13 June 2017

Israel and Middle East Security Summary

The pace of the current Palestinian terror campaign against Israelis continues to decline. Palestinian media, particularly in the West Bank, continues to encourage these suicidal lone wolf attacks but fewer Palestinians are willing to participate. A major reason for this is the attacks don’t change anything for the Palestinians and appear to be making their situation worse. For example a growing number of Western donor nations are cutting or halting their financial aid to the Palestinians. This is largely because both Fatah and Hamas have made it clear (especially in the Palestinian controlled Arab language media) that they are not interested in making peace with Israel under any conditions and strive to drive all Jews out of what is now Israel and replace that with a Palestinian state. Arab supporters are angry as well, but more about the Palestinians constantly squabbling among themselves and supporting Islamic terrorist groups.

The Arab donors (especially the Gulf oil states) have quietly criticized the Palestinians for years about their inability to make peace with Israel, despite plenty of opportunities. This criticism increased after the Palestinian leadership spilt in 2005 as the more radical Hamas took control of Gaza. It became public in the last few years as the Arab states realized they were better off supporting Israel than the Palestinians . Since 2016 Arab governments have allowed more and more of this criticism to be discussed in public. This process accelerated after 2016 when the Arab Gulf states admitted they could no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the recent Iranian announcement that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its nearly two million Palestinians since 2005. Iran supported Hamas early on.

There were recently more rumors that Iran had stopped supporting Hamas. Iran had decreased its support, in large part because of the sanctions and low oil prices but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt and that has turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. The Iran link makes Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations are concerned. Hamas has made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response to Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid (which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders) but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and their effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians.


Cutting ties with Qatar recently is partly because Qatar based and subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network often reports bad behavior by Egyptian security forces, including the murder of civilians and trying to pass that off as a clash with Islamic terrorists. While that happens, al Jazeera also gives sympathetic treatment to Islamic radical and terrorist groups, especially in Egypt. Qatar also openly supports Hamas, although they recently ordered some senior Hamas leaders to leave Qatar for another sanctuary. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (and worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well. Meanwhile Egypt admits that in northern Sinai 6,000 people have died from local violence since 2013. Not all of those dead are security forces, pro-government tribal forces or Islamic terrorists. Some are civilian caught in the crossfire that the government does not want talk about. This is a common thing in Middle Eastern nations and there is apparently no easy cure.

Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Qatar has long been a supporter of other Islamic terrorist groups and is effective at that despite being a tiny (11,437 square kilometers/4,416 square miles) nation with a population of 2.1 million. Only about 12 percent of the population are citizens. Qatar has also long been active in trying to get the Palestinians to unite and make peace. This has not worked out well. For example i n late 2012 Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the ruler of Qatar visited Gaza and pledged $400 million to build 3,000 new homes in Gaza. Thani was trying to get Hamas away from its alliance with Iran and towards working with the Fatah government in the West Bank to create a united Palestinian government that can negotiate a peace deal with Israel. Qatar wants to end the state of war between Hamas and Israel and hoped cash and public support would do it. Qatar is very wealthy (it has the highest per-capita income in the Persian Gulf) and its ruler has been increasingly active in backing change in the Arab world. Qatar was an early supporter of the Syrian rebels, including the Islamic terrorist groups and urges political reforms throughout the Arab world, something that has polarized Arabs everywhere. For example, a major event during Thani’s 2012 visit to Gaza, a rally at a soccer stadium was cancelled at the last minute because most Palestinians were not interested and about 80 percent of the seats in the stadium were empty. Most Gazans are fed up with Hamas, and not showing up to honor the sheikh was one way to demonstrate their opposition without getting arrested.

In Sinai Egypt has acquired a powerful ally as an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) effort to coerce the largest Bedouin tribe in Sinai (the Tarabins) into submission backfired. There are only about a thousand armed ISIL men in Sinai but they are fierce and brash. The Tarabins are five percent of the 600,000 Bedouin in the Sinai and most of the adult men are armed. Worse for ISIL the Sinai Bedouin have long been the most active smugglers in the region and will generally work with anyone who can pay. But ISIL has been making additional demands (like not smuggling alcohol or tobacco products) and Hamas is seen as collaborating with ISIL at the expense of the Bedouin. Some Bedouin tribes are more supportive of Islamic terror groups, especially those tribes that are traditional rivals of the Tarabins. ISIL has some success in manipulating those rivalries but more tribes are fed up with ISIL and see them as a bunch of suicidal losers. For Sinai Bedouin the main enemy remains the Egyptian government.

Hamas can’t afford to antagonize the Bedouin and it is unclear how this dispute will be resolved. ISIL appears willing to fight while Hamas is seeking to make temporary peace deals with everyone. That is normal with Islamic terror groups, who like to quote passages from the Koran approving of truces with enemies, and breaking those agreements when the opponent is an infidel (non-Moslem). Groups like ISIL and Hamas believe that any Moslems who do not agree with them are not Moslems. The Sinai Bedouin were never really into that sort of thing and would make deals with anyone (including the Israelis) to survive. The Israelis trust Bedouin on their side of the border (the Negev desert) where most of Israel’s 210,000 Bedouin live. While some Israeli Bedouin have joined Islamic terror groups, most prefer to join the Israeli military and many make a career of it, becoming officers or senior NCOs in the process. Most Israeli Bedouin do not consider themselves Palestinian and have largely stayed out of Palestinian political conflicts.

Egypt has become more openly active in the Libyan civil war. The pro-Egypt HoR (House of Representatives) government that rules eastern Libya and much of the oil apparently recently asked Egypt to bomb certain Islamic terror ground in the inland city of Derna. HoR military forces (ground troops and warplanes) have also been fighting in Derna and wanted to coordinate their operations with the Egyptian airstrikes that began on May 26th in retaliation for an ISIL attack on Egyptian Christians in Egypt. The air raids used the latest Egyptian warplanes (French made Rafales and American made F-16Cs). The only possible opposition was some older Mirage F1 warplanes the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) has been refurbishing near the coastal city of Misrata. None of these have shown up to oppose the Egyptian air strikes. Egypt also sent a few dozen additional special operations troops to reinforce the small (under a hundred) force of Egyptian troops in eastern Libya working with the Hiftar forces. Several hundred foreign special operations troops and technical personnel have been in Libya, mostly eastern Libya, since 2011. Egypt has been trying to persuade the U.S., France and Russia to send in more special operations troops. Libya has been one area where Egypt and Qatar have been on the same side as both have supported the HoR and their military commander Khalifa Hiftar. Qatar was one of the new Arab states that sent warplanes in 2011 to join the NATO air campaign against Libyan dictator Kaddafi.


Israeli efforts are one reason why Iran continues to suffer embarrassing setbacks in Syria. For example, in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran backed Shia mercenaries (mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan) are coming as close as they can to the Tanf border crossing and the U.S. backed rebels who control it. The pro-Assad mercenaries tried to reach Tanf on May 20th but were turned away by an American airstrike and the threat of more of that is apparently all that is keeping the Iranian forces away. Iran wants to seize border crossings in order to clear a road from Damascus (the Syrian capital in the southwest) to border crossings controlled by pro-Iran forces.

There are currently two of these major crossings that have been cleared of ISIL forces. One at Tanf and another to the north (in Hasakah province). These two would make it possible for Iran to move personnel and supplies by road from Iran to Assad controlled territory and then into Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon. That only works if pro-Iran (or at least neutral or bribable) forces control each side. The U.S. and Israel are determined to prevent this “Iran to Lebanon” highway. Technically Russia backs Iran in this endeavor but Russia also has an understanding with Israel and Turkey to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. At the moment Russia is giving verbal backing to Iranian efforts at Tanf but is not making any moves to provide military assistance.

Russia has some tricky opportunities here. Israel considers Iran its major military threat and for that reason is actively involved opposing Iran in Syria. Iran’s allies there, Russia and Turkey, are not backing Iranian efforts to destroy Israel once ISIL is destroyed in Syria. Russia is quite open about its good relationships and cooperation with Israel while Turkey is making it clear that if pressed to choose sides, they would prefer Israel to Iran. Nevertheless Turkey is still run by an Islamic political party that is highly critical of Israel, and the West in general. But that’s another problem.

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