Behind the News – February 2020

Haniyeh: Teheran visit embarrassed Egypt

 

Rocket and Terror Report

Seven rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza between Dec. 18 and Jan. 16. On Jan. 17, a wave of explosive balloons was sent over the border, prompting Israeli strikes against Hamas military targets. 

An Israeli civilian was stabbed in Hebron on Jan. 18. Three armed men from Gaza infiltrated Israel on Jan. 21 and attacked soldiers before being killed.

The IDF says there was generally a substantial decrease in attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem in 2019. The Shin Bet says it foiled over 560 “significant terrorist attacks,” including 10 suicide bombings and four kidnappings. Overall, five Israelis were killed in terror attacks in 2019.

On Dec. 27, the Palestinian factions in Gaza announced that, beginning in March, the “Great March of Return” riots along the Israel-Gaza border will only take place once a month and on certain national occasions. Previously, they had occurred every Friday. 

 

Hamas angers Egypt 

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh reportedly angered Egypt by attending the funeral in Teheran of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US airstrike on Jan. 3. 

According to high-level Egyptian sources, Cairo had permitted Haniyeh to leave the Gaza Strip via Egypt for a series of international meetings on condition that he not visit Iran, which is regarded as a foe by Egypt. His trip to Teheran embarrassed Egypt, with which Hamas has recently sought to improve ties and which has been acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel. Egypt reportedly retaliated by closing the Rafah crossing into Gaza from Sinai for several days and limiting gas imports into Gaza from Egypt. 

 

Israeli Strikes in Gaza and Syria 

According to IDF figures, the Israeli military struck approximately 54 Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria in 2019. The most recent alleged Israeli attack, in which multiple targets were hit at Syria’s T-4 airbase, took place on Jan. 15. 

In Gaza, Israel struck approximately 900 targets in 2019 in response to the approximately 1,295 rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militant groups there. 

 

Palestinian groups reject EU aid after terror funding ban

More than 130 Palestinian organisations refused to sign European Union (EU) grant requests which require that Palestinian institutions ensure that no beneficiaries of their projects or programs are affiliated with groups on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations. 

According to reports, the Palestinian Non-Government Organisations (PNGO) sent a letter of protest to EU representatives over the funding requirements. The director of one such NGO, Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin told media, “We demanded to include conditions stipulating that we do not have to recognise the criteria listed regarding terror groups.” 

Recent Israeli government reports have identified substantial connections between some Palestinian “human rights organisations” and banned terrorist groups, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas.

 

IDF Intelligence: Iran one to two years away from the bomb

The Israeli Military Intelligence annual assessment released on Jan. 14 warned that if Teheran continues its steps in defiance of the 2015 nuclear deal, it could have enough enriched uranium to produce an atomic bomb by the end of 2020 and could turn this into an atomic warhead on a missile by the end of 2021. 

Former deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Olli Heinonen offered an even shorter estimate of Iran’s breakout time, telling a journalist in early January that, using a cascade of the advanced centrifuges it is now deploying, Iran could potentially collect enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb by the end of March. 

 

Europeans initiate “snapback” against Iran

The European signatories of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran – UK, France, and Germany – announced on Jan. 14 that they were initiating the dispute resolution mechanism associated with that agreement. The three states cited Iran’s escalating breaches of the agreement since May of last year, some of which they described as irreversible, as the reason for taking this decision, but said they remained committed to supporting the JCPOA agreement overall. 

The JCPOA dispute resolution mechanism now calls for a series of meetings, likely to take 60 days or more, which can then lead to a referral of a serious breach of the agreement to the UN Security Council. Such a referral would cause automatic “snapback” of UN sanctions on Iran unless the Security Council votes to waive the sanctions. 

Reimposing the sanctions would be a further blow to Iran’s economy, already struggling under US sanctions imposed after Washington left the JCPOA in May 2018. The Institute of International Finance estimated on Jan. 13 that Iran’s economy would contract by 7.2% in the 2020 fiscal year, after contracting 4.6% last year. 

 

Four Iranian women take on their regime

Iranian Olympic medallist turned defector Kimia Alizadeh

Four noted Iranian women have slammed the regime they once represented.

Iran’s only female Olympic medallist, Kimia Alizadeh, has left the country for an undisclosed location. In a Jan. 12 social media statement, the taekwondo bronze medallist said “this decision is even harder than earning Olympic gold” but that she no longer wanted to be part of the injustice of being “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.”

In the wake of Iranian regime deceptions about the shooting down of a Ukrainian International Air flight in Teheran on Jan. 8, three female Iranian TV presenters have also quit their jobs in protest against the practices of the theocratic regime. One, Gelare Jabbari, apologised in an Instagram post, writing: “forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.” 

 

Israeli breakthrough in laser intercept technology

On Jan. 8, Israel’s Defence Ministry announced that it had made a “technological breakthrough” in its research efforts to develop a laser beam capable of shooting down incoming rockets and small drones, which it plans to test throughout this year. The laser beam system is designed to thwart low altitude and short-range threats, including mortar shells, anti-tank missiles and drones, and will complement the Iron Dome missile defence system once it is ready to be deployed. 

Further, on Dec. 26, Israel’s security forces announced the deployment of a new laser system called “Light Blade” that reportedly can shoot down airborne incendiary devices, including balloons, kites and drones, launched from Gaza.

 

Sultan Qaboos of Oman dies

Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said died on Jan. 10, aged 79. On his passing, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, “I send condolences to the people of Oman, and share in the deep sorrow, on the passing of Sultan Qaboos Bin Said. About half a year ago he invited my wife and I for an important and very moving visit… He was an outstanding leader who worked tirelessly to advance peace and stability in our region.” Sultan Qaboos was the first Gulf leader to host a serving Israeli Prime Minister – Yitzhak Rabin in 1994. Qaboos was succeeded by his cousin, Sultan Haitham Al Said, who has pledged to continue Qaboos’ policies. 

 

Gas flows lead to both peace and protests

It was described as the most important agreement between Israel and Egypt since the 1979 peace treaty, after gas from Israel’s Leviathan gas field in the Mediterranean Sea started to flow to Egypt in January.

Some of the gas will be used by Egyptians, but a large portion will be liquefied for export into European markets.

Meanwhile, Israeli gas being exported into Jordan since December has been met with protests. Hundreds of Jordanians, many of whom consider themselves Palestinian, called on their government to cancel a US$10 billion gas import deal with a US-Israeli consortium.