Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – January 2022

Dec 15, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israeli PM Bennett in Abu Dhabi (Credit: Haim Zach/IGPO)
Israeli PM Bennett in Abu Dhabi (Credit: Haim Zach/IGPO)

Rockets and Terror

As of mid-December, no rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since Sept. 12. However, there had been a sharp increase in so-called “lone wolf” terrorism against Israelis in late November and early December. 

A 16-year-old Palestinian stabbed two Border Police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City on Nov. 17 before being shot dead. On Nov. 21, a Hamas-affiliated gunman opened fire on civilians in the Old City, killing 26-year-old Eliyahu David Kay, and wounding four others. That same day, a Palestinian stabbed two Israeli pedestrians in Jaffa. On Dec. 4, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli civilian in Jerusalem and then tried to attack two Border Police officers, who shot him dead. 

On Dec. 6, a car-ramming attack at a checkpoint in Tulkarem resulted in one Israeli soldier being injured. The driver was shot dead. On Dec. 8, a young woman was stabbed in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, allegedly by a 14-year-old girl.


Israeli counter-terror measures

On Dec. 7, Israel announced that construction had been completed on a 65 km high-tech barrier around Gaza, built over three years at a cost of NIS 3.5 billion (A$1.5 billion). The barrier, designed to end the threat of cross-border attack tunnels from the Palestinian enclave, consists of an underground reinforced concrete wall and a six-metre steel fence, all interwoven with extensive surveillance sensors. 

Earlier, on Nov. 22, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency announced it had rounded up more than 50 Hamas operatives in the West Bank allegedly preparing an imminent wave of major terror attacks. The massive cell was allegedly led and financed by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, based in Turkey. 


Details revealed of Mossad attacks on Iran

New purported details about Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency operations against Iran’s nuclear program were revealed in media reports during December. 

It was reported that in July 2019 agents pretending to be construction suppliers sold the Iranians building materials with hidden explosives that were then used to construct the Advanced Centrifuges facility at Natanz. In July 2020, the hidden charges exploded, demolishing the site and the centrifuges there. 

Another report of a different incident said the Mossad persuaded up to 10 Iranian scientists working at Natanz to collect explosives smuggled into the facility via drones and a catering truck and plant them at the underground A1000 centrifuge area. The explosives were detonated in April 2021, destroying almost all the centrifuges there and halting activity at the site for nine months. 

Finally, in June 2021, the TESA centrifuge parts plant at Karaj was attacked with missiles fired from a quadcopter drone assembled by Mossad agents from parts smuggled into Iran, according to media reports. 

Meanwhile, conflicting reports have emerged about another possible attack at Natanz on Dec. 4, perhaps involving drones.


Iran preparing to enrich to 90%?

Israeli intel shared with the US and some European countries in mid-November revealed evidence that Iran might be preparing to enrich uranium to bomb-grade purity of over 90% and could do so within weeks.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Dec. 1 that Iran has begun enriching uranium at the Fordow underground facility on a cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges. Until now, mostly basic IR-1 centrifuges were operating at Fordow, but IR-6 centrifuges enrich uranium roughly five times as quickly. 

Both deploying such advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium and doing so at Fordow constitute breaches of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal.


Rare Israeli strike at Latakia

Israel reportedly launched rare strikes against shipping containers in Syria’s Latakia port on Dec. 7, as part of an allegedly expanding campaign against Iranian assets and weapon shipments to Hezbollah. Parts of Latakia port are allegedly under the control of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but Israel rarely targets it because of the strong Russian presence in the area. 


Syria becoming a narcostate

A New York Times investigation (Dec. 5) detailed how Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s close associates and family members, including his brother Maher as well as Hezbollah-affiliated individuals in Lebanon, are running a multi-billion dollar drug cartel revolving around the production and smuggling of the illegal amphetamine Captagon. The story said more than 250 million Captagon pills have been seized this year globally, from the Mediterranean and Middle East all the way to Malaysia, an exponential increase over previous years, and cited estimates that Captagon smuggling far exceeds the value of all Syria’s legal exports. The report alleged the Syrian network has also started smuggling more dangerous drugs globally, such as crystal meth. 


UK bans Hamas, Australia to ban Hezbollah, The Base

The UK announced it had designated Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist group on Nov. 26, joining the US and European Union, in a move likely to disrupt European funding sources for the organisation. Previously, the UK had only designated the “military wing” of Hamas. 

Meanwhile, on Nov. 24, Australia announced its intention to list all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, along with the neo-Nazi group The Base. 

While Australia currently only proscribes Hamas’ “military wing”, in October, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security recommended that the Government should consider listing the entire organisation – a similar recommendation to one the Committee made about Hezbollah in June. 


Historic Bennett visit to UAE

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli premier to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE), when he landed in Abu Dhabi for a state visit on Dec. 12. Bennett was greeted by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and also met with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, and other senior officials. Before the trip, Bennett described Israel-UAE relations as “excellent and extensive,” and called to “nurture and strengthen them.”


Israel pledges vaccines for Africa

At the end of November, the Israeli Government announced that it would donate “millions of doses” of the AstraZeneca vaccine to developing countries through the international COVAX vaccine sharing scheme. Although it is unclear whether Israel will be able to select the countries that receive the vaccines given to COVAX, the Israeli Government said it preferred that African countries would be given priority.


COVID-19 update 

As of Dec. 8, the daily number of new COVID infections in Israel had stabilised at slightly over 500 cases per day, most of them among young people, with fewer than 150 hospitalisations. Israel reported a total of 42 suspected or confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant as of Dec. 8 – a relatively low figure owing in part to an Israeli Government decision to shut the border to tourists and reimpose quarantine requirements on returning Israelis beginning Nov. 29. 

Meanwhile, in the Palestinian Territories, COVID infection levels remain relatively low, with Gaza reporting a seven-day average of around 100 new daily cases, and the West Bank fluctuating around 250. 


Stranger Than Fiction

Beauty in the Lie of the Beholder

It looked like a major coup for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign – Miss Greece, Rafaela Plastira, had announced she would boycott the Miss Universe Pageant, to be held in Eilat, Israel on Dec. 12.

Plastira posted on Instagram on Oct. 1 that it “hurts my heart”, but she would not be attending because she couldn’t “go up that stage and act like nothing is happening when people are fighting for there (sic) lives out there.” In late November, this announcement was noted and greeted with rapturous acclaim by BDS activists. 

What probably hurt her heart even more is that Plastira isn’t actually Miss Greece. When queried about this supposed withdrawal, the organisation that chooses Miss Greece for the pageant, “Star and Mr. GS Hellas”, confirmed that while Plastira was Star Hellas 2019, she was never its Miss Universe candidate. On Nov. 28, it posted on Facebook a photo of the actual Miss Greece, Sofia Arapogianni, holding Greek and Israeli flags. The caption accompanying the photo stated, “Between the two flags – Greece [and] Israel shows the world the sisterly relationship between the two countries. Go Greece. Go Sofia.”

Miss South Africa encountered similar issues. On Nov. 9, several BDS groups claimed that she had withdrawn in accordance with BDS demands. However, while this time they had the right Miss South Africa – Lalela Mswane – they were still wrong. She had not withdrawn, and on Nov. 27, landed in Israel to attend the pageant. 

Given the delay between Plastira’s claims and the BDS campaign’s reaction, it seems likely she acted alone. However, if victories for BDS weren’t so few and far between, they may have taken the time to check their facts before celebrating.


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