Israel’s conflict with Iran continued to intensify as Israel attacked what it perceives as Iranian targets outside of Iran. This quarter, Israel broadened its theater of war to include Iraq, and attacked targets in Syria and Lebanon (see below). Rhetorically, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued his saber-rattling early in this quarter as Iran announced it had begun enriching uranium beyond the limit set forth by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the United States (U.S.) left in May 2018. Netanyahu threatened Iran as he was touring F-35 fighter jets at an Israeli military base, saying that Iran “ought to remember that the planes can reach every place in the Middle East, including Iran and, certainly, Syria.” The Israeli minister of regional cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi complained in an interview with Kan Bet radio that “Israel is the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for 2 years now.” Hanegbi also admitted that Israel has been striking “the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria,” and that the ambiguousness of occasionally admitting to the strikes is part of a coordinated Israeli policy. Shortly before the Israeli elections in September, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that Israel uncovered additional Iranian sites used for its nuclear program. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet that Netanyahu was crying wolf and his allegations were to promote war with Iran.
Israeli attacks on Syria continued in the very beginning of this quarter. In the early hours of 7/1, Israeli fighter jets struck several targets near Homs and Damascus, killing 16 people, including 10 civilians, amongst them a toddler. Later, on 7/22, Israeli forces assassinated 1 member of Hezbollah near Quneitra with a missile strike; 1 toddler standing near the explosion was also said to have been killed. 2 days later, on 7/24, Israel struck a Syrian army base in Tel al-Hara, injuring 6 and damaging targets near Damascus and Quneitra. Israel again struck a target in Quneitra on 8/1, causing damage but no injuries. Then on 8/24, Israel acknowledged striking 1 private villa near Damascus, killing 3 people, which Israel authorities said was to prevent an Iranian drone strike on Israel. Israel rarely acknowledges when it conducts attacks outside of the West Bank and Gaza. The last attack in Syria this quarter was followed by an intense conflict with Lebanon.
In the early morning of 8/25, 2 Israeli drones crashed into a media center belonging to Hezbollah in Beirut. Hezbollah said that both of the drones were booby-trapped, causing major damage. Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese president Michel Aoun both sharply criticized Israel’s attack, with President Aoun calling it a declaration of war. Israel later claimed that its drones had destroyed missile-assembling material in the Beirut attack. 1 day later, on 8/26, Israel struck a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command in eastern Lebanon near Qusaya; no injuries were reported in the strike, which was carried out by a drone. 2 days later, on 8/28, 3 additional Israeli drones entered Lebanese air space and the Lebanese army said it opened fire on 2 of them before all 3 returned to Israel. Then, on 9/2, an Israeli drone entered Lebanese air space, to which Hezbollah responded by firing missiles at Israeli forces near the Blue Line. Israel then shelled some 100 targets in Lebanon. 1 week later, on 9/9, Hezbollah said it shot down 1 Israeli drone in Lebanese air space.
In what appears to be a 1st, Israeli F-35 fighter jets attacked a base said to by an Iranian-supported militia weapons warehouse in Iraq, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, on 7/19 and 7/21. According to Asharq al-Awsat, several injuries were reported. U.S. officials later confirmed that Israel was behind the attacks and other attacks in August. On 8/26, both the Iraqi president Barham Salih and prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the Israeli attacks, saying they were attacks “on Iraqi sovereignty.” In 1 of the attacks on 8/25, Israeli drones shot and killed 1 Iraqi and critically injured 1 other near the Syrian-Iraqi border. After the condemnation from the Iraqi leadership, the U.S. Department of Defense released a statement supporting Iraqi sovereignty and opposing “external actors” without specifically naming Israel. The Pentagon statement was released shortly after a large Iraqi voting bloc had called for the U.S. to leave Iraq; it assumed that the U.S. had been consenting to the Israeli strikes.
Discrimination Against Palestinians in Israel
The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights (Adalah) petitioned the Nazareth District Court for an annulment of the Afula municipality’s decision to close 1 of its parks for nonresidents, arguing that the decision was made to exclude Palestinian-Israeli citizens from entering the park. Adalah pointed out the mayor of Afula’s anti-Palestinian statements and actions, such as protesting sales of property in Afula to Palestinian families and pledging to preserve Afula’s Jewish character. Adalah’s partition was quickly backed by the Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who asked the court to issue an interim order to keep the park open for all until a decision had been made. On 7/14, the Afula municipality reopened the park to nonresidents after the Nazareth District Court ordered the municipality to do so after hearing from Adalah.
After more than 60 murders in the Palestinian-Israeli community, students, teachers, and thousands of others marched in Umm al-Fahm against the Israeli police’s inaction for 3 days in a row at the end of September. Simultaneously, Palestinian-Israeli women organized protests in Eilabun. Palestinian-Israeli leader of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh said the problem was rooted in Israeli police perceiving Palestinians as their enemy and not as equal citizens, preventing trust between the Palestinian-Israeli community and the police. Another member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi called for the Israeli authorities to collect privately owned guns and to outlaw guns at weddings.
Israel and the PA
The relations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel continued to deteriorate this quarter in light of Israel’s decision from February to withhold tax revenue from the PA, which the PA pays to Palestinian prisoners and their families as a form of social security. Israel argues that these payments are “pay-for-slay.” The PA has opted not to receive any of the tax revenue to protest Israel’s decision to withhold a portion of it. However, on 8/22, Israel and the PA agreed that Israel would transfer $558.32 million to the PA. The PA said this enabled it to pay Israel for a steady flow of gas but “this does not mean that the PA’s financial crisis is over, because Israel is still holding on to billions of shekels.”
Also this quarter, an Israeli court ruled on 7/8 that the PA was responsible for paying the victims of 17 attacks on Israel from the 2d Intifada, despite the PA not having any knowledge of the plans to attack the 17 victims. The court president said that the PA had endorsed the attacks retroactively by referring to the perpetrators as martyrs. The court president further stated that the PA’s “ideology was an ideology of terrorism.” The damages to be paid will be determined by another judge as the 1 presiding over the ruling was retiring; he did, however, order the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Yasir Arafat’s estate to pay $1.628 million for the legal cost.
Israeli citizens went to polling stations for the 2d time this year after Israeli politicians failed to form a government based on the results of the 4/9 elections and the Knesset dissolved itself on 5/30. The 2d round of Israeli elections unfolded on 9/17, and while the votes were counted by the end of the quarter, no government had yet been formed once again. The Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz won the election with 33 seats, while Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received 32 seats. The Joint Arab List led by Ayman Odeh won the 3d most seats with 13, a gain of 3 since the last election in April. After the elections, Ayman Odeh wrote an op-ed in the New York Times explaining why he and the rest of the Joint List would support Benny Gantz in forming a new government. Odeh maintained that their decision was not an endorsement of Gantz, but rather a rejection of Netanyahu. By the end of the quarter, it looked like Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Netanyahu would seek to form a unity government; however, negotiations remained inconclusive.
Leading up to the elections, anti-Palestinian incitement and aggressive policy proposals for the West Bank and East Jerusalem unfolded amongst the Israeli center-right. At a campaign rally in the Revava settlement in the West Bank, Prime Minister Netanyahu told settlers his 4 guiding principles for the West Bank included viewing it as an Israeli homeland, settlements would be expanded upon, no settlement would be uprooted, and Israeli military would continue to rule the whole territory. Later, closer to the elections, Netanyahu told settlers at a campaign event in the Elkana settlement that he aspires to apply Israeli sovereignty on all Israeli settlements, meaning annexing the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. A week later, on 9/10, Netanyahu expanded his annexation plans to include the Jordan Valley but said he would wait with annexation until U.S. president Donald Trump had unveiled his peace plan. Netanyahu’s plan was met with condemnation from most places; noticeably absent in joining the condemnation was the U.S. administration. While Netanyahu promised to commit war crimes, he also incited against Israel’s Palestinian population, saying in a Facebook message to voters that “Arabs want to annihilate us all—women, children, and men.” In the message, he warned voters that the White and Blue party would be reliant on “Arabs who want to destroy us all.” In response to the incitement, Ayman Odeh called Netanyahu “a psychopath with no red lines.” After the Facebook message was sent out to his voters, Netanyahu’s Facebook account was blocked by the company for 24 hours due to violations of its hate speech policy.
Israeli Policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Israeli high court of justice reversed a ruling from 2017 that allowed Israel to withhold bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces. The 2017 ruling found the practice a “violation of human rights as well as the rights of the deceased and his family.” The new ruling agreed in principle with the previous 1 that withholding a body was a violation of human rights but argued that it was legal to do so under Israeli law.
Haaretz reported that Israel is using the Israeli company Anyvision Interactive Technologies’ face recognition software to monitor Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints and at hidden places in the West Bank to spy on Palestinians deemed a potential threat by the Israeli forces.
Members of U.S. Congress Denied Entry to Israel and the West Bank
As the U.S. congressional trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was approaching, U.S. congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) announced that they would visit both Israel and the West Bank. Soon after their announcement, Axios reported that President Trump told Prime Minister Netanyahu not to allow the 2 U.S. congresswomen to enter Israel, using the Israeli law that prohibits visitors who engage in boycotts of Israel. While President Trump, through his press secretary, denied the reporting, 5 days later he tweeted that “[i]t would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” Prime Minister Netanyahu had 1st decided to let the 2 congresswomen into Israel but shortly after Trump’s tweet, his government changed course and said the 2 would not be allowed to enter Israel, citing the boycott law. Netanyahu’s decision drew criticism from virtually all Democrats and some Republicans in U.S. congress and AIPAC. A day after, in a double reversal, the Israeli government decided to allow Congresswoman Tlaib entry “on humanitarian grounds” to visit her grandmother if she promised not to promote boycotts of Israel while visiting. Tlaib called the conditions a humiliation and said she could not accept going under the stipulations made by Israel. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said in an interview with MSNBC, “If Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country . . . maybe they can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.” After the 2 congresswomen ended up remaining in the U.S. because of Israel denial of entry and extra stipulations of entry, the 2 held a press conference to which President Trump said on Twitter, “Sorry, I don’t buy Rep. Tlaib’s tears. I have watched her violence, craziness and, most importantly, WORDS, for far too long. Now tears? She hates Israel and all Jewish people. She is an anti-Semite. She and her 3 friends are the new face of the Democrat Party. Live with it!” 72 U.S. congressional legislators went on the AIPAC-sponsored trip.
In a step toward normalization, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz met with the foreign minister of Bahrain Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa in Washington D.C. on 7/17. Foreign Minister Katz said that he and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would continue to advance relations between the 2 countries despite them not having formal ties. Bahrain hosted the unveiling of the economic part of the U.S. administration’s peace plan last quarter, in June.
The New York Times also reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel were conducting secret talks about Iran and that U.S. officials were partaking. The talks are said to have started in February during a U.S.-sponsored conference of Middle East security held in Warsaw. The UAE-like Bahrain does not have formal ties with Israel. Haaretz would later reveal that an Israeli businessman had been supplying the UAE with surveillance planes.
Israel’s Europe Asia Pipeline Company and Egyptian pipeline operator East Mediterranean Gas signed an agreement for the export of Israeli natural gas to Egypt.
Honduras and Nauru broke with the international consensus and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in August. Neither have formal plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem, but Honduras did inaugurate a diplomatic office in the city, saying it was an extension of its embassy in Tel Aviv.
Jordan refused Israel’s attempt to deport a Palestinian from East Jerusalem to Jordan by denying him entry. The Palestinian man has lived in East Jerusalem for more than 20 years, since he was 12 years old, and it is also where his wife and children live. The man was taken back to Givon prison in Ramle, where he is held without charges or a trial. Tensions between Israel and Jordan continued to intensify in August when 1st it was reported that Jordanian king Abdullah II refused a request made by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet, and again later in August when Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan said Jewish worshippers should be allowed to pray in the Haram al-Sharif compound in what would be a change to the status quo. A spokesperson from the Jordanian foreign ministry said such a change would have “dangerous repercussions”; Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador to Jordan for a reprimand.
Anti-BDS Efforts and Human Rights Watch Director Hearing
In an effort to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the Israeli ministry of strategic affairs released a report alleging to “unmask” anti-Semitism within the BDS movement by misconstruing tweets and interpretations of cartoons made by people who support BDS but otherwise are not involved in the organization.
The saga about the expulsion of Human Rights Watch (HRW) director of Israel and the West Bank Omar Shakir continued in Israel as the hearing for his appeal was delayed from July to September. In September, Shakir appeared before the Israeli supreme court for his hearing but no final decision was made in his case this quarter. Israel is claiming that Shakir supports the BDS movement, which both he and HRW have denied.
Spying on the U.S.
3 former senior U.S. officials told Politico that Israel has most likely been spying on the U.S. administration using cellphone surveillance devices, called StingRays, planted near the White House and other locations in D.C. According to the former officials, a forensic analysis by the FBI led to a confident conclusion that Israel was behind the surveillance. President Trump said he did not think Israel would be spying on him and that “[a]nything is possible but I don’t believe it.” According to the reporting, the U.S. government has not held Israel responsible for planting the devices.
Reclassifying Nakba Documents
Haaretz reported that in the Israeli defense ministry, a department called Director of Security of the Defense Establishment are reclassifying documents from the Israeli archives that have already been released by censors about the Nakba and later expulsions. Among the documents that have been resealed are military reports that confirm that Palestinians fled some towns and cities due to Zionist violence. A week after the Haaretz exposé, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote about how he had been denied viewing documents he had been writing about in 2005. Some of these documents were from 1971, therefore the reseal is not just related to documents from the months surrounding the Nakba.