Australia/Israel Review


Behind the News – September 2023

Aug 28, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Scene from the “We Want to Live” protests in Gaza (Twitter screenshot)
Scene from the “We Want to Live” protests in Gaza (Twitter screenshot)

ROCKET AND TERROR REPORT

No rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 5, although on Aug. 20 and again on Aug. 21, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system shot down drones over Gaza that were heading for Israel. A group called the al-Ayash Battalion claimed to have fired a primitive rocket in the West Bank on Aug. 15, the seventh in three months, although all attempted launches seem to have failed. 

Multiple shooting, stabbing and car-ramming attacks targeting both Israeli civilians and security personnel occurred from late July through August throughout the West Bank as well as within the Green Line and Jerusalem, some resulting in injuries and fatalities. On Aug. 1, a shooting in Ma’ale Adumim injured six. On Aug. 5, a patrol officer was killed by a Palestinian gunman in Tel Aviv. An Israeli father and son were killed in a shooting in Huwara on Aug. 19. An Israeli woman was murdered and the driver of the car she was in seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting near Hebron on Aug. 21. Many of the Palestinian assailants involved in these attacks were killed or detained. 

Counterterrorism raids continue throughout the West Bank, leading to Palestinian casualties, almost all of whom are militants or involved in violence against the IDF. 

 

ABBAS FIRES REGIONAL GOVERNORS

On Aug. 10, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed 12 out of 16 regional governors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip without prior notice. This move came amidst speculation PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh may resign and an ongoing PA crisis of legitimacy. The firing affected mainly regions known for hosting Iran-backed extremist groups like Islamic Jihad, such as Jenin, Nablus, Tubas, and Tulkarm. 

Several Palestinian factions, including the PA and Hamas, held a four-hour meeting in Egypt on July 30 to attempt to achieve “national unity”. However, the talks failed to even produce a joint communique.

 

PROTESTS IN GAZA

Thousands of demonstrators in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip took part in the “We Want to Live” mass protest movement on July 31 and Aug. 4, protesting against dire economic conditions and demanding necessities like regular electricity supply. The movement revived the slogan from 2019 protests, addressing high living costs, internal divisions, electricity shortages, unemployment and food insecurity. Organisers, mainly Gazan expats, called for more protests despite past suppression by Hamas forces. 

Meanwhile, on Aug. 6, a Hamas military court issued death sentences to seven Palestinians for alleged “collaboration” with Israel, saying they had provided information to Israeli security forces.

 

PA SUMMER CAMP INCITEMENT

Numerous recent reports have detailed how Palestinian Authority (PA) summer camps have been indoctrinating children with hate and terrorism. This summer, these camps focussed on a world without Israel, erasing it from maps and teaching kids to draw this version. Activities include arts, crafts and body painting to reinforce this narrative. Youths at the camps reportedly learned firearm handling, simulated clashes with the IDF and visited graves of slain terrorists. 

 

WARNINGS IRAN CLOSE TO NUCLEAR TEST 

Intelligence reports issued by security organisations in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany published in August warn that Iran is moving closer to possibly testing a nuclear weapon. The reports also reveal that the Iranians continue to illegally purchase banned materials and equipment for their nuclear program and engage in industrial espionage for the same purpose. 

Meanwhile, UK Home Secretary Minister Suella Braverman stated on Aug. 5 that Teheran “worries us the most,” as a threat to UK internal security, following reports Iranian agents are aggressively operating against regime dissidents on British soil, including by trying to recruit criminal gangs.

 

US-IRAN PRISONER SWAP DEAL

 Following a reportedly year-long negotiation via mediators, Teheran and Washington agreed in August on a prisoner exchange deal. As a first step, Iran released five US citizens from prison to house arrest in a hotel. The US is expected to release an unspecified number of Iranian prisoners in return. The US has also allowed South Korea and Iraq to unfreeze up to US$10 billion of sanctioned Iranian assets and funds, to be transferred through European financial institutes into restricted bank accounts in the Gulf for Iran to purchase non-sanctioned humanitarian goods. The prisoner swap is expected to be completed in September. 

In addition, Iran has reportedly temporarily slowed down the production rate of uranium enriched to 60% purity, possibly as a result of the same negotiations with the US. 

 

US BEEFING UP GULF PRESENCE TO DETER IRANIAN PIRACY

The US is reportedly considering putting marines or other armed Navy personnel on commercial ships travelling through the Strait of Hormuz to deter Iranian piracy. All ships were warned by the US on Aug. 12 to avoid Iranian territorial waters, and 3,000 US marines arrived in the region on Aug. 6, along with other military assets. Iran later released footage showing Iranian speedboats and drones harassing the ships carrying the troops. 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy has repeatedly seized or attempted to seize tankers in the strategic strait and on Aug. 2 demonstrated a new naval vessel equipped with missiles amidst exercises on and around Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb, three islands controlled by Iran, but claimed by the UAE. 

 

PARAGUAY TO OPEN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM

After a meeting with newly inaugurated Paraguayan President Santiago Peña on Aug. 16, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced that Paraguay had agreed to reopen its embassy in Jerusalem, five years after moving it to Tel Aviv. Cohen also revealed that he invited the President to visit Israel within a year to dedicate the new mission, and Peña had accepted. Paraguay will be the fifth country to open an embassy in Jerusalem, following Kosovo, Honduras, Guatemala and the US. 

Cohen also announced that Uruguay will open a new diplomatic office in Jerusalem, focusing on innovation, after meeting with Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou. 

 

SURPRISING DROP IN SETTLEMENT GROWTH

Despite a policy of the current Israeli Government to expand housing in West Bank settlements, Israel’s 2023 statistics on both housing starts and sales of new housing in the West Bank actually indicate a precipitous drop in settlement growth. This appears to be due to lower demand, a result, in part, of high interest rates. West Bank housing starts appear to be on track to be the lowest since 2010. 

Sales were down 53.92% through June compared to last year (868 to 400). The first quarter of 2023 also saw a 61% drop in construction of new units compared to the same time period in 2022 (639 units to 249). 

The number of new housing permits issued for construction in Israel’s West Bank settlements also plummeted 24.43% (from 3,172 to 2,397) between April 2022 and March 2023. Only 2.95% of new housing sales in Israel in the first four months of 2023 were in the settlements. 

 


Stranger than Fiction

Listen to the Banned

The Middle East is a place where things that are welcome in the rest of the world can be banned, often for obscure or vague reasons. This was the fate of rapper Travis Scott, who had a concert at the Pyramids in Egypt scheduled for July 28 cancelled by the Egyptian Syndicate of Musical Professions. 

The Syndicate released a statement saying, “Photos and reports showed that Scott [uses his concerts] to hold rituals that contradict with our values and traditions. The [syndicate] thus decided to cancel the license for the concert.” 

The Syndicate was responding to complaints that Scott promoted “masonic thoughts”, carried out “satanic rituals” and was involved in “anti-Egyptian Afrocentrism agendas”.

There is a great deal of suspicion of Freemasonry in the Middle East, while Egypt staunchly rejects historically dubious claims its earlier rulers may have been black Africans.

Meanwhile, the Barbie movie was banned in Kuwait and Lebanon. Kuwait announced the ban on Aug. 9 on the grounds that the movie contained “ideas and beliefs that are alien to the Kuwaiti society and public order,” but didn’t specify what they were. Lebanon was more explicit. Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada announced that allowing the movie would “contradict values of faith and morality” and “promote homosexuality and sexual transformation.” While the movie does include gay and transgender actors, it doesn’t have any gay or transgender themes. 

Even cakes get into trouble in Lebanon, with Beirut bakery Pain d’Or feeling obliged to withdraw its rainbow cakes from sale, and apologise, after complaints the multicoloured cakes – similar to ones produced in bakeries around the world for decades – were promoting homosexuality (because of the gay community’s rainbow flag). Apparently, in Lebanon, whenever there’s rain and sunshine at the same time, nature is actually propagandising for the LGBTIQ+ agenda. 

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