Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gaza Seaport - A Threat or Change

A proposal to provide the Gaza Strip with an outlet to the rest of the world through a man-made island could soon become a reality, Israel’s Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz said Monday [20th June 2016], according the Jerusalem Post. Although the idea of building this artificial island has been floating around for years, real headway has only been made in the recent months, according to Katz, who estimates the project will cost some $5 billion.

The project would include a 5 km. bridge from the Gaza Strip through Israeli waters and into the planned 8 sq. km. chunk of land, which likely would have a marine port and, eventually, an airport, in addition to a hotel and small port for yachts.
ShowImage (6)
Gaza island model as presented on June 20, 2016. (photo credit:COURTESY/THE ISRAEL PROJECT)
Hamas has said that among its conditions for a long-term truce with Israel are the reopening of the Strip’s Yasser Arafat Airport and construction of a new seaport. Such an option on existing Gaza land, Katz said, would put Israel’s security at risk and allow Hamas to misuse funds allocated for its construction. According to Katz, the process is still being deliberated by officials who are mainly trying to decide how exactly Israel would be involved in maintaining security at a port that would be internationally funded and secured. The minister said the project would not be built or funded by Israel in any way. Rather, he said, the initiative is more of a statement of support were this plan come to fruition and Israel would allow international entities to enter Israeli waters in order to carry out construction.

Katz acknowledged that the island would not necessarily put an end to weapon smuggling and rocket firings at Israel, but would help the populace to become less radical as it receives a better standard of living and the possibility of traveling and commerce with the rest of the world without Israeli involvement.

In May, Katz announced an initiative that would transfer Turkish goods to Jordan and onward to the rest of the region through Israel via a train route from the Port of Haifa to Beit She’an, which is a 15-minute drive from the Sheikh Hussein Border Crossing into Jordan. Source: Jerusalem Post

New Gaza wall

Up within the Israeli defense establishment, many believe that the time has come for Israel to set up a civilian seaport for the Gaza Strip. According to their view, if Gaza is going to stop exploding into conflict every two years, its 1.8 million residents need to have better hope for the future.
While the new port is part of the defense establishment’s concept of “restraining factors” that Israel can put into place, there is also military counterterrorism measures, to push back the next war for as long as possible.

One such new planed investment is a New Gaza wall. According The Jerusalem Post Israel’s defense establishment plans to build a concrete wall that goes tens of yards underground as well as above ground along the Gaza Strip border. Implementation of the plan will cost an estimated $568 million. The wall is intended to block off any terror tunnels, and will be constructed solely on Israeli soil.
Israel's plan to block off Gaza above and below ground with security wall has been met with an uproar from Gaza Arabs, who are demanding that the UN intervene and halt construction plans. Gazans have loudly protested the wall, at least partially on environmental grounds.
Egypt's Gaza barrier
Egypt's Gaza barrier

Sea-based smuggling rising

As Israel sends some 900 trucks per day into Gaza, carrying all manner of goods, medical equipment, food, fuel and construction material, it is hardly enough to keep the Gaza Strip’s economy functional. To get more goods, luxery items and weapons and weapon materials Hamas has used its smuggling tunnels. The original tunnels on Egypt-Gaza border were used to smuggle arms and commercial goods from Egypt to Gaza. Hamas substantially expanded this infrastructure after 2007 and Israel’s imposition of a sc, blockade. At the time, it is estimated that there were as many as 2,500 such tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt in the area of Rafah. There are estimates that as much as $3 billion in goods were moved annually from Sinai into Gaza. However since former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in June 2013, the Egyptian military has eliminated most of the smuggling tunnels beneath the border in the southern Gaza Strip and expanded the buffer zone. Egypt has demolished tunnels e.g. by exploding them, Egyptian army also fires tear gas or throws wastewater inside the tunnels to kill diggers. (More in Gaza Blockade – It’s Egypt not Israel! and Gaza’s Tunnel War Continues On All Fronts )
Tunnel war infograph by Ari Rusila
Earlier in May 2016 security forces announced the arrest of a suspected Gazan weapons smuggler who disguised himself as a fisherman. In a joint navy, Shin Bet and Israel Police operation, security forces said that during questioning, “it emerged that for a lengthy period, he was involved in sea-based smuggling of weapons and other items, for Hamas and other terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip.”

The suspect allegedly smuggled ammunition and liquid fiberglass used to manufacture rockets. Details on Hamas’s operational plans in the Mediterranean Sea also arose in the investigation, the domestic intelligence agency said, including its use of fishing boats to disguise its activities. (Source: Jerusalem Post )

Conflicting views related to Israeli security

Would the creation of a seaport enable Hamas to upgrade its weapons smuggling program? According to former navy chief V.-Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom, the answer is an unequivocal yes:  “In general, my view is absolutely opposed to a Gaza port. It is a certain recipe for Iranian military boats arriving in Gaza. We do not want that to happen.” Hamas, he added, has “very high motivation to smuggle via the sea. It uses fishing boats to smuggle between Sinai and the Gaza Strip,” and the need for sea arms-trafficking routes has grown since Egypt began blocking smuggling tunnels linking Sinai to Gaza. (Source: Jerusalem Post )

But others took a different view. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, head of the Program on Israeli-Palestinian Relations at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post that a Gazan port would assist, not harm, Israeli security. Brom, who in the IDF headed the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Branch of the General Staff, said, “I am among those who support the idea. Without a port, the Gaza Strip will continue to be a pressure cooker housing two million people which explodes every once in a while. There are a few good ideas that enable the operation of a port, with good security supervision, that will prevent it from being exploited to smuggle weapons.”

Such ideas include making every vessel en route to Gaza dock in Cyprus first, where its cargo will undergo a security check. (Source: Jerusalem Post )

Wider context

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Moni Chorev, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said the idea of a seaport for Gaza could not divorced from the wider strategic picture. Chorev, a former IDF division commander and former head of the officer training school, told the Post that one must place the Gaza port question in a far wider context. “Since Hamas rose to power in 2007, the Gazan economy has been kept down. Is there room to change Gaza’s economic situation? This question is not only about Gaza, however. If you look at the Palestinians as a whole, one must weigh up how creating economic growth in Gaza will affect [President] Mahmoud Abbas, the PA, and its ability to rule,” he said. That question, in turn, is tied into how Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and perhaps Turkey will interact with Israel and the Palestinians in the coming years, Chorev argued. “If you want to enlist the Egyptians, one must realize that they view Hamas as a sort of extension of their biggest enemy, the Muslim Brothers,” he said. Thus, a port would have an impact on the wider Palestinian, Arab and regional arena.

If Gazans are provided with new hope and an economic horizon, Hamas will be significantly less willing to risk the wrath of the people it controls by launching reckless and costly military attacks on Israel, he said. (Source: Jerusalem Post )

According reports the deal would include the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. According to the reports, Gaza will be allowed to import merchandise through a “floating port” located 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off the coast. An intermediary port will be established in Cyprus, where all Gaza-bound merchandise will be scrutinized by NATO representatives.

Earlier in August 2015 it was reported in the Times of Israel, that Hamas and Israel have essentially agreed on a long-term cease-fire. Hamas is about to sign a “comprehensive” agreement with Israel for the lifting of an eight-year blockade placed on the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term ceasefire The gist of the deal is that Israel will end the blockade and allow thousands of Palestinian day laborers to enter Israel. Gaza will import items through a Cyprus port overseen by NATO representatives (until a floating offshore port can be developed) and cease all rocket fire and tunneling for eight years. A prisoner swap may be in the works too.  Hamas-Israel Deal could pave way for the ‘Cold Peace Solution’. (More in Hamas and Israel on Verge of the Deal )
sinai option by Ari RusilaOn November 2015 Jerusalem Post reported   that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was claiming that Israel and Hamas have been conducting direct negotiations to expand the Gaza Strip so that it would include some 1,000 square kilometers of Sinai. At its core, the Egyptian initiative proposes expanding the Gaza Strip to five times its current size and settling all the Palestinian refugees in a state to be established there. Under the initiative, this state will be demilitarized, the Palestinian Authority would be granted autonomy in the Palestinian cities in the West Bank in exchange for relinquishing the Palestinian demand to return to 1967 borders. (More in Sinai Option again )

In my opinion annexing part of Sinai to Gaza as might partly solve Arab-Israeli Conflict. In addition Hamas-Israel Deal could pave way for the ‘Cold Peace Solution’ and beyond. With this context the Gaza seaport is from point of view a positive step forward.

Cold-Peace-Solution by Ari Rusila
Related articles:
Analysis: Resolving The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Gaza’s Tunnel War Continues On All Fronts
Sinai Option again
Hamas and Israel on Verge of the Deal
Gaza State Under Construction, West Bank Remains Bystander
Gaza Blockade – It’s Egypt not Israel!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Gaza’s Tunnel War Continues On All Fronts

Gaza’s tunnel war continues on all fronts – on Egypt-Gaza border, on Israel-Gaza border and on home front. While Egyptian army flooded again a Hamas tunnel, the Israel army discovered the first terror tunnel inside Israeli territory since the end of the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.
terror tunnels
Hamas says its smuggling and terror tunnel network is twice as large as the Viet Cong’s was at the height of the Vietnam War. On home front Hamas smuggles in cement, diverts from construction and humanitarian donations, and even raids civilian construction sites in order to rebuild its tunnels.
The new tunnel flooded again by Egypt

Palestinian media reported Monday morning [18th Apr. 2016] that the Egyptian army flooded a Hamas tunnel in the southern part of Gaza Strip. Seven Hamas terrorists are missing. The tunnel flooded was a commercial tunnel, used by Hamas to smuggle commodities into Gaza Strip, and not a military tunnel. The collapse happened after the Egyptians performed another one of their routine flooding of the area with sea water – or some say with sewage.

Egypt, historically the Palestinians’ major backer, has brokered several truces between Israel and Gaza factions and tried to heal past rifts between rival Palestinian factions. But Egypt has intensified a blockade of Gaza by largely sealing the border since 2013. Egypt has destroyed and flooded hundreds of the tunnels as part of an ongoing security campaign in the northern Sinai Peninsula against anti-regime militants launching attacks on Egyptian police and military personnel. Recently Egypt accused Hamas of involvement in last year’s assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat. (More in Hamas’ Relations With Egypt
Worsened )  

New terror tunnel with sturdier construction methods

The tunnel flooded by Egypt appeared to have been a commercial tunnel used to smuggle people and goods in and out of the Strip, as opposed to the “terror tunnel” located in southern Israel, which could have been used to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

It is the first such tunnel discovered inside Israeli territory since the end of the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. During the Operation Protective Edge at least 34 tunnels were discovered and destroyed by Israeli forces. The tunnel was located approximately 100 feet (30 to 40 meters) below ground and extended “tens of meters into Israel,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. It was discovered close to the border fence, he added. Though the tunnel was found just over one week ago, news of its discovery was forbidden from publication by the military censor. [Source: The Times of Israel ]

The newer tunnels, as now discovered one, built after Operation Protective Edge benefit from sturdier construction methods, improving structural integrity, which make them less likely to collapse due to rainfall. The wall of the tunnels discovered during Operation Protective Edge consisted of pre-cast concrete slabs placed vertically, with reinforced concrete arches above them to prevent the tunnel from collapsing due to the weight of the soil above it. In this type of construction, the wide vertical slabs are the weak point, and that is why Hamas is now building its tunnels using long, narrow concrete slabs laid horizontally, one on top of the other, within a metal frame. This structure is much stronger and more durable. It can withstand not only the pressure from the soil overhead, but also explosions and fighting inside the tunnel. It also allows for safer working conditions on rainy days when water seeps into the work area. Too much rainfall could cause the soil above a tunnel built using the pre-Protective Edge method to collapse, as seen several times in recent months. The new structure makes it far less likely that the tunnel would collapse. [Source and more in Ynet ]  

Israel’ anti-tunnel campaign

Israel has started testing a secret new weapon for defeating the tunnel systems which the Palestinian Hamas and Hizballah are busy digging for surprise attacks against Israel. Now, according to Foreign Policy magazine, it appears Israel has found that solution. Western sources reported on 11th March 2016, that the new weapon, dubbed the “Underground Iron Dome,” can detect a tunnel, then send in a moving missile ton blow it up. Beside ‘Underground Iron Dome’ part of Israel’s anti-tunnel campaign are military robots [e.g. Talon 4] and the Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) built by Roboteam, to explore the labyrinth of tunnels and concealed shafts supporting subterranean arms depots, command posts and cross-border attacks from Gaza. [More in Underground Iron Dome i.a. Against Hamas’ Terror Tunnels ].

Hamas officials are convinced Israel has developed new technology to detect the tunnels, and that it feeds the relevant data to the Egyptians. However, some Palestinian outlets claimed the true source of Israel’s tunnel discovery was not a technological breakthrough but rather one man: Mahmoud Jasser Awad Atawna who had been an active member of Hamas’s tunnel operations until he fell into the hands of Israeli forces a few weeks ago.

Tunnel war infograph by Ari Rusila  

Gaza’s tunnel war – a short history

Gazans have been using tunnels regularly since the mid-1990s, when they were dug under the Gaza-Egypt border in Rafah for smuggling purposes. By 2001, and again in 2004-2005, Hamas terrorists used tunnels to plant explosives under IDF installations. In 2006, Hamas dug a tunnel into Israel near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, ambushed a tank unit, kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit—who would be held in captivity for five years—and killed two of his fellow soldiers. By 2009’s Operation Cast Lead, Hamas’ use of tunnels had evolved into a clear threat. In 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF targeted the tunnels as much as it did Hamas’ rocket capabilities. In 2013, a large tunnel was discovered that led to an Israeli town. It was clearly intended for a large-scale terrorist attack. An even bigger tunnel was discovered later that year.

During Protective Edge, a major tunnel infiltration aimed at the residents of a kibbutz near the Gaza border was thwarted just as terrorists were emerging on the Israeli side. Four more such attacks would be interdicted, some with the Hamas fighters having already crossed into Israel. One attack was successful; five Israeli soldiers were killed. During Operation Protective Edge at least 34 tunnels were discovered and destroyed by Israeli forces. Hamas even used a tunnel to try to kidnap a soldier after a ceasefire had come into effect. The tunnel extended for over a mile, some of it deep into Israeli territory The original tunnels on Egypt-Gaza border were and still are used to smuggle arms and commercial goods from Egypt to Gaza.

Hamas substantially expanded this infrastructure after 2007 and Israel’s imposition of a sc, blockade. At the time, it is estimated that there were as many as 2,500 such tunnels running between Gaza and Egypt in the area of Rafah. There are estimates that as much as $3 billion in goods were moved annually from Sinai into Gaza. A second type of tunnel is the tactical or “defensive” variety. These are meant to assist Hamas in its next war if Israel sends in ground troops. They form a subterranean web underneath Gaza, and give fighters and commanders freedom of movement, allowing them to evade capture, hide from aerial assault, and maintain the element of surprise. Rockets, launchers, and ammunition are also stored in these tunnels, so Hamas can continue firing even while under aerial attack. Hamas commanders are said to have personal tunnels for themselves and their families.

It is the third type of tunnel, however, which is most worrying—the terror tunnels. Given Israel’s security fence and buffer zone on the border, Hamas was left with essentially two options for launching attacks on Israel—going over the fence, via rockets and mortars, or going under it. And since Israel’s anti-missile capabilities have advanced to the point where the rocket threat is largely neutralized, Hamas shifted its investments underground. The human intelligence capabilities and other covert efforts in Gaza are the key element to detect tunnel entrances. Hamas too is aware of this and reportedly executed dozens of tunnel diggers in the past to prevent them from leaking information to Israel. There is one aspect with Hamas’ tunnel strategy related to Gazans daily life and wellbeing. Roughly 9,000 homes were destroyed during Protective Edge, and very few have been rebuilt. According to declassified intelligence reports, these supplies are routinely stolen by Hamas in order to serve the group’s terrorist purposes. Hamas smuggles in cement, diverts from construction and humanitarian donations, and even raids civilian construction sites in order to rebuild its tunnels. [Source and good background article: Your Complete Guide to Hamas’ Network of Terror Tunnels by Dan Feferman ]

Bottom line
  • The flooded smuggling tunnel is the last example that Egypt is implementing measures which will totally block unofficial traffic aka smuggling via its border with Gaza causing also the collapse of Hamas’ financial base.
  • The first tunnel discovered inside Israeli territory since the end of the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 proves that Hamas now has developed a much stronger tunnel structure than before.
  • Hamas officials are convinced Israel has developed new technology to detect the tunnels, and that it feeds the relevant data to the Egyptians.
  • Besides technology there is indications that the IDF’s intelligence on Hamas’s military wing in Gaza has increased greatly over the past two years and that it is today well integrated with other IDF elements.
  • According Channel 2 report (March 2016) the Israeli security establishment estimates that Hamas is not presently seeking a military escalation with Israel. The report noted that the assessment stands despite the terrorist group’s continued digging and armament of underground tunnels. Also despite the newest find, IDF does not expect escalation in Gaza in near future.
  More background in

[This article first appeared in Conflicts By Ari Rusila ]

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gaza Update: Hamas Downfalling - IDF Prepared


he IDF’s intelligence on Hamas’s military wing in Gaza has increased greatly over  the past two years, and the Southern Command’s war preparations have been enhanced as a result, a senior military source said on 14th April 2016 according Jerusalem Post.
In Gaza, the military wing is gradually growing in power at the expense of the political wing. Figures like Muhammad Deif, who leads the military wing, Yihye Sinwar, who was released in the Gilad Shalit exchange and Marwan Issa, are taking power away from Hamas’s political wing, as well as from overseas leader Khaled Mashaal.

Hamas military wing members receive military training also in Iran and earlier in Syria, in addition Hamas has military training camps for children who also receive hate indoctrination from public media and in schools and camps. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade is a separate armed military wing, which has its own leaders who do not take their orders from Hamas. Some cells have independent links with the external leadership, enabling them to bypass the hierarchical command chain and political leadership in Gaza and they do not tell their plans in advance to political wing.
Hamas’s military wing is helping terrorist operatives in West Bank as well the ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province group, transferring it funds, and caring for its injured, as well as trying to smuggle weapons through the group. Hamas’s military wing is in charge of police appointments, a task that once belonged to the political wing.
04intellisouthThe Southern Command is carefully monitoring Hamas’s 25 regional battalions and has prepared detailed files on each one as part of preparations for ground forces that could, in the event of a future escalation, be sent in to Gaza to land “painful strikes” on Hamas, according to the source. “We did not have this level of knowledge in Operation Protective Edge [in 2014],” the source said. “Our brigade, battalion, and company commanders are assigned regions, and will know many things that will assist them in destroying their targets,” the high-ranking officer added according Jerusalem Post .

The Southern Command has spent the past year and a half making intensive preparations for potential future conflicts. Plans include spreading out a “stronger defense” of southern communities, and a better layout of staging areas, that were targeted by Hamas in the previous conflict. All IDF battalion commanders have, in recent weeks, completed courses dedicated exclusively to the topic of “how to defeat Hamas, fighting in populated areas and the rapid build-up of forces.

Hamas’s military wing is busy with its own preparations, using the current quiet to build up its own offensive capabilities. This includes an intensified training for Hamas’s elite Nuhba forces, which make up a quarter of Hamas’s 20,000-strong armed members, and who are trained to launch cross-border raids into Israel. The Nuhba Force has increased its size and scope of activities, as well as its training, Hamas is also building up its naval commando unit and has begun assembling a drone unit. [Source: Jerusalem Post ].

Collapsed “tunnel economy”

Hamas remains in a state of distress and economic crisis, unable to pay members in time, and failing to smuggle many weapons from Sinai. Hamas’ economic well-being was in large part dependent on its system of smuggling tunnels snaking underneath the Gaza border with Egypt.
The tunnels were first constructed immediately after Israel’s disengagement from the Sinai Peninsula, as part of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt. But digging got more intense after Israel declared a blockade on Gaza after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections. Hamas’s government started to flourish on what economists called the booming “tunnel economy” until current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi joined Israel in trying to destroy it.
Tunnel war infograph by Ari RusilaEgypt is now implementing measures which will totally block unofficial traffic aka smuggling. Egyptian military vehicles are transferring Mediterranean Sea water to the Rafah border, to fill a newly-built crude canal, flooding and destroying the lifeline tunnels connecting Egypt and blockaded Gaza.

The supply lines that have fed it cash, arms, goods, luxury items, fuel, and cement for its terror-tunnel industry suddenly were gone. These goods, which were smuggled into Gaza at obscenely low prices at the expense of Egyptian citizens, were no longer flowing in due to the closure of the tunnels. The economy of Hamas is weakening as Egypt has closed main part of over one thousand smuggling tunnels on Gaza border; before that Hamas administration got remarkable income from smuggling activities. [More in Gaza Blockade – It’s Egypt not Israel! ]

Since beginning of March 2016, Hamas has been forced to slash by two-thirds the wages paid to members of its military wing: each fighter now takes home $200 instead of $600 per month, and officers used to earning $1,000 must be satisfied with $350. DEBKA’s military and intelligence sources claims that the terrorist group has moreover halted recruitment for lack of funds to pay, accommodate or train new fighters. The cash crunch has also hit the Hamas government. Most of Gaza’s municipal services are suspended because city officials have not been paid. Iran’s boycott on military and financial assistance to the Gaza Strip was clamped down in mid-2015 over Hamas’ refusal to line up behind Iran’s unqualified endorsement of its allies, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Hamas doesn’t currently have a patron in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood is weak in the region: Jordan recently shut down their branches; they’re being chased out of Egypt; Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have outlawed them. Egypt has strengthened its grip on Gaza and won’t tolerate any violence on Hamas’s part in the near future.

Bottom line

According Channel 2 report (March 2016) the Israeli security establishment estimates that Hamas is not presently seeking a military escalation with Israel. The report noted that the assessment stands despite the terrorist group's continued digging and armament of underground tunnels in the coastal Palestinian enclave.
Israel-Palestine roadmap to peace
Over one year Hamas has been negotiating with Israel about its plan to turn the Gaza Strip into a separate Palestinian entity in a bid to reach a long-term calm on the Gaza border. It might be that the international community must define their two-state solution with new content including two Palestinian state – one in the Gaza Strip and an other Fatah-controlled state in the West Bank. With “official” 2-State Solution there is other 2-State options such as Gaza and Palestine option. Related to possible deal between Hamas and Israel there is a risk that internal disagreements between Hamas’ political and military wings could endanger it. (more e.g. in Gaza State Under Construction, West Bank Remains Bystander, Analysis: Resolving The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict , Sinai Option again and Hamas and Israel on Verge of the Deal).

Hamas wings by Ari Rusila

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Israel-Greece-Cyprus Alliance as New Mideast/EastMed Game Changer

Israel-Greece-Cyprus alliance aims to “promote a trilateral partnership in different fields of common interest and to work together towards promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Mediterranean and the wider region.” (Cyprus - Israel - Greece Trilateral Summit Declaration )
Israel-Cyprus-Greece allianceThe signing of an agreement of cooperation between Israel, Greece and Cyprus in Nicosia in February has tremendous implications for the future of this strategic region and for Israel. The trilateral Israel-Greece-Cyprus alliance is a potential game changer at a juncture when new regional alignments are forging in the Middle East after the lifting of sanctions against Iran. The new alliance gives Israel much-needed strategic depth.

Publicly all three countries say that this alliance is not against any other country, meaning specifically Turkey. However the reality probably is the opposite. Of these countries, Israel is the only major military power. Both Greece and Cyprus have major economic problems, and although members of the EU, are not in any significant way protected by their EU-NATO alliance. Although EU and US are very concerned about the fake “occupation” by Israel of the Palestinians , the northern third of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkey after 30 years, and the EU and US are doing nothing about this.

The context of latest geopolitical developments in Mideast is based to dramatic events in 2015 which have brought into focus following aspects turning the Eastern Mediterranean into one of the key areas for global security:
  • The refugee crisis due to chaotic conditions in Syria, Libya and beyond;
  • The growing hold, upon Mediterranean shores, of totalitarian Islamism in its various forms – Iran's camp; Daesh aka Islamic State; and the Muslim Brotherhood (with Turkey and Qatar as allies).
  • The prospects for cooperation in the field of energy.
  • Russia replacing US as key outside player (related to Israel sure there is influential Jewish diaspora in US but same time there is one million immigrants from ex-USSR living in Israel)
Mideast trends by Ari Rusila 

EastMed Bloc

The improvement in relations between Greece and Israel started in 2010 with socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou, continued in 2012 with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and is being followed today by the leftist Tsipras. The Greek-Israeli relationship, which has flourished under a remarkable variety of political regimes, also enjoys broad support among the Greek public. Israel has a strong defense and military relationship with Cyprus as well that started (surprisingly) during the tenure of Communist President Demetris Christofias, and that continues at full speed under current conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades.

From an Israeli perspective, the recent strengthening of alliance ties with Greece and Cyprus constitutes a win-win situation. A new geopolitical bloc is emerging that has military and political significance, and stands as a counterweight to Turkish ambitions. The past months have been characterized by an unprecedented and noteworthy flurry of diplomatic activity between Jerusalem, Athens and Nicosia that suggests the emergence of a new geopolitical bloc in the region.
In late January, the Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon paid an official visit to Athens, hosted by his Greek counterpart, Panos Kammenos. (This was the second official visit of an Israeli Minister of Defense to Greece. In late 2012, Ehud Barak visited Athens.)

Ya’alon's visit to Greece serves to illustrate the intensive security and military relationship between Israel and Greece that began several years ago. This involves frequent joint air force exercises (with other countries occasionally participating), as well as joint maneuvers of the two navies. Israeli military planes have been forbidden from flying over Turkey ever since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, so they use Greek airspace on their flights to Europe and the United States instead. An Israeli military attaché has been stationed in Athens since the summer of 2014, and he is also accredited to Cyprus. Strikingly, Ya’alon did not hesitate while in Athens to publicly accuse Turkey of supporting terror rather than fighting it, specifically alleging that Turkey buys oil from ISIS.

Also in late January, a government-to-government conference was held in Jerusalem between the cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Tsipras arrived with a large delegation of ten ministers. This was the second government-to-government meeting of the two countries (the first was held in October 2013 with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras), and the second visit of Tsipras to Israel within two months. . (One should note, that Greece is only the second country other than the US with which Israel has signed a ‘status of forces agreement’.)
game changer logoThe following day, 28th January 2016, a trilateral summit was held in Nicosia with Netanyahu, Tsipras, and President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. The summit was followed by a significant joint declaration. The joint statement published in Nicosia following the summit describes seven areas of cooperation: energy, tourism, research and technology, environment, water, immigration and the fight against terror.

(Source and more:   A New Geopolitical Bloc is Born in the Eastern Mediterranean: Israel, Greece and Cyprus by Ambassador Arye Mekel, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, also as PDF )

EastMed Pipeline

The core of this new alliance is the EastMed Pipeline project from Israel and Cyprus via Greece that would export the Eastern Mediterranean gas to the European market. Israel now has very major finds of natural gas in the Mediterranean off Haifa, and Cyprus has some wells too nearby. Israel is far better positioned to exploit these finds and Cyprus is being helped by Israel in developing their finds. Also, such wells need security from attack and Israel has established a military command purely for this.   Greece in its dire economic situation, also with the addition of tens of thousands of Muslim migrants invading the country, needs help. Israel is prepared to supply natural gas to Greece at discounted prices. This is good for both countries. Other countries might later be included in this alliance (possibly Egypt, Jordan, Italy and Bulgaria).

EastMed pipeline
New technologies used to explore and produce oil and gas lying under Mediterranean waters have led to the discovery of hydrocarbons in volumes that, once commercially available, will reshape the energy map of the Middle East and perhaps, of the Europe too. A changed energy panorama will inevitably alter the geopolitical landscape, thus creating new opportunities. The US Geological Survey estimates that some 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could eventually be found in the Levantine basin, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, a volume that would make the region an important player in the world of energy. The costs of developing these resources will be high, as a typical development well drilled in that basin will cost between $80-90 million and a gas pipeline to Europe is expected to cost as much as $15-20 billion.
Related to hydrocarbons, Israel and Russia are about to agree cooperation in the East Mediterranean. Israel would agree to end talks with Turkey’s erratic Erdogan on sale of Israeli Leviathan natural gas to Turkey to displace Russian Gazprom gas which still supplies 60% of Turkish gas despite sanctions. According to unnamed diplomatic sources, Putin envisions an investment between $7 billion to $10 billion to develop Israeli offshore gas fields. In addition the Israeli military establishment “prefers maintaining military cooperation with Russia over potential Israeli gas sales to Turkey if they hurt Russian interests and anger Putin.” (Some background in Realpolitik: The Energy Triangle As Game Changer For The Eastern Mediterranean )

Turkey down Kurdistan up

Ankara has been at a standoff with Moscow in recent months, ever since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border last November, and Russia responded with crippling sanctions and Turkey began normalization talks with Israel. These talks were largely motivated by Turkey's desire to buy gas from Israel. However the Turkish authorities have yet to close the Hamas terror headquarters in Istanbul, and according to reports the country continues to purchase oil from Islamic State (ISIS) despite global criticism. In light of these reasons, as well as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic comments by senior Turkish officials, the sources estimate that the negotiations are destined to fail. (Source Arutz Sheva )

While Turkey as well Iran see the growth in strength of the Kurds in the region as a threat to its internal stability - around three million Kurds live in Iranian territory - Russia supports Kurdish independence, since they have been the most effective and trustworthy fighters against ISIS.

Israel, on its part, was the first state to declare its support for an ‘independent’ Kurdistan. In 2014, Netanyahu said: “We should … support the Kurdish aspiration for independence. Kurds are a nation of fighters [who] have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.” This January, Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called for an independent Kurdistan between Iran and Turkey, and an enhanced policy of cooperation between Israelis and the Kurds. When Iraqi Kurds defied Baghdad in 2015 and began direct sale of the oil in their region, Israel became the major buyer. The oil revenues allowed the Iraqi Kurds to finance their fight against Islamic State (ISIS). A Financial Times report estimated that Israel had purchased 19 million barrels of Iraqi Kurdish oil worth roughly $1 billion between May and August last year [2015].

Turkey has been opposing the establishment of an ‘independent’ Kurdish state, has been supporting Hamas which, in turn, aims at ‘destroying’ Israel and has also at least indirectly assisted Daesh. These actions have instrumental in bringing Israel and Russia closer. Despite Turkey’s attempts at normalizing its relations with Israel, Jerusalem continues to prefer Russia.

The declaration of an autonomous Kurdish-dominated territory along the Turkish border backed by Moscow is a major geopolitical shift in the Syrian situation. On March 17 delegates representing different ethnicities and nationalities–Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkomans, Armenians, Circassians and Chechen–along with representatives from the Syrian People’s Defense Units or YPG, and the YPJ womens’ defense   units declared a formal Federation of Northern Syria which would incorporate 250 miles of mostly Kurdish-held territory along the Syria-Turkey border. On February 7 of this year a curious event took place little noticed by western media. The Syrian Kurds, represented by the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), the main political organization, were welcomed by Russia to open their first foreign office in Moscow.

Russia replaced US

On 15th March 2016, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited Moscow to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin on Syria and the circumstances that led to Russian pull-out. According to Israeli media, the two leaders also discussed continued military coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow in Syria. Rivlin later held talks with Prime Minister Medvedevin in which Russian government sought more imports of agriculture products from Israel to replace Turkish products blocked following sanctions on Ankara. An Israeli official told local media that “over the last few months, we had regular contact with the Russians at the highest level, and that will continue.”

Israel, for its part, risked a diplomatic crisis with Australia last month by abruptly canceling an official visit by President Reuven Rivlin, who instead headed to Moscow for an urgent meeting with Putin. And this occurred just after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu canceled a planned meeting with Obama in Washington, without even bothering to communicate that officially to the White House. Russia’s smart use of hard power to achieve specific, achievable objectives in Syria has made Russia a focal point for the major actors in the Middle East – creating a serious geopolitical challenge for the US.

Several weeks ago, Putin said he plans to meet with Netanyahu in the nearest future, noting that Russia and Israel have “many issues” to discuss. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu plans to travel to Moscow later in the month, allegedly on April 21, to meet with Putin. (Source e.g: Asia Times )

Totalitarian Islamism – Iran's camp; Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood

The problems facing the Mediterranean security architecture are more acute than ever not only because of the chaotic conditions and criminal conspiracies discussed above, but also due totalitarian Islamism. In general, they can be categorized as belonging to three variants on the theme of Islamism, bitterly hostile to each other: Iran's camp; Daesh (ISIS) and the Muslim Brotherhood with two influential allies, Turkey and Qatar. These can be described as enemies to many post-modern European, acting brutally and in open defiance of the laws of war and the most elementary norms of human conduct. These forces are by now gaining ground on Mediterranean shores.

The presence of several common threats, emanating from political and social chaos and from the rise of Islamist forces, is not the only reason for like-minded nations in the Mediterranean region to enhance their cooperation with each other, this is driven to some extent by growing doubts about the willingness and ability of the United States to provide a stable security environment, in the face of the mounting challenges and threats. Also of great importance in shaping the agenda for national policies and regional alliances is the range of serious economic challenges many of them face, and the equally significant opportunities which are bound to arise if trade relations are allowed to develop in a relatively stable environment. Of particular importance is the potential for cooperation in the field of energy, once it can be fully realized.

The relations between Egypt and Hamas are one core question in (partial) Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Besides planned Hamas-Israel ceasefire deal Egypt has a decisive role if sc ‘Sinai option’ (more in Sinai Option again ) will go further as partial solution to conflict. Also even without these kind progress Egypt’s actions with Rafah crossing have great importance for welfare of Gaza population. (More in Gaza Blockade – It’s Egypt not Israel! ) Egypt has officially accused Hamas of training the terror operatives who assassinated Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat last year. Egyptian authorities say Hamas is also actively assisting Wilayat Sinai, the Daesh’ (Islamic State movement’s) branch in northern Sinai, and that this aid involves training its operatives in Gaza and treating its wounded fighters in Gaza hospitals.

(Source and background analysis: The BESA (Begin-Sadat) Center at Bar Ilan University has issued a report written by Col. Dr. Eran Lerman on the Eastern Mediterranean and Israel’s role in the development of a new strategic alliance, also as PDF ).

islam violent and political islam


According New Eastern Outlook the fast approaching prospects of an economically stronger Iran seem to have pushed the Israeli policy makers to strike an ‘energy deal’ with Greece and Cyprus—a deal that is supposed to have strong economic as well as politico-strategic underpinnings at various levels of polity. Israel’s agreement with Greece and Cyprus regarding the development of the vast hydrocarbon reserves that have been discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean, the January 28 declaration has some special significance.

In principle, EastMed Pipeline could also help connect Syria and the Kurdish regions with the European market. To be sure, the EastMed Pipeline project is getting a head start over any definite plans by Iran yet to access Europe’s gas market.

From an Israeli perspective, the recent developments with Greece and Cyprus constitute a win-win situation. The strengthening of ties with these countries creates a new geopolitical bloc that could, to some extent, stand up to Turkey. This bloc has both military and political significance. Greece is ready right now to assist Israel within the European Union, as it proved recently when it led the opposition to labeling settlement products. This represents a sharp change in Greek policy within the European Union. Cyprus almost automatically supports the Greek position, which gives the Greeks a double vote within EU institutions.

Turkey from its side is sliding to isolation and losing ground as regional superpower while Russia is back at the center of the Middle East geostrategic game. As the Americans created a vacuum in their withdrawal Russia replaced it fast. Related to Syria one possible option, which Russia has championed, would be a federal system: Assad’s Alawites could control territory in the West, running from Latakia in the north to Damascus in the south, and an autonomous Syrian-Kurdish region could be established in the northeast, with the rest of the country being left to the Sunni opposition.
Israel-Cyprus-Greece allaince

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Israel’s 5 Strategy Options Regarding West Bank After Abbas

david starIsrael will have five policy options regarding Judea and Samaria when Mahmoud Abbas departs from his post as leader of the Palestinian Authority and none of these options is ideal. This is the conclusion of analysis by Professor Hillel Frisch, professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Prof. Frisch is trying to craft a coherent Israeli policy toward a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority (PA). The task is challenging as the situation is constantly buffeted by tremors and underground currents. These include a wave of terrorist violence against Israelis, albeit declining; a growing rift within Fatah between Abbas and his detractors that is very much linked to the battle over his succession; and the possibility that linkage between those two developments could degenerate into civil war (another arena in the proxy war waged between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their respective allies).

The five approaches are
  • conflict management option,
  • creative friction,
  • constructive chaos,
  • unilateral withdrawal, and
  • unilateral annexation.
In every case, however, Israel will have to maintain a military presence in Judea and Samaria.
BESA Center
The article Israel’s Five Policy Options Regarding Judea and Samaria by Prof. Hillel Frisch is BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 336, March 29, 2016 and it can be found as PDF from here ; a resume of it is represented below:

Israel’s 5 Strategy Options Regarding West Bank After Abbas [Source: Prof. Hillel Frisch/BESA Center]
According Prof. Frisch the Conflict Management Option is probably the most feasible, and the unilateral withdrawal option the least and according him the Unilateral withdrawal would in any case probably prove to be domestically impossible. The chaos option is not entirely in Israel’s hands, contingent as it is on developments within the PA.

Unlike in an excellent article by Prof. Frisch I think that unilateral withdrawal is both feasible and doable; its main benefit might be that Israel can deside it individually. Sure this option is promoted by Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, but I understand that the proposal has support in addition to center-left also from center and center-right in Israeli’s political sphere. I would like to emphasize also one aspect namely separate truce with Gaza/Hamas and in best case implementation sc Sinai option which could solve refugee question with positive outcome to some of problems in West Bank too.
clinton parameters
The components of Two-State solution have been roughly clear last two decades – see ‘Parameters of the Israel-Palestine Conflict’ above – but the final agreement is still missing. The international pressure might lead to talks or negotiations again, with or without outside facilitators, but probably with the same outcome than earlier. So from my perspective unilateral actions are steps forward and in my opinion also to the right direction.

If peace negotiations don’t start, they fail again or regional solutions can’t be realized this time so from my viewpoint Israel could independently implement what I have called a ‘Cold Peace Solution’, a minimal level of peace relations, where Israel would annex main settlements from West-bank inside the security fence and return to negotiations about other than so solved border issue when both parties feel need to make a long term deal. This solution in my opinion is the best way forward and it even might be possible to implement. If unilateral solutions are made in the framework of constructive unilateralism so this approach might be the right roadmap towards more permanent two-state solution.
Cold-Peace-Solution by Ari Rusila

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Underground Iron Dome Against Hamas' Terror Tunnels

IDF-SymbolIsrael  has started testing a secret new weapon for defeating the tunnel systems which the Palestinian Hamas and Hizballah are busy digging for surprise attacks  against Israel. Following Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, a  great deal of attention shifted to Israel's need to develop a technological  solution to the underground tunnel problem.

Now, according to Foreign Policy magazine, it  appears Israel has found that solution. Western sources reported on 11th  March 2016, that the new weapon, dubbed the  “Underground Iron Dome,” can detect a tunnel, then send in a moving missile ton blow it up. The new weapon is not counter measure only against threat from Gaza  and Lebanon but against Iran nukes too.

US intelligence sources disclosed only  that new weapon is equipped with seismic sensors to detect underground  vibrations and map their location before destroying them. Western experts haven been talking for years about a secret Israeli weapon capable of destroyingn Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility, which is buried deep inside a mountain not farn from the Shiite shrine city of Qom. They suggested that this hypotheticaln weapon could be slipped through the Fordo facility’s vents, thread its way  through the underground chambers and take down the illicit enrichment facility.  It was discussed again three years ago, when the Israeli Air Force on 23rd  Aug. 2013 blew up the Popular Palestinian Front-General Command underground  facility at Al-Naama on the South Lebanese coast, 15 km south of Beirut. (Source:  DEBKAfile )
Iran keeps its ballistic missiles in underground bunkers
Iran keeps its ballistic missiles in underground bunkers
The new threat to Israel that appeared in the summer of 2014,n Operation Protective Edge was a network of terror tunnels. Now, Israel Hayom reports, Israel has built its own network of defense tunnels along the Gaza border, with the cooperation of the United  States. The US government is set to invest $120 million in developing and manufacturing the "Israeli invention" for detecting and identifying  tunnels, in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense, following Congress'  approval of the budget transfer. Israel is set to invest a similar amount.  For its investment U.S. will receive  prototypes, access to test sites, and rights to any intellectual property.  Military officials estimated the costs of  setting up an advanced tunnel barrier at about 2.8 billion shekels ($710  million).
The goal, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood told Foreign Policy, “is to establish  anti-tunnel capabilities to detect, map, and neutralize underground tunnels that threaten the U.S. or Israel…”The US is in need of such a system on its
Mexico border and with the Americans in the picture, there is a chance that the  project here will start to make progress. The injection of American money and  technology will shorten the process and the system will be upgraded, meaning  that it will be deployed more quickly. (Source:
Israel Hayom  )

Among the Israeli companies working on the  tunnel-detection project are Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems,
both of which developed the Iron Dome.

Collapsing  tunnels
According Arutz Sheva  a Hamas “field commander” [Abd al-Salah al-Butnaji  from The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,  Hamas’ armed wing]  died 14th  March 2016 in a “tunnel accident” in Gaza.
A gas pipe running through a tunnel under the Gazan town of Rafah exploded, wounding some 60-70 people, and  killing 2, according to The Jewish Press  based on Egyptian sources.  According to Al Bawab News, some 50 smuggling  tunnels were uncovered due to the explosion. 60 homes in Rafah have been  evacuated due to the explosion.  There’s  no indication at this point as to what caused the gas pipe to leak and explode.
A terror tunnel under the Gazan town of Khan Younis collapsed on 19th March 2016; three Hamas terrorists  have been wounded and five others are still missing underground.  This is the 10th or 11th terror tunnel to  collapse since December 2015.
(Source: The Jewish Press )
On Egypt-Gaza border the Egyptian military vehicles are transferring Mediterranean Sea water to the Rafah border, to fill a  newly-built crude canal, flooding and destroying the tunnels connecting Egypt and Gaza. While it is generally believed that this year’s unusually heavy rainfall  and flooding by Egyptian army are the main reason for the collapses on  Gaza-Israel border, there is growing speculation that an Israeli secret  anti-tunnel weapon is at work underground.  

Egypt, historically the Palestinians'  major backer, has brokered several truces between Israel and Gaza factions and tried to heal past rifts between rival Palestinian factions.  But Egypt has intensified a blockade of Gaza  by largely sealing the border since 2013, citing precarious security conditions  in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula where Islamist militants have launched many
deadly strikes on Egyptian soldiers. Recently Egypt accused Hamas of  involvement in last year's assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat.  (More in
Hamas’ Relations With Egypt Worsened )

Robots in anti-tunnel campaign

As part of Israel’s anti-tunnel  campaign the IDF's earlier recruit was a versatile little Foster-Miller military robot Talon 4 which proved he can handle himself  on the battlefields of Iraq and was drafted for use in the dangerous tunnels on  the Gaza Strip border instead of soldiers to reduce risks to troops.
In addition Israel debuted the Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) built by Roboteam, a locally developed micro robot, to explore the labyrinth of tunnels and concealed shafts  supporting subterranean arms depots, command posts and cross-border attacksn from Gaza. After competing for more than two years with America's leading robot providers, an Israeli newcomer to the industry through its US subsidiary has  snagged a $25 million US Air Force contract to provide its man-portable, stair-climbing, battle-tested system in support of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) missions. MTGR weighs less than 20 pounds and is built to clear  obstacles, climb 8-inch stairs and maneuver in tight, dangerous terrain. Its five onboard cameras, internal microphone and infrared laser points generate  intelligence and targeting data 360 degrees around the vehicle. (Defense News)

The  bottom line
One reason which angers Palestinians is a sc. siege on Gaza, which prevents the building process of the new homes since last
Gaza conflict in 2014.  As a matter of fact Palestinians should be angry with Hamas for rebuilding the tunnels instead of homes.   In fact, since the cease-fire  between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas, more than 3 million tons of construction material have entered Gaza through Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing,
according to Israeli figures. Big part of construction materials as well of other donations is used for building terror and smuggling tunnels
. (More in Instead of Gaza’s Reconstruction Donor Aid Finances Terrorism And Corruption )
Hamas is in its own race against time.  From the organization's perspective, it's already finished its preparations for a military entanglement with Israel and is now grappling with timing. And thisn timing will be greatly affected by the pace of the Israeli project's progress. Hamas is preparing a surprise attack. If they are led to believe for a moment that Israel has a solution that will bring its tunnels out into the open, it  will push them to bring their attack forward. The IDF is already making estimates around possibility that the collision is likely to take place within a few months. A series of gestures and events over the past few weeks attest to the building concern that the next round of fighting between Israel and Hamas will arrive sooner rather than later. It started with reports, specifically in Israel, on the certainty that Hamas' tunnels have already entered Israeli territory.
Both Palestinian Hamas and the pro-Iranian Hizballah are working overtime on tunnels for sneaking terrorists and commando
fighters into Israel to attack IDF posts and civilian locations. During Israel’s last counter-terror operation in the Gaza Strip, Hamas staged a deadly tunnel attack on the Israel side of the border and is planning repeats. Hizballah is training commando units for underground surprise incursions to capture parts of Galilee in northern Israel. Israel still appears unable to completely counter Hamas’s subterranean advantage. And if the development of the Underground Iron Dome is any indication, it could be several years before Israel is able to employ an effective anti-tunnel system.
An injection of US cash into Israel's anti-tunnel technology will speed up its development. But the increased activity on the Israeli side is liable to  provoke Hamas into jumping the gun and launching an early surprise attack.
Tunnel war infograph by Ari Rusila

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