Behind the News – February 2022
Feb 1, 2022 | AIJAC staff
ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT
On Jan. 1, for the first time since Sept. 12, rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel, with two landing off the coast of Tel Aviv and prompting retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas. Hamas claimed that the rockets were set off by adverse weather – as it has with other recent launches.
On Dec. 29, a sniper shot at an Israeli civilian working on the security barrier near Gaza, while machine guns were fired into Israel on Jan. 3.
On Jan. 4, the IDF downed a Hezbollah drone that crossed the border from Lebanon.
On Dec. 16, Palestinians ambushed an Israeli vehicle on the road between two Jewish settlements north of Nablus, killing one and injuring two. The IDF detained six Palestinians, including the two alleged shooters. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
On Dec. 18, a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli civilian near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and another Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Both attackers were detained. On Dec. 31, the IDF shot a would-be stabber who charged out of a vehicle near Ariel.
On Jan. 11, a soldier was injured in a suspected car-ramming attack near Halamish in the West Bank. There was an attempted stabbing at Gush Etzion junction on Jan. 17, in which the attacker was killed.
IRANIAN ESPIONAGE RING EXPOSED
In early January, Israel’s security agencies exposed a spy network set up by Iran within Israel which had operated for a few years. The network was run by an agent who presented himself as a Jew in Iran named Rambood Namdar, and contacted several Israeli Jews of Iranian descent, mostly women, via various online platforms. Based on his orders, the Israelis involved conducted surveillance on government offices, shopping malls and the US embassy in Israel.
Another Iranian espionage effort was exposed by the US in January, in the form of the MuddyWater cyber hacking group. The US said the group was operated by Teheran’s Intelligence and Security Ministry. Since 2015, MuddyWater hackers have conducted cyberespionage and cybercrimes on targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and against Iranian dissidents.
HAMAS’ MAJOR FINANCIAL PROBLEM
Saudi media reported that the Lloyds Insurance Corporation, the world’s largest insurance company, issued a caution at the end of 2021 to its many subsidiaries world-wide not to do business with certain listed Hamas-affiliated companies to avoid being associated with terrorist activities. As a result, Hamas is reportedly struggling to carry out financial transactions and has incurred massive losses. An official investigation has reportedly been launched within Hamas to find who leaked the sensitive financial information about the companies.
Meanwhile, in January, Israel increased the number of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza permitted to work in Israel to 15,000. This is up from 5,000 in December, when Gazans were allowed to enter Israel for work in large numbers for the first time in 15 years.
IRAN’S NEW DEEP NUCLEAR FACILITY
A report from the US Institute for Science and International Security revealed that a new underground tunnel complex at Iran’s main nuclear enrichment site at Natanz is buried even deeper than Iran’s other enrichment facility at Fordow – which is constructed under a mountain to shield it from attacks. The new Natanz underground complex is also larger than the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Centre, the above-ground Natanz nuclear facility destroyed, allegedly by Israel, in July 2020. The size leads to concerns that in addition to a new advanced centrifuge assembly plant, Iran may also be constructing an additional uranium enrichment plant at the underground site at a time when International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have very limited visibility into Iran’s nuclear program due to the regime’s obstruction.
IRAN SMUGGLING REVELATIONS
A confidential report by a UN Security Council panel of experts on Yemen points to Iran’s Jask seaport as the main supply point for weapons to the Houthis, Iran’s proxy in Yemen. Thousands of weapons recently seized by the US navy, including rocket launchers, machine guns and sniper rifles made in Russia, China or Iran, were shipped from that port in southeast Iran in breach of a 2015 UN arms embargo on the Houthis.
Meanwhile, Iranian flights to Myanmar in early January have raised suspicions that Iran has begun exporting weapons, including guided missiles, to that country’s military junta.
Another smuggled Iranian export on the rise is oil, mostly to China, estimated to have reached an average 600,000 barrels a day in 2021, despite US sanctions. According to recent news reports, to evade detection, tankers carrying Iranian diesel have been anchoring at night in international waters in the Persian Gulf, switching off their automatic identification system. The cargo is then transferred via smaller vessels to other ships that bring the oil to its destinations.
YEMEN WAR ESCALATION
Fighting between the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen and a Saudi-led coalition escalated when Houthis launched an attack on the UAE on Jan. 17, hitting an industrial zone outside capital city Abu Dhabi and a construction site close to Abu Dhabi’s international airport. Three foreign workers were killed in the attack.
The following day, approximately 20 people were killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Houthi strongholds in the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
On Jan. 24, UAE media reported the Emirates had intercepted two ballistic missiles fired from Yemen over Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, a report released in December by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies revealed that the Houthis carried out 702 attacks against Saudi Arabia in the first nine months of 2021, and 4,100 such attacks since 2016.
ISRAELI MEETINGS WITH MUSLIM NATIONS
There have been a number of reports recently of potentially groundbreaking meetings between Israeli officials and those of Muslim nations, including some with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties.
Israeli media reports say an Israeli military delegation arrived in Khartoum, Sudan on Jan. 19 to meet with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a coup last year. Sudan and Israel have agreed to normalise relations as part of the Abraham Accords.
On Jan. 12, there were unconfirmed reports of a meeting in Jordan between Mossad Director David Barnea and Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Mohammed Al-Dabaiba to discuss normalisation and security cooperation.
An Indonesian delegation of health officials was reported on Jan. 17 to have visited Israel “in recent weeks” in order to learn strategies for dealing with the coronavirus.
The past month saw a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Israel due to the highly infectious Omicron wave currently afflicting much of the world. There were a total of 1,061,376 cases between Dec. 24 and Jan. 24, but experts predict the wave will soon peak.
Israel had 551,160 active cases as at Jan. 24, with 732 people in a serious condition on Jan. 23.
The virus has also recently started to spike in the Palestinian ruled areas of the West Bank, with 14,325 active cases of infection on Jan. 24, and 19,744 new cases recorded since Dec. 24 – 3,620 of them on Jan. 24 alone.
Similarly, in the Gaza Strip, there were 3,617 new cases between Dec. 24 and Jan. 23, but 990 of them were on Jan. 23 alone.
Stranger Than Fiction
A Flood of Misinformation
Some say history never repeats itself, while others believe everything old is new again. The latter certainly applies when it comes to bizarre Palestinian claims made against Israel.
In early 2015, Palestinian allegations that Israel had flooded Gaza by opening nearby dams, allowing the water to inundate the blockaded strip, were duly reported as fact by media outlets and agencies including AFP, Al Jazeera and Britain’s Daily Mail. They subsequently had to print retractions because the claims were easily disprovable – no such Israeli dams exist.
However, that hasn’t prevented Palestinian authorities from making the exact same claim again and again. Thus, on Jan. 13, 2020, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported, “Israel’s uncontrolled opening of a dam’s gates has caused $500,000 worth of damage to agricultural areas in Gaza, the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry said.” The report concluded that Israel periodically opens the gates of its “many dams in the region… leading to the flooding… in Gaza.”
The following year, on Jan. 22, Iran’s Qods News Agency reported that, in an exclusive interview with Anadolu, Ahmed Fatayer, director of the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry branch in Gaza, had claimed that Israel “has opened the rainwater dams east of the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood in the east of the Gaza Strip, which led to flooding hundreds of dunams of agricultural land.”
Again, this January, central Gaza’s Nusseirat municipality claimed Israel “opened the dams around of [sic] Wadi Beit Hanoun, threatening an environmental catastrophe” – claims repeated by the head of Hamas’ Winter Emergency Committee, Zuhdi Al-Ghariz (translation from “Elder of Ziyon”).
However, the claims do not seem to have appeared in any outlet in English this year, and have been ridiculed by Palestinians on social media. Perhaps those recycling these claims have gone to the well once too often.