Behind the News – October 2015
Sep 24, 2015 |
ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT
Rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel by ISIS-affiliated groups on Sept.1, Aug. 26 and Aug. 17. Two of these fell within Gaza and the other caused no damage.
On Aug. 20, Islamic Jihad is reported to have fired four rockets from the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights into Israeli territory, causing fires but no casualties. The following day, Israeli aircraft struck the squad responsible, killing four of its five members, and 14 other Syrian-controlled military targets. Israel security sources say they believed the strikes were ordered by Iran, which has tight control over Islamic Jihad.
Other recent terror incidents included an Aug. 26 axe attack against a soldier near Jerusalem; an Aug. 30 drive-by shooting which wounded an Israeli civilian in the West Bank; an improvised bomb thrown at soldiers near Beit Jala on Aug. 19; and three stabbing attacks against Israeli soldiers at roadblocks, two on Aug.15 and the other on Aug. 17.
ISRAEL RELEASES FIRST MILITARY STRATEGY DOCUMENT
In an unprecedented move, Israel’s Defence Forces released a comprehensive document on Aug. 13 that set out its strategies and priorities through to 2020. It explores the fundamental changes in Israel’s operating environment, arising from the challenges caused by the weakening of states and threats posed by sub-state actors, specifically Hamas and Hezbollah.
The document reveals that Israel will prioritise offensive capabilities in order to achieve deterrence against attacks. It also devotes attention to cyberspace, considers how best to defend the home front against the increasingly capable missile forces it is likely to face and discusses the need to prepare for the “war of perceptions”, ensuring Israel strives to maintain political legitimacy for its actions and allow the IDF necessary freedom of action.
INITIATIVE TO BETTER INTEGRATE ISRAELI ARABS
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened a meeting on Aug. 31 with Israeli Arab MKs and the Chairman of the Arab Local Councils Forum aimed at preparing a multi-year plan to better integrate the Arab-Israeli sector. The meeting agreed that Arab local Councils would receive an extra NIS 900 million (A$333 million) in budgetary supplements, including NIS 350 million (A$129.5 million) to create economic growth engines that will boost council revenues, NIS 135 million (A$50 million) for the development of informal education and NIS 150 million (A$55.5 million) to improve security. Leading Arab MK Ayman Odeh called the plan “an important step.”
RUSSIAN PLANES AND TROOPS IN SYRIA?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly confirmed Russia’s direct involvement in Syria’s civil war. Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency quoted Putin as saying, “we are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons.” However, he dismissed reports of Russian troops fighting in Syria as being “premature.”
Such reports included one in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, which cited Western diplomatic sources as saying that Russia was on the verge of deploying “thousands” of troops to Syria to establish an airbase from which the Russian air force would fly combat sorties against ISIS.
HAMAS RUNS MILITARY TRAINING CAMP FOR GIRLS
Hamas has run its first summer military training camp specifically for teenage girls in Gaza, with around 1,000 girls between the ages of 12 to 18 years participating. A 16-year-old participant told Al-Monitor, “This camp revived our hopes to create a female army to liberate Al-Aqsa [Mosque] from the occupation. We learn about weapons and how to handle them, and we are ready to go through intensive military training for this purpose.”
Hamas has long run similar camps for boys and has reportedly trained 25,000 of them this summer.
PALESTINIAN REFUGEES FROM SYRIA DENIED ENTRANCE INTO ARAB COUNTRIES
The Syrian civil war has raged for four years and led to a massive exodus of refugees, as Europe has recently witnessed, but the brunt of the refugee flow has been borne by the neighbouring states of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Now, reports have surfaced that Arab countries including Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon have been barring entry to Palestinian refugees from Syria (known as PRS) since as early as 2012, and continue to deport hundreds back into Syria. An estimated 70,000 PRS including 15,000 in Jordan and 45,000 in Lebanon, are living in secret under false identities, according to a report in the Daily Beast.
Reports from human rights groups also said that the PRS who are living in Jordan and Lebanon are generally denied the aid all other Syrian refugees receive because they cannot get government refugee documents.
Turkey stands as the only neighbouring country still providing refuge to PRS.
REPORT: IRAN WORKING WITH NORTH KOREA TO DECEIVE NUCLEAR INSPECTORS
An Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), released a new report on Sept. 4, claiming to have identified a team of North Korean government experts who have been instructing their Iranian counterparts on how to conceal nuclear sites and deny IAEA inspectors access to them. The report said the North Koreans have been working secretly out of an office in Teheran under the supervision of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for some time.
While the NCRI claims were not immediately verifiable, the group has a track record of exposing key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, including Iran’s clandestine Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy-water plutonium facility in the early 2000s.
DID TURKEY BETRAY US-TRAINED FORCES IN SYRIA?
Moments after entering Syria from Turkey on July 29, most members of a force of 54 Syrian moderates trained by the US to fight ISIS were kidnapped by an al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.
On August 24, McClatchy news reported that officers of Division 30, with whom the trainees were to work, have said that sources have told them that the men were betrayed by Turkey. A US military spokesman said that the US had seen no indications that this was the case. However, the Division 30 officer said that “only the Americans and the Turks” knew of the plans, while an anonymous Turkish officer told McClatchy that the details were leaked to Nusra because Turkey would prefer the US to train and arm groups opposing Assad.
NEW GAS FIND OFF EGYPT MAY AFFECT ISRAELI PLANS
Italian energy group Eni announced on August 30 that it had discovered the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast. The offshore “Zohr” field could hold up to 849 billion cubic metres of gas, which would be significantly larger than Israel’s biggest field, “Leviathan”.
The Zohr find could be a blow to both the Israeli and Cypriot economies, and their gas partners, Delek Drilling and Noble Energy, which until now have held the only 5 known gas fields in the region. Israeli commentators are divided on how the new discovery will affect prospects for Israel’s gas industry, with some viewing it as the end of Israel’s plans for exporting gas to Egypt, while others argued it is an opportunity to focus on the domestic market.
Israel’s development of the Leviathan field had been stalled due to bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles, but received a boost on Sept. 7 when Israel’s Knesset voted 59-51 to pass the government’s legislation to facilitate gas exploitation there. However, opposition by the head of Israel’s Antitrust Authority, who has alleged that the current proposal would hurt competition, may continue to stall the project for some time.
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.