gradually depopulating Sunni populations in the Damascus-Aleppo corridor and replacing them with Shi’ites. This process not only displaces Sunni populations who are unlikely to align with the Shi’ite Alawite sect of the Assad regime, but also provides Iran with a contiguous Shi’ite stronghold from Syria into Lebanon.
Sunnis have been forced out through bombing, terror and other methods. In the city of Homs, where entire neighbourhoods were cleansed of their original inhabitants, officials reportedly prohibited residents from returning to their homes, citing lack of proof that they had indeed lived there.
Simultaneously, these areas are being repopulated with Shi’ite Muslims, originating not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq, it is reported by several media outlets.
ARGENTINA REOPENS BOMBING INVESTIGATION
A criminal case against former Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner was reopened by an Argentine court on December 29, 2016. Ms Kirchner is accused of covering up Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires in exchange for favourable trade deals with Iran. This follows the suspicious death of lead investigator Alberto Nisman in 2015 on the day before he was to give evidence that many believe was going to implicate Ms Kirchner in the cover-up. His death remains unsolved.
8.6 MILLION ISRAELIS
Israel’s population grew to 8.63 million at the end of 2016, a 2% increase over the year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Jewish inhabitants reached 6.45 million or 74.8% of the population while the Arab population grew to 1.796 million or 20.8%. Israel also reportedly received a total of approximately 36,000 new immigrants in 2016, a slight drop compared to 2015, with Russian, Ukrainian and French immigrants the largest components.