Behind the News – October 2021
Sep 17, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Rocket and Terror Report
Four rockets in total were fired at Israel from Gaza over the nights of Sept. 10, 11 and 12. Previously, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups had resumed their incendiary and explosive balloon campaign, causing numerous fires inside Israel. Israeli retaliatory airstrikes occurred on Aug. 23, 25 and 28 and Sept. 6, 10, 11 and 12.
Hamas also renewed violent riots along the border between Israel and Gaza on an almost daily basis, especially after Aug. 26 – including the use of firearms, IEDs and homemade stun grenades. Israel Border Police Staff-Sgt. Barel Shmueli was shot in the head by a Hamas operative on Aug. 21 and later died.
Violent riots also continued throughout the West Bank, resulting in the deaths of several Palestinians.
Prison break risks Israeli-Palestinian escalation
On Sept. 6, six high-profile terrorist inmates in Gilboa Prison in northern Israel escaped via a tunnel they had dug. These included five Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives as well as Fatah commander Zakaria Zubeidi, who oversaw the terrorist Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade during the Second Intifada.
The IDF engaged in a wide-scale manhunt for the missing terrorists, initially believed to have escaped to the Jenin area in the West Bank, and recaptured four of them inside northern Israel on Sept. 11. The PIJ and Fatah reportedly moved fighters to Jenin to attempt to counter IDF efforts. Israel’s Prison Service also began transferring security prisoners out of Gilboa to other detention facilities, leading to riots and unrest in some prisons.
There was considerable concern in Israel that the manhunt and other measures would be used as an excuse by PIJ and Hamas to again begin launching rockets at Israel or provoking other violence. Hamas, PIJ and other Palestinian factions called for a “day of rage” on Sept. 10 over the transfers of prisoners.
Israel eases restrictions
On Sept. 1, Israel announced that restrictions imposed on Gaza since Hamas’ rocket attacks in May would be eased. The offshore fishing zone was extended to 15 nautical miles, travel permits for Gazan merchants rose from 2,000 to 7,000, water supplied from Israel was increased, and transfer of some construction materials into the area was permitted.
In addition, following a meeting on Aug. 29 between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the latter announced measures to help shore up moderate forces in the West Bank. These included a loan of NIS 500 million (A$210.1 million) to the PA, increasing employment permits for Palestinians to work in Israel by 15,000, and granting new building permits for Palestinian homes in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank.
Hezbollah’s land of tunnels
The Alma Centre, an Israeli think tank, has released a report exposing a huge network of military tunnels inside Lebanon built by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. The tunnels reportedly extend dozens of kilometres and connect Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut to strategic locations in the north and south of Lebanon to assist Hezbollah in case of a future conflict with Israel.
The underground burrows were reportedly built by North Korean companies under the supervision of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran doubles forces along Israel border
According to an August report compiled by the Turkey-based research institute Jusoor for Studies, Iran’s military presence in southern Syria near Israel’s border has more than doubled in recent years. Jusoor reportedly has close contacts with Syrian forces opposing the Assad regime.
The report claims that between 2018 and 2021, the number of military bases and outposts of pro-Iranian militias and Hezbollah in southern Syria increased from 40 to 88.
Iran breakout time falls further
On Sept. 8, the Institute for Science and International Security, headed by former nuclear inspector David Albright, published an estimate that, based on the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports, Iran’s “breakout time” to produce one nuclear bomb’s worth of highly enriched uranium, is “as short as approximately five weeks.” This estimate was based on the amounts of uranium enriched to 60% and 20% that Iran has now reportedly amassed.
Previous estimates had placed Iran’s breakout time at two to three months.
The UN nuclear watchdog had also reported on Aug. 16 that Iran had for the first time produced a small amount of enriched uranium metal, a material utilised to construct the core of an atomic bomb.
On Sept. 12, the IAEA reached an agreement with Iran to access and maintain IAEA equipment at Iran’s nuclear site, but not to access the monitoring data this equipment has collected over recent months. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi described the limited deal as “a stopgap… a measure to allow time for diplomacy.”
Iran-China cooperation in oil smuggling
On Aug. 24, Dr Eyal Pinko of the consultancy Terra Strategic Solutions reported that, over the previous year, China had purchased more than 700,000 barrels of oil from Iran daily thanks to joint smuggling operations, making Iran China’s primary supplier of petroleum.
Following US President Trump’s imposition of sanctions on Iranian oil in 2018, Iran has been using the 143 tankers in its tanker fleet to transport petroleum clandestinely to various destinations including China, North Korea and Russia.
The report says China has helped Iran bypass sanctions by assisting its tankers to evade detection. To achieve this, the tankers have been repainted and have had their names and flags changed frequently. They also reportedly transmit incorrect locations via the Automatic Identification Systems required by international shipping laws.
The Taliban’s US weapons windfall
As the Afghan security forces collapsed, tens of billions of dollars’ worth of US weapons, including Black Hawk helicopters, attack aircraft, more than 3,000 Humvees, 30 or more mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles and vast quantities of small arms, fell into the hands of the Taliban. It is estimated that the US provided Afghan forces with more than 400,000 rifles and machine guns, more than 25,000 grenade launchers, 162,000 pieces of communication equipment, and 16,000 night-vision goggles, most of which are now presumed to be in Taliban hands.
While the aircraft may prove impossible to operate and maintain, the other equipment and vehicles will provide a major boost to the Taliban’s arsenal and probably to those of other terror groups.
There were also reports on Iranian social media of military vehicles which had belonged to the Afghan army being transported into Iran.
As the Delta wave of COVID-19 continued to bite across Israel, there were 196,397 new cases between Aug.16 and Sept. 9 and 626 deaths. As of Sept. 9, 81.92% of the population had received at least one vaccine, while 75.05% had received two.
On Aug. 29, Israel further extended its booster shot program, making a third dose available to all Israelis over 12.
Despite the Delta wave, Israel’s schools re-opened on Sept. 1 after the summer break under detailed new protocols, including regular student testing, designed to deal with COVID outbreaks in schools without shutting down in-person learning.
In the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, there were 43,333 new cases and 155 deaths between Aug. 16 and Sept. 9, with 30.75% of the population having received one vaccine and 12.7% fully vaccinated. Gaza had 23,805 new cases between Aug. 15 and Sept. 8.
Stranger Than Fiction
While some countries have fully vaccinated 80% of their eligible populations against COVID-19, fewer than 13% of Iranians have received two doses – no doubt at least partly because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned all vaccines from the two most important suppliers, the US and UK, in January.
In mid-August, the Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Major General Hossein Salami, told a meeting about the COVID situation, “We can’t trust the enemy in foreign vaccines imports.” He asked, “What guarantee is there that the United States… doesn’t give us vaccines that cause paralysis?” Yet Iran had more than one million new cases and 18,000 deaths in the month before Sept. 9.
Meanwhile, Iran’s new Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has apparently had a dose of something that has removed his proficiency in foreign languages. His Wikipedia page states he is “fluent in Arabic and English”, and IRGC media often touted his ability in Arabic and English when promoting him for the role over the past three years, while supporters cited his mastery of Arabic during parliamentary confirmation hearings.
Then came his first international appearance as Foreign Minister, at the Baghdad Conference on Cooperation and Partnership on Aug. 28, together with many Arab heads of state and foreign ministers. He read out a speech in Arabic so poorly that Iran International, a London-based Persian language TV station, counted 100 pronunciation and 40 stylistic errors in the one short statement. He was also seen during the conference speaking sub-standard English.
He couldn’t even stand in the right place, causing controversy by positioning himself in the front row for the official photo with the heads of state rather than with the other foreign ministers.
Perhaps he has been under the influence of one of Salami’s paralysis-causing vaccines?