Behind the News – September 2019

Inflation in Iran is at the highest level in decades

 

Rocket and terror report

The informal ceasefire understanding reached between Israel and Hamas under Egyptian auspices in May largely continues to hold, though with signs of strain, with renewed sporadic rocket launches and fires caused by incendiary balloons, while violent “March of Return” riots still continue along the border fence. 

On the night of Aug. 16, a rocket fired from Gaza was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system. The following night, three more rockets were fired; two were intercepted, while the third landed in the yard of a home in the Israeli city of Sderot.

Heavily armed and equipped terrorists attempted to penetrate from Gaza into Israel on at least six occasions between Aug. 1 and 11 (with three IDF soldiers wounded on Aug. 1). Most of the infiltrators were identified as past or present members of Hamas’ military wing.

On Aug. 7, 18-year-old yeshiva student Dvir Sorek was murdered along the access road to the Israeli settlement of Migdal Oz.

On Aug. 16, two people were seriously injured in a Palestinian car-ramming outside the West Bank settlement of Elazar. 

In the north, Hezbollah lit fires along the Israel-Lebanon border that scorched trees and vegetation on the Israeli side.

 

Report: Israel bombs Iranian targets in Iraq

After implicitly threatening to strike Iranian weapons transfers and bases outside of Syria in September 2018, Israel is suspected to have bombed at least two bases in Iraq allegedly hosting Iranian and Hezbollah advisers for the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) as well as ballistic missile shipments.

The July 19 attack in Iraq was initially blamed on Islamic State by most sources, but satellite images following a later explosion at a different weapons depot in Camp Ashraf show what is most likely the result of a precision strike, reportedly by an Israeli F-35.

Additional explosions at other PMF weapons depots occurred on Aug. 13 and Aug. 19, and were also attributed to Israel. 

 

Europeans suspend aid to UNRWA

Following the July 29 leak of an internal UN report alleging incidents of top-level corruption, bullying and intimidation at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), three European donor nations – the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium – suspended their funding to the agency.

Last December, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ office was reportedly informed of the claims made against UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and his inner circle, sparking the investigation.

Last year, the US cancelled its funding to UNRWA, calling the organisation “irredeemably flawed”.

 

UN queries Palestinian racism, incitement

On Aug. 13, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination questioned a Palestinian delegation over the Palestinian Authority’s use of hate speech, its publication of educational material that incites violence against Israelis and Jews, and its policy of paying salaries to Palestinians who kill Israelis.

The proceedings marked the first time the Palestinian delegation had answered questions on these issues before the UN. However, at the conclusion of the gathering on August 14, the Palestinian faction refused to accept responsibility for its actions, instead blaming Israel and citing the discredited and revoked 1975 General Assembly resolution which equated Zionism with racism.

 

Iran increases nuclear deal violations

Teheran continues to violate its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi reported on Aug. 13 that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has now exceeded the JCPOA limit of 300kg by up to 70kg.

The next day, Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, demanded JCPOA signatory countries fulfil their obligations under the agreement – in other words, lift economic sanctions against Iran. Otherwise, warned Rouhani, Iran would proceed to violate a new and different part of its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA every 60 days.

 

Iranian economy continues to deteriorate

US economic sanctions on Iran related to the country’s nuclear program, including global bans on importing Iranian oil, continue to negatively affect the Iranian economy.

Iranian oil exports sank to around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) during July. This represents a record low for Iranian oil exports, down from close to 500,000 bpd the previous month, and a far cry from the 2.5 million bpd Iranian oil sold in mid-2018.

Meanwhile, inflation skyrocketed to above 40% in July, according to officials in Teheran – the highest figure since 1996.

On Aug. 14, the regime announced it would erase four zeros from the Iranian currency, and set the Toman (already in use) as the official currency (replacing the Rial), as a result of ongoing currency devaluation. 

 

Jordan bans Jewish prayer at Aaron’s Tomb

Jordanian officials temporarily closed Aaron’s Tomb, near Petra, on August 1 after a video circulated of Israeli tourists appearing to pray there. The site is believed by some Jews to be the grave of Aaron, High Priest and brother of Moses, also revered as a prophet by Muslims. 

Suleiman Farajat, Chief Commissioner for the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, said Israelis could continue to come as tourists but no religious practices could be carried out “except for Islamic ones, as the tomb is an Islamic mosque.”

 

Trump peace plan after Israeli elections

On Aug. 18, US President Donald Trump confirmed that his Administration would likely release the political details of its long-delayed peace plan after Israel’s elections on Sept. 17.

Economic aspects of the plan were unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner at a conference in Bahrain in June – which was boycotted by the Palestinians, who have already rejected the plan.

The announcement reversed earlier reports that President Trump would release the plan at a Middle East regional summit to be held at Camp David before the Israeli elections.

 

Iran-Hamas ties strengthened

Hamas has deepened its ties with Iran following a visit by a delegation of nine members of the Palestinian terror group to Teheran in July, led by Qatar-based Saleh al-Arouri, the founding commander of Hamas’ military arm, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

As a consequence of the delegation’s visit, Iran pledged to provide a historic US$30 million a month to Hamas. In exchange, the group will reportedly direct its efforts to locate Israeli missile sites and report them to Iran. 

Separately, according to Israeli media, Hamas has agreed to open a second front against Israel in the event of a war on the northern border involving Hezbollah and Iran. 

 

New Nazi war crimes trial in Germany

A 92-year-old former SS guard will go on trial in October following announcements by a Hamburg court that he has been charged with 5,230 counts of being an accessory to murder. The accused, Bruno Dey, served as a private in the SS from August 1944 to April 1945 and was a perimeter guard at the Stutthof concentration camp.

Prosecutors will argue that guards like Dey “were necessary for the concentration camp to function, and the camp was made to kill people,” according to a spokesman for the court.