Israel-Gaza Update: 16 May, 2021

Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are becoming louder as the hostilities between Israel and Gaza enter their second week. The international pressure has spiked especially in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes and heavy militant rocket attacks on Israeli towns. At a meeting of the UN Security Council earlier today, the United States made it clear it is prepared to offer its support “should the parties seek a ceasefire.”

Despite international pressure for a ceasefire rising, the Israeli government does not appear eager to begin negotiations with the Gaza government and Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Israeli campaign in Gaza will continue on. “We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address following a meeting of his security cabinet on Sunday. Hours later, as midnight approached, militants launched rockets at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. Not long after the initial launches, the Israeli Air Force launched a significant number of sorties against military targets in Gaza.

Palestinian sources claim 197 citizens of Gaza have been killed, including 58 children and 34 women. The high amount of non-combatant casualties cited by the sources (government mostly) bring their accuracy into question. In all probability, the numbers are being fudged, to put it lightly, by sources sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Iran And The Israeli-Gaza Hostilities

What role is Iran playing in all of this? That’s the single most significant question to emerge from the growing unrest and violence in Israel and Gaza so far. Islamic Jihad is a well-known Iranian proxy, while Hamas is a lapdog of Tehran. Those realities alone make Iranian complicity in the current unrest a very strong probability at least. Last week, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Major General Hossein Salami warned of Israel’s vulnerability to a large-scale tactical operation owing to its small size. The high tempo of rocket fire coming from Gaza, coupled with Salami’s comments, certainly gives the impression that the operation was inspired by Iran. The fact that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are being targeted by rockets for the first time is simply more evidence of Iranian involvement in one form or another.

Considering the shadow war that has been taking place between Iran and Israel lately, its likely that events in Israel represent a new phase of this conflict. Tehran is sending a message that Israel can be severely wounded by massed rocket fire and its internal divisions. Right now, Israel is contending with a political crisis as a fifth round of elections looms. Netanyahu’s government has been temporarily relegated to a caretaker status, making the timing of the rocket attacks, as well as the Al-Asqa mosque tensions and subsequent clashes suspect.

Israeli forces and Gaza-based militants have been exchanging attacks for days. Since the beginning of the week, Israel has struck hundreds of targets described as Hamas and Islamic Jihad weaponry and infrastructure. These strikes have killed over thirty militants, of which a dozen were senior leaders according to the IDF. With the violence now spilling over into Israeli cities as civil unrest, the question now appears to be whether or not Israel will escalate the conflict and begin a ground operation into Gaza, an option it avoided in 2014 and ever since.

Sunday 16 August, 2020 Iran Update: Israel-UAE Deal The Latest Headache For Iran This Month

Thursday’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations is attracting its fair share of backlash in the Middle East. Predictably, Iran is not too thrilled with the deal. On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech in which he called the move an act of betrayal by the UAE. “They [the UAE] better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act,” he said. The remarks caused the UAE government to summon the Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi. The UAE foreign ministry called Rouhani’s speech “unacceptable and inflammatory and had serious implications for security and stability in the Gulf region”. Iran was also reminded of its obligation to protect the UAE diplomatic mission in Tehran. Considering Iran’s history of encouraging protests in front of the embassies and missions of its neighbors in Tehran when their policies go against Iranian interests, the move was smart.

Iran has had a difficult August. The Israel-UAE deal is only the latest heartburn for the regime. Tehran was already dealing with an uncertain future for Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Beirut explosion, a still unsolved string of fires and explosions at energy  and nuclear sites inside of Iran, the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, and the prospect of deeper economic sanctions looming in the future. After a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran was defeated at the UN on Friday President Trump has vowed there will be snapback sanctions. The exact mechanism for bringing the snapback into play is being contested. The European Union claims since the US unilaterally removed itself from the JCPOA it does not have the power to bring about snapback sanctions. Washington claims otherwise. Either way, the Trump administration does have the power to levy even stricter sanctions on Iran, and pressure friendly nations to do the same.

Iran will be on the radar for the next couple of weeks at least so I suggest keeping an eye on news coming out of the Persian Gulf region.

Lebanon Update 15 August, 2020: Hariri Verdict Coming Next Week

Lebanon has captured the attention of the international community with the Beirut port explosion in early August and subsequent renewed anti-government protests across the nation. Official corruption has been a way of life in Lebanon for decades. Only now does it seem that the proverbial chicken is coming home to roost. The government resigned earlier this week as backlash against the political class has reached new heights. There are many questions emerging now about Lebanon’s political future. How Hezbollah will figure into the mixture is one of the more significant ones. Although many Lebanese like the idea of political change coming to their country, Hezbollah support remains considerable among the people.

Early next week the verdict on the 2005 killing of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri will come down from the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The verdict had been scheduled to come earlier in the month but the port explosion in Beirut brought on a postponement. The verdict, regardless of which way it goes, could spark fresh violence in Lebanon between Hezbollah, and Hariri supporters. Given the present political climate such clashes will be counterproductive for Hezbollah to say the least. This reality could be the reasoning behind Hezbollah’s claim that it will ignore the Hariri verdict when it is handed down.

What Hezbollah says and does are generally two entirely different things, as the world has learned. The world will be watching the verdict carefully as well. For the first time in decades Lebanon could be on the verge of genuine political change. It would be an absolute tragedy if the Hariri verdict, and Hezbollah were somehow able to derail that chance.

Lebanon’s Ambivalent Path Forward

Lebanon is coming to terms with the horrific explosion in Beirut earlier this week. Aid is pouring into the nation from every direction. Old allies, and even old enemies are joining in the effort.  The explosion has focused international attention on Lebanon for the moment, and the world is beginning to see how mismanaged, and corrupt the Lebanese government has become. Granted, Lebanon has always had to deal with this to one extent or another, but in recent years the levels of graft, and negligence have skyrocketed. The Lebanese people are seeking a solution and are not confident one can be found within their government. This was evident on Thursday night as anti-government protests flared up outside of the parliament building in Beirut. Fires were set, stores vandalized, and clashes with security forces broke out. Last night could be an indication of larger unrest to come in the future unless the Lebanese government can convince the people that it is committed to being the solution instead of the problem.

France has wasted no time in coming to Lebanon’s side in support. Less than 24 hours after the explosion French aid was arriving in Beirut and French president Emanuel Macron arrived in the city yesterday. French ties to Lebanon run deep so Macron’s arrival, and France’s swift response come as no surprise. The role that Paris will take in the near future remains to be seen. Macron is calling for politicians in Lebanon to come together and bring about change. In short, Macron is demanding reform, as are many other regional, and Western governments.

Lebanon’s people simply want change. A petition calling for Lebanon to fall under French mandate received the signatures of 50,000 Lebanese. This is indicative of the festering mood in the country and the populace’s almost complete lack of confidence in their government. The people want change, and if it is to come from the outside so be it. A dangerous message. Doubly so in uncertain times like these.