Behind the News – February 2021
Jan 31, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Rocket and Terror Report
On Dec. 24, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian suspect for the Dec. 20 murder of Esther Horgen, an Israeli mother of six killed while jogging near her home in the West Bank settlement of Tal Menashe.
Rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on Dec. 26 and 28, and Jan. 18 and 19. They were either intercepted or fell in open areas or in the sea. Israel attacked various Hamas military targets in Gaza in response.
Year-end statistics released by the IDF showed the West Bank saw 60 terror attacks in 2020, up from 51 in 2019. 176 projectiles were fired at Israel from Gaza in 2020.
Israel increases pressure on Iranian presence in Syria
Israel has stepped up the number and intensity of attacks on the Iranian presence in Syria, striking at least four times during January. In one of the more extensive attacks, on Jan. 13, Israel bombed at least 15 Iranian and Syrian targets in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq, including weapons depots and bases hosting Iranians and Iran-funded proxy militias. A senior US intelligence official revealed that information provided by Washington facilitated the Israeli attack.
Analysts explain that Teheran has recently solidified its stronghold on the Syria-Iraq border to smooth the supply of weapons into Syria and to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Additional Israeli attacks in January targeted areas near Damascus, Syria’s north and the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, where the Iranians are working to set up militias loyal to Teheran close to the border with Israel.
PA sets election dates; evades terror sanctions
On Jan. 15, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree announcing that elections for the PA Parliament will take place on May 22, and for the presidency on July 31. Despite laws stating elections for these positions are to be held every four years, these would be the first elections held since a presidential vote in 2005 and parliamentary elections in 2006.
Meanwhile the PA is increasingly coming under pressure to halt its monthly stipend to terrorists jailed for attacking and murdering Israelis, and to the families of those who died carrying out terror attacks.
Under an Israeli military decree that came into force on Dec. 31 applying Israeli anti-terror legislation to the West Bank, any person who carries out a transaction which “supports, promotes, funds or rewards” terror will be subject to a prison sentence. This would include directors and staff of banks who process the payments made by the PA to terrorists and their families. Consequently, Palestinian banks are refusing to process the PA stipends.
The PA is reportedly now seeking to establish a new “Independence Bank,” through which it would make the payments. However, in the meantime, the PA reportedly made ‘pay for slay’ payments three months in advance as a lump sum before the legislation took effect.
Joint exercises in the Gaza Strip
On Dec. 28 Hamas led a joint military exercise with 13 other armed “resistance” organisations in the Gaza Strip, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and groups of former Fatah members. During the military training, rockets were launched towards the sea, and attacks staged included the simulated abduction of IDF soldiers, while drones and other technologies were displayed.
Meanwhile, Hamas has bulldozed the homes of around 23 Palestinian families who have lived for decades near the Rafah border with Egypt. On Dec. 15, the Palestinian Land Authority, which is affiliated with Hamas in Gaza, issued a decision to expropriate the lands in question with the aim of expanding the Rafah land crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Iran enriching uranium to 20%
In January, Teheran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it will start enriching uranium to 20% purity at its Fordow plant. From 20% enrichment, achieving military grade enrichment of 90% is technically quite easy.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation head Ali Akbar Salehi said on Jan. 5 that an additional 1,000 advanced IR-2m uranium enriching centrifuges are being installed in sites across Iran. On Jan. 18, Salehi claimed that Iran is creating half a kilogram of 20% enriched uranium every day.
Teheran also reported to the IAEA that it began manufacturing equipment in Esfahan which will be used in the coming months to produce uranium metal – a key material for a nuclear warhead.
These recent moves constitute further major breaches of Iran’s obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal.
US highlights ongoing al-Qaeda presence in Iran
Following revelations about the assassination in Iran of al-Qaeda’s purported number two Abu Muhammad Al-Masri in August, the US, on Jan 12, identified and sanctioned five other al-Qaeda leaders based in the country. One of these, Abd al Rahman al Maghrebi, is current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law and reportedly oversees the group’s communications, including its media department and coordination with regional and global affiliates. The US State Department also confirmed that senior al-Qaeda officials Yasin al-Suri and Saif al-Adel are still based in Iran.
Latest Israeli and Palestinian COVID numbers
As of Jan. 20, there had been 565,629 coronavirus cases in Israel, up from 374,760 at Dec. 20, while 4,080 Israelis had died from the virus. There were 82,652 active cases. By Jan. 19, approximately 2.5 million Israelis, 28% of the population, had been vaccinated, but the country was to remain in COVID lockdown at least until the end of January.
In the Palestinian ruled areas of the West Bank, there had been 153,093 reported cases by Jan. 20, up from 122,643 on Dec. 20, and 1,741 deaths. On Jan. 18, there were 10,754 active cases. In Gaza, there had been 48,341 cases as of Jan. 18, up from 32,158 on Dec. 18.
Reports stated that the Palestinian Authority was expecting its first batches of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to arrive by Jan. 24, with Israel agreeing to facilitate its importation.
Israeli deal with Pfizer expedited vaccine program
Israeli media revealed that a deal to share data with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer paved the way for Israel to receive more than 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the middle of March, sufficient to vaccinate its total population over the age of 16. Israel stands to become the first country to complete its vaccination program.
Israel’s Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the Government will share the data with Pfizer to “see how it influences, first of all, the level of the disease in Israel, the possibility to open the economy, different aspects of social life, and whether there are any effects of the vaccination.”
Israel’s efficient universal health care system and compact size mean that it is well placed to efficiently administer the vaccine rollout and to collect the relevant statistical data.
Israel’s population in 2021
Israel’s population grew by 1.7% in 2020, standing at 9,291,000 by year’s end. This comprises approximately 6,870,000 Jews (73.9%), 1,956,000 Arabs (21.1%), and 465,000 (5%) people of other ethnicities.
84% of the increase was due to natural growth, with immigration accounting for the other 16%.