Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – November 2020

Oct 30, 2020 | AIJAC staff

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat in Manama, Bahrain
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat in Manama, Bahrain


Rocket and Terror

On Oct. 20, the IDF identified a new tunnel leading from southern Gaza into Israel. A rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza the same day, leading to Israeli counter-strikes. 

Single rockets were also fired into Israel from Gaza on Oct. 5 and Oct. 16.

On Sept. 30 the IDF apprehended two suspects who crossed into Israel from Gaza and threw an inactive grenade at soldiers. 

A stabbing attack was thwarted on Oct. 5 in the West Bank.

A ceasefire deal, coordinated with Qatar, was reportedly reached between Israel and Hamas in early October, with Hamas agreeing to six months of quiet and Qatar transferring US$100 million into Gaza.

On Oct. 13, the Israeli military announced that its forces had crossed from the Golan Heights into Syria the previous week and destroyed two Syrian military outposts in a response to Syrian troops entering the demilitarised zone between the two countries.


Palestinian elections in question

The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reportedly reached an agreement during September to hold elections, the first since 2006, in the Palestinian Authority (PA) within six months. The details have yet to be finalised, even after several rounds of reconciliation deliberations in recent weeks in Turkey and Qatar between senior Fatah officials, headed by Jibril Rajoub, and Hamas representatives. One option discussed was to run a joint list of both groups for the parliament. 

Both Palestinians and other informed observers are reportedly sceptical any elections will eventuate, given repeated similar announcements in the past. 


Hamas charges Gaza peace activists

After close to five months of detention in Hamas-controlled Gaza, two of three Palestinian peace activists arrested for holding a Zoom meeting with Israelis and other young people in April were publicly charged on Sept. 26 with “weakening revolutionary spirit”. 

Hamas officials have previously accused the activists of participating in a “normalisation activity” and declared any communication with Israel “a crime punishable by law and a betrayal of our people and its sacrifices.”


Israel reveals more Hezbollah missile sites

During his Sept. 29 remote speech to the UN General Assembly, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu exposed a site inside Beirut used by Hezbollah to produce and store missiles. This facility is located amidst civilian dwellings and next to a gas depot. Later, the IDF released information about two additional underground missile sites under residential buildings within the Lebanese capital. 

An attempt by Hezbollah to refute Netanyahu’s claims by inviting reporters to tour the site backfired. Images taken by journalists revealed machinery used to manufacture various missile and engine components. The manager of the site interviewed on camera was later identified by the IDF as a Hezbollah operative involved in the precision missile project, who had visited Iran several times.


Another undeclared Iranian nuclear site?

On Oct. 16, the Iranian opposition group MEK exposed an alleged undeclared nuclear site in Iran. According to the group, the facility, built in 2012, is located east of Teheran, near a missile compound where an explosion occurred in June 2020. 

From 2017 the site has been staffed by personnel from the Ministry of Defence’s Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND). MEK accused SPND and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of illegal procurement of special Russian seismometers for the site.

Experts suspect that this site was used for geophysical experiments, involving explosion imaging, required for the development of a nuclear bomb trigger.

On Sept. 30, the IAEA announced that it had inspected and taken samples from a suspect Iranian site it had wanted to visit for some months, the second this year.


New US sanctions against Iran 

On Oct. 8 the US Trump Administration imposed penalties on 18 Iranian banks in its latest round of sanctions against the regime, aimed at pressuring Iran to return to negotiations to limit its nuclear program and end its support of regional terrorist proxies. The likely effect of the sanctions would be to exclude Iran from the global financial system. The move came shortly before the Oct. 18 expiration of a UN arms embargo, a change the US claims to have reversed by invoking the “snapback” provision at the UN Security Council. 


Israel signs agreements with Bahrain and Jordan

Israel and Bahrain formalised their preliminary normalisation agreement signed in Washington on Sept. 15 at an Oct. 18 ceremony in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani signed eight agreements, including a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations.” 

The US was represented at the ceremony by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. 

Israel’s airport and civil aviation authorities also signed a historic new aviation agreement in early October with their Jordanian counterparts allowing the two nations to use each other’s airspace for the first time. 

In a joint statement, the two countries’ aviation authorities acknowledged the deal, planned over a number of years, was accelerated by the recent UAE and Bahrain peace agreements, and the recent historic Saudi decision to allow Israeli overflight. 


Israel, Lebanon IN direct talks 

Israeli and Lebanese officials met on Oct. 14 at a border post to begin talks to resolve a maritime border dispute that has been complicated by the discovery of offshore resource deposits. 

It is the first time since the 1990s that there have been talks between the countries, which legally remain at war. Talks were mediated by the United States and United Nations, which said in a joint statement, “the representatives held productive talks and reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month.” 

Despite the positive step, both nations have cautioned that the talks are not a harbinger of broader peace negotiations.


Australia halves UNRWA funding

In the Federal budget handed down on Oct. 6, Australia’s contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was halved from US$20 million in 2019-2020 to US$10 million in 2020-2021. 

Meanwhile, it was reported on Oct. 7 that the European Union has told the PA it would not advance its loans and other financial assistance while the PA refuses to accept tax revenues held on its behalf by Israel. 

Since mid-year, the PA has rejected the transfers after announcing it was ceasing all coordination with Israel to protest promises made by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu to extend Israeli sovereignty to areas in the West Bank. 

However, as part of the recent normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE, those plans are currently off the table. 


Coronavirus in Israel and PA

By the week ending Oct. 16, Israel’s rate of new coronavirus infections appeared to be trending downward from recent peaks. With the country in lockdown and extra health resources brought in from the IDF to support the country’s overwhelmed health system, the seven-day average of new cases dropped to 2123. Deaths too were stabilising, with the total death toll reaching 2127 as of Oct. 16. Israel’s lockdown began to be eased on Oct. 18. 

On the West Bank and in Gaza, numbers have been lower than in Israel. There the seven-day average of new cases was 403.


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