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FRIDAY FEATURE - Waiting out the Latest Rocket War

The escalation along the Gaza border this week has had Israelis fretting over whether this would turn into yet another prolonged rocket war with their Palestinian adversaries. After the drawn-out rocket wars against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and against Hamas in Gaza in 2008-2009, 2011 and 2014, the Israeli people are understandably on edge about how long they will need to hold out until calm is restored. It can take several broken ceasefires before quiet really returns. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders know there is public pressure to finally deal with the source of this rocket threat inside Gaza, but that it also would come with a great price and that any solution is also hampered by the current political impasse in Israel.

As we all watch to see how this latest rocket war will play out, here is some important background information concerning the main players involved and when this crisis could abate.

Who is Firing at Israel?
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the main force attacking Israel in the current confrontation, is a terror militia created by Iran in the early 1980s solely as a means to bleed Israel. It is essentially an extension of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), and until now has never exhibited any real political aspirations to rule over the Palestinian population. Rather, the ayatollahs in Tehran have offered weapons and a salary to any Palestinian males of fighting age who want to attack Jews, while their commanders answer directly to the IRG in Iran.

This distinguishes Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Hamas, which is an indigenous Muslim terror militia that arose from the alleyways of Gaza in late 1987, at the start of the first Palestinian intifada, in order to both destroy Israel and turn “Palestine” into an Islamic state. Taking its ideology from the wider Muslim Brotherhood movement, Hamas aimed from the beginning to 1) eradicate the Jewish state, 2) replace Fatah and the PLO as the rulers of the Palestinian people, and 3) impose shari’a law in the entire Land of Palestine.

Who is Calling the Shots in Gaza?
Hamas has been the main power broker in Gaza since 2007, when it seized control of the coastal Strip from Fatah. They allow PIJ to operate in Gaza so long as they do not challenge Hamas rule or endanger its grip there by going too far against Israel. Hamas does not mind Islamic Jihad firing a few hundred rockets into Israel, but not to the point that it would invite a heavy IDF response, especially a ground incursion into Gaza, which might threaten Hamas. 

Both PIJ and Hamas receive financial and military support from Iran, but because the vast majority of Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, they each have faced criticism from fellow Sunni Arabs for coming under the patronage of the Persian/Shi’ite regime in Tehran. Hamas tries to guard its independent decision-making, while PIJ is simply an arm of the Iranian military. Because Iran has more direct control over Islamic Jihad than Hamas, it appears from recent reports that Tehran has bolstered their rocket arsenals in Gaza to a point where they are now on a par with Hamas in terms of advanced weaponry, though not foot soldiers and small firearms.

How Long Might it Last?
First of all, because Hamas has the burden of governing Gaza, and in particular of feeding its people, they have tended in recent years to moderate – in relative terms – their hostility towards Israel. With Egyptian mediation, they had recently reached a temporary ceasefire with Israel which was allowing money from Qatar to once again enter the Gaza Strip to help salvage its failing economy. Reports indicate that Egyptian security officials are working with Hamas to restore the truce as soon as possible.

Second, Palestinian Islamic Jihad has been launching waves of rockets into Israel ever since Israeli surgical air strikes in Gaza City and Damascus took out two of its top militia commanders, who were in the process of planning terror attacks on Israelis. PIJ is widely expected to keep firing rockets at Israel until they feel they have exacted enough revenge for their losses. Barring any major incident that could further escalate the conflict, most in Israel hope and expect it to last only a few more days.

At the same time, it is clear that Israel pulled off another stunning intelligence coup and dealt the terrorist organization a serious setback. Besides having to quickly fill major holes in its chain of command, at some point the leadership of Islamic Jihad will be summoned to Tehran to explain how its upper echelons got infiltrated so effectively by Israeli intelligence. Hizbullah faced a similar dilemma just a few months ago when it was discovered that Israel not only had found their cross-border terror tunnels in south Lebanon, but also had somehow gotten its hands on the very blueprints for their construction. Such situations breed a lot of distrust within the inner circles of these terror mafias and it can take time to recover.

Will These Rocket Wars Ever End?
Over the past two decades, the Israeli military has preferred to deal with the persistent rocket threat from Gaza through a three-pronged approach involving 1) the use of heavy air power against military targets in Gaza, 2) strong civil defense systems like the Iron Dome, and 3) limited, temporary incursions into Gaza – when necessary – to “mow the grass.” Israelis along the Gaza border have been demanding a tougher response to finally eliminate this threat, and political rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have portrayed him as weak for allowing the threat to fester and grow over the past decade.

Israeli government and military leaders must continue to weigh the pros and cons of a major incursion into Gaza to try to end the rocket threat once and for all. So far, they have banked on outlasting the Palestinians through the steady use of superior air power, the impressive success of Iron Dome, and the Israeli public’s resilience.

In many respects, the relentless rocket threat from Gaza resembles the march of Palestinian suicide bombers from 1996 to 2005. Many Israelis despaired in those days that there was no clear way to stop this brutal tool of terror. But Israel found a way, and the Palestinians eventually came to the realization that their strategy of destroying Israel one human bomber at a time was futile. With renewed Israeli alertness, ingenuity and resolve, the rocket threat one day will prove itself equally pointless in Palestinian eyes.

Erdogan in Washington Despite Bi-Partisan Opposition

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on Wednesday despite sharp bi-partisan protests against the visit. During their meeting, the two leaders reportedly discussed Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems and other aspects of what has become a highly problematic bi-lateral relationship between the two long-standing allies.

Here is the video of the press conference the two leaders held after their private meeting



In related news, Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, the senior Pentagon official in charge of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program testified before a Congressional committee on Wednesday that alternative suppliers have been found for all but a handful of parts being produced for the aircraft.

“We began just over a year ago, very quietly but deliberately, taking actions to find alternate sources for all of those parts,” said Lt. Gen. Fick, adding, “We are not quite there yet, so we have, on the air frame side, 11 components we have to mitigate to be at full-rate production ... and on the engines, there’s one: integrated bladed rotors, IBR’s.”

Fragile Cease-Fire Brings Calm to Israel’s South

Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia appeared to have reached a cease-fire agreement early Thursday morning, although there was a barrage of five rockets a few hours after the initial announcement underlining the fragility of the situation. IDF Spokesman Brig.Gen. Hidai Zilberman declared that Israel had achieved a great deal of operational success during the 50 hours of fighting, as "The purpose of the operation was to improve the security situation in the south by weakening the PIJ and the continued promotion the stabilization process. In this operation, we struck a heavy blow to PIJ’s operational capabilities.”

However, he added, “we used only a little of the IDF capabilities - PIJ is not Hamas, nor Hezbollah nor Iran.”

“We are at high readiness and preparedness on all fronts, not only in Gaza. We are facing a significant challenge against Iranian activity in a variety of arenas and not only in Syria.”

“The new rules of the game are clear: the IDF will operate with complete freedom of action, with no restrictions,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett added during his own remarks. “At this point, it's not over yet. Only the acts in the field will determine the end.”

Here are some videos pertaining to the recent conflict





Lebanon Shaken by Renewed Street Protests
The intensity of street protests in Lebanon increased on Thursday following the death of a protester Wednesday evening in the town of Khalde, just south of Beirut, after he was shot by soldiers from the national army who had been deployed to contain demonstrations. President Michel Aoun’s speech earlier in the day in which he attempted to calm the populist uprising only exacerbated the situation, leading to renewed calls to replace him and the rest of the governing apparatus in the country, although part of Aoun’s speech was devoted to expressing his opinion that the neutral technocrats protesters want to form a new government would be hard to find.

Hamas Decries EU Parliament’s Bias for Israel
The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip but mostly stayed out of the latest round of fighting between Israel and the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia, blasted the European Union in a statement Thursday morning claiming that the EU Parliament in Brussels has a “weak position towards the Palestinian cause” because a “Zionist lobby” exercises excessive influence over “political actors in Brussels.” The statement apparently came in response to an EU statement on Tuesday condemning the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians from inside the Strip.

Political Factions Continue Coalition Talks
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman held a brief meeting in Ramat Gan Thursday morning, emerging to tell journalists that they are determined to do whatever is necessary to avoid a third election early next year. Gantz added during his comments that he blamed incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the fact that a third election is such a strong possibility.

Today's video shows a recent breifing on the threat from international terrorism

PIJ Refuses to Stop Firing Rockets Into Israel

Rockets continued to be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip throughout the day Wednesday despite appeals for calm by the UN and several world governments and despite the refusal of the Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Strip, to join the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia in attacking Israel, leaving it to bear the full brunt of Israel’s retaliatory response. "We are not talking of mediation, it's not appropriate to talk about it,” a PIJ spokesman said early Wednesday afternoon. “When we complete our response that we want to send, it will be possible to talk about calming things down."
 
At press time, over 220 rockets had been fired into Israel since the beginning of the current flare up late Sunday night, which began when Israeli aircraft fired a missile into the home of senior PIJ leader Bahaa Abu al-Ata, killing him and his wife. Reports have surfaced that Israel has threatened to begin targeted killings of PIJ agents in Syria if the rockets do not stop immediately, but the PIJ response to these warnings has been to continue firing.
 
 Here are some videos about the recent events





Lebanon Rocked by Escalating Street Protests
Massive street protests continued in Lebanon on Wednesday despite an appeal by 84 year old President Michael Aoun for the demonstrations to end and warnings from several prominent analysts that the country’s economy was on the verge of catastrophic collapse after nearly three weeks of banks, schools, universities and most businesses being closed. The local currency has been in freefall and many banks have restricted withdrawals, while many shops have reported running low of food, fuel and other basic necessities.

Turkey Hosts Iranian Diplomat Wanted for 1994 Terror Attack
Hadi Soleimanpour, who served as Iran’s ambassador to Argentina in 1994 and is suspected of involvement in the Hezbollah attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that year that killed 85 people and injured more than 150 others, was a guest of the Turkish government recently. Instead of enforcing an international warrant for Soleimanpour’s arrest, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warmly greeted and personally hosted him at last Saturday’s Economic Cooperation Forum in Turkey’s resort city of Antalya.

Russian Hacker Extradited to US
Israel’s decision to extradite Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov to the US this week closed the door on the possibility that Jerusalem would trade him for Israeli tourist Naama Issachar, who was arrested in Moscow in April. Lawyers for Issachar have explained to the media that she landed in Moscow on a flight from India and was on her way to a connecting flight to Israel when she was searched by police and found to have 9 grams of marijuana in her luggage, for which she was found guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison. A Russian attempt to trade her for Burkov was rejected by Israel with the agreement of her family.

Russian Veterans Honored in Jerusalem
Mayor of Jerusalem Moshe Leon and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Zeev Elkin hosted Russian officials on Tuesday for the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Memorial Candle Monument dedicated to the defenders and residents of Leningrad, including over 150,000 Jews, which refused to surrender to the Nazis despite being surrounded and besieged for over a year during the Second World War. The monument was funded by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) and Viktor Vekselberg. Jewish National Fund (KKL), Keren ha-Yesod, and the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC).

Today’s video shows some of the natural beauty of Israel

Israel Responds to Rocket Attacks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv late Tuesday morning to address the barrage of rockets fired into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip following an Israeli strike which killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander in the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia early Tuesday morning. "Terrorists think they can hit civilians and hide behind civilians," the prime minister said. "We showed that we can hit the terrorist with minimal damage to civilians. Anyone who thinks they can hit our civilians and get away with it is wrong. If you hit us we will hit you."

IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. General Aviv Kochavi said during his own remarks that al-Ata had undermined efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire agreement with Hamas, adding that "in recent days he was working to perpetrate attacks against Israel. We tried to thwart his efforts in different ways without success and we then recommended a targeted killing. We are not interested in an escalation but we are ready - on the ground, in the air and at sea."

The press conference followed a difficult morning which saw over 150 rockets fired into Israel, including a handful of strikes on Tel Aviv. Many of the incoming rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system but a few landed in populated areas. One strike on a busy highway intersection south of Tel Aviv was caught on camera and widely circulated on social media, although it caused no injuries or damage.

“We stand behind the security forces, who have been working for the success of this morning’s operations for a long time," said President Reuven Rivlin in a statement. "I know that they, and the Israeli government that approved the operation, have Israel’s security, and only that, in their minds. This is no time for political squabbles, and those who do so bring no credit to themselves. It is the time to stop such statements immediately. Israeli citizens – please listen to the life-saving instructions of the IDF Home Front Command and take good care of yourselves.”
 
Nevertheless, thousands of Israelis all over the country stayed home and/or kept their children home as many schools, businesses, government offices and other public places were closed until further notice. Several injuries were reported, mostly from people hurting themselves while running for shelter in response to incoming rocket alerts.

Here is a video about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia



BDS Movement Celebrates Rare Success
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel celebrated a success on Tuesday when the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that “foodstuffs” produced in Jewish communities in the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem can be labeled as such, instead of being labelled as “Made in Israel”. Several analysts expressed concern that the ruling would enable BDS activists to put pressure on European governments and consumers to participate in their economic campaign against Israel.

Iran Again Violates JCPOA Nuclear Deal
Former national security council chief Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror spoke at the INSS Conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, saying among other things that “there might come a situation where we will have to act directly in Iran to stop the Iranians. The world is not ready to act…not NATO, not the US…they prefer to close their eyes. It might be costly, it might be problematic, it’s not going to be easy,” but Israel might have no other choice. The speech came shortly after Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told journalists that the Islamic Republic has re-started uranium enrichment at its Fordow facility and a UN inspection team announced it had discovered evidence of nuclear work at a previously undeclared site in Iran.

Here is a video about Iran’s recent regional activities



PIJ Commander Reportedly Killed in Syria
The Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia issued a statement Tuesday morning complaining that the Damascus home of one of its senior commanders had been attacked by Israel, coinciding with a report by Syrian state news agency SANA saying that a house near the Lebanese Embassy in Damascus had indeed been bombed, leaving two people dead and six others wounded. In related news, the Pentagon announced that between 500-600 US troops will remain in Syria to continue operations against the Islamic State (IS) terror militia.

Rioters Attack IDF Troops in West Bank
Rioters attacked IDF troops outside Ramallah and Hebron on Monday afternoon amidst demonstrations to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that left one Palestinian man dead and several others injured, along with three IDF troops. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid a wreath at Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah during the events, saying "Israel says the martyrs are criminals, terrorists and murderers. We will never agree to give up on our martyrs, our most sacred martyrs.”

Today's video shows you an app you can enjoy on your next trip to Israel

Political Maneuvering Continues Despite Conflict

Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a conference Monday evening, saying among other things that if his opponent, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, forms a minority government with the assistance of the Joint (Arab) List faction, it would be a “slap in the face of the IDF soldiers who we sent into battle together.” The speech came amidst hints from Gantz that he is ready to compromise to form a unity government with Likud and a challenge by Yisrael Beytanu leader Avigdor Lieberman to both Netanyahu and Gantz to either cooperate with each other or he would support the faction of his choice over the other.

“Benny, you were the [IDF] chief of staff during Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu said during his speech. “Do you remember what [Joint List MK Ahmad] Tibi did during the operation? He read the names of terrorists killed in Gaza from the stage of the Knesset. He said that the IDF is committing war crimes…In a campaign video, they said ‘Gantz, there is blood on your hands’…those are the people with whom you want to form a government?... It’s unbelievable.”
Responding to Lieberman’s challenge, he added that a third election in less than a year is not the worst thing that could happen, as “There is a greater disaster, and it is a minority government that is dependent on the Arab parties.”

Blue and White’s spokesman responded: “Netanyahu, we don’t need lessons from you in patriotism and loving the nation and the people. The citizens of Israel will not forgive you if you drag us to another expensive and unnecessary election because of your legal situation.”

However, earlier on Monday Gantz said publicly that he is willing to meet with Netanyahu and Lieberman on Tuesday to hammer out an agreement and is willing to compromise on his previously held positions in order to achieve that objective, adding that Blue and White is “prepared to consider certain compromises provided they are in line with our perspectives of our world and are in service to the State of Israel.”

This led to speculation that he might agree to Lieberman’s demand that Blue and White agree to a proposal by President Reuven Rivlin for a unity government to be formed with the understanding that there will be a rotation for Prime Minister with Netanyahu going first and having the option of taking a leave of absence in order to face his legal problems should that become necessary.

Lieberman’s demand of Likud is that it drop its allies in the religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as the Yamina faction led by incoming Defense Minister Naftali Bennet.

“There is no connection between the messianic haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and the Right,” Liberman said in a faction meeting on Monday. “Shas and [its leader Arye] Deri abstained in the vote on the Oslo Accords... Netanyahu gave Hebron to [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat... he apologized to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, he opposed the death penalty for terrorists, he voted in favor of evacuating Jews from Gaza.”

United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman wrote a letter to Rivlin in response to Lieberman’s comments, complaining that "The recent elections...have unfortunately led to divisions and polarization and the spread of hatred. We are one nation and we must respect one another...Even if there are disputes, we cannot disqualify whole populations and try to exclude them from Israeli public affairs....Haredi and religious parties make up almost a million and a half people who are being disqualified and insulted by politicians for no reason."

Israel Beset by Bitter Internal Disputes

Amidst the ongoing uncertainty over the formation of a unity governing coalition in the Knesset, ceremonies were held Sunday to commemorate the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Members of Rabin’s family, as well as Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and other leaders of Leftist parties, used part of the time given to their remarks at these ceremonies to accuse incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of fueling the kind of incitement which led to Rabin’s assassination, prompting Netanyahu to use his own remarks to defend himself. The exchanges at the Knesset ceremony came despite a clear warning at the outset from Speaker Yuli Edelstein to desist from such expressions as well as similar pleas from President Reuven Rivlin in recent days.

In related news, a clash broke out on Sunday evening between police and demonstrators at the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, prompted by the police arresting a resident who had violated an administrative order issued to him earlier by the security forces. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement regarding the incident, calling for “the law to be respected and for an immediate halt to violence against the security forces. IDF soldiers and Border Police forces, which guard us all, must be allowed to carry out their work. Violations of the law will not be tolerated.”

Government Deadlock Continues in Lebanon
Israel’s northern neighbor of Lebanon appeared to be teetering on the brink of economic, political and social collapse on Sunday, with some analysts warning that the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah was poised to become the de facto ruler of the country owing to its being the most organized player left in the arena. Efforts at political stabilization have failed, even as street protests against the nascent status quo have continued in many cities and the banks have struggled to manage amidst a virtual standstill in almost all sectors of the economy. "The country's situation cannot withstand another day of delays," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said.

Here is a video giving some expert analysis of the situation in Lebanon



Case Against Netanyahu Takes Dramatic Turn
There was a dramatic development in the ongoing case against incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, with Nir Hefetz, a former close aide who has turned State’s Witness against Netanyahu in “Case 4000” yelling at the judges hearing arguments over the advisability of lifting a gag order on his involvement in the case “you can just kill me” before storming out. The hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court attracted a great deal of media attention following recently leaked allegations that the police used improper interrogation techniques to compel Hefetz to cooperate in the case against Netanyahu.

Bennet Set to Become New Defense Minister
Former Education Minister Naftali Bennet accepted an appointment as Defense Minister in the caretaker government over the weekend and is set to assume his new responsibilities on Tuesday. Starting Sunday morning he began holding meetings with advisors in order to prepare for his new job.

Regional Arms Race Heating Up
Long one of the world’s most heavily armed regions, the Middle East is experiencing yet another ramp up in arms purchases. In a recent example, the U.S. State Department gave its approval last Thursday to a request by the United Arab Emirates to purchase 10 CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters and related equipment from Boeing, bringing the total value of such requests by the UAE since the start of fiscal 2017 to nearly $10.5 billion. Other US and European defense companies have also announced large orders from Middle Eastern countries in recent weeks.

Today’s video gives a short tour of modern Nazareth

FRIDAY FEATURE-A Ring of Fire – Israel’s Neighbors in Crisis

Nearly every one of Israel’s neighbors are facing serious internal problems. The situation has become so alarming that some analysts have begun to raise the question of whether political, social, economic and sectarian instability in the countries surrounding Israel might prove an even greater danger to the Jewish State then the hostile military and terrorist threat it faced in previous decades.

Israel’s military leaders have been candid in their assessments of the situation, including when speaking publicly. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Aviv Kochavi recently said that all of Israel’s fronts are “fragile and could deteriorate.” This week, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, chief of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, told a meeting of the Treasury Ministry in Jerusalem that “All signs indicate that the next year has the potential to be negative from a security perspective.”

A glance at the map can flesh out the deeper meaning behind these words.

To the south, the regime of Egyptian President al-Sissi has faced street protests in Cairo and Alexandria even as his military and security forces have continued to battle insurgent groups linked to the Islamic State (IS) terror militia in the Sinai. Israel is assisting Egyptian forces in the fight against the insurgency in Sinai and is also in an ongoing dialogue with Egyptian diplomats regarding the situation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

There, the ruling Hamas administration is facing a chronic shortage of funds, despite regular infusions of cash from Qatar and daily deliveries of humanitarian aid to the general population, facilitated by Israel and donated by the United Nations and other agencies and governments. Although open demonstrations against Hamas by Palestinian residents of the Strip are rare, there is a general feeling of discontent against it which is believed by some analysts to be fueling the growing popularity of Salafi jihadist ideology. Also worrying is the growing boldness and popularity of the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror militia in the Strip.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is led by its 84-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently declared that he would not stand for re-election to the post which he has been in since 2005 when he won the first and so far only election the PA ever held for President. Regardless of this glaring irregularity, most analysts agree that one way or another, Abbas will likely not be in the picture for much longer, raising the question of who will succeed him and what the consequences of his departure might be. Polls taken among Palestinians who are theoretically eligible to vote in future elections indicate that the most popular candidate to take over the role of leading the PA is Marwan Barghouti, who was imprisoned by Israel in 2002 for his role in carrying out several lethal terror attacks against Israeli civilians during the First and Second Intifadas.

Other polls indicate that the estimated 2 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank (including the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem) hold the PA in low esteem, but analysts are quick to point out that this doesn’t mean they’d rather be ruled by Hamas or any of the other Palestinian armed factions, much less Israel. In general however, the polls indicate that this population is unhappy with the status quo but also keenly aware of how much worse things could always get, ironically making them perhaps the least concerning of Israel’s neighbors.

A bit further to the east is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Israel recently marked the 25-year anniversary of the 1994 Peace Treaty with Jordan and the armed forces of the two countries have not engaged in kinetic battle since the 1967 Six Day War. However, the peace between the governments of Israel and Jordan and the cooperation between the military, intelligence and security establishments in both countries does not extend to the general population, which remains deeply hostile to Israel. Beyond that, Jordan’s internal problems are huge, with periodic street demonstrations against the King and a chronically weak economy which has been exacerbated in the last few years by the need to care for over 1.3 million refugees from the war in Syria.

To Israel’s north, Syria’s endless conflict is “the gift that keeps on giving” in terms of the problems it creates for all its neighbors, including Israel. The flood of jihadists and weapons from all over the world who came to Syria for different reasons in Syria’s civil wars, which began in 2011 and have ebbed and flowed ever since, present a direct threat to Israel’s security, even as the threat from the armed forces of the Assad regime have been reduced.

However, another threat to Israel from the conflict in Syria comes from the destabilization of its other neighbors, especially Lebanon, which suffered its own devastating civil war from 1975 to 1990 and which was always one of the most fragile nation-states in the region. The economic, social, cultural and physical burden of carrying for 1 million Syrian refugees put a tremendous strain on Lebanon’s already weak infrastructure. In October of 2019, massive fires burned thousands of dunams of Lebanon’s forests, while government efforts to fight the fires was disorganized and largely ineffective. This coupled with a proposal to tax Whatsapp and other free online messaging services proved too much for Lebanon’s beleaguered citizens, who took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to demand a complete overhaul of the system which had governed their country for generations.

The demand to “throw the bums out” extended to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, which has a political wing that has been part of the government for over a decade. Although Hezbollah has threatened a harsh response to further challenges, the street protests have continued and even intensified in recent days. A bit further to the east, a similar situation has developed in Iraq.

Although the destabilizing effect of these protests in Lebanon and Iraq are a cause for concern in Israel, they also provide hope that the plans by Iran to build up its proxy militias and other mechanisms to threaten Israel may be dealt a setback. However, analysts have expressed different assessments of how much of a setback Iran might suffer by these popular uprisings.

A report released this week by the highly respected International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London posits that Iran has “tipped the balance of effective forces in the Middle East in its favor by countering superior conventional forces with influence operations and use of third-party forces.”

This Iranian strategy is most visibly manifested in Hezbollah, which possesses an estimated 120,000 rockets which it can fire into Israel whenever the clerical regime in Teheran gives them the order to do so. But Iran has also attempted to build up proxy military forces in Syria amidst the chaos there and it also has influence in several other countries in the region. This includes Yemen, where an ongoing, multi-dimensional civil war, coupled with one of the world’s most horrible humanitarian crises, has rendered it one of the largest ungoverned spaces in the world. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently warned that the IRGC might try to use bases it has in Yemen to launch cruise missile and/or drone attacks against Israel similar to its attacks against Saudi Arabian oil installations in early October.

Further afield, the ongoing instability in Algeria, Libya and Sudan, coupled with hostility from its once-close ally Turkey and even the escalating dispute between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus regarding the exploration of natural gas resources in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean mean Israel finds itself in the middle of an increasingly intense “Ring of Fire” converging on it from all sides.

Israel’s military, intelligence, civil defense and security establishments are reportedly working around the clock to prepare for the day, perhaps not far off, when they will find themselves directly dealing with these issues. Their work, however, is hampered by the ongoing political impasse which is preventing the formation of a governing coalition in Israel’s Knesset.

In any case, Israel’s supporters around the world will be closely watching and praying as the “Ring of Fire” surrounding the Jewish State heats up and contracts.

Iran to Top Agenda at IAEA Emergency Meeting

The crisis over Iran’s renegade nuclear program intensified this week with a meeting scheduled for Thursday of officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address the Islamic Republic’s latest violations of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. The meeting will also discuss Iranian accusations that three of its oil tankers were attacked recently in the Red Sea, which include broad hints that it holds the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia responsible for those alleged strikes. Also set to be discussed in the meeting is a recent incident in which a female IAEA official was detained by Iranian security officers while attempting to carry out an inspection of an Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.

"There is a real concern that it will harm how (the IAEA) carry out their inspections in the future," a European diplomat said. "The agency wants to show how seriously they are taking this. It is a potentially damaging precedent," added another Western official.

There is speculation that the meeting might also include discussions of a failure by Iran to explain the discovery of nuclear materials at the Turquzabad site, which was exposed by Israel in 2018 and confirmed by the IAEA in February of 2019.

Here is a video with some analysis of the situation



Jordanian Official Warns of Economic Collapse
A senior Jordanian official warned this week that the 1.3 million refugees currently living in Jordan after fleeing the civil war in Syria are straining the government’s budget to the breaking point. Issam Al-Majali, spokesperson for Jordan’s Planning Ministry, told The Media Line that the situation “caused a huge increase in governmental expenses between the years 2011 and 2018 due to the costs involved in responding to the refugees’ needs.”

“Unemployment among Jordanians increased from 12% in 2012 to 19% in the first quarter of 2019, while the poverty level rose from 14.4% in 2010 to 20% by the end of 2016,” he added. “Despite support for the Jordanian government from the international community in response to the refugees, their presence has cost Jordan about $1.4 billion.”

Demonstrations Continue in Lebanon and Iraq
Street demonstrations against the ruling establishment in Lebanon continued on Wednesday, with school children leading some of the demonstrations in Beirut, Tyre, Sidon and other major cities. In neighboring Iraq, security forces again used live ammunition against demonstrators in Baghdad on Wednesday, adding to a death toll from nearly three weeks of protests which currently stands at 280. Despite the violence, protests in both countries show no signs of abating, with protesters telling Western media outlets covering the demonstrations that they’re unable to continue living as they have and they don’t feel like they’ve got anything lest to lose.

Here's a video giving some further context to this story



UNRWA Leader Resigns Amidst Scandal
Following the resignation of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) commissioner-general, Pierre Krähenbühl on Wednesday amidst allegations of ethical misconduct, Israeli officials called for the organization to be disbanded. This “is a victory in the campaign against the politicization and incitement against Israel that is at the root of the agency [UNRWA],” Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said. “Compounding this, numerous accusations regarding the agency’s conduct signals to the international community that there is no other solution for UNRWA besides its total closure, and it is time to consider alternative models for the refugee issue.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said, “UNRWA’s conduct illustrates that the agency is part of the problem and not part of the solution. The agency perpetuates the refugee issue in a political manner, and in doing so distances any possibility for a future resolution. The international community needs to find a new model that will provide humanitarian assistance to those who truly need it, and must remove from the agenda the futile idea of the return of the refugees.”

Today's video shows how one Israeli soldier spends his free time

Iran’s Move to Enrich Uranium Closely Monitored by Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday evening, highlighting the dangers from Iran’s renegade nuclear program. “Iran expands its aggression everywhere. It seeks to envelope Israel. It seeks to threaten Israel. It seeks to destroy Israel. We fight back. I also want to say, given Iran’s efforts to expand its nuclear weapons program, expand its enrichment of uranium for making atomic bombs, I repeat here once again: We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons. This is not only for our security and our future; it’s for the future of the Middle East and the world.”

His remarks came hours after Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced plans to violate yet another stipulation of the 2015 JCPOA Nuclear agreement by restarting activities at the underground and heavily fortified Fordow facility, which Iran did not report to the International Atomic Energy Agency in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is a signatory.

Western governments were quick to condemn the move, but Iranian officials replied that they can’t be expected to comply with a deal which they only entered into because they believed they would receive financial benefits from when those financial benefits have not materialized.

“All signs indicate that the next year has the potential to be a negative year from a security perspective,” IDF’s Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva told a meeting Tuesday evening of the Knesset Finance Ministry’s Budget Department. He went on to explain that Israel has been engaged in a low-intensity shadow war against Iranian proxy groups in the region for several years but that in 2020 there is a possibility that it might flare up into a higher-intensity and very high visibility conflict.

Last week Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said that the “challenge of air defense has become more complicated. Joining the threat of missiles and rockets are now attack drones and cruise missiles.” He added that all of Israel’s air defense units are on high alert due to the rising threat from drones and cruise missiles such as Iran used to launch precision strikes against Saudi Arabian oil facilities in early October.

Here is a podcast shedding some light on regional developments in the Middle East

 

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