Sunday, December 18, 2011

The last U.S. combat troops pull out of Iraq 2 wks. ahead of Obama’s 12/31/11 target date; 1,000s of U.S. diplomats and contractors remain in the country, as well as 150 U.S. soldiers tasked to train Iraqi security forces. (National Public Radio, REU 12/18; NYT 12/19)

Israel frees 550 Palestinian prisoners in the 2d stage of the swap that freed IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit in 10/2011; 41 are released to Gaza, more than 500 to the West Bank, a few to East Jerusalem and Jordan. Under the terms of the deal, Israel picked which prisoners to free and picked mostly Fatahaffiliated West Bankers as a gesture to Abbas; none are mbrs. of Hamas or Islamic Jihad or were involved in killing or wounding anyone; Palestinians complain that “many of those being released were due to get out within months anyway. . . . If Israel had wanted to make a real good-will gesture, the list would have been totally different.” (NYT, WP 12/19)

Stone-throwing Palestinian youths clash with IDF at the Beitunia checkpoint where some of the Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel are released, leaving 10s of Palestinians and 1 IDF soldier injured. Elsewhere in the West Bank, the IDF patrols in Jenin in the morning and in 3 villages nr. Jenin, Qalqilya, and Salfit in the evening (firing tear gas at stone-throwing youths in Jenin); makes a brief incursion into Qalqilya where they set up 2 checkpoints, detain 2 PA security forces officers for several hours, and summon 1 Palestinian for questioning. Jewish settlers block a Palestinian road nr. Moshe Zouhar settlement outpost nr. Qalqilya. Israeli naval vessels fire on Palestinian fishing boats off the Gaza City shore, detaining 1 boat and questioning 4 Palestinians (3 are released, 1 is sent to Israel for an unrelated medical issue). Gaza’s Interior Min. drops requirements for Gazans to register in advance of leaving Gaza through the Rafah crossing. The Israeli Housing Min. published tenders for construction of 1,028 Jewish settlement units in East Jerusalem (500 in Har Homa, 348 in Beitar Ilit, and 180 in Givat Ze’ev). The Gaza Central Drug Store receives an urgent shipment of medicine and supplies fr. the West Bank, enough to replenish its stores for several weeks (see 12/6/12). (HA 12/18; NYT, WP 12/19; PCHR 12/22; OCHA 12/23)

IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz announces that in light of the dramatically increasing number of covert foreign operations Israel has undertaken in the past year, the Israeli DMin. has formed a new operational branch called the Depth Corps specifically to handle special operations “deep in enemy territory.” The new branch (separate fr. the existing Northern, Southern, and Central Commands) will be headed by former special operations commander Maj. Gen. Shai Avital and will pull and coordinate resources fr. the military’s various elite commando units on an ad hoc basis, depending on the mission. While Israel does not confirm or deny covert operations abroad, media reports over the past year have indicated that Israel has carried out operations in Sudan (targeting arms traffic to Hizballah and Hamas), Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. According to HA, since most recent covert ops have targeted Iran, IDF insiders often refer to the Depth Corps as “Iran Command.” (AFP, IHY 12/16; HA 12/18; JPI 2/10)