Behind the News – October 2018

The declining Rial is sparking angst in Iran

TERROR REPORT

Following a violent few months, late August and early September saw a lull in violence between Israel and Gaza.

However, on Sept. 16, Ari Fuld, a father of four and pro-Israel activist of some renown, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist at a shopping centre in Gush Etzion. 

Meanwhile, the weekly “March of Return” riots along the Gaza border continued, with Hamas support. On Sept. 7, rioters burned tyres and threw explosive devices and rocks at Israeli military personnel and two Palestinian minors were killed in the ensuing clashes.

The number of flaming kites and balloons being flown over the Gaza border into Israel has declined, which has allowed Israeli authorities to assess the damage caused by this terror tactic. The damage has now extended to 8,000 acres, including more than 1,000 acres of agricultural land. In response, it was reported that Israeli farmers have filed a war crimes complaint against Hamas at the International Criminal Court.

Fourteen percent of nearby nature reserves have also been burnt, assessments said.

IN THE PEACE BUSINESS

Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Washington on Aug. 29 to discuss a plan to boost the West Bank economy.

During the meeting, Kahlon finalised plans for a joint Palestinian-Israeli commercial venture to be built in the Mount Hebron Regional Council area, expected to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the area. 

Kahlon has also met with counterparts from France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, who are reportedly supportive of his economic plans.

IRANIAN ECONOMY CONTINUES TO CRASH

The value of the Iranian currency, the Rial, continues to plummet. Since the gradual resumption of US sanctions, following Washington’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA), the Rial has lost about two-thirds of its value. On the black market, US$1 trades for as much as 150,000 Rials. The currency shed a further quarter of its value within a few days at the beginning of September. 

Meanwhile, ahead of the imposition of new US oil sanctions in November, Iran’s oil exports have been dropping faster than anticipated, falling in September from 2.3 million barrels a day (mbd) to 1.5 mbd. Japan’s oil distributors announced plans to stop importing Iranian crude oil in October. The Trump Administration also said on Sept. 6 that it is holding detailed technical talks with India’s government to stop Indian oil imports from Iran.

The dire economic situation in Iran has led the Iranian parliament to recently fire the Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, the Minister of Labour and the head of the central bank. 

Meanwhile, Gen. Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, commander of the infamous volunteer-based Basij forces of the Revolutionary Guards, announced in early September that the Basiji are conducting drills to deal with any civil unrest, featuring 700,000 troops being deployed in Iran’s major cities.

IRAN SENDS MISSILES INTO IRAQ AS IRAQI SHI’ITE CIVIL WAR THREATENS

In August, intelligence and diplomatic officials from multiple countries alleged that Iran had begun providing ballistic missiles to its Shi’ite proxies in Iraq, with some sources claiming that Iran has also established missile production facilities across Iraq. The missiles have the range to hit Tel Aviv and Riyadh. While the number of missiles deployed so far is only in the low dozens, production and deployment could easily be ramped up in future. 

Meanwhile, the political jostling among the various Shi’ite factions in Iraq, many aligned with or controlled by Iran, has blocked the formation of a new government for months. Since early September, the southern Shi’ite province of Basra has seen massive protests against corruption, unemployment, the failure of the energy grid, and a water and health crisis. These protests have led to several deaths as security forces and pro-Iranian militias have moved in to attempt to quell them. In the midst of the chaos, Iranian-aligned militias have begun firing on US diplomatic facilities in Basra and Baghdad, drawing US warnings of retaliation, even as protesters have attacked Iranian diplomatic facilities and Iranian proxy militia headquarters. 

Some experts are now warning that an intra-Shi’ite civil war in Iraq is becoming likely. 

ISIS LEADER BAGHDADI APPARENTLY ALIVE

On Aug. 21, Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a 54-minute address urging his followers to keep up the fight and to launch lone-wolf attacks in the West. References in the audiotaped speech suggested he was alive at least until very recently, despite rumours he had died. 

Meanwhile, a US Defence Department report for the period April 1 to June 30 estimates the number of ISIS fighters in Iraq to be between 15,500 and 17,100. The report noted that although the group no longer controls territory, fighters organised in small cells continue to plant bombs and conduct kidnappings, which is seen as a sign of the group’s “resilience” as it seeks to reinvent itself as an underground insurgent force. 

ISRAEL ALLEGEDLY ATTACKS MILITARY SITES IN SYRIA

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed Israel carried out airstrikes against Iranian military targets in the Syrian provinces of Hama and Tartus on Sept. 4 that killed three Syrian soldiers and injured 23 people including 14 Syrians and nine Iranians.

While Israel does not generally comment on alleged strikes in Syria, the airstrike came soon after the Israeli army confirmed it had carried out over 200 airstrikes on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria since 2017.

IDF FOCUSES ON NEW MISSILE ARM

On Aug. 27, Israel’s Ministry of Defence announced it had decided to purchase Israeli-made precision GPS-guided ground-to-ground missiles with the aim of establishing a new IDF missile arm. This is revolutionary for the IDF, as it means Israelis forces will be able to accurately target enemy targets without the use of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). 

The IAF faces increased obstacles, as the air defences and ability to target Israeli airfields by potential enemies, such as Syria and Hezbollah, improve. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated, “We absolutely must have an alternative to the air force. We can’t afford to put all our eggs into one basket, no matter how sophisticated that basket may be.”

SPORTING BOYCOTTS OF ISRAEL TAKE HITS 

The International Judo Association (IJF) announced on Sept. 3 that it would permit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to hold a scheduled tournament after the UAE confirmed that it would allow Israeli contestants to brandish their national insignia.

Judo competitions had previously been suspended in both Tunisia and the UAE, with the IJF noting that events could not proceed as planned “until [a] governmental guarantee is given to ensure free and equal participation of all nations.” Previously, tournaments in these countries had banned Israeli competitors from being publicly identified as Israeli.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 24, the head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) Jibril Rajoub – considered a prospective successor to Mahmoud Abbas – was suspended by the international soccer body FIFA from attending football matches for a year as a punishment for inciting “hatred and violence.” Rajoub, who has long discouraged matches between Israel and other nations, had called for followers to burn pictures and shirts of Argentinian star Lionel Messi should a scheduled friendly game between Argentina and Israel go ahead. The game was subsequently cancelled.