Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – October 2022

Sep 29, 2022 | AIJAC staff

Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (Image: Twitter)
Supporters of Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (Image: Twitter)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

No rockets were fired at Israel between the end of Operation Breaking Dawn on Aug. 8 and mid-September.

There have been several attacks throughout the West Bank against both soldiers and civilians. On Aug. 29, two Israeli civilians were wounded by Palestinian gunfire after attempting to visit Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus without coordinating this with the IDF. 

On Sept. 4, Palestinians employing explosives and firearms ambushed a bus carrying IDF soldiers, injuring six and critically injuring the driver. The same day, four IDF soldiers were wounded in an IED attack. There were numerous other attacks that caused injuries as well as terror plots that were thwarted. 

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar announced on Sept. 11 that Israeli security services had stopped more than 300 “significant” terrorist attacks this year and made more than 2,000 arrests. 

 

CONCERNS OVER RISING WEST BANK VIOLENCE

Ongoing clashes between Palestinian gunmen and the IDF in Jenin, Nablus and other towns and villages in the West Bank show no sign of easing. Tensions have heightened since Israel commenced intense counterterrorism operations in response to a series of lethal attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians earlier this year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) having failed to quell the violence within its own territory.

On Sept. 14, while attempting to arrest two Palestinian suspects who had been approaching an Israeli military position, IDF officer Major Bar Falah, deputy commander of the elite Nahal reconnaissance unit, was killed when the suspects opened fire. Both Palestinians, members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, were killed in the ensuing gunfight. One was a member of the PA security forces.

Many analysts say the PA is losing control of major sections of the West Bank, while the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are urging on the violence and providing weapons and funding for it.

 

AIRSTRIKES ON SYRIAN AIRPORTS

On Sept. 6, airstrikes attributed to Israel caused major damage to Syria’s Aleppo airport for the second time in a week. Runways were rendered unusable and storehouses bombed. The previous week’s airstrikes had also hit targets close to Damascus Airport, which had suffered major damage in attacks earlier this year. 

On Sept. 16, Syria’s military stated that Israeli strikes had again hit Damascus Airport, as well as other sites around the capital, killing five soldiers and causing “some material damage”.

Israeli analysts said the attacks were likely prompted by Iran’s increasing use of Syria’s airports to export weapons to its proxies, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On Sept. 12, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz identified ten sites in Syria that were previously scientific facilities, but which he alleged were being used by Iran to manufacture precision guided missiles in Syria for use by Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.

 

IRAN’S NUCLEAR BREAKOUT TIME NOW ZERO

Analysis of two reports about Iran issued by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prior to its September Board of Governors meeting showed that Iran’s breakout time (the time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one atomic warhead) is now effectively zero. Teheran can convert its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (20%+) into the cores of at least three nuclear warheads within a month. 

Research and development of enrichment and nuclear weapons processes continues, while the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s atomic activity has also been reduced to almost zero, with most of the agency’s cameras removed and months of surveillance footage in Iranian hands without the IAEA having access. 

 

JCPOA TALKS HIT DEAD END

Negotiations to renew the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) appeared to reach a dead end in September, with most analysts saying any agreement looks extremely unlikely until at least after the US midterm election in early November. US officials described Teheran’s response to the latest agreement proposal as a disappointing step backwards. Teheran is reportedly demanding an end to the IAEA investigation into Iran’s forbidden nuclear weapons activities at several undeclared sites – a demand rejected by all other parties. 

 

ALBANIA SEVERS RELATIONS WITH IRAN 

Albania severed diplomatic relations with Iran in early September, expelling all diplomats and closing the embassy, after accusing Iran of a massive cyberattack on the Balkan nation on July 15. Albania also accused Iran of a second cyberattack more recently against its Total Information Management System. The US imposed additional sanctions on Iran specifically related to the July incident. 

Relations between Albania and Iran have long been strained because the former is the host country of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group at war with the regime since falling out with Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers in 1979. 

 

IRAQ IN TURMOIL

Iraqi politics continues to descend into chaos. Armed followers of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attacked the centre of government in Baghdad, the heavily guarded Green Zone, after he announced on Aug. 29 that he was withdrawing from politics. Iran-backed militias on the public payroll then attacked the protestors, and were in turn attacked by pro-Sadr militia. Two days of fighting resulted, leaving 34 dead and raising fears of a civil war, before Sadr ordered his followers to withdraw. 

Sadr’s followers control the largest bloc in the parliament, and his retirement announcement was prompted by Iraq’s continuing failure to form any governing coalition since elections in October 2021. Sadr and allied parties have a majority in the parliament, but Iraq’s corrupt Supreme Court, controlled by parties aligned with Iran, ruled that a super-majority of two thirds would be required to form government. 

Meanwhile, reports say Islamic State has been re-establishing itself in some areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

 

NEW IDF HEAD NOMINATED

With IDF Chief-of-Staff Gen. Aviv Kochavi nearing the end of his four-year term, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz announced on Sep. 4 that Major-General Herzl (Herzi) Halevi would be his candidate to succeed Kochavi. Maj-Gen. Halevi is the current Deputy Chief-of-Staff, and previously served as head of the Southern Command and of Military Intelligence. He would be the first Orthodox IDF Chief-of-Staff if he is approved by the Appointment Committee and Cabinet. 

Meanwhile, the conclusions of an IDF investigation into the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh were released on Sept. 5. The investigation found that there was a “high probability” Abu Akleh was accidentally shot by an Israeli soldier returning fire at Palestinian fighters, although it was impossible to be certain who fired the fatal bullet. It dismissed calls for a criminal probe, arguing there was currently no evidence of any intentional misconduct.

 

PALESTINIAN TEXTBOOKS AGAIN UNDER SCRUTINY 

As the new school year commenced, the Israeli NGO IMPACT-se conducted a review of schoolbooks and curricula currently being used in PA schools – with disturbing results. 

IMPACT-se found that the Palestinian school curriculum has in fact become even more radical compared to previous years, continuing to use textbooks already criticised for inciting hatred against Jews and Israel whilst adding reworked educational material that calls for Jihad, violence, and incitement against Israel and Jews. 

Members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee criticised the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over the use of these materials in its schools at a hearing on Aug. 31, with Chair David McAllister demanding “sustainable improvements”.

 


Stranger Than Fiction

BANKING ON WAR

In the satirical movie, The Mouse That Roared, the rulers of the tiny country of Grand Fenwick decide that the way to resolve their country’s seemingly insoluble economic problems is by declaring war on the US, surrendering, and then receiving US aid. Now the notion of using war as an economic panacea has seemingly received a modern twist, courtesy of Hezbollah luminary Bilal Naim, the assistant to Hezbollah Executive Council head Hashem Safi Al-Din and former head of Hezbollah’s boy scouts.

Dr Makram Rabah, a history lecturer at the American University of Beirut, notes in a Sept. 2 article on the website of the Dubai-based television station Al Arabiya that there is a video circulating among Hezbollah activists in which Naim calls for war with Israel as the solution to Lebanon’s current disastrous economic situation.

Rabah notes that this call is not new – a common Hezbollah narrative over the past year has been that a war with Israel would re-awaken the interest of the international and Arab communities and result in money being pumped into Lebanon, as happened after the 2006 war.

However, Naim gives this a new twist by declaring Hezbollah should invade Israel specifically to rob its banks and take the billions of dollars in their safes, thus allowing Lebanon to break the Western and American “siege” that Hezbollah insists caused the country’s economic disaster. Apparently, Hezbollah corruption and governing of the country for Iran’s benefit had nothing to do with it.

As Rabah points out, apart from the sheer implausibility of Hezbollah fighters waltzing into Israel and emerging with all the country’s money, banks no longer store masses of hard currency. Furthermore, the “axis of resistance” would hardly be able to traffic in Israeli shekels, anyway.

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