Behind the News – June 2018

Behind the News - June 2018
MBS: Blunt advice for the Palestinians

TERROR REPORT

On May 23, the Israeli Air Force attacked underground Hamas terror infrastructure in northern Gaza, the tenth tunnel to be revealed by Israel since 2014, as well as two Hamas naval force targets. On May 12, Israeli planes had neutralised a Hamas terror tunnel in northern Gaza, the first time the IDF had destroyed a tunnel within Gaza, a few metres before it reached Israeli territory.

In addition to the events on the Gaza border discussed elsewhere in this edition, a few terror attempts occurred in the West Bank. Two Palestinian youths were arrested on May 1 at the Salem Military Court with three pipe bombs hidden under their clothes.

A soldier was struck by a car on May 11 at the Ganot Junction, leaving him with leg injuries.

BARRIER TO ENTRY

Following the destruction of the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza by rioters allegedly encouraged by Hamas, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesperson Jamie McGoldrick called on “demonstrators to avoid actions that negatively affect the functioning of Gaza’s main entry point for humanitarian goods.”

Meanwhile, two truckloads of humanitarian goods for Gaza provided by Israel, including medical supplies, were turned away by Hamas at the border crossing on May 16.

ELECTRICITY DEAL FOR THE PA

On May 1, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) reached an agreement to transfer control over all power supply infrastructure in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Under the deal, reached after three years of technical talks, the PA will pay off over 900 million shekels (A$243 million) in debt to the Israel Electric Corporation, and the latter will cooperate in building new power stations with the Palestinian Electricity Transmission Co. Ltd and sell energy to it wholesale. The deal also allows the PA to purchase energy from Jordan.

IRAN RESUMING ACTIVITY AT FORDOW NUCLEAR FACILITY?

Israeli satellite imagery, published on May 5, of the Iranian underground nuclear facility at Fordow suggests that Teheran may be in violation of the nuclear deal it signed with the West (JCPOA). The photos indicate that Iran could be resuming uranium enrichment, with ongoing construction, open gates and many vehicles sighted at the entrances to the underground site. Under the JCPOA, Iran is only allowed to use Fordow for production of non-nuclear isotopes for civilian medical and research purposes. It was last monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late February.

MOROCCO CUTS TIES WITH IRAN OVER SUPPORT FOR POLISARIO

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita announced on May 2 that his country will cut ties with Iran over the latter’s support of the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement. Morocco fought a guerrilla war with Polisario, which was previously backed by Algeria and the former Soviet Union, until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

The Moroccan Embassy in Teheran will be closed and the Iranian Ambassador in Rabat will be expelled. The minister accused Iran and its proxy terrorist organisation, Hezbollah, of using the embassy in neighbouring Algeria to train and arm Polisario fighters, and supplying them with SAM-11, SAM-9 and Strela surface-to-air missile systems.

LABOUR UNREST IN IRAN

Workers and labourers from various industries in Iran went on strike in early May to protest workplace conditions and pay and the regime’s wider economic problems. Teachers, steelworkers, railway and hospital employees were all reported to have undertaken strikes in different cities within Iran – part of a larger pattern of growing popular unrest in Iran this year.

Human rights groups have in recent years cited Iran for its frequent persecution of trade unionists.

DEVASTATION AT SYRIA’S YARMOUK PALESTINIAN REFUGEE CAMP

On May 21, the Syrian army and its allies completed the conquest of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp on the southern outskirts of Damascus. The camp was once the largest outside the West Bank and Gaza, with 160,000 residents. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, it has been the site of intense fighting between Government forces, rebel factions and ISIS fighters. A crippling siege, shelling and other fighting have reportedly led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinian camp residents. In addition, in what some Palestinians have branded as “The Second Nakba”, most of the residents, facing famine and terror, either fled or were evacuated and became displaced.

SAUDI LEADER URGES PALESTINIANS TO ACCEPT PEACE OFFERS

According to several sources, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) reportedly told American Jewish leaders during a closed-door meeting with them on March 27, “It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”

Reports say MBS also strongly criticised PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

These reports follow an April 2 interview MBS gave to the Atlantic, in which he stated that “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land” – suggesting he endorsed Israel’s right to exist.

EMBASSIES MOVE TO JERUSALEM

The US officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence according to the Western calendar, five months after US President Donald Trump formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

While many in the international community considered the move controversial, diplomats from 33 countries attended the opening event while some others have also followed the US example. Guatemala moved its embassy to Jerusalem on May 16, and Paraguay on May 21.

Other countries that have expressed interest in moving their embassies include Honduras, the Czech Republic and Romania.

ARAB ISRAELI TECH PARTICIPATION SOARS

According to Israel’s Ministry of Labour, the participation of Arab Israelis in Israel’s hi-tech sector is up 1000% over the last decade. This has been achieved through a series of government initiatives, and the assistance of NGOs such as Tsofen (“code”), which helps mentor young Arab-Israeli engineers to find a pathway to employment in the high-tech sector. Arab-Israeli success stories such as Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji have also encouraged more young Arab-Israelis to enrol in commuter science courses as opposed to previously more popular degrees like law, medicine and accounting.

ON YER BIKE

Israel has hosted the start of one of world cycling’s three grand tours, with the Giro d’Italia leaving Europe for the first time in early May, and the world’s top cyclists completing a time trial and then two road stages around Israel before the race moved on to Italy.

However, the Palestinian Olympic Committee condemned the participation of two Arab-sponsored teams – Bahrain Merida and UAE Team Emirates.

Despite the fact that none of the riders on either team hailed from a Middle Eastern country, the Committee said their presence was “a stab in the back to the great sacrifices made by the Palestinian people… and a free service for the occupation.”

Neither Bahrain nor the United Arab Emirates officially recognise Israel, but the riders representing those two teams were warmly welcomed by Israeli crowds.