Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Behind the News - September 2017

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TERROR AND ROCKET REPORT

On August 2, a Palestinian entered a supermarket in the central Israeli city of Yavne and repeatedly stabbed an assistant manager, seriously wounding him. On July 24, a Palestinian carried out a stabbing attack in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, lightly wounding one man before being subdued by an Israeli wielding a wooden pizza tray. Elsewhere, Palestinians continued to attack Israelis regularly, using knives, Molotov cocktails, explosive devices and rocks.

On August 8, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in open territory near the city of Ashkelon. In response, Israel's air force hit two Hamas targets.


GAZA BARRIER TO EXTEND INTO SEA

Israel's new barrier around Gaza, which is currently under construction, will extend into the Mediterranean to prevent Hamas incursions via the sea.

The NIS 3 billion (A$1.05 billion) barrier will include an underground section made from bentonite clay, complete with sensors to detect tunnel digging activity, and a six-metre high metal wall. By October, 1,000 workers will be working around the clock at 40 locations in order to complete the project within two years.


HAMAS TRAINS KIDS TO "LIBERATE JERUSALEM"

Hamas is holding summer camps in the Gaza Strip, which are being attended by 120,000 children and teens, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute. The motto of this year's Hamas summer camp was "Marching on Jerusalem." In addition to Quran lessons, sports activities, games and entertainment, the children also received extensive military indoctrination, weapons training and instruction on kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

The camps' director in the northern Gaza Strip, Zaki Al-Sharif, said that Hamas' goal is to raise "a special, aware generation which will lead the decisive campaign of liberation against the Zionist enemy."


PA SOCIAL MEDIA CRACKDOWN

Simply liking or sharing a Facebook post could now land West Bank Palestinians in prison.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a new Cyber Crime Law in July that makes it a jailable offence to publish material which could "undermine the safety of the state or its internal or external security". It reportedly extends to liking or sharing such material on social media platforms.

Palestinian journalists and human rights organisations have protested the new law, saying its only aim is to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA, and that it will further restrict freedom of speech, a right that is already severely limited in PA-controlled areas.

The PA blocked 30 websites in July, mostly linked to either Abbas' personal rival Mohamed Dahlan or the PA's political rival Hamas. Five journalists were arrested and charged with violating the law in August - though all were later released after an international outcry.


TAYLOR FORCE ACT PASSES COMMITTEE

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed the Taylor Force Act in a 16-5 vote on August 4, putting increasing pressure on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that funding from the United States is not utilised to pay salaries for terrorists or pensions to their families.

Named after Taylor Force, a US Army veteran murdered in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in 2016, the Bill is expected to be voted on in Congress' Fall session. Under current policy, the PA delivers monthly salaries to the families of terrorists who have been killed undertaking attacks, or who are imprisoned by Israel for terrorist acts.

The bill, if passed, would restrict US aid to the authority until the policy ends.


IRAN BOOSTS FUNDING FOR MISSILES AND FOREIGN ACTIVITY

Iran's parliament on August 13 approved the allocation of an additional US$260 million for missile development and the same amount to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations wing, state news agency IRNA reported.

The move comes after the US imposed new sanctions on Iran in July, which targeted Iran's missile program. "The Americans should know that this was our first action," said Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, "to confront terrorist and adventurist actions by the United States in the region".

Iran claims that the new US sanctions violate the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to ease nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.


IRAN BUILDS SYRIA MISSILE FACTORY

According to an August 15 report on Israel's Channel 2 news agency, Iran is building a facility in northwest Syria to manufacture long-range rockets and store explosives. The report showed images from Israeli satellite imaging company ImageSat of a Scud missile factory being built near the city of Baniyas, south of Latakia.

Further, on August 20, Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported that Iran was smuggling offensive weapons systems to Russia via Syria in violation of UN resolutions. According to the report, two airplanes from Iran flew directly to Russia's Khmeimim Air Base in Syria carrying heavy military equipment. According to the paper, the weapons were then sent to Russia for "service maintenance" and this violates provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.


IRAN AIDING TALIBAN

According to an August 5 New York Times report, Iran has been covertly increasing its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The report alleges that Iran is providing the Taliban with weapons, money and training. Iran has also provided Taliban commanders with sanctuary and fuel for training, and it has recruited for the Taliban from Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran.

In October 2016, evidence was found that Iranian commandos had participated in an attack on the Afghan village of Farah. According to Afghan officials, Iran has also sent squads of assassins into the country and has infiltrated police ranks and government departments.


RUSSIA ESTABLISHING BASE IN SYRIA

Russia appears to be establishing a base in southern Syria near the border with Israel, according to numerous reports. News websites close to the Syrian opposition reported that the Syrian army has withdrawn from Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria and is being replaced by the Russian military. The report also claimed that the Russian base is part of the ceasefire agreement between Russia and America regarding southwest Syria. Meanwhile, the Lebanese al-Mayadeen network, considered close to the Assad regime, reported that Russian military policemen have begun deployment in the region and are now stationed in positions shared by the Syrian army.

Russia's presence on Israel's northern border has profound security implications for Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has expressed concern about the US-Russia ceasefire agreement, which he believes could enable a long-term Iranian presence in southern Syria.


FALSIFIED IRAQI CHILD MORTALITY NUMBERS

A new report published by the British Medical Journal of Global Health on July 24 strongly questions the widely-quoted statistic that more than 500,000 children died as a consequence of UN-imposed sanctions in the decade leading up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Those numbers, though repeated in reports by UN bodies, were based on statistics supplied by the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, and have long been claimed as not credible by critics.

Labelled ‘a history of lies, damn lies and statistics,' the report states that new data from Iraq "show no sign of a huge and enduring rise in the under-5 death rate starting in 1991. It is therefore clear that Saddam Hussein's government successfully manipulated the 1999 survey in order to convey a very false impression."