Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – June 2024

May 29, 2024 | AIJAC staff

IDF tanks in the Rafah crossing precinct (Image: X/ Twitter)
IDF tanks in the Rafah crossing precinct (Image: X/ Twitter)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

A rocket and mortar salvo fired from Rafah at the Kerem Shalom border crossing on May 5 killed four soldiers and injured several more.There were additional salvos on Kerem Shalom on May 8, 10, 11, 12 and 24, while rocket barrages were also fired from Rafah at Beersheba, Ashkelon and Sderot. A barrage of 12 long-range rockets was fired from Rafah at central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area, on May 26.

An approximately week-long IDF operation in Zeitoun in northern Gaza ended on May 15, with about 150 terrorists killed. 

There were 11 major terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem between April 21 and May 5 targeting security forces and civilians. On May 17, Israeli airstrikes in Jenin targeted a command room belonging to a local terror network, killing several operatives. 

As of May 23, the IDF death toll in ground operations inside Gaza since October 7 stood at 285. 

In mid-May, the IDF recovered the bodies of seven hostages from Gaza. All had been killed on October 7.

 

ISRAEL’S LIMITED RAFAH OPERATIONS SO FAR

As of May 24, the IDF had killed 180 terrorists in operations in the outer areas of the southern Gaza town of Rafah. It had also confiscated and destroyed numerous rocket launchers and other weapons. Approximately 900,000 Palestinians had been safely evacuated from Rafah by May 21, the overwhelming majority moving northwest to the al-Mawasi humanitarian area that Israel had designated for Rafah evacuees, containing tents, medical facilities and other humanitarian infrastructure.

The IDF took control of the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt on May 7, and reportedly found numerous smuggling tunnels from Sinai into Gaza along the border.

 

ISRAEL OPENS MORE AID CROSSINGS

Despite attacks by Hamas on aid routes, Israel opened new crossings to enable more aid to be delivered to Gazans in recent weeks.

In the north of the strip, Israel opened three additional crossings – Erez, Western Erez and Zikim – during early May. 

In the southern part of Gaza, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was closed by Egypt after the IDF conquered the northern part of the crossing. As of May 27, the Egyptians had refused to reopen the crossing for aid despite numerous Israeli requests.

On Friday, May 17, aid began to enter Gaza via the floating pier assembled by the US military, though some aid trucks were seized by looters. 

 

UN HALVES WOMEN AND CHILDREN GAZA CASUALTY CLAIMS

The United Nations has dramatically revised down its fatality figures for women and children killed in the war in Gaza. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revised the figure for children killed from more than 14,500 on May 6 to 7,797 on May 8. The number of women killed was also revised downwards by OCHA from more than 9,500 deaths to 4,959 deaths. OCHA admitted it had previously relied on casualty statistics from the Gaza-based, Hamas-controlled Government Media Office. However, the revised numbers seem to rely on figures released by the Gaza Ministry of Health, even though it has been revealed that the latter is unable to provide names for more than 10,000 of the 34,000 people it says have died during the war.

 

CAIRO APPARENTLY CAUSED CEASEFIRE DEAL CONFUSION

It was widely reported in early May that Hamas had accepted a ceasefire deal which was then rejected by Israel. However, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller clarified that Hamas did not actually approve the ceasefire proposal offered to the group by Israel and the US on May 6 but responded with a “counterproposal”. The Hamas-approved document allowed Hamas to free only a few hostages – who did not have to be alive – while ending IDF Gaza operations and leading to the release of the most dangerous Hamas terrorists in Israeli jails. 

It was subsequently reported that Egyptian intelligence officers had, without informing the Israelis or US, altered the terms of the deal agreed to prior to presenting it to Hamas. 

 

LEBANON ESCALATION

Hezbollah has significantly escalated its attacks on Israel since the IDF began its operations in Rafah, including using heavy Burkan rockets. Between May 6 and 12 alone, Hezbollah carried out 46 attacks against civilian and military targets in Israel, killing three IDF soldiers. 

On May 15, it launched more than 60 rockets at an Israeli air traffic control base.

As of mid-May, Hezbollah had fired more than 4,500 missiles, drones and guided anti-tank missiles into Israel since October 7. 

 

TURKEY HALTS ISRAEL TRADE

Turkey announced on May 3 that it was halting all trade with Israel. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that trade would only resume after a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and what Turkey considers to be a sufficient flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Turkey was Israel’s fourth-largest trading partner in 2023. 

 

IRAN’S PRESIDENT AND FOREIGN MINISTER KILLED IN CRASH

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian were killed along with several other Iranian officials when their helicopter crashed in northern Iran on May 19. They were on their way back to Teheran from neighbouring Azerbaijan. Following Raisi’s death, First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will be acting president until an emergency presidential election is held on June 28. 

 

LEADERS HINT IRAN BUILDING NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Kamal Kharazi, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader, suggested on May 9 that Teheran might shift its nuclear program from a civilian focus to a military one if it perceives existential threats, saying the Supreme Leader’s Fatwa (“religious ruling”) against building nuclear weapons could be reversed. Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani, a member of Iran’s Parliament, asserted on May 10 that Iran already possesses nuclear weapons, but this fact will be disclosed gradually to avoid causing international alarm.

In response to these Iranian statements, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi insisted that such “loose talk” must stop.

 

UN VOTES ON PALESTINIAN MEMBERSHIP

A UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling on the Security Council to recognise the “State of Palestine” as a member, and granting more procedural rights and privileges to the Palestinian UN delegation, passed on May 10, with 143 countries voting in favour, including Australia, 9 against and 25 abstentions. Hamas welcomed the resolution. 

The Palestinian Authority can now participate in UNGA discussions and in the forums of UN agencies and committees, partake in selecting representatives for committees and put forward proposals for deliberation. However, it still cannot vote or be elected to most UN bodies. 

 

MALAYSIA ALLEGED TO BE ASSISTING IRAN EVADE SANCTIONS

Iran is reportedly working with Malaysian operators to avoid international sanctions to move and sell its oil to China, according to Brian Nelson, the US Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. On May 7, during a trip to Malaysia and Singapore as part of a crackdown, Nelson said that Iran is using multiple companies in the region to move its heavily restricted oil near Singapore and around south-east Asia, then selling it illegally. 

 


Stranger than Fiction

FLIGHTS OF FANTASY

Israelis have become so accustomed to being blamed for every Middle Eastern misfortune that they joke about being responsible. In a massive irony, some have taken the latest such joke as evidence of Israeli villainy.

After the May 19 helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials, a joke meme spread on Israeli social media thanking the Mossad agent “Eli Copter” for his role. “The Mossad”, a satirical pro-Israel account on X, “quoted” Raisi asking, “Are you sure this helicopter is safe?” and “Agent Eli Kopter” replying, “absolutely”.

This was picked up by a Hamas Telegram channel, “Al-Qassam Correspondent”, with 136,000 followers across the Middle East, which posted, “It is said that the helicopter pilot was a Mossad Agent named Eli Kopter.”

London-based Arabic language website Al Sabah Al-Misry took it further, stating, “Hebrew media quoting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reported that Mossad agent Eli Copter and F16 pilot Avi Ron carried out the operation to shoot down the Iranian helicopter and now returned to their base in Israel.” “Avi Ron” is another Hebrew pun referencing the word for a small plane. Of course, Netanyahu said no such thing.

Even the French media got in on the act, with Daniel Haik, a political analyst on French TV channel i24 News France saying, “A Hamas group speaking on the Telegram claims that the helicopter pilot was a Mossad agent. They even provided his name: Eli Kopter. Is it true or not?”

While amusing, it is sobering that millions of people use sources such as these for their understanding of what is really happening in the Middle East.

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