Australia/Israel Review

Behind the News – November 2021

Oct 27, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives in Bahrain
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrives in Bahrain

Rocket and Terror Report

No rockets were fired from Gaza between Sept. 12 and Oct. 20.

A stabbing attack took place at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station on Sept. 13, wounding two, with the assailant shot and arrested. There were additional attempted stabbings on Sept. 13 and Sept. 30.

On Sept. 19, the IDF rearrested the final two escapees of six that escaped from Gilboa prison on Sept. 6 in the West Bank city of Jenin. A raid to arrest Hamas operatives in the West Bank on Sept. 26 resulted in at least five terrorists killed and several wounded or arrested. Two soldiers were also injured.  

Clashes and riots occurred throughout the West Bank on a near-daily basis.

In Cyprus, Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi escaped a September assassination attempt that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said was a terrorist attack orchestrated by Iran, and part of a broader operation to assassinate Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus. 


Hamas’ Lebanese arm

In an Oct. 11 report, the Israeli research centre Alma exposed Hamas’ rapidly developing organisational infrastructure in Lebanon. Hamas’ Lebanese efforts are reportedly aimed at extending the reach of the terror group beyond Gaza by creating an additional front against Israel. 

Under guidance from Hamas bureaus in Lebanon and Turkey, and assisted by Iran’s Quds Force, Hamas’ Lebanese branch is reportedly collaborating with Hezbollah to recruit operatives, and arm and train them. It is also allegedly producing weapons such as rockets and drones, while preparing small cells to attack Israel. 

Hamas in Lebanon is most likely responsible for at least five incidents since May where Grad rockets were fired from Lebanon towards Israel.

Meanwhile, with Lebanon facing a severe energy shortage, it may soon be inadvertently receiving Israeli gas, mixed with Egyptian gas, under a US-brokered project to deliver gas to Lebanon from Egypt via Jordan and Syria. Under existing arrangements, all Egyptian gas exported to Jordan is mixed with gas from Israel’s offshore fields.


Funding conditioned on textbook changes

On Sept. 28, the European Union Parliament’s Budget Panel resolved to withhold €20 million (A$31.1 million) in aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) unless it changes its school curriculum to align with the goals of a two-state peace – including removing anti-Israel, anti-normalisation and antisemitic incitement from Palestinian school textbooks. Otherwise, the money will go to other groups.

The EU Commission directorate overseeing aid to Palestinian education condemned the incitement and antisemitism found in the textbooks in September, after the delayed release of an EU report into their content which analysed 156 textbooks and 16 teachers’ guides. 


Iran blocks nuclear inspectors

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Sept. 26 that Iran had violated an access agreement that had been reached between Iran and the IAEA on Sept. 12 by blocking access for IAEA inspectors to the TESA Karaj uranium enrichment centrifuge parts factory. As a result, memory cards in the agency’s surveillance cameras at Karaj were not replaced. 

The Sept. 12 agreement, reached immediately prior to an IAEA Board of Governors meeting, had been a key reason Western countries had decided not to pursue a resolution criticising Iranian violations at that meeting.

Meanwhile, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, boasted on Oct. 10 that Teheran has produced more than 120 kg of uranium enriched to 20%, much more than the 84.3 kg estimated by the IAEA in September. 


Iran joins Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Iran became a fully-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Chinese and Russian-led intergovernmental body, on Sept. 17, although it may take at least two more years to clear all legal hurdles to Teheran’s accession. In practice, the SCO has proven ineffective as anything but a regional diplomatic forum, not least because it contains avowed adversaries such as Pakistan, India and China. However, Iran’s accession symbolises the deepening relationship between Teheran, Russia and China, and may be another vehicle for Iran to increase regional ties and influence despite sanctions and international isolation. 


Israel to supply more water to Jordan

Israel and Jordan signed an agreement in early October under which Israel pledged to sell Jordan an additional 50 million cubic metres of water annually. This amount, sourced from the Sea of Galilee, will be on top of the 35 million cubic metres of water Israel already supplies Jordan each year under the 1994 peace agreement between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah is facing internal discontent after documents uncovered among the millions of “Pandora Papers” recently leaked to the press reveal that he secretly bought 14 estates in the US and UK between 2003 and 2017, with an estimated combined worth of more than US$100 million (A$130 million).


Bahrain visit

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid flew to Bahrain on Sept. 30 in the first Israeli ministerial visit to the Gulf state since relations were formally established last year. Lapid held talks there with his Bahraini counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, signed agreements relating to water, the environment and sport, and opened Israel’s new embassy in Manama.


Iraqi election following calls for Israel normalisation

Following elections on Oct. 10, populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr now heads the largest bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, winning 73 of its 329 seats. The Al-Fatah alliance, backed by Iran, performed poorly winning only 17 seats. Voter turnout was low – an estimated 43%.

Earlier, speakers at a conference held on Sept. 24 in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil had openly called for Iraq to normalise relations with Israel. However, the Iraqi Government condemned the conference and issued arrest warrants for some participants. It is illegal in Iraq to promote “Zionist principles”. 


Durban IV

Australia, the US, the UK, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada were among 34 countries which boycotted a UN General Assembly session on Sept. 22 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the infamous UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa which turned into an antisemitic hate fest featuring discriminatory texts, antisemitic caricatures and even pro-Hitler flyers.

On Oct. 11, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a pro-Durban resolution 32-10, but only after the UK secured a roll-call vote to prevent the resolution passing by consensus. Five countries abstained.

Australia is not a member of the UNHRC, but signed onto the UK statement opposing the resolution.


Israeli and Palestinian COVID updates

Israel is now emerging from its Delta wave of COVID-19. While there were 89,557 new cases from Sept. 19 to Oct. 19, that is down from 256,366 new cases in the previous month. Serious cases also declined, with 380 COVID cases listed as serious on Oct. 16, down from 679 a month previously. There were 482 deaths in the month to Oct. 19, with 84.42% of eligible Israelis having received at least one vaccine and 77.56% being fully vaccinated at that time.

In the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, there were 34,959 new cases and 412 deaths between Sept. 19 and Oct. 19, with 30.95% of the population fully vaccinated. Gaza had 26,751 new cases between Sept. 18 and Oct. 18. 


Stranger than Fiction

No Pizza for you!

The Iranian regime has long been known for appalling discrimination against women, among many other evils, but under the new ultra-hardline Raisi Government, this has become even more bizarre.

On Sept. 27, Amir Hossein Shamshadi, the head of PR at the national broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), revealed on his Instagram page that an audit of the organisation had resulted in a ban on certain sorts of scenes being shown. 

This was not about banning depictions of violence, such as Iran’s public hangings, where the victims are suspended from cranes and slowly suffocate. That’s fine. 

This ban involved scenes depicting some things even more horrific, including (sensitive readers may prefer to stop here): Women eating pizza or sandwiches, or drinking anything red, or wearing leather gloves or being served tea by men at their workplaces. 

Furthermore, just to be safe, any depiction of men and women together in a domestic setting must be vetted by IRIB directors prior to broadcast.

In another strange result of the apparently increased vigilance by Iran’s moral guardians, on Sept. 27 a streaming service controlled by IRIB broadcast an interview with Iranian actress Elnaz Habibi showing only the male host’s face, but not Habibi. Viewers complained that if they missed the introduction, they didn’t know who was being interviewed.

The regime also generally forbids women from public sporting events. While women are banned from all Iranian domestic league soccer games, some have very occasionally been admitted to international games under pressure from FIFA, the international soccer roof body. One such occasion was to be the Oct. 12 World Cup qualifying game against South Korea. However, at the last minute, crowds were banned altogether, leading to speculation this was to keep women out.

Maybe authorities were worried one might be caught on camera eating pizza.


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