As of press time, more than 30 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in weekly Friday protests and riots along the Gaza border that began March 30, which the Palestinians labelled “The Great March of Return.” Up to 30,000 participants took part initially, though substantially fewer in later weeks. Rioters burned tyres and flags, threw stones and firebombs and attempted to breach the border fence. Some Hamas operatives used the riots as cover for attacks against Israeli soldiers and the fence and inspired others to follow suit. On April 20, a 15-year-old Palestinian affiliated with Fatah ran towards the fence and was killed, sparking international condemnation. Several armed attempts to cross the border into Israel and numerous attempts to place explosive devices on the fence were foiled by the IDF. Hamas claims the riots will reach their climax on Nakba Day (May 15).
On April 15, IDF forces blocked and neutralised a Hamas terror tunnel which extended from the northern part of the Gaza strip into Israeli territory. This was the eighth tunnel exposed since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and the longest and deepest one discovered so far.
On March 23, three Palestinians armed with grenades and other weapons infiltrated from Gaza into Israel, and were only caught hours later 20 kilometres inside Israel.
GAZA CASUALTIES ALLEGEDLY MOSTLY TERRORISTS
A report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC) provided evidence that appeared to show that 26 of the Palestinians killed during first three weeks of the Gaza riots were either affiliated with or direct members of terrorist organisations, mainly Hamas. Furthermore, all but two of those killed were males of fighting age.
One of those listed as a terrorist is Yasser Murtaja, an ostensibly independent press photographer controversially shot on April 6 many metres from the security fence while wearing a ‘PRESS’ vest. Israel security officials allege that Murtaja held the equivalent rank of “captain” in Hamas’ security services. Having terrorists claim to be serving as journalists is a well-established tactic of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.
In late March, Israel completed a Military Police investigation into the death of Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, a double-amputee in a wheelchair who died on 20 December near the Gaza fence. At the time, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein blamed Israeli snipers and called it “a truly wanton and shocking act.” Israel’s investigation revealed that there was no Israeli live fire for at least an hour before Abu Thurayeh was killed, though he may have been struck by ricocheting non-lethal riot dispersal means. Abu Thurayeh reportedly told his family before the protests that he planned to die at the demonstration, but the actual cause of his death remains unclear.
AFTER TAYLOR FORCE ACT, PA RESUMES DIRECTLY FUNDING TERRORISTS
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has returned to directly providing salaries to terrorists and the families of “martyrs”, despite the US passing the Taylor Force Act on March 23, which will halt funding to the PA unless it ends such payments.
According to the PA budget report for 2018, the PA has allocated NIS 1.2 billion (A$439,832,608) to provide salaries to terrorists and their families, around 7% of its total budget.
In 2014, following international criticism of the payments, the PA disguised such payments by using a subsidiary of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, not directly part of the PA, to make them. However, this year the PA has apparently reverted to paying terrorist salaries directly from its budget.
NEW REPORT ON PA CORRUPTION
A report published in late March 2018 about the Palestinian Authority (PA) exposed corruption at the highest levels. In its annual report, the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity found widespread corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in the PA during 2017.
For example, US$17.5 million was invested in building a “presidential palace” for PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Responding to criticism over the project, the palace was converted into a national library. In addition, hundreds of Palestinian civil servants are being paid salaries even though they do not perform any work, such as employees of the long-defunct Palestinian Airline. Money is also being splashed on lavish vehicles for officials and their relatives and on an inflated security apparatus, among other things, the report said.
IRANIAN SANCTION-BUSTING AND HACKING ACTIVITIES EXPOSED
Documents produced by Bahraini auditors in February exposed how Iran has been using the now-closed Future Bank in Bahrain to evade sanctions against it. In order to help Iran bypass sanctions, the bank routinely changed financial records to hide illegal trade transactions worth at least US$7 billion between Teheran and several dozen foreign entities between 2004 and 2015. In addition, the bank gave phantom loans to fictitious companies that were fronts for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
On March 23, US Justice Department officials accused Iranian hackers of stealing multiple documents, including research, from 320 universities and government agencies, across 22 countries between 2013 and 2017. The Iranians stole the login credentials of 8,000 academics, including from 26 leading Australian universities, downloading 31 terabytes of data worth billions of dollars. The hackers were from the Iranian government-affiliated Mabna institute.
MORE SIGNS OF ISRAEL’S IMPROVING INTERNATIONAL POSITION
On March 22, for the first time, Saudi Arabia allowed a flight to Israel to pass through its airspace, that privilege being accorded to Air India’s maiden flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv. The new Air India service will operate three times a week and save hours of travel time between Asia and Israel. Until now, airplanes on Israel-Asia routes had been forced to take a much longer route to avoid flying over Arab countries.
In another diplomatic boost for Israel, the leader of Romania’s governing Social Democratic Party said on April 19 that Romania would be moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, on March 29, the Israeli charity “Save a Child’s Heart”, which performs life-saving heart surgery on children from all over the world, was named as one of two institutional winners of the United Nations Population Award, acknowledging outstanding achievements in population and health.
LIFE UNDER ISIS
The New York Times published an exposé on the Islamic State (ISIS) in early April based on a trove of more than 15,000 captured documents detailing the sophistication and extent of the bureaucratic elements of its so-called caliphate. While widely known for genocide and brutal enforcement of its religious precepts, ISIS also ran a very lucrative tax system and an efficient administrative state, the document revealed, outperforming the Iraqi government in terms of service provision and ensuring reliable water and power utilities, road repair, and garbage collection. Its Ministry for War Spoils, which confiscated the property of Shi’ites and other undesirables to redistribute to fighters and local Sunnis, also helped cement local loyalty.
Meanwhile, on April 17, US Army spokesperson in Syria Colonel Ryan Dillon gave a troubling media briefing about ISIS resurgence [estimates are that between 5,000 and 12,000 Islamic State fighters reside in eastern Syria alone] He noted that conventional ISIS assaults on regime positions in the east and around Damascus have actually reclaimed territory and resulted in the death of hundreds of pro-regime fighters. Meanwhile, the ISIS insurgency in Iraq is also rebounding, with scores of attacks every week across the entire country, he said.