Behind the News – May 2023
May 1, 2023 | AIJAC staff
ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT
One rocket was fired from Gaza on March 18. Fifty-four rockets were fired from Gaza on April 5 and 6, with most falling in empty areas or being intercepted by Iron Dome, although at least one home was hit. Hamas also fired 34 rockets from Lebanon, causing some property damage and injuring one person, and another Palestinian group fired six rockets from Syria, both on April 8. These all prompted Israeli retaliatory strikes.
Hamas drones from Gaza were intercepted on March 22 and April 3. A drone that crossed into Israel from Syria was downed on April 2.
Two more shooting attacks occurred in the West Bank town of Huwara on March 19 and 25, targeting and injuring a civilian family and two IDF soldiers respectively.
On April 7, two Israeli-British sisters, 20-year-old Maia Dee and 15-year-old Rina Dee, were shot dead in their car near Hamra in the Jordan Valley. Their mother, Lea, later died from wounds sustained in the attack. The same day, an Israeli Arab ploughed his car into pedestrians in Tel Aviv, killing a tourist and wounding seven.
On April 18, two Israeli civilians were shot and wounded in Jerusalem. A Palestinian terrorist wounded five Israelis in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem on April 24.
Several stabbing, shooting and various other terrorist attacks occurred throughout the West Bank during April, and Israeli counterterrorism raids continued there.
AL-AQSA CLASH DURING RAMADAN
On April 4, during Ramadan and on Passover eve, approximately 400 Palestinians, many masked, barricaded themselves in the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem after evening prayers. They brought fireworks, clubs, rocks and explosives which they used against Israeli police who entered the site to physically remove the Palestinians. This came following the failure of hours of negotiations to convince those barricaded in the mosque to leave.
Approximately 350 people were arrested during the violent unrest. Video footage showed Israeli police entering the mosque using stun grenades and being met with a bombardment of fireworks and rocks. Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai later conceded that some Israeli officers may have used excessive force during the scuffle as captured in videos shared on social media, promising they would be investigated.
ISRAEL UNDER CYBERATTACK
Israeli institutions have come under increasing cyber-attacks over recent weeks. Coordinated attacks targeted government sites, and health and educational institutions, including tens of thousands of attempted attacks over two days in early April on the critical services provided by the United Hatzalah emergency medical services organisation – which was able to prevent any damage.
Some Israeli banks and one of Israel’s largest cyber-security companies, Check Point, were also temporarily disrupted by a group of hackers with reported Russian ties calling themselves “Anonymous Sudan”. The bank attack occurred on Iran’s Quds (Jerusalem) Day (April 14).
Israeli university websites were also temporarily unavailable for browsing due to unsophisticated “directed denial of service” attacks.
Several water monitors, including irrigation systems and wastewater treatment systems in the Jordan Valley, were also damaged by hackers.
PA, HAMAS CRACKDOWN ON SCRUTINY
There appears to be a current trend within the Palestinian Authority of “shrinking the space for civil society organisations and further empowering its security services,” according to Mohannad Karaje, head of Palestinian civil rights organisation Lawyers for Justice, which defends dissidents detained by the PA in the West Bank. The PA denied registration to Lawyers for Justice in March which, Karaje said, meant it could lose access to its bank accounts and have its offices closed and staff arrested.
Meanwhile, in late March, Hamas police arrested and then assaulted Hani Abu Rizk, a correspondent for the Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda newspaper, who was covering the eviction of a local resident and cancer patient from his home in the Gaza strip. The arrest and assault on Rizk was strongly condemned by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.
IRAN HUMANITARIAN AID COVER FOR WEAPONS SMUGGLING
Multiple sources have confirmed that Teheran has shipped weapons and military equipment aboard aeroplanes sent to Syria ostensibly to provide humanitarian support to the country after northwestern Syria was badly affected by the earthquake which also struck Turkey on Feb. 6. According to the reports, for at least seven weeks, hundreds of supposed Iranian relief supply flights to Aleppo, Latakia and Damascus carried advanced communications equipment, radar batteries and spare parts for upgrading Iranian air defence systems operating in Syria. Israeli security forces reportedly quickly uncovered this operation and took various actions to thwart it, including by attacking the Aleppo airport and Iranian militias in Syria (see below).
Also in Syria, on March 24, US F-15 jets bombed Iranian proxy militias in response to an attack by an Iranian-built drone against a US base in the northeast part of the country, which had resulted in the death of an American civilian contractor and wounded five soldiers.
ISRAEL ATTACKS IRANIAN TARGETS IN SYRIA
Israel continued its ongoing war-between-wars campaign in Syria against Iran and its proxies, seeking to undermine Teheran’s attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
On April 8, Israel carried out air attacks on the headquarters of the Syrian fourth division in the Syrian Golan Heights, commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. This was in retaliation for an Iranian drone launched towards Israel in early April.
Israel also targeted several Syrian army units and Iranian proxy militias at the Homs area on April 2. Other Iranian and Hezbollah sites in Syria were hit by Israel following a bomb attack on March 13 at Israel’s Megiddo Junction by a terrorist from Lebanon. Israeli missiles were also reportedly launched at Iranian proxy sites west of Damascus in early April, allegedly resulting in the deaths of several Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives.
EGYPT TO SUPPLY WEAPONS TO RUSSIA?
Amidst a plethora of images of top-secret US intelligence documents leaked on the popular gaming chat-app Discord were summaries of alleged conversations between Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi and senior military officials about the production of approximately 40,000 rockets to be secretly shipped to Russia. There were also references in the document to Egypt possibly providing Russia with artillery rounds.
A senior Egyptian official denied the information gleaned from the secret document dated Feb. 17, and re-iterated his country’s non-involvement in the war in Ukraine. White House spokesman John Kirby said that the US had not seen any indication Egypt was providing weapons to Russia.
Meanwhile, Israel will reportedly begin deploying a missile warning system to Kyiv in May and, if that is successful, roll out similar systems in other Ukrainian cities. The systems will provide alerts of impending strikes, but will not have interception capabilities.
ISRAEL OPENS TURKMENISTAN EMBASSY
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen inaugurated Israel’s first embassy in Turkmenistan during an April 20 visit to the Central Asian state. Cohen is the first Israeli foreign minister to visit the majority-Muslim country since 1994.
The newly built embassy is located in the capital city of Ashgabat, 16 km from Turkmenistan’s long border with Iran.
Stranger than Fiction
Daylight saving times can often lead to confusion, with people forgetting to adjust their clocks. In Australia especially, it can lead to head-scratching, with two states and a territory not observing daylight saving, and other states sometimes changing their clocks at different times, leading to a plethora of time zones in different geographical areas.
However, as if to emphasise its political dysfunction, Lebanon took this one step further by having rival time zones in exactly the same place.
The problem began when caretaker Lebanese PM Najib Mikati announced on short notice that daylight saving would begin only at the end of the holy month of Ramadan on April 20, so observant Muslims could break their fast earlier each day – rather than, as previously, the final Sunday of March.
However, Christian authorities, including the Maronite Church, said they would follow the customary practice of changing the clock on March 26, and many businesses and other organisations, including television stations, followed suit.
The national airline, Middle East Airlines, compromised, saying its clocks would stay on wintertime in accordance with Mikati’s announcement, but flight times would be adjusted to daylight saving time. Many operators of electronic devices that adjust automatically, such as mobile phones, were not notified of the change in time to cater for it, so some changed to daylight savings and others didn’t.
However, on March 29, three days after daylight saving had been due to begin, Mikati’s cabinet reversed itself, and daylight saving began uniformly a few days late. Mikati himself blamed the country’s political gridlock, leading to the lack of a president, for the confusion, saying, “The problem is not winter or summer time… Rather the problem is the vacuum in the top post in the republic.” Perhaps he’s right – under Lebanon’s constitution, the PM must be a Sunni Muslim and the President a Christian.