Sunday, November 12, 2017

Gaza: The Third Iranian-Hezbollah Front, Saudis Tighten Security Around Oil Facilities After Terrorist Attack On Bahrain Pipeline

Israel draws a veil over perils building up around Gaza - the third Iranian-Hizballah front

Israel and the Palestinian terrorist groups Jihad Islami and Hamas are conducting a heated war of words over the Gaza Strip. But both keep mum on the real situation on the ground.

In the two weeks since the IDF blew up a Jihad Islami tunnel running up to the Israeli village of Kissufim, killing a dozen Jihad operatives, significant security-related events have taken place. Neither side is shouting information about these events from the rooftops, so as not to force the Iranian-backed Jihad’s hand into a response.

The IDF has meanwhile cordoned off the area around the Gaza border and declared it off limits to civilians. On Saturday, Nov. 11, IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordecai, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, cautioned terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip in the strongest terms:  “We know that the Palestinian Jihad Islami is spinning a conspiracy against Israel at the expense of the citizens of the Gaza Strip,” in revenge for the destruction of their tunnel and the deaths of their operations.  

“Israel will not hesitate to hit back forcefully also against Hamas,” he said, and addressed a special warning to “Jihad leaders in Damascus” – meaning that Israel had no qualms about striking back at them in the Syrian capital, as well as the Gaza Strip, even if this meant expanding the conflict further.

The general delivered his warning in the Arabic language by video.

The next day, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened the Sunday cabinet meeting with this statement: “At the present time, some party is toying with an attempt to renew attacks on Israel. 

We shall mete out harsh treatment to whoever those parties may be and wherever they are.” Netanyahu vowed. He went on to elaborate: “I mean any party – factions, rogues or organizations. We hold Hamas responsible for any attack on us that comes from the Gaza Strip.”

The prime minister, by referring to “any party, anywhere,” fully backed Mordecai’s threat to reach terrorists operating out of Damascus” – or even Beirut, if it comes to that.

An answer came back Sunday from the Jihad Islamic leader in the Gaza Strip, Khaled Al-Batshi: “Israel killed 12 Palestinians in Gaza and one more on the West Bank in the last two weeks, and has reason to be scared, because that’s what is preoccupying us.” He went on to say, “When our sons, resistance fighters are killed – especially members of the Islamic Jihad, we have no option but to punish the occupier and continued to build up our strength in preparation for a confrontation.”

The war of words is being accompanied by military movements.

On the Israeli side, the IDF Sunday launched a military exercise around the Gaza Strip to continue at least until Wednesday. It doesn’t take a military genius to grasp that the military is out on guard for the moment that rhetoric is translated into operational terms. While not privy to exactly what is going on in the Gaza region, many Israelis sense something is afoot and are on edge.

They have further reason for disquiet because the Palestinian Hamas and Jihad’s decision on when and how to start shooting is no longer in the hands of local leaders in Gaza, else they would have let loose on Oct. 30 after the tunnel explosion. Both are committed to working hand in glove with the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iran’s commander of Mid East wars, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who has just ended a period of mourning for the death of his 95-year old father.

While waiting for a green light from Tehran or Beirut to go into action, they are filling the air waves with rhetoric. But Nasrallah and Soleimani too are figures on a larger chessboard and are also standing by for instructions dependant on events playing out in other parts of the region and beyond.

A fire at a pipeline run jointly by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain has been called a terrorist attack sponsored by Iran by the Bahrainian interior minister. In response, Saudi Arabia immediately increased security at its own oil facilities. The pipeline attack follows a missile attack on the Riyadh International Airport that was foiled by Saudi defenses. 

The plan to step up security was reported by Al-Arabiya television Saturday, citing the Saudi energy ministry. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said recent terrorist activities in Bahrain were directed by Iran, and security forces determined that the fire was intentional. The pipeline later in the day resumed pumping oil after a brief halt, the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported, citing a statement by Bahrain Petroleum Co.
The "attempt to bomb the Saudi-Bahraini oil pipeline is a dangerous Iranian escalation that aims to scare citizens and hurt the global oil industry," Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Khalifa said on Twitter. Iran responded by saying the Bahrainis “need to know that the era for lies and childish finger-pointing is over," official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Sunday, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi.
Tensions have been rising in the region after Saudi Arabia blamed Shiite-ruled Iran for an attempted missile attack on Riyadh’s international airport last week, saying it could be considered an act of war. Saudi Arabia said the thwarted missile launched by Yemeni rebels had Iranian markings, a charge Iran has denied.

The missile attack, the attack on the pipeline, and the forced resignation of Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri are only the latest in a series of events that have caused tensions to skyrocket in the region and make war between Saudi Arabia and Iran more likely.

By forcing Hariri to resign, the Saudis may be deliberately trying to start a civil war in Lebanon. The ostensible reason for pulling support from Hariri was that he wasn't tough enough with Hezb'allah. Hariri tried to argue - in vain - that his position in Lebanon was extremely delicate and that trying to stand up to Hezb'allah would destabilize the country. That the Saudis ignored this warning was not lost on Lebanese factions. Sunni, Shiite, and Christians in Lebanon are preparing for the unthinkable - a repeat of the civil war that devastated the country for 20 years. 

At this point, it wouldn't take much to ignite a shooting war between the Saudis and Iran. The Kingdom has already warned Iran that missiles from Yemen will be considered an attack by Iran and a push by Hezb'allah to engineer a complete takeover of Lebanon might also be seen as an act of war. 

Can the two sides pull back from the brink? Not with the stakes as high as they are and the belief by both sides that their enemy represents and existential threat to their existence.

Israel signaled Sunday it will not be bound by a reported ceasefire deal in southern Syria reached by the United States, Russia and Jordan, with ministers indicating Israel will continue to operate across the border when it deems it necessary.
The agreement, announced in a US-Russian statement Saturday, affirms a call for “the reduction, and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria.
According to reports, the deal includes Iranian proxies fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which would be required to leave the border area and eventually Syria.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told The Associated Press the agreement is a positive development. But he stressed that Israel is not a party to the agreement and will defend its interests.

While the agreement seeks to remove Iranian-backed militias from near the border, a key Israeli demand, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said it did not go far enough.

The pact “does not meet Israel’s unequivocal demand that there will not be developments that bring the forces of Hezbollah or Iran to the Israel-Syria border in the north,” Hanegbi told reporters Sunday, according to a Reuters report.

“There’s reflection here of the understanding that Israel has set red lines, and will stand firm on this,” Hanegbi said.

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address the deal, he and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have long said Israel will not tolerate an Iranian presence along the Golan nor allow Iran to entrench itself military in Syria.

Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas's political bureau who is one of the most senior members of the organization, said on Sunday that the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 are long dead and that all existing arrangements have nothing to do with those accords.

In an interview with the Arab21 website, Abu Marzouk rejected the claims against Hamas that under the reconciliation initiative with Fatah, the movement relinquished its basic principles.

"The claim that we agreed to a Palestinian state as a step towards national consensus, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the (West Bank) and the (Gaza) Strip with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, the return of the Palestinian refugees and the removal of the settlements from the West Bank – we agreed to all these things as a gradual program with a national consensus," he said.

Abu Marzouk rejected the demand of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the armed militias in Gaza disarm, saying, "The resistance is the right of the Palestinian people and the right of all the resistance organizations, and on this basis we say that the weapon of the resistance will not be included in the issues (in the framework of the reconciliation talks with Fatah)."

Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, previously declared that the weapons held by the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's “military wing”, will continue to serve as the spearhead in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.

No comments: