Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - February 2018

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On Jan 9, Rabbi and father of six Raziel Shevach, 35, was killed in a drive-by shooting at the Havat Gilad Junction in the West Bank. A week later IDF forces killed one of the terrorists involved in the murder while trying to arrest him in Jenin.

A major terrorist attack was foiled on January 16, when Israeli security forces at the Tomb of Joseph found and defused an explosive device intended to be detonated by a cell phone during a scheduled prayer service.

Three mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza on Dec. 29, and a total of five rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza over Jan. 1-3. None caused injury or property damage. Israel retaliated against a "Hamas military compound" in response. On Jan. 15, a rocket fired at Israel from Gaza fell short and injured three Palestinians in the Gaza neighbourhood of Deir al-Balah.

Palestinian riots on a limited scale following the American declaration recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital continued through January in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Reports from Israeli security services show that over the whole of 2017, 20 Israeli citizens lost their lives in terror attacks, and 169 were wounded, while 35 rockets and mortar shells were fired by Palestinians towards Israel. Security forces said they foiled more than 400 potentially major terror attacks in 2017.


On Jan. 13 an Israeli airstrike on southern Gaza destroyed a Hamas tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israeli and Egyptian territory. The tunnel was dug below the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza and reached 180 metres into Israeli territory. According to Israeli news reports, security forces believe the tunnel was built to facilitate a planned attack on the border crossing - the terminal where most humanitarian aid, food and fuel enters the Gaza Strip from Israel. This is the fourth Gaza tunnel into Israeli territory that has been destroyed in recent months.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 7, Israel announced that it is restoring its previous electricity supplies to Gaza following a request from the Palestinian Authority (PA). In June 2017, the PA stopped paying for the electricity that Israel sends into Gaza, and requested Israel reduce the amount of electricity supplied to Gaza as a part of an effort to pressure Hamas into handing over its control of the Strip. Hamas and Fatah now have a reconciliation agreement, though it remains largely unimplemented.


On Jan. 15, German security forces in four German cities raided the residences of ten alleged Iranian agents who are considered members of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Warrants for the arrest of the Iranians were issued, but they are yet to be captured. According to reports, the Iranian operatives are believed to have been gathering information on the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, as well as targets related to the local Jewish community, including kindergartens.

Meanwhile, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies revealed on Jan. 10 that, according to open sources, Iran's annual expenditure on supporting rogue regimes and terrorism amounts to US$15-20 billion. Teheran spends a majority of this money on 20,000 militiamen in Syria, and an additional US$150 million dollars a year on pro-Iranian militants in Iraq. Lebanese terrorist organisation Hezbollah receives up to US$800 million from Iran, while Gaza based terror group Hamas receives US$100 million of Iranian money.


On Jan. 11, US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a special Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team. The unit will coordinate investigators from a broad spectrum of federal law enforcement agencies that have probes into Hezbollah's extensive global drug and money-laundering operations.

In a press release, Sessions said that the team would begin by examining evidence already amassed by Project Cassandra - a previous initiative to investigate Hezbollah's criminal activities launched in 2008.

Sessions' announcement came some three weeks after a report was published in the US political web magazine Politico that, citing intelligence sources, alleged that the Obama Administration had sidelined Project Cassandra during nuclear talks with Iran out of concern that a crackdown on Hezbollah's illicit activities might jeopardise the deal.


According to medical organisations inside Syria, the Assad regime has carried out at least four chemical weapons attacks against areas held by rebels since the start of 2018, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.

Responding on Jan. 23 to the recent reports, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointed to Moscow, saying that "Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility." Tillerson referred to the US-Russia 2013 disarmament deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, saying, "There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States." Russia has rejected the American allegations.


Following recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital by the Trump Administration in December, US Vice President Mike Pence has revealed the American embassy will open in the holy city as soon as next year - speeding up a timetable originally expected to take several years.

Addressing the Knesset on Jan. 22, Pence said US President Donald Trump had directed the State Department to immediately begin preparing for the move. "[The] Embassy will open before the end of next year," he said.

Rather than build a new facility from scratch, the State Department now plans to convert an existing consular building in Arnona, a West Jerusalem neighbourhood, into an Embassy.

Meanwhile, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced via Facebook on December 25 that his country will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem as well.
Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has claimed that more than ten other countries are also considering moving their embassies.


Israel's GDP per capita reached US$44,019 in 2017, beating Britain, Japan and France, according to an annual report published by The Economist.

In addition, Israel's economic growth in 2017 was the highest of all advanced economies at 4.4%.

A preliminary export activity report also suggested exports were set to pass US$100 billion for the first time. Startups in Israel reportedly raised over US$5 billion during 2017.

Israel finished 2017 with a population of 8.79 million, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, with continued robust population growth. Population growth in West Bank settlements slowed however, dropping from 3.9% to 3.4% and continuing a multi-year decline from an annual average of 4.6% between 2006 and 2016.


The PA spent NIS 1.23 billion (A$450 million) on payments to terrorists or their families in 2017, according to a Jan. 9 report by the Israeli Defence Ministry, an increase of 11% over 2016. The sum amounts to 7% of the PA's total operating budget.

Last year, the US House of Representatives passed the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off US aid that directly benefits the PA unless the PA stops payments to those committing acts of terrorism. The legislation is expected to pass the US Senate later this year.