Behind the News – June 2023
May 24, 2023 | AIJAC staff
ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT
Seventy-nine rockets were launched into Israel from Gaza on May 2 and 3 following the death of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative Khader Adnan in Israeli prison from a hunger strike, with 104 fired altogether between May 2 and May 9. While most were intercepted, some resulted in property damage and injuries.
Israelis were lightly injured in drive-by shootings in the West Bank on April 25 and May 2. In a firefight on May 4, the IDF killed the terrorists who had murdered Lucy Dee and her daughters Maia and Rina in a drive-by shooting on April 7. A stabbing near Hawara injured an IDF soldier the same day.
Continuing counterterrorism raids throughout the West Bank resulted in the detention of scores of suspected terrorists and several Palestinian casualties, mostly militants or those engaging in violent activity against the IDF during arrest raids into West Bank towns.
OPERATION SHIELD AND ARROW
There were 1,478 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza during Israel’s operation “Shield and Arrow” (May 9 to 13) against the PIJ terror organisation.
1,139 projectiles crossed into Israel, 291 landed in Gaza, and the rest fell in the sea. 437 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome and two by David’s Sling – an estimated 95.6% interception rate of those rockets heading for populated areas.
Israeli forces conducted 422 strikes on 278 different locations and targets in Gaza.
Israeli citizen Inga Avramian and a Palestinian worker, Abdallah abu Gaba, lost their lives within Israel. Thirty-six Gazans were killed (for more details, see p. 6).
IRANIAN CYBER-ATTACKS AGAINST ISRAEL
Hackers believed to be linked to Russia and Iran made unsuccessful attempts to sabotage Israeli rocket alert systems during Operation “Shield and Arrow” amidst a global escalation in Iranian cyber-attacks over recent months.
While some ancillary websites were temporarily taken offline, the official mechanisms that alert Israelis about incoming missiles via sirens and phone notifications were not affected.
However, the cyber-attacks did highlight a growing threat for Israel from cooperation between mainly Iranian-affiliated hackers and Palestinian attackers attempting to harm Israel’s civil defence infrastructure.
IRAN HIJACKS OIL TANKERS, SHIPS WEAPONS TO RUSSIA
Iran seized three oil tankers between April 27 and May 15, one of which was allegedly hijacked in retaliation for the US seizure of Iranian oil from a tanker in late April. On May 15, Iran announced it had “retaken” an oil tanker that had been “illegally” used by a foreign company for the past five years.
New reports also revealed Iran has been using the Caspian Sea to ship a million rounds of ammunition and hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine over recent months – providing an alternative route to the usual cargo flights flying Iranian drones and ammunition to Russia.
DESPERATE IRANIANS SELL THEIR ORGANS
Iranian media reports from early May said that Iranians are resorting to selling their organs in ever larger numbers due to the deepening crisis in the country’s corruption-plagued economy. The organs, including kidneys, livers, corneas, bone marrow, and even sperm and ova, can fetch up to US$15,000. The process is being facilitated by middlemen in neighbouring countries such as the UAE, Turkey and Iraq. Iran is the only country in which such organ sales are legal.
ISRAEL ARRESTS WEAPONS-SMUGGLING JORDANIAN MP
A Jordanian member of parliament, Imad al-Adwan, was caught on April 22 attempting to smuggle more than 200 firearms into Israel. According to an investigation by Israel’s Shin Bet security service, al-Adwan had smuggled various types of contraband into the West Bank on 12 previous occasions, including birds, electronic cigarettes and gold.
He carried out the smuggling using his diplomatic passport and reportedly received “large sums of money” for his smuggling efforts.
Despite there being no extradition treaty between Israel and Jordan, Israel handed him over to Jordanian authorities after his parliamentary immunity was removed, allowing him to stand trial there.
EU PARLIAMENT CALLS OUT PALESTINIAN TEXTBOOK INCITEMENT
For the fourth year in a row, the European Parliament has condemned the antisemitism and incitement depicted within textbooks used by students in Palestinian schools, some of them funded by the European Union.
This year’s resolution by the European Parliament passed on May 10, has a greater focus on the importance of removing antisemitic references than in previous years.
The resolution calls on the EU to freeze funding to the Palestinian Authority until the content of the textbooks falls into alignment with UNESCO standards of peace and tolerance. However, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell has said he will not allow the measure to be translated into action against financial aid to the PA.
DEADLY ATTACK ON TUNISIAN SYNAGOGUE
Five people were shot dead by a naval guard in an attack on the 2,500-year-old El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia on May 9, as hundreds of Jewish worshippers participated in an annual pilgrimage to the site.
The victims were Aviel Haddad, an Israeli living in Tunisia, his French cousin Ben Haddad, another naval guard, and two police officers protecting the synagogue. At least ten other people were injured.
Following the attack, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied twice denied that the attack was antisemitic, and mocked those who continue to talk about antisemitism today. He claimed Western countries voicing concern over antisemitism in Tunisia were ignoring Israel’s repression of Palestinians.
ISRAELI AID TO UAE REVEALED
Israeli journalist Barak Ravid has revealed Israel’s pivotal role in providing aid to the UAE when it faced a series of missile strikes from Houthi rebels in Yemen last year, in the latest edition of his book, Trump’s Peace, on the Abraham Accords. Ravid reports Israel sent a delegation of intelligence officials to assist with the investigation into the first of the attacks in early 2022, and later transferred a shipment of batteries from the SPYDER air defence system to the UAE.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Economy Minister Nir Barkat was in Morocco in early May for Morocco’s largest agricultural Trade Fair, SIAM, seeking to strengthen agricultural relations between the two countries. While there, he met with Moroccan Agriculture Minister Mohammed Sadiki, and the two discussed joint training and exchange programs focused on agriculture and agritech.
ISRAEL-PA GAZA GAS FIELD TALKS
Israeli reports say the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) held secret talks during early May to discuss the Gaza Marine gas field, located 36km off the coast of the strip. Mediated by US officials, representatives discussed technical and legal arrangements for the extraction of gas from the relatively small field, including potentially exporting the gas via Egyptian pipelines or processing it in Israel. However, significant progress on implementing this project is not expected anytime soon given Hamas, not the PA, controls the Gaza Strip.
Stranger than Fiction
It is well-known that, when it comes to the Middle East, and especially Israel, the United Nations commits travesty after travesty. Sometimes, however, even by these deplorable standards, it appears that the world body is actually trying to parody itself.
On May 10, it was announced by the President of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a body notorious for routinely condemning Israel more than every other country put together, that Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, Ali Bahreini, will be chairing the UNHRC’s Social Forum in November, after having been nominated by regional coordinators.
While the notion of Iran chairing anything to do with human rights is laughable, this honour is particularly obscene. The Social Forum is supposed to highlight the contributions of science, technology and innovation to the promotion of human rights, and the Islamic Republic is currently actively deploying artificial intelligence (AI) to aid in quashing human rights.
It is using surveillance technology coupled with AI to identify anyone breaching its restrictive rules, such as women appearing in public without a hijab (headscarf), as well as deploying facial recognition technology to identify protestors.
The regime blocks many social media and messaging platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and WhatsApp; censors key internet services; and sometimes shuts down the internet altogether. It also routinely accesses the social media accounts of Iranians to investigate and prosecute them. On May 8, two days before the announcement, it executed two men, Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare, for blasphemy because they participated in a social media discussion titled “Critique of Superstition and Religion.”
Iran’s appointment as head of its Social Forum can only really be explained if the members of the UN Human Rights Council believe its purpose is to allow them to swap notes on how best to supress human rights.