Behind the News – July 2020

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

 

Rocket and Terror Report

A mortar shell was fired from Gaza into Israel on June 15, causing no casualties and prompting Israeli retaliatory strikes. It was the first projectile fired at Israel since May 6. 

After three months of quiet, Palestinians resumed attacks using incendiary balloons from Gaza in June. On June 17, Israel announced it had foiled an attempt to smuggle weapons to Hamas forces from the Sinai into Gaza via the Mediterranean “a number of weeks ago.”

There was an attempted stabbing on May 25 in Jerusalem. Vehicular attacks on Israeli soldiers in the West Bank occurred on May 29 and June 23. 

On May 18, an Israeli court convicted settler Amiram Ben-Uliel for the arson murder of the Palestinian Dawabsheh family in 2015 in the village of Duma. He faces a life sentence.

 

PA’s refusal to cooperate with Israel causes difficulties

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas announced on May 19 that he was no longer bound by any agreements or understandings with Israel, and would also sever security ties with the Jewish state. Despite this, Israel reportedly continues to provide security alerts to the PA, but has received few in return. Nonetheless, Palestinian security forces did thwart an attack against Israeli soldiers near Jenin on June 7, while senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh hinted in a June 8 New York Times article that security coordination continues discreetly.

The PA’s refusal to cooperate with Israel is also reportedly leaving hundreds of sick Palestinians unable to seek medical treatment in Israel. Patients say that PA agencies have stopped accepting their requests for exit permits, and some patients have reportedly attempted to make their requests directly to Israeli authorities instead. In addition, the Palestinian Health Ministry is refusing to make appointments in Israeli hospitals for Palestinian patients and won’t issue certificates of coverage to pay for their treatment in Israel.

 

Embarrassments for Abbas

Despite active recruitment by Fatah and Palestinian security forces for protesters to show up at a June 8 rally in Ramallah against Israeli plans to extend sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, barely 200 people attended. 

Meanwhile, on June 11, a video released by “The Palestinian Centre for Communications” news agency and the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency showed Yasser Jadallah, a former director of the political department of the PA, claiming that funds given to the PA by international organisations are being diverted into private accounts by Abbas and his close associates. Jadallah is seeking political asylum in Belgium.

 

US sanctions ICC 

On June 11, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorising the blocking of assets and imposition of travel restrictions against employees of the International Criminal Court (ICC) involved in investigations into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan. In addition to sanctions, the US announced that it was launching a counter-investigation into the ICC for alleged corruption.

The ICC investigation was approved in March and according to the ICC, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is seeking to investigate alleged crimes by the Taliban and its allies; various Afghani security and defence forces; and “alleged war crimes by US military personnel in Afghanistan and by members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in ‘secret detention facilities’ in Afghanistan ‘and on the territory of other States.’” 

The US also indicated that the sanctions were aimed at defending Israel, given the current ICC investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the “State of Palestine”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “Given Israel’s robust civilian and military legal system and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it’s clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi responded, “I thank President Trump for taking steps against the politically driven tribunal which illegitimately claims jurisdiction over Israel and the United States.”

Neither Israel nor the US are members of the ICC.

 

Iran’s nuclear breakout time now less than four months

Two reports issued on June 5 and 6 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reveal that Iran has now breached all of its obligations under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. Teheran’s stockpile of 1.5 tons of uranium enriched up to 4.5% – much more than the JCPOA allows (300kg up to 3.67%) – is getting close to being enough to build two nuclear warheads. The breakout time required for Iran to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb is now estimated at approximately three to three and a half months.

In the reports, the IAEA also expressed strong concerns that Iran continues to block the access of inspectors to two sites suspected of having been part of the AMAD nuclear weapons project. In response to the reports, on June 20, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution urging Iran to fully cooperate with the agency.

 

Assad regime facing severe problems on numerous fronts 

Syrians in the Druze-majority city of Sweida in south-west Syria turned out for several days in June protesting worsening economic conditions and widespread corruption, while calling for the withdrawal of Russian and Iranian troops and the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Meanwhile, the Syrian currency has collapsed, falling to 3000 Syrian pounds to the US dollar, after starting the year at 700. Before the civil war commenced in 2011, it had traded at 47 to the US dollar. 

Likely to exacerbate the situation for the Assad regime, despite its apparent victory in the Syrian civil war, are US sanctions on the leaders of that regime that came into force on June 17 under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. 

 

Hardliner Iranian parliament’s new speaker 

Iran has appointed a new speaker to its parliament (Majlis), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) veteran Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Elected on May 28, Qalibaf is the former air force commander of the IRGC (1997-2000), chief of police (2000-2005) and mayor of Teheran (2005-2017).

In the Majlis, Qalibaf joins many other powerful MPs who are also former IRGC commanders. His appointment is another success for the radical conservatives headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, increasing their dominance of the Government. 

Meanwhile, former radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), is reportedly making moves to run again in next year’s presidential election, despite expected opposition from Khamenei. Prospects of the reformist camp gaining power in the elections are dim, as the radicals will likely use their executive powers to block reformist candidates from running as they did in the parliamentary elections earlier this year. 

 

Israel helps others fight COVID-19 

Throughout June, Israel has been doing its part to help other nations fight the coronavirus pandemic.

On June 2, Israel donated medical supplies to the Philippines, including 50,000 medical gloves, 30,000 surgical masks, 4,500 medical gowns, 3,000 filtered face masks, 1,500 face shields and 500 non-contact thermometers.

On June 5, Israel donated wheelchairs to Ecuador. 

On June 16, Israel donated to Nepal over 550 units of personal protective equipment, along with 10,000 masks, 5,000 pairs of surgical gloves, 50 infrared digital thermometers and other medical supplies.

Not all assistance was in the form of physical supplies. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country’s first “drive-thru” coronavirus testing facilities were established in June after officials there sought the assistance of Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical agency.

 


Stranger Than Fiction

 

Faking It

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has long been accused of saying one thing in English for Western listeners, and something else more inflammatory in Arabic. 

A recent example may take the cake. 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is considering undertaking an investigation into alleged war crimes in the “State of Palestine” that the PA wants to go ahead in hopes it will condemn Israel. However, the claim that the court has jurisdiction over “Palestine” relies in part on the 1995 Oslo Accords, which created the PA. 

So after Abbas announced on May 18 that, “The… State of Palestine [is] absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements…” the ICC wrote to the PA asking if the Oslo Accords were still in effect. 

The PA decided to have it both ways. Despite Abbas saying the agreements with Israel are no longer in effect “as of today”, the PA told the Court on June 4, “Substantively, the statement declares that if Israel proceeds with annexation… then it will have annulled any remnants of the Oslo Accords…” This is not what Abbas said at all, nor what other PA leaders have been saying.

Moreover, the PA’s submission to the court included an ostensible translation of Abbas’ speech – but the translation omitted some of the more extreme claims in the text that the PA released to its own people in Arabic. 

For instance, a promise to continue paying salaries to imprisoned terrorists and their families, which the ICC has said could be a war crime, was omitted from the version sent to the ICC. 

If the PA continues to play this “doublespeak” game, it risks being called out not just by Israel, but by anyone with access to Google Translate.