Behind the News – January 2018

Behind the News - January 2018
news_item/Syrian-Strike-1-706x397-1.jpg

TERROR AND ROCKET REPORT

On Dec. 8, Palestinian groups fired several rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. One rocket landed inside a kindergarten in the city of Sderot, causing damage but no injuries. In response, the IDF attacked several Hamas positions in Gaza, killing two terrorists.

On Dec. 10 Israel destroyed a Hamas terror tunnel which ran from inside the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, the second such discovery in six weeks. After the event, Hamas fired further rockets into Israel, making a total of 13 rockets fired from Gaza in one week. The IDF responded by attacking Hamas positions with tank fire and from the air.

The same day, an Israeli security guard was left in a critical condition after being stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist at Jerusalem’s central bus station. There were also numerous attacks using guns, Molotov cocktails and rocks.

ISRAEL STRIKES IRANIAN BASE IN SYRIA

An alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian base near the Syrian city of al-Qiswa on Dec. 1 resulted in the deaths of 12 Iranian personnel, according to Arabic media.

A second strike on Dec. 4 targeted a military research facility in the Jamraya area known to be producing weapons for the Assad regime.

Israel, as a rule, does not confirm or deny such attacks, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned in a video clip released two days prior to the strike that Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria.

According to veteran Israeli security affairs journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, it is possible the Jamraya facility was targeted to stop a shipment of weapons to Iranian proxy Hezbollah.

“Israel is conveying a strategic message to Russia, Iran and Syria: There is no chance of reaching a political agreement and a calm in Syria as long as the Iranian military presence in Syria continues,” Ben-Yishai wrote.

SYRIA HESITANT TO COMPLY WITH IRANIAN DEMANDS

In late October, Iran submitted a list of demands to the Syrian government, including access to a seaport and construction of numerous Iranian air bases on Syrian soil. Teheran expects payback from Damascus for its crucial military and financial support for the Assad regime during the prolonged civil war. US National Security Advisor H R McMaster recently estimated that Iran supplied 80% of forces fighting for Assad directly or in the form of Iranian-organised foreign militias.

However, reports emerged in late November that the Syrian response had been hesitant, and not in accord with the Iranian demands – probably because Syrian dictator Bashar Assad may be concerned about causing a confrontation with Israel, or the Russian position on this issue.

DOCUMENTS MAY PROVE ASSAD WAR CRIMES

The UK’s Daily Mail reported on Dec. 3 that 800,000 pieces of evidence, including documents, photos, maps, computers and phones smuggled out of Syria, have been assembled to detail the war crimes of the Syrian regime over the course of the civil war. The document repository in an undisclosed European location contains proof of state sponsored and initiated executions and murders, widespread torture and gross violations and abuse of the most basic human rights.

Together the documents constitute a database for a future international court case against the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and the officers operating under his command. The documents include orders personally signed or initialled by the Syrian president to conduct violent raids against dissidents.

PALESTINIAN UNITY DEAL STALLING

The much-touted reconciliation deal between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas, while technically still in play, appears to be going nowhere fast, according to reports.

Representatives of both factions attended a conference in Cairo in late November, where besides a vague pledge to hold elections at some point in 2018, very little else was agreed upon.

The fate of Hamas’ armed wing is yet to be decided, while according to sources in Ramallah, a significant obstacle is the PA’s limited capacity to pay salaries in Gaza.

Administrative control of Gaza was meant to be handed over to the PA on Dec. 1. Less than 48 hours before this deadline, the rival factions agreed to delay the handover to Dec. 10, but that deadline was also missed.

PA WASHINGTON OFFICE TO REMAIN OPEN

On Nov. 17, the US threatened to close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO)Washington office unless the PLO entered into peace talks with Israel, pursuant to a provision in US law passed in Dec. 2015 that calls for the closure of the PLO mission if they act against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC). This resulted from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ call in September for the ICC to prosecute Israel. After the US Secretary of State determines that the Palestinians have triggered the law, the US Administration has 90 days to determine whether “direct and meaningful negotiations” have begun between the Palestinians and Israelis before action is taken.

While there is currently little progress on peace negotiations, the US subsequently reached an arrangement that will allow the office to remain open, provided that the PLO’s activities there are “related to achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, on Dec. 5 the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Taylor Force Act which ends US funding to the PA unless it stops paying salaries to terrorists and their families. The bill was named in honour of US Army veteran Taylor Force, killed by a Palestinian terrorist in Tel Aviv in March 2016. The bill will now move to the Senate.

FORMER ARGENTINE PRESIDENT CHARGED OVER JEWISH CENTRE BOMBING COVER UP

On Dec. 7, a federal judge charged Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with “treason against the homeland” for covering up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

In court documents, Judge Claudio Bonadio accused Kirschner of obfuscating the Iranian role in the attack in exchange for a trade deal. The charges follow an investigation by prosecutor Alberto Nisman who accused Kirschner of a cover up in 2015 – but was found dead in his home with a bullet to his head hours before he was due to explain his accusations to Congress.

Nisman, whose death was found in a November police report to be the result of foul play, reportedly uncovered information regarding a “Memorandum of Understanding” that Argentina signed with Iran in 2013. The MOU is believed to have outlined a plan to collaborate with Iran to accelerate and support Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for an oil-for-grain trade deal and a finding by Argentina that the Iranians were innocent of the AMIA bombing.

ISRAELI DIPLOMATIC OUTREACH CONTINUES

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu continued to extend Israel’s diplomatic reach by addressing 11 African heads of state in Kenya on Nov. 28. He addressed a luncheon held in Nairobi, shortly after the swearing in of re-elected Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Netanyahu also announced the opening of a new Israeli Embassy in Rwanda.

Further, a 24-member multifaith official delegation from Bahrain visited Israel in early December, the first such visit.

In Jerusalem, members of the Bahraini delegation tried to enter the Dome of the Rock, but they were denied access by the Muslim Waqf that manages the site. Palestinian demonstrators also prevented a planned visit to Gaza by the delegation.