Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – May 2021

Apr 29, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israeli F-15 strike fighter: Reported strikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria
Israeli F-15 strike fighter: Reported strikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria

Rocket and Terror Report

Two rockets launched from Gaza into Israel on April 16 and 17 caused no damage and prompted retaliatory strikes by the IDF against Hamas targets. 

In the West Bank, two car-ramming attacks by Palestinians were thwarted, on March 28 and April 5. The first driver was taken for questioning, while the second was shot and killed. The throwing of rocks, IEDs and Molotov cocktails by Palestinians at Israeli traffic continued to be regular occurrences. 


Explosion slows Iranian nuclear program

As indirect nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran continue, a blast inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on April 11 reportedly caused substantial damage to its uranium enrichment capabilities. Informed sources told the media that Israel was behind the blast, which has set back Iran’s nuclear progress, possibly by up to nine months. The explosion was reportedly detonated from afar and destroyed both the main and auxiliary power systems of the underground section of the site, thus reportedly causing large numbers of centrifuges to be destroyed.

Teheran responded to the attack by starting to enrich a small amount of uranium to 60% purity – a level significantly closer than previously to the 90% enriched uranium required for a nuclear warhead. 

Experts now estimate the “breakout” time needed for Iran to amass enough highly enriched fissile material for a bomb at around three to four months. 


Israel-Iran attacks continue 

Israel reportedly carried out its first strike in nearly a month on Syrian territory on April 7, hitting Iranian positions near Damascus. Reports said the strikes resulted in the deaths of three Iran-backed militia members, and the destruction of a weapons depot. On April 21, Israeli jets struck targets in the Syrian Golan Heights, and later attacked several Syrian surface-to-air batteries after an errant anti-aircraft missile struck southern Israel. 

Iranian tanker ships continue to smuggle oil into Syria in violation of US sanctions, with at least three million barrels reportedly delivered in the first half of April. According to media reports, Israel has attacked at least a dozen Iranian ships in the Red and Mediterranean Seas illicitly carrying weapons and oil to Syria and to terrorists in Lebanon over recent months.

On April 6, the Iranian ship MV Saviz, a reconnaissance ship and floating military base, was damaged by limpet mines in the Red Sea off the coast of Djibouti. US media reports claimed Israel was responsible. 

On April 13, the Israeli owned commercial cargo ship Hyperion Ray was struck off the Emirati coast and slightly damaged, reportedly by an Iranian missile.


Iran-China agreement 

On March 27, the Foreign Ministers of China and Iran, Wang Yi and Javad Zarif, signed a 25-year cooperation agreement in a ceremony at the foreign ministry in Teheran, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency. 

It was part of a two-day visit by Wang that appears to reflect Chinese intentions to play a more influential role in the Middle East.


Nebulous ‘coup’ attempt in Jordan

At least 18 people were arrested by Jordanian intelligence services in early April over a so-called seditious plot involving King Abdullah II’s half-brother Prince Hamzah bin Hussein – who was removed as Crown Prince in 2004 in favour of Abdullah II’s eldest son. 

While the nature of the plot and its actual participants are unclear, reporting suggests Prince Hamzah and his associates, including Bassem Awadallah, a Jordanian advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, had begun discussing economic and political grievances against King Abdullah with tribal leaders and even sounding them out to switch their allegiance to Prince Hamzah. 

Prince Hamzah and the Saudis deny any part in any alleged plot. Awadallah remains in detention despite Saudi entreaties, while Hamzah has publicly pledged allegiance to the King after being placed under house arrest. 


Israel and Greece announce defence agreement

On April 18, Israel and Greece signed their largest ever defence cooperation agreement, worth around 5.4 billion shekels (A$2 billion). The deal includes the establishment of a flight training centre for the Hellenic Air Force, to be built and operated for 22 years by the Israeli defence company Elbit Systems. 

The training centre will be modelled on the Israeli Air Force’s flight academy, and use 10 modified Italian-made M-346 training aircraft with “unique avionics and embedded training solutions,” according to Elbit. 


Sudan repeals boycott of Israel 

On April 6, Sudan’s Cabinet voted to repeal a 1958 law that forbade diplomatic and business relations with Israel. The vote followed last year’s signing of a normalisation deal between Israel and Sudan under the Abraham Accords. The decision was ratified by Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council.

Sudan has also promised Israel that it will overturn a law used to imprison migrants who leave Sudan and then return, which would enable some of the 6,200 Sudanese migrants currently in Israel to go back to Sudan. 


US State Department country reports

In its annual review of global human rights violations for 2020 published on March 30, the US State Department documented a plethora of abuses routinely committed by Iran.

These include unlawful execution of individuals, including juveniles, without fair trial; the use of torture; arbitrary imprisonment; and severe restrictions on free speech, religious freedom and political participation.

The regime’s abuses extend beyond its own border into Syria, Iraq and Yemen through Teheran’s support of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, pro-Iran Iraqi militias, and the Houthi rebels respectively.

The report also detailed significant violations by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza. In one example, PA security forces were reported to have arrested, intimidated and tortured Palestinians who participated in a 2019 international conference in Bahrain convened to unveil the economic aspects of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan.


Holocaust commemorated in UAE and Bahrain

This year, for the first time, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, was officially marked in Arab countries.

On the evening of April 7, the Crossroads of Civilisations Museum in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates hosted guests from around the world, including a delegation of Jewish and Arab Israelis, as part of the global Yellow Candle Project remembering the victims of the Shoah.

Bahrain, too, hosted a Yom Hashoah ceremony, with former Israeli diplomat and Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold as guest of honour. 


COVID numbers

As of April 20, there had been a total of 837,218 coronavirus cases in Israel, up from 828,764 as of March 23, with a total of 6,341 deaths, up from 6,109 – numbers which reflect a continuing sharp decline in cases thanks to Israel’s vaccine program.

5,354,954 Israelis – almost 62% of the population – have now received their first dose of the vaccine, with 4,982,803, or 57.5%, also having received the second. 

In the Palestinian ruled areas of the West Bank, there had been 282,270 cases, up from 225,976 on March 23, and 3,047 deaths, up from 2,458. In Gaza, the number of cases surged to 91,086, up from 59,330 cases as of March 21.


Stranger Than Fiction


The Choice of Sophie

Each year, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) annual dinner features a well-known speaker sympathetic to its perspective. This year’s choice, Sophie McNeill, appears to fit the bill. 

Prior to being ABC Middle East correspondent, McNeill often participated in pro-Palestinian activism, and the AIR regularly critiqued her reporting for its anti-Israel slant.

However, the choice of McNeill so aggrieved members of “Anti-Imperialists for Palestine” (AIFP) that they wrote an open letter vowing not to attend unless APAN chose another speaker. The letter was published by the Centre for Counter-Hegemonic Studies, whose Director, Tim Anderson, is also a leader of AIFP.

While acknowledging McNeill had been “criticised by the extreme Zionist lobby,” the letter condemned her for “ferociously attacking the regional resistance,” meaning Iran and its proxies, including the Syrian Assad regime. Apparently “It is only western apologists for the multiple US wars” who criticise the “resistance.” She was also condemned for “repeatedly” running the “propaganda of ‘barrel bombs’ and ‘chemical weapons’ in Syria.”

Furthermore, McNeill now works for Human Rights Watch (HRW); “a US corporate propaganda machine which demonises all US foreign policy targets,” and whose “leader Ken Roth is a prominent liberal zionist (sic).” 

In fact, HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, publicly condemned the organisation because of its disproportionate focus on Israel under Roth, including tacit support for boycotts and sanctions. 

McNeill and Human Rights Watch are accused of targeting China “e.g. the Uyghur scam”, and making “false moral equivalence between Israeli massacres and Palestinian resistance,” among other things.

HRW should be condemned for drawing false equivalence between Palestinian terrorism and Israeli self-defence, but not the way the letter intends.

Anderson, as Ran Porat notes (p. 27), often seems to act as a mouthpiece for Iran’s regime, so it’s unsurprising that it appears exactly one media outlet covered his letter to APAN – Teheran’s state-owned Press TV.

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