Tag Archives: ISIS

Spotlight on Iran

July 16 – 30, 2017 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
Qasem Soleimani speaking at the Imam Hossein University (Mehr, July 19, 2017).

Qasem Soleimani speaking at the Imam Hossein University (Mehr, July 19, 2017).

Ansari (left) meets with the Syrian president (Fars, July 20, 2017).

Ansari (left) meets with the Syrian president (Fars, July 20, 2017).

 The Iranian ambassador to Iraq (left) meets with the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government (IRNA, July 17, 2017).

The Iranian ambassador to Iraq (left) meets with the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government (IRNA, July 17, 2017).

Shamkhani meets with the PUK delegation (ISNA, July 17, 2017).

Shamkhani meets with the PUK delegation (ISNA, July 17, 2017).

The Iraqi (left) and Iranian ministers of defense (Asr-e Iran, July 23, 2017).

The Iraqi (left) and Iranian ministers of defense (Asr-e Iran, July 23, 2017).

Hossein Amir Abdollahian meets with Khaled Qaddoumi, Hamas representative in Tehran (Mehr, July 23, 2017).

Hossein Amir Abdollahian meets with Khaled Qaddoumi, Hamas representative in Tehran (Mehr, July 23, 2017).

Overview
  • Iran continues to react with restraint regarding the ceasefire in southern Syria brokered by the United States and Russia. The Iranian deputy foreign minister, who met with President Putin's special envoy for Syrian affairs, said the Iranian presence was upon the request of the Syrian government, and would not be affected by the Russian-American agreement..
  • Iran has increased pressure on the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to prevent the referendum on regional independence scheduled for the coming September. Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said holding the referendum would be unacceptable to the countries neighboring on Iraq. Similar themes were heard at a meeting of the Iranian ambassador to Iraq and the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, as well as at meetings of senior Iranian officials and a delegation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) visiting Tehran. The pressure was a reflection of the Iranian regime's strong objection to a referendum which might, in Iranian opinion, endanger Iraq's territorial integrity, undermine Iran's efforts to reinforce its influence in Iraq and strengthen separatist trends in Iran's own Kurdish minority.
  • Given the tension on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Iranian regime issued an announcement condemning Israel's actions in Jerusalem. The secretary general of the International Committee in Support of the Palestinian Intifada, who is also special advisor to the speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), called for the international and Islamic communities to respond immediately to "the crimes of the Zionist regime," and said Iran was prepared to send medical help to wounded Palestinians. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also issued a condemnation and called for support of the Palestinian "

 

General Information
  • Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, gave a speech at the Imam Hossein University in Tehran where he called the Syrian government the "bridge to the 'resistance front' in Lebanon and Palestine." Every rational person, he said, had to understand that defeat in the war in Syria meant defeat for Iran. He added that the United States and Israel imagined they could bring Iran to its knees by establishing ISIS, but their plan was foiled by Iraq's victory, won by virtue of high ranking Iraqi clerics, the Shi'ite popular militias and the Iraqi army (Mehr, July 18, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Syria
  •  Hossein Jaberi Ansari, deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, said Iran's presence in Syria did not depend on the agreement brokered by the United States and Russia. After meeting with Alexander Lavrentiev, President Putin's special envoy for Syrian affairs, Ansari said Iran maintained a limited presence in Syria upon the request of the Syrian government and bilateral Syrian-Iranian agreements. The Russian-American agreement, he said, would have no effective practical effect on the presence of Iranian forces in Syria (Fars, July 17, 2017).
  •  On July 19 and 20, 2017, Hossein Jaberi Ansari paid a visit to Syria, where he met with senior Syrian officials and leaders of the Palestinian factions in Damascus. Meeting with President Assad, he stressed Iran's ongoing support for restoring stability to Syria based on preserving its unity and territorial integrity. Assad thanked Iran for its support. Ansari also met with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis and with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. They discussed regional developments and bilateral relations (Fars and Mehr, July 19 and 20, 2017). From Syria Ansari went to Iraq, where he met with senior Iraqi officials and participated in deliberations held by the joint Iran-Iraq political committee. Meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Ansari stressed that Iran would also continue its support for Iraq after the victory over ISIS in Mosul (ISNA, July 23, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in Iraq
  •  At a conference of IRGC ground force commanders held in the city of Mashhad on July 17, 2017, Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said the planned referendum for the future of Iraqi Kurdistan was unacceptable to Iraq's neighbors and that preserving Iraq's unity and territorial integrity served the interests of all groups in Iraq (Fars, July 17, 2017).
  •  Nechervan Barzani prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, meeting with Iraj Masjedi, the Iran ambassador to Iraq, said Iran played an important role in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. He said Iran could help by reducing the tension between the central government in Baghdad and the authorities of the Kurdish region. Masjedi stressed the importance of promoting relations between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, saying Iran was prepared to help Baghdad and Erbil resolve their differences (IRNA, July 17, 2017).
  •  On July 17, 2017, a delegation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Kosrat Rasoul Ali, the deputy secretary general of the PUK, and Mala Bakhtiar, head of the executive body of its political bureau, met with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, and discussed developments in Iraqi Kurdistan and the region in general in the wake of the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. Shamkhani reiterated Iran's official position, which rejected holding a referendum regarding independence for the Kurdish region. He said it would lead to the isolation of the Kurds in Iraq, increase pressure on them, and weaken both Kurdistan and all of Iraq (Tasnim, July 17, 2017).
  •  On July 22, 2017, Iraqi Defense Minister Irfan al-Hayali arrived in Tehran for a visit at the invitation of Iran's Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan. While he was there a memorandum of understanding was signed for the increase of bilateral security cooperation. At a meeting of the two defense ministers, Dehqan said Iran and Iraq were united in the fight against regional terrorism, and that Iran would continue its support of Iraq after the victory over ISIS in Mosul (IRNA, July 22, 2017). Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, warned al-Hayali against "plots" and efforts for separatism intended to damage Iraq's territorial integrity and security, and to undermine its stability (Fars, July 23, 2017).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
  •  Reacting to the tension on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special international affairs advisor to the speaker of the Majlis, called for an immediate, serious response from the international and Islamic communities to "the crimes of the Zionist regime." He said the demonstrations held by the Palestinians proved the Palestinian people were no longer willing to suffer the crimes carried out by the Zionists, and that limiting the entrance to al-Aqsa mosque would lead to a new intifada. He said Iran condemned the "Zionist crimes" and supported the Palestinian people and their resistance to the Zionists (Mehr, July 23, 2017). In the wake of the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem, Abdollahian, who is also the secretary general of the International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada, met with Khaled Qaddoumi, Hamas representative in Tehran, and Nasser Abu-Sharif, Palestinian Islamic Jihad representative in Tehran. He told them Iran was prepared to send drugs and medical equipment for Palestinians who had been injured in clashes with the IDF in Jerusalem (Mehr, July 23 and 24, 2017).
  • Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, also condemned Israel's actions in Jerusalem, saying the UN had to act with determination to counteract the "Zionist regime's" policies of "racist, religious discrimination" (Fars, July 23, 2017).
  •  On July 24, 2017, the IRGC published a statement regarding the escalating crisis in Jerusalem. It condemned the "Zionist regime's attack on al-Aqsa mosque," the limitations Israel placed on Palestinians wanting to pray in the mosque, and the silence of the international community and leaders of some of the Arab states regarding "Zionist crimes." The IRGC warned that the consequences of Israel's actions would spread to those who have remained silent in Islamic countries and to those who pretend to protect human rights. It called for mobilization of support for "a new intifada" in Palestine and an Islamic resistance to the "Zionists" in order to keep Israel from carrying out its plans to Judaize Jerusalem. The IRGC stressed its support for jihad through the "liberation" of Jerusalem (Tasnim, July 24, 2017).
  • [*]Spotlight on Iran is an Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center bulletin illuminating Iran's activities to establish its influence in the Middle East and beyond. It is based on reports in the Iranian media and written for the ITIC by Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran's politics, society, foreign policy and social networks.

Spotlight on Global Jihad (July 20-26, 2017)

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Launching an anti-tank rocket at an SDF outpost in southwest Al-Raqqah.

Launching an anti-tank rocket at an SDF outpost in southwest Al-Raqqah.

ISIS operatives fire at the SDF forces on the outskirts of Al-Raqqah (Haqq, July 20, 2017)

ISIS operatives fire at the SDF forces on the outskirts of Al-Raqqah (Haqq, July 20, 2017)

ISIS operatives fighting against the Syrian forces in the area of Ithriya (Haqq, July 20, 2017)

ISIS operatives fighting against the Syrian forces in the area of Ithriya (Haqq, July 20, 2017)

The Bab Al-Hawa crossing (website of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, July 25, 2017)

The Bab Al-Hawa crossing (website of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, July 25, 2017)

Food warehouse in the Blue Factory compound near the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, which was set on fire by the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives before they had withdrawn, leaving the area for the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives (Twitter account of Ibaa News Agency, July 21, 2017).

Food warehouse in the Blue Factory compound near the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, which was set on fire by the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives before they had withdrawn, leaving the area for the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives (Twitter account of Ibaa News Agency, July 21, 2017).

Flag of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham flying in Idlib (Orient News, July 23, 2017).

Flag of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham flying in Idlib (Orient News, July 23, 2017).

The scene of the car bomb explosion in Idlib (Qasiyoun, July 24, 2017)

The scene of the car bomb explosion in Idlib (Qasiyoun, July 24, 2017)

Sheikh Abu al-Yakzan the Egyptian in the audiotape (GllMedia YouTube account, July 21, 2017)

Sheikh Abu al-Yakzan the Egyptian in the audiotape (GllMedia YouTube account, July 21, 2017)

: Gun mounted on a Hezbollah truck fires artillery at outposts of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the area of Arsal.

: Gun mounted on a Hezbollah truck fires artillery at outposts of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the area of Arsal.

Hezbollah operatives fighting in the Arsal area (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s Office; Al-Alam, July 24, 2017)

Hezbollah operatives fighting in the Arsal area (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s Office; Al-Alam, July 24, 2017)

Debris of a street in west Mosul.

Debris of a street in west Mosul.

Displaced residents return to their homes (Nineveh Information Center, July 22, 2017).

Displaced residents return to their homes (Nineveh Information Center, July 22, 2017).

ISIS operatives captured while attempting to flee Mosul, dressed in women’s clothes (Al-Aan Channel, July 23, 2017)

ISIS operatives captured while attempting to flee Mosul, dressed in women’s clothes (Al-Aan Channel, July 23, 2017)

Main events of the week

  • Following is an overview of the situation in Syria:
  • As part of the implementation of the de-escalation agreement, Russian military police arrived in southern Syria to serve as a separation force between the Syrian forces and the rebel organizations. In the meantime, an additional de-escalation agreement was reached in the area east of Damascus (eastern Ghouta).
  • In Al-Raqqah, fighting is proceeding slowly in view of ISIS’s persistent fighting. SDF forces are advancing slowly in the Old City but are still subject to attacks in neighborhoods that have ostensibly already been taken over.
  • In the Idlib area, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front) has won a victory in the fighting against Ahrar al-Sham, the largest Islamic rebel organization. Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham operatives occupied two border crossings between Syria and Turkey and took control of the city of Idlib. Their victories position the Idlib area as the most significant territory under the control of Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.This is liable to make it easier for Russia and the Syrian regime to exert massive pressure on it when the time comes (for the time being, other areas are strategic priorities for Syria and Russia).
  • In the Arsal ridges on the Lebanese-Syrian border, Hezbollah launched a campaign against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Hezbollah, which brought large-scale forces to the battle (some 5,000 fighters, according to the Lebanese media) recorded achievements and took over most of the areas that had been under the control of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Hezbollah intends to continue mopping up the Lebanese-Syrian border towards the ISIS-controlled Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa ridges (north of Arsal).
  • Syrian forces continued to advance to the city of Sukhnah. In the ITIC’s assessment, this was done with the aim of proceeding towards Deir al-Zor, in the Euphrates Valley. Syrian forces under the command of Suheil Hassan are advancing to Sukhnah from Al-Rasafah (north of Sukhnah), while a Syrian force is advancing to the city from Palmyra (southeast of Sukhnah).
  • In Iraq, there is still no evidence of a significant Iraqi or international effort to rehabilitate the city of Mosul. The humanitarian situation in the city is difficult, especially in the western part. Meanwhile, there are clashes between ISIS and the Iraqi security forces in various parts of Iraq, at this stage at a low level of intensity. In the ITIC’s assessment, after a period of reorganization ISIS will intensify its attacks against Iraqi civilians (Shiites) and against the Iraqi security forces. Continuing difficulties in the rehabilitation of Mosul are also liable to increase support for ISIS among the Sunni Muslim population.

 

Russia and the United States

De-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria
  • The de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria, which went into effect on July 9, 2017, was maintained, with the exception of isolated violations on a daily basis. As part of the measures to implement the agreement, around 400 Russian MPs reportedly arrived in southern Syria and are staying in a base north of Daraa. The Russian MPs are supposed to serve as a separation force on the lines of contact between the Syrian forces and the rebel organizations. According to reports, the Russian separation force has already begun to patrol the area (Al-Arabiya al-Hadath, Orient, July 19, 2017).
  • At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that in the wake of the de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria, a de-escalation agreement had been reached in the area of eastern Ghouta (east of Damascus) as well. The agreement entered into effect on the afternoon of Saturday, July 22, 2017. The need for an agreement arose after recent clashes in the region between Syrian rebel groups and Islamist rebel groups, including the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front). According to the agreement, the borders of the de-escalation zone will be determined and supervisory forces will be deployed in the area. In addition, routes were established to provide civilians with humanitarian aid and safe passage. According to the Russians, the first humanitarian aid convoy will be sent to the area in the next few days, and casualties will be evacuated (Russian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page, July 22, 2017).
  • Following are some Russian statements about the de-escalation agreements:
  • According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russians have managed to bring about an end to the hostilities between the Syrian government and the rebel groups (the so-called Patriotic Opposition) through talks with various parties. Thus, the Russians have enabled the Syrian forces to direct their efforts to fighting the terrorists. According to Lavrov, the Syrian government did not prevent Russia from taking this course of action, out of a general understanding that“the first priority is fighting against ISIS” (Russian Foreign Ministry website, July 21, 2017).
  • A senior Russian Foreign Ministry source told Izvestia that Washington had tried to protect Israeli interestsduring its consultations with Russia on the establishment of the de-escalation zone (in southwestern Syria). According to the same source, the main objective of the talks was to prevent the establishment of a Shiite foothold in the Syrian Golan Heights. The source added that Washington was also interested in preventing the transfer of weapons and ammunition along the Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut route (TASS News Agency, July 21, 2017).
  • A Russian military-diplomatic source told Izvestia that during the consultations between Russia, the United States and the Jordanian army, an agreement was reached regarding a de-escalation zone on the Syrian-Jordanian border. According to the agreement, all non-Syrian units would withdraw to a distance of 30 km from of the Syrian-Jordanian border. The non-Syrian units include Iraqi militias, Hezbollah, Iranian military personnel, and foreign fighters from several other countries (TASS News Agency, July 21, 2017).
Articles in the US media about the strategy towards ISIS
  • Following are the highlights of two articles published in the American media about the US strategy towards ISIS and towards US involvement in Syria:
  • The Daily Beast, an American news website, published an article revealing unclassified portions of a classified “strategy document” presenting the current strategy of the United States towards ISIS. According to the article, the current strategy is reminiscent of the policy adopted by the Obama administration, and the difference between them is “purely linguistic.” According to the article, the strategy preserves the policy of operating in conjunction with local allies. Some of goals that were set: to protect the U.S. homeland and Americans from ISIS attacks; defeat ISIS’s core in Iraq and Syria; degrade its branches globally; disrupt its networks; and neutralize its narrative. The American strategy now focuses on the presence of ISIS in Syria, and only as a secondary goal does it deal with ISIS’s branches in countries such as Libya and Afghanistan (The Daily Beast, July 18, 2017).
  • The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration had announced the end of the “covert program” led by the CIA to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime. According to senior government officials, the decision was made about a month ago after President Trump consulted with the head of the CIA and with his national security advisor. After the termination of the program, US involvement in Syria will consist of carrying out airstrikes against ISIS and supplying weapons and arms to the Kurdish rebel force, which is advancing towards ISIS’s strongholds in Al-Raqqah and along the Euphrates River. It is estimated that this decision reflects President Trump’s desire to find ways to expand cooperation with Russia in Syria (The Washington Post, July 19, 2017).  The spokesmen for the National Security Council and the CIA declined to comment on the report.

Main developments in Syria

The campaign to take over Al-Raqqah
  • Fighting continues in Al-Raqqah between the SDF forces, with USand Coalition air support, and ISIS operatives. The SDF forces advance slowly in view ofthe attacks by ISIS, which continues to fight fiercely. This week, the fighting focused on the neighborhood of Al-Yarmouk, on the outskirts of southwest Al-Raqqah, and on two neighborhoods in the northwestern part of the city. The fighting to take over the Old City continued. The SDF forces reportedly took over 50% of its territory (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 22, 2017).

 

Mopping up the rural area northeast of Homs
  • Near the town of Ithriya and in the rural area northeast of Homs, there were clashes between the forces of the Syrian regime and militias supporting it, and ISIS. In an attack by ISIS against the Syrian forces east of Ithriya, Jawdat Ali Suleiman, a Syrian Army officer in the rank of Amid (Brigadier General), was reportedly killed (Twitter, July 22, 2017). There were also clashes in the area of Salamiyah, northeast of Homs.
The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham establishes its presence in the Idlib area
  • In the Idlib area, there were battles between operatives of Ahrar Al-Sham (the largest Islamic rebel organization) and the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front).[1] The battles focused on the area of the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing, north of Idlib, which until recently had been held by Ahrar Al-Sham. The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham drove Ahrar Al-Sham operatives out of the crossing, and the Turkish government closed it. On July 23, 2017, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham managed to take control of Idlib after the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives had withdrawn. According to a high-ranking source in the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, the organization intends to reinstate civilian administrationin Idlib in the next few days (Dimashq Al-Aan, July 24, 2017).

 

  • During the fighting, the Ahrar Al-Sham operatives lost control of the compound near the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, and their operatives in the area turned themselves in to the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham(Khotwa, July 20, 2017). Following that, it was reported that an agreement had been reached to hand over the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing to the civilian authorities (Khotwa, July 20, 2017). Under the agreement, Ahrar Al-Sham evacuated its operatives from the border crossing. The Syrian media reported that 450 Ahrar Al-Sham operatives were transferred, through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, to the city of Jarabulus (Dimashq Al-Aan, July 24, 2017)[2].
  • On July 23, 2017, operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham took control of the unofficial border crossing of KhirbatAl-Joz, about 40 km west of Idlib. This border crossing was previously mannedby Ahrar Al-Sham operatives, who retreated from it (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 24, 2017). Following these incidents, the Turkish government closed the Bab Al-Hawa and Khirbat Al-Jozborder crossings (Al-Jisr Channel, July 24, 2017).
  • On July 23, 2017, a car bomb exploded in Idlib. As a result, over 15 civilians and operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were killed and wounded. Many vehicles were burned, and buildings at the scene sustained heavy damage. The car bomb exploded at a staging area of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the city (Qasiyoun, July 24, 2017). On July 24, 2017, two people accused of being involved in the car bomb attack in Idlib were executed (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 25, 2017).
  • In view ofthe fighting in the area, an audiotape was releasedin the voice of Sheikh Mohammad Naji (Abu al-Yakzan al-Masri, i.e., the Egyptian), one of the senior clerics in the military wing of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Sheikh Mohammad Naji says in the tape that in accordance with the decision of Hashem al-Sheikh(Abu Jaber), commander of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, killing the operatives of Ahrar Al-Sham is permitted. In his words, “If [the operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham] can receive from [the operatives of Ahrar Al-Sham] the control in the checkpoints only by killing them, then they should shoot them in the head” (Haqq, July 22, 2017; Andrew Cox YouTube account, July 21, 2017; GllMedia YouTube account, July 21, 2017).
  • In recent weeks, we have witnessed violent power struggles on the control of the Idlib area, where the main military power of the rebel organizations is concentrated(including local forceswhich were transferred there from other fighting zones, based on agreements with the Syrian regime). At this stage, it seems that the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham(a coalition led by operatives of the former Al-Nusra Front) is consolidating its presence in the areaand the other rebel organizations, mainly Ahrar Al-Sham, are becoming weaker. In the first stage, which began in the previous weeks, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham conducted a large-scale military operation against ISIS operatives in the Idlib area, which had ended successfully (many ISIS operatives were killed or detained). The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham now continues its military activity against the organization of Ahrar Al-Sham, which enjoys Turkish support. At this stage, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham enjoys successes in the Idlib area (in contrast to its setbacks in the other arenas, including the Arsal area, on the border between Lebanon and Syria, see below).
  • In the ITIC's assessment, if the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham succeeds in enforcing its rule over the other rebel organizations and consolidating its dominance in the Idlib area, this may eventually be a Pyrrhic victory.For this area will clearly become the most significant area controlled by the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and because of this the Syrian regime and Russia are liable to find it easier to concentrate massive military pressure against it when the time comes (today, there are other areas at the top of the strategic priority list of the Syrian regime and Russia, including the Damascus area, Deir ez-Zor and the area of the Syrian-Iraqi border, southern Syria, and the area of the Syrian-Lebanese border).

 

Palmyra area
  • During the passing week,the Syrian forces under Suheil Hassan’s command continued to advance towards the city of Sukhnah from the north. The Syrian troops are reportedly at a distance of about 10 km from the city, which is held by ISIS. The Syrian forces reportedly advance to Sukhnah from Rasafahand intend to encircle ISIS operatives in the area west of Sukhnah (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 15, 2017). This military effort is carried out at the same time with an effort from Palmyra, southeast of SukhnahThe takeover of Sukhnah will prepare the ground for the continued advance of the Syrian forces towards Deir ez-Zor.

 

  • In the meantime, fighting continues in the area of the Aarak and Al-Hail oil and gas fields (northeast of Palmyra). ISIS released a video showing its operatives firing artillery at a Syrian Army tent camp east of the Aarak oil and gas field. The video shows direct hits (Haqq, July 22, 2017).
Hezbollah campaign to mop up the ridges dominating Arsal
  • On July 21, 2017, Hezbollah launched a large-scale campaign against the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front). The attack is carried out in the border area between Lebanon and Syria (the Qalamoun Mountains) and focuses on the ridges dominating the town of Arsal, in the northern Bekaa Valley. So far, Hezbollah has had achievements, and most of the territories held by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham were taken over by Hezbollah (without significant resistance by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham).

 

  • Hezbollah asserts that the campaign is being waged to defend the eastern border of Lebanon. According to Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, the campaign in the ridges of Arsal represents defense of the eastern border of Lebanon and is part of a sequence of attacks that began in the liberation of [the southern] Qalamoun [Mountains] (the border between Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Damascus) and continued in the liberation of Zabadani, northwest of Damascus (Al-Ahed, July 22, 2017).According to estimates, Hezbollah assigned about 5,000 fighters to the campaign. The Lebanese Army did not participate in the fighting, but the attack was carried out in coordination with it. The Lebanese Army closed all the crossings leading tothe town of Arsal to prevent terrorist operatives from fleeing to Lebanon (Al-Nashra, July 21, 2017).
  • After several days of fighting, Hezbollah seems to record successes in the campaign. According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mayadeen affiliated with Hezbollah, Hezbollah has managed to liberate about 90% of the territories controlled by the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Al-Mayadeen, July 23, 2017). Operatives of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham fled towards the contact lines of the area held by ISIS (Al-Nashra, July 24, 2017). Among the fleeing operatives was Abu Talha al-Ansari, a senior commander in the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham who fled together with thirty of his men (Al-Nashra, July 23, 2017).
  • Hezbollah reportedly uses drones in the fighting:The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham reported that it had downed a Hezbollah drone on the western Qalamoun ridge (Khotwa News Agency, July 25, 2017). The Syrian media reported that the Hezbollah forces encircled the positions of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham in the Arsal ridges and took control of key areas along the supply line between Syria and the Arsal ridges (Syrian Army Spokesperson’s Office, July 23, 2017).
  • The Syrian and Lebanese media reported that Hezbollah decided to end the campaign by a decisive military victory, with no negotiations. Hezbollah operations headquarters reported that the campaign was close to its end and called on the armed operatives that remained in the Arsal ridges to lay down their arms and turn themselves in. At the same time, Hezbollah began preparations for press tours in the liberated areas. Later, Hezbollah intends to attack the areas controlled by ISIS in the ridges of Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa (north of Arsal). Hezbollah expects the fighting in these areas to be easier since ISIS’s power is inferior to that of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (Al-Jumhuriya, July 25, 2017).

Main developments in Iraq

The situation in Mosul after its liberation
  • More than two weeks after the end of the campaign to liberate Mosul, no significant effort, either Iraqi or international, to rehabilitate the city and address its humanitarian predicament is evident. The humanitarian situation in Mosul is grave, especially in the western part of the city, which has been completely destroyed and there are neither infrastructuresnor any basic living conditions for the inhabitants. For the time being, residents of west Mosul, gradually returning there, try to find housing solutions in the eastern part. As the city bridges have been destroyed, moving between the two sides of the city is possible only by pontoon bridges set up by the Iraqi security forces (Nineveh Information Center, July 22, 2017).

 

  • Since the rehabilitation of Mosul has not begun yet, the Iraqi activity is currently focused on the attempt to raise funds from the international community for its rehabilitation. According to the announcement of Iranian Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Iran is ready to assist the Iraqi government to repair the water and electricity infrastructures and assist in the construction of public buildings (Al-Mayadeen, July 16, 2017). Germany announced that it would allocate €100 million for the rehabilitation of the city (Al-Aan Channel, July 25, 2017). Turkey expressed its willingness to assist in rebuilding the city without mentioning specifics (Al-Alam, July 20, 2017).
  • ISIS’s propaganda machine continues to present ISIS’s defeat in Mosul as an achievement. This week as well, ISIS released an infographic glorifying its achievements in the fighting against the Iraqi security forces. According to the infographic, during the nine months of fighting, over 11,700 fighters of the Iraqi security forces were killed, and more than 50,000 fighters were wounded (Haqq, July 22, 2017).
Fighting in other areas in Iraq
  • Even after the liberation of Mosul, fighting continued in various sites in Iraq, albeit at low intensity:
  • The environs of Mosul: Iraqi police announced that the Iraqi forces had taken over the village of Imam Gharbi, about 70 km south of Mosul, which was under ISIS control (Reuters, July 20, 2017).
  • Tal Afar: The Iraqi Air Force attacked ISIS’s ammunition depots west of Tal Afar (Al-Sumaria, July 22, 2017). An Iraqi Army officer reported that four Popular Mobilization fighters were killed and another was wounded in an attack carried out by dozens of ISIS operatives against a Popular Mobilization outpost near Tal Afar in northern Iraq (Anatolia, July 18, 2017).
  • Fallujah: A car bomb exploded at the western entrance to the city of Fallujah. At least three members of the Iraqi security forces were killed (Al-Sumaria, July 24, 2017).

Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula

The Sinai Peninsula
  • In the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian security forces’ activity against ISIS operatives continues. The Egyptian security forces reported that during their activity in North Sinai, thirty ISIS operatives were killed and five others were detained in Al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah. In addition, twelve off-road vehicles and four car bombs were destroyed, thirty IEDs planted on roads used by the Egyptian security forces were exposed and neutralized, and four depots of powerful explosives were destroyed (official Facebook account of the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 21, 2017).

ISIS in other countries

The Philippines
  • Confrontations between ISIS operatives and Philippine Army forces continue in the city of Marawi, Mindanao Island, southern Philippines. ISIS announced that its snipers had killed six Philippine Army soldiers. Five additional soldiers were killed and four were wounded in clashes between the parties (Haqq, July 22, 2017). ISIS released a video showing the organization operatives fighting in Marawi (Haqq; Twitter account, July 20, 2017).
 

[1]The Ahrar Al-Sham movement was established in the beginning of the civil war in Syria, following the unification of several Islamic rebel organizations. The center of power of this organization is in the Idlib area, and therefore it competes there over control with the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham. Until recently, the organization controlled the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, which was a source of revenue and through which weapons were transferred to it.
[2]Jarabulus is situated near the Syrian-Turkish border, in the Turkish control zone west of the Euphrates River.

Iran’s interests and intent in Iraq and Syria reflected in statements by senior commanders of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization of the Shi’ite militias in Iraq handled by the Iranian Qods Force

Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization for the Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq, at a conference of the Union of Radio and Television in Mashhad, Iran (Sawt al-Ahwaz, July 2, 2017).

Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization for the Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq, at a conference of the Union of Radio and Television in Mashhad, Iran (Sawt al-Ahwaz, July 2, 2017).

The Popular Mobilization Committee logo. Its name is at the center, topped with

The Popular Mobilization Committee logo. Its name is at the center, topped with "Allahu akbar." Left and right are Iraqi flags inscribed "Republic of Iraq" (Popular Mobilization Committee website, July 10, 2017).

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right) and Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force (left) in picture taken in eastern Iraq (Tehran Press, March 8, 2015).

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right) and Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force (left) in picture taken in eastern Iraq (Tehran Press, March 8, 2015).

Overview

1.   Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the umbrella organization of the Shi'ite militias in Iraq, recently gave a speech at a conference in Mashhad, Iran. It deal with the trends the militias would take after the liberation of Mosul. Other Popular Mobilization Committee commanders have also made comments in recent months about the Shi'ite militias in the Middle East in general and Iraq and Syria in particular. In ITIC assessment they reflect the interests and intent of Iran, which handles the Popular Mobilization Committee according to its own local and regional interests (for the main points of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech at the conference, see Appendix A).

Statements made by Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis and other senior figures in the Popular Mobilization Committee indicate that Iran's interests in Iraq center on increasing Iranian influence, strengthening the Shi'ite sect, expelling American and Western influence, establishing Iranian influence along the Iraqi-Syrian border and opening an overland logistic route from Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut. Their statements also indicate the possibility of deploying Shi'ite militias in the Golan Heights, when circumstances become suitable. In all probability, following the liberation of Mosul, the Popular Mobilization Committee in Iraq will serve as an important Iranian proxy to promote its interests in Iraq and Syria, seriously challenging the United States and the pro-Western Arab states.

 

The Popular Mobilization Committee

2.   The Popular Mobilization Committee is an umbrella organization composed of about 40 Shi'ite militias operating in Iraq and sponsored by Iran. It was established in June 2014 when Mosul was occupied by ISIS, which was the high point of its achievements in Iraq, and posed a imminent danger to Baghdad. The Popular Mobilization Committee is based mainly on Shi'ite militias sponsored by Iran that in the past fought the American-led coalition in Iraq. Some of its commanders have extensive combat experience. In recent years the militias (whose strength has grown significantly) participated in the campaign against ISIS, directed by Iran and under the formal jurisdiction of the supreme command of the Iraqi army (for a profile of the Popular Mobilization Committee, see Appendix C).

3.   One of the Popular Mobilization Committee's prominent commanders is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, second in command to its commander, Falih al-Fayyadh. In 1983 al-Muhandis was involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Kuwait, among them attacks on the American and French embassies, acting as a an Iranian proxy in the service of Hezbollah in Lebanon. During the war in Iraq against the American-led coalition forces he headed a Shi'ite militia called the Hezbollah Battalions, which waged warfare and was handled by the Iranian Qods Force. In ITIC assessment, today Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is the dominant military personality in the Popular Mobilization Committee, while Falih al-Fayyadh, the commander, is a figurehead (for a profile of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, see Appendix B).

Insights gained from a speech given by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and statements by other senior Popular Mobilization Committee figures

4.   Various insights can be gained from a speech given by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and from statements made by other senior figures in the Popular Mobilization Committee. The insights relate to Iran's efforts to achieve influence in Iran and the Popular Mobilization Committee's role as a favored Iranian proxy organization:

A.   In Iranian perspective, the liberation of Mosul is likely to hasten the struggle with the United States for influence in Iraq. Iran aspires to advance its interests in Iraq and turn it, eventually, into a state sponsored by Iran, part of the so-called "Shi'ite crescent" which would include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen[1]. At the same time, Iran also seeks to reduce American influence in Iraq, which increased during the campaign against ISIS, especially in the fighting in Mosul.

B.   The importance of the Popular Mobilization Committee: The Popular Mobilization Committee is Iran's favored proxy in Iraq(comparable to Hezbollah in Lebanon). The Iranian Qods Force has many years of practical experience in directing the Shi'ite militias fight against the American army. Some of the top commanders of the Shi'ite militias were in the past, and in ITIC assessment, are still being handled directly by the Qods Force(despite the formal link between the Popular Mobilization Committee and the Iraqi regime). Evident in Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech was his determined rejection (supported by Iran) to any attempt the Iraqi government might attempt to dismantle the Popular Mobilization Committee.

C.  The significance of the Popular Mobilization Committee's growing strength: The existence and growth of the Shi'ite militias, well-armed and supported by Iran, may have a negative influence on the stability of Iraq's political and societal systems. The existence of Shi'ite militias with political influence and directed by Iran will pose a challenge to the Iraqi Sunnis and weaken the central Shi'ite government in Baghdad. The strengthening of the Shi'ites in Iraq with Iranian support is liable tocause a groundswell of Sunni unrest and push the Sunnis to support terrorist and guerilla organizations, including ISIS, even during the era after the liberation of Mosul.

5.   As to continuing the fight against ISIS, the following military insights can be gained from Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech:

A.   For Iran, importance of influence and control along the Iraqi-Syrian border: According to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech, Iran regards control of both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border as important, and views the Popular Mobilization Committee militias as the military force that will clear the border area of ISIS and promote Iranian interests. According to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, about 150 kilometers (almost 95 miles) along the border have been "liberated" from ISIS. Thus it can be assumed that after the liberation of Mosul, Iran will increase its efforts to control the border using Popular Mobilization Committee forces. [2]

Convoy of Popular Mobilization Committee militias which reached the Iraq-Syria border at the end of May 2017 (Twitter account of the military information unit of the Popular Mobilization Committee, May 30, 2017).
Convoy of Popular Mobilization Committee militias which reached the Iraq-Syria border at the end of May 2017 (Twitter account of the military information unit of the Popular Mobilization Committee, May 30, 2017).

B.   Importance for Iran in opening the main road linking Baghdad and Damascus: A key Iranian interest, as reflected in Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech, is opening the road linking Baghdad and Damascus. Iran is probably planning to use it for overland movement from Tehran to Syria and Lebanon through Baghdad[Note: Events on the ground in recent months indicate that the Iranians and the Syrian regime are currently engaged in an intensive drive to open and secure the road from Damascus to Baghdad, and make it passable][3].

Using the Damascus-Baghdad road. Left: Trucks en route from Iraq to Syria. Right: Three trucks on their way from Syria to Iraq at the improvised border crossing opened on the Syrian-Iraqi border northeast of the al-Waleed crossing (called al-Tanf on the Syrian side) (Syria TV Channel 7, June 12, 2017).
Using the Damascus-Baghdad road. Left: Trucks en route from Iraq to Syria. Right: Three trucks on their way from Syria to Iraq at the improvised border crossing opened on the Syrian-Iraqi border northeast of the al-Waleed crossing (called al-Tanf on the Syrian side) (Syria TV Channel 7, June 12, 2017).

6.   The Israeli aspect:

A.   Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis ended his speech by saying that "if Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah asks the Popular Mobilization Committee to turn towards with Israel if a confrontation breaks out, the request will be complied with immediately and [the Popular Mobilization Committee] will be there [to support Hezbollah]" (Shabakat Nahrain, June 3, 2017). He did not specify which Israeli front Popular Mobilization Committee operatives would be deployed to, but he apparently meant the Golan Heights. [Note: On March 8, 2017, Akram al-Kaabi, who heads the Iraq Shi'ite militia called The Movement of the NobleOnes, announced his operatives had established a so-called Brigade for the Liberation of the Golan.[4]]

B.   Deploying pro-Iranian Shi'ite operatives on the Golan Heights front would, in ITIC assessment, serve Iran's interest in turning the Golan Heights into a confrontation front against Israel. Iranian proxies may be deployed there, such as Lebanese Hezbollah and the Shi'ite militias from Iraq, directed Iran.

 

[1]Qais al-Kh'azali, the Iraqi Shi'ite leader of the militia calling itself the "League of Righteous People," gave a speech on May 10, 2017, to his operatives. He talked about the Shi'ite vision of spreading throughout the Middle East. He said, "...if in the past people used to talk about the 'Shi'ite crescent,' with the help of Allah we will have a 'Shi'ite full moon.' We will have all the land, from east to west. With the help of Allah and with the spirit of the last Shi'ite imam, the deployment of our fighting forces will be completed: from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon, to Ansar al-Allah (the Houthi rebels) in Yemen, to the holy mobilization [i.e., Popular Mobilization Committee] in Iraq and the brothers of al-Zeynab [i.e., the Shi'ite operatives defending the shrine of Set al-Zeynab south of Damascus], your brothers [in Syria]..." (al-Jazeera, Kanat al-Iraq, May 10, 2017).
[2]At the end of May 2017 a Popular Mobilization Committee force arrived at the Syria-Iraq border west of Sinjar and began moving south towards the ISIS-controlled city of al-Qa'im. At the same time, a Popular Mobilization Committee force began moving northeast from the al-Waleed border crossing (according to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the force was located about 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) from the al-Waleed crossing.
[3]On June 14, 2017, an improvised border crossing was opened about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) northeast of the al-Tanf crossing (near the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle). Syrian TV broadcast pictures of trucks reportedly carrying merchandise crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border in both directions. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' speech indicated that on the Iraqi side of the improvised crossing there were (an unknown number of) Popular Mobilization Committee operatives, who he claimed had joined the Syrian army forces and Hezbollah operatives on the Syrian side of the border.
[4]On March 8, 2017, Akram al-Ka'abi, who heads the Iraqi Shi'ite "Movement of the Noble Ones" (harakat al-nujaba) issued a recorded announcement in which he said his operatives had established the "Brigade for the Liberation of the Golan." He said its objective was to help the Syria "liberate" the Golan Heights when the campaign against "terrorism" ended (see Appendix C). Furthermore, on June 24, 2017, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretary general, said that tens of thousands of fighters might join a war against Israel, coming from countries such as Iraq, Yemen, Iran and others.

News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (July 12 – 16, 2017)

The scene of the shooting attack on the Temple Mount where two Border Policemen were killed (YouTube, July 14, 2017).

The scene of the shooting attack on the Temple Mount where two Border Policemen were killed (YouTube, July 14, 2017).

The three terrorists who carried out the shooting attack. Left to right: Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, Muhammad Hamed Jabarin, Muhammad Ahmed Feisal Jabarin (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).

The three terrorists who carried out the shooting attack. Left to right: Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, Muhammad Hamed Jabarin, Muhammad Ahmed Feisal Jabarin (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).

Weapons found in the possession of the three terrorists (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).

Weapons found in the possession of the three terrorists (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).

Selfie taken on the Temple Mount and posted by Muhammad Hamed Jabarin to his Facebook page a few hours before the attack. He wrote,

Selfie taken on the Temple Mount and posted by Muhammad Hamed Jabarin to his Facebook page a few hours before the attack. He wrote, "Tomorrow my smile will be more beautiful, if Allah so wishes" (Arabs48, July 14, 2017).

Praying in the al-Farouq mosque in Umm al-Fahm for the memory of the three terrorists (Panet website, July 14).

Praying in the al-Farouq mosque in Umm al-Fahm for the memory of the three terrorists (Panet website, July 14).

Senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Haya (left) and senior PIJ figure Muhammad al-Hindi in a joint demonstration in the Gaza Strip to protest the measures employed by Israel on the Temple Mount (Palinfo Twitter account, July 17, 2017).

Senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Haya (left) and senior PIJ figure Muhammad al-Hindi in a joint demonstration in the Gaza Strip to protest the measures employed by Israel on the Temple Mount (Palinfo Twitter account, July 17, 2017).

Baraa' Hamamda slings projectiles at Israeli security forces in previous clashes in the Dheisheh refugee camp (Facebook page of Dheisheh News, July 14, 2017).

Baraa' Hamamda slings projectiles at Israeli security forces in previous clashes in the Dheisheh refugee camp (Facebook page of Dheisheh News, July 14, 2017).

Hamas rally in the Jabalia refugee camp protesting the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators hold pictures of the three Israeli Arab terrorists who carried out the shooting attack on the Temple Mount (Facebook page of al-Shimal Online, July 14, 2017).

Hamas rally in the Jabalia refugee camp protesting the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators hold pictures of the three Israeli Arab terrorists who carried out the shooting attack on the Temple Mount (Facebook page of al-Shimal Online, July 14, 2017).

  • Terrorist events this past week focused on the shooting attack from the Temple Mount compound (July 14, 2017) carried out by three Israeli Arabs from Umm al-Fahm (central Israel). Two Border Policemen stationed near the Lions' Gate were killed. The three terrorists fled to the region of the mosques and were shot and killed by Israeli security forces. In their possession were a Carl Gustav submachine gun, a hand gun and knives smuggled onto the Temple Mount.
  • In the wake of the shooting attack the Israel decided to close the Temple Mount compound to prayers and to search for other weapons. On July 16, 2017, the Temple Mount compound was reopened, but metal detectors were installed to prevent weapons from being brought in. The heads of the waqf objected (and still object) to the installation of metal detectors and called on Palestinians not to enter the Temple Mount compound. Clashes broke out between Palestinians coming to pray in the mosque and the Israeli security forces, and prayers were held nearby. The tension continues.
  • In an exceptional statement, Mahmoud Abbas condemned the terrorist attack. However, closing the Temple Mount and cancelling the Friday prayers led to a wave of protests from Palestinians as well as from Egypt and Jordan. Hamas exploited the opportunity to incite Palestinians to escalate the so-called Jerusalem intifada [i.e., popular terrorism] and clash with Israel and settlers at friction points to defend al-Aqsa mosque.
Shooting Attack on the Temple Mount: Overview
  • Early in the morning on July 14, 2017, three Israeli Arabs began shooting from the Temple Mount compound at Border Policemen stationed near the Lions Gate (to the northeast).[1] The Border Policemen returned fire; two of them were mortally wounded and later died. A third Border Policeman and a paramedic were wounded by shrapnel. The terrorists fled to the region of the mosques. One of them tried to enter a mosque. They were pursued, shot and killed by Israeli security forces. In their possession were two Carl Gustav submachine guns, a handgun and knives.
  • After Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu discussed the issue with the heads of the Israeli security establishment, the decision was made to close the Temple Mount compound and search it to make sure there were no other weapons. The compound was evacuated and closed. All the gates to the Old City were also closed. The police detained about 20 members of the waqf for questioning, and three of them remained in detention. The Mufti of Jerusalem was also detained on suspicion of having urged Muslims to break into the Temple Mount. Two days later, on the afternoon of July 16, 2017, the Temple Mount compound was gradually reopened. Security force presence was significantly increased and metal detectors and security cameras were installed at the gates to the Temple Mount. The heads of the waqf announced they opposed the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount and called on Palestinians wanting to pray not to enter the compound.
  • The three Israeli Arabs who carried out the shooting attack were Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, 29, Muhammad Hamed al-Latif Jabarin, 19, and Muhammad Ahmed Feisal Jabarin, 19, all three from Umm al-Fahm, an Arab city in central Israel. Initial investigation revealed that the three had spent several hours on the Temple Mount compound before the attack. A short time before the attack Muhammad Hamed Jabarin wrote on his Facebook page that "Tomorrow my smile will be more beautiful, if Allah so wishes," posting a selfie (with Muhammad Ahmed Jabarin) with the Temple Mount in the background (Arabs 48, July 14, 2017). The three generally prayed at the al-Farouq mosque in Umm al-Fahm, where Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin was also the muezzin. Muhammad Hamed al-Latif Jabarin was a prominent boxer (Facebook page of al-Masar, July 15, 2017).
  • Mourning tents were erected in Umm al-Fahm, which the Israeli prime minister ordered closed. Crowds of local residents gathered near the homes of the terrorists and called out praise for them (Shuf, July 15, 2017). On the evening of the day of the attack a memorial prayer was held for the terrorists in the al-Farouq mosque, where the three customarily prayed. The mosque imam, Sheikh Tawfiq Jabarin, eulogized them, claiming they were "simple young men" who did not belong to any organization and who frequently worshipped in mosques (Panet website, July 14, 2017). Sheik Khaled Hamdan, Umm al-Fahm's mayor, sent letters of condolence to the families in the name of the employees of the Umm al-Fahm municipality (Facebook page of Umm al-Fahm, date, 2017)
Reactions from Senior Palestinian Figures
  •  In an exceptional statement, Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. In a telephone call to the Israeli prime minister, he said he opposed violent actions, especially at sites of worship. He also took the opportunity to condemn the closing of the Temple Mount compound to prayers. He warned of the consequences of closing the Temple Mount and demanded its reopening (Wafa, July 14, 2017).
  • A short time after the attack Mahmoud Abbas participated in the Friday prayer at the mosque in the Muqata'a in Ramallah. Mahmoud al-Batash, Mahmoud Abbas' advisor for religious matters and the head cadi (Muslim judge) of the Palestinian Authority (PA), gave a sermon in which he said the escalation threatened to ignite a religious war and cause an "explosion." He said al-Aqsa mosque had to be open to Muslims and that the [Israeli] "occupation" was the main reason for the instability and lack of security in the Middle East and around the globe (Facebook page of Fatah, July 14, 2017). However, he did not condemn the attack itself.

Left: Mahmoud al-Batash delivers a sermon. Right: Mahmoud Abbas at the Friday prayers in the Muqata'a in Ramallah (Facebook page of Fatah, July 14, 2017)
Left: Mahmoud al-Batash delivers a sermon. Right: Mahmoud Abbas at the Friday prayers in the Muqata'a in Ramallah (Facebook page of Fatah, July 14, 2017)

  • Majed Faraj, head of PA general intelligence, said the PA opposed all forms of violence and terrorism. He said the PA expressed sorrow [for the event] to the Israeli side. He added that Mahmoud Abbas, in a conversation with the Israeli prime minister, said those who carried out the attack had come from a region under Israeli control, and emphasized that the Palestinian side met its security commitment and worked to prevent terrorist attacks. He claimed that during the past year the PA had prevented a number of terrorist attacks from being carried out against Israelis (alresalah.net, July 15, 2017).
Reactions in Egypt and Jordan
  • Reactions in Egypt and Jordan focused on condemning the closing of the Temple Mount to prayers (without reference to the attack in which two Border Policemen were shot to death). The Egyptian government warned of the consequences of preventing prayers from being held, and members of the Egyptian parliament called the decision to close the Temple Mount an "act of terrorism." King Abdallah of Jordan spoke with the Israeli prime minister and condemned the attack, rejected all forms of violence in holy places, and called for the Temple Mount to be opened. Muhammad al-Mumni, spokesman for the Jordanian government, demanded Israel open the mosque compound immediately to people who wanted to pray. He said Israel should not take any step that would change the historic status quo in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque (Jordanian News Agency, July 14, 2017).
Additional Palestinian Authority Reactions
  • Closing the Temple Mount and cancelling the Friday prayers[2] caused a wave of protests. Many Twitter accounts called for the prayers to be held near the mosque (Twitter account of Ajel from Palestine, July 14, 2017). Hundreds of Jerusalem residents took to the streets and held the Friday prayer at locations near the walls of the Old City (Wafa, July 14, 2017). Palestinians sources stressed that throughout the years there had been hundreds of [terrorist] attacks in Jerusalem, but none of them had led to the closing of al-Aqsa mosque. Many called the attack an excuse for Israel to close the Temple Mount compound.
  • Other reactions including the following:
  • The Fatah movement claimed the Israeli decision to close al-Aqsa mosque and prevent the Friday prayer was dangerous and unacceptable escalation. Fatah spokesman Usama Qawasmeh said what had happened in al-Aqsa mosque and nearby was very dangerous and that Israel was now trying to do what it had had done at the Cave of the Patriarchs (Wafa, July 14, 2017).
  • Tareq Rashmawi, spokesman for the Palestinian national consensus government, said the Palestinian government condemned the Israeli authorities' breach of al-Aqsa mosque and called the decision not to allow Palestinians into the mosque to pray an "act of terrorism." He said Israel's dangerous escalation were causing international efforts to fail, including the American efforts to revive the peace process (Dunia al-Watan, July 14, 2017).
  • The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned Israel's actions and warned of dangerous consequences. The ministry called on the international community, the Arab community and the Islamic community to take responsibility and rescue al-Aqsa mosque (Safa, July 15, 2017).
  • Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah's Central Committee, said [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu was using the attack to escalate his "cruel and oppressive" activities. He noted that coordination between the Palestinian leadership and the Jordanian government prevented harm from coming to the holy places. He also said that as long as Israel continued to ignore efforts to restart the peace process, the Palestinian people would "use every method in the struggle" to realize their rights (Dunia al-Watan, July 15, 2017).
Reactions in the Gaza Strip
  • Organizations in the Gaza Strip, mainly Hamas, issued a series of announcements welcoming and praising the attack and condemning Israel for closing the Temple Mount to people wanting to pray. The events on the Temple Mount were a good opportunity for them to strengthen incitement to continue and even escalate the Jerusalem intifada (i.e., popular terrorism). Sources in Hamas exploited demonstrations planned to protest Mahmoud Abbas' policies towards the Gaza Strip, using them to express support for the attack and to protest Israel's closing of the Temple Mount. Several hundred Palestinians participated in the demonstrations.

Hamas cartoons about the shooting attack. Left: The Arabic reads, "[...al-Masjid al-Aqsa,] whose surroundings We have blessed" Qur'an Sura 17 (al-Isra), Verse 1 (Felesteen, July 15, 2017). Right: "Act of sacrifice in Jerusalem in response to the settler invasions of al-Aqsa mosque" (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).
Hamas cartoons about the shooting attack. Left: The Arabic reads, "[...al-Masjid al-Aqsa,] whose surroundings We have blessed" Qur'an Sura 17 (al-Isra), Verse 1[3](Felesteen, July 15, 2017). Right: "Act of sacrifice in Jerusalem in response to the settler invasions of al-Aqsa mosque" (Palinfo Twitter account, July 14, 2017).

  • Other reactions:
  • Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri tweeted that the attack was a "natural response" to the [so-called Israeli] "desecration" of al-Aqsa mosque. He claimed the attack was a direct continuation of the intifada and proved that the Palestinian people stood united behind the resistance (Twitter account of Sami Abu Zuhri, July 17, 2017).
  • Musa Abu Marzouq, a member of Hamas' political bureau, claimed it was the first time al-Aqsa mosque had been closed since 1967. He said he was surprised that there had been no official Arab response (Twitter account of Musa Abu Marzouq, July 15, 2017).
  • Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called on the Palestinian people to escalate the Jerusalem intifada and confront Israel and the settlers at friction points in order to defend al-Aqsa mosque. He called closing the mosque "a crime of Israel" and an unprecedented attack on the rights of the Arab-Islamic nation. He also said it was in preparation for creating a new status quo in which the mosque would be separated from the Palestinian people (Hamas website, July 15, 2017).
  • Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said what had happened at al-Aqsa mosque was a crime against freedom of worship and against the Palestinian people. He claimed that by closing the mosque Israel had offended the sensibilities of the entire Palestinian people as well as those of the Arab-Islamic nation. He called for the intensification of the Jerusalem intifada and for a basic national program to defend the holy mosque (al-Aqsa, July 15, 2017).
  • The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) held a rally in the Jabalia refugee camp in support of the three terrorists. Speakers condemned the Israeli decision to prevent people from holding the Friday prayer in al-Aqsa mosque (Ma'an, July 14, 2017).
Installation of Metal Detectors at the Entrance to the Temple Mount and Reactions

On July 16, 2016, the Temple Mount reopened with metal detectors installed at the entrances. Nevertheless, the tension continued in Jerusalem in general and on the Temple Mount in particular because of the waqf's objection to the metal detectors. Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces and prayers were held near the entrance to the Temple Mount compound. The tension continues.

 

  • Many Palestinian sources represented the metal detectors as an Israeli attempt to take control of the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa mosque. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) took the exceptional step of issuing a joint statement claiming the Temple Mount was a "red line" and that they would not permit any harm to come to it. They called on the Palestinians to declare a state of alert to defend al-Aqsa mosque and to escalate the Jerusalem intifada. They called on Israel to cease its activities on the Temple Mount and restore control of the area to the waqf (Dunia al-Watan, July 17, 2017).
  • The hashtag "Anger for Jerusalem" was launched, calling for the Palestinian public to protest the security measures Israel had installed on the Temple Mount (Facebook page of QudsN, July 17, 2017).

Hashtag "Anger for Jerusalem" tweets (Facebook page of QudsN, July 17, 2017).
Hashtag "Anger for Jerusalem" tweets (Facebook page of QudsN, July 17, 2017).

  • The Fatah Facebook page posted a quote from a speech given in the past by Mahmoud Abbas where he said, "We must defend our holy places in every way and bare-chested. It is not sufficient to say there are settlers in al-Aqsa, they have to be expelled and prevented in every way from desecrating al-Aqsa mosque."
  • Other reactions:
  • Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, Israel was trying to gain control of al-Aqsa mosque. He said the Palestinian people and the "resistance" [i.e., terrorism] would not permit Israel to continue. He praised the Ribat operatives[4] and the jihad fighters in Jerusalem for their struggle against the occupation. He praised the shaheeds who had died during the attack and those worshippers who refused to enter the Temple Mount (Watan, July 17, 2017).
  • Senior Hamas figure Fathi Hamad called for an escalation [of the Jerusalem intifada] in Judea and Samaria. On the other hand, he said Hamas' military wing was committed to a lull and thus could not respond to the events from the Gaza Strip (NN Press, July 17, 2017).
  • Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanu' called on Palestinians not to pass through the metal detectors at the entrance to the mosque. He claimed Israel had installed them to establish its security control over the site and change the status quo.
 Other Terrorist Attacks and Attempted Attacks
  • On July 15, 2017, two shooting attacks were carried out at two locations in the Benyamin region. Drive-by shots were fired at a vehicle with Israeli license plates on the road between Ateret and Umm Safa (north of Ramallah). A Palestinian in the vehicle was injured by broken glass. The vehicle was damaged. A few hours later shots were fired at an IDF post near Nebi Saleh. There were no casualties.
  • The Israeli security forces tracked down the couple who had carried out the attacks. The man was Imad Ahmed Lutfi al-Tirawi, 34; he was killed in an attempt to detain him. In the past he was an operative in the PA's security forces and then became an arms dealer. He carried out both attacks with his fiancée, Rawan Imbar, who turned herself into the Palestinian security forces (Israel Security Agency, July 16, 2017).
  • On July 18, 2017, a Palestinian driver accelerated at the Einun Junction near Hebron and drove into soldiers walking at the side of the road, injuring three. Other soldiers shot and killed him. He was Rafaat Nathmi Shukri Hirbawi, 29, from Hebron (Ma'an, July 18, 2017).
Riots, Clashes and Popular Terrorism
  • This past week demonstrations, clashes and riots continued throughout Judea and Samaria, primarily involving the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails. The more prominent occurrences were the following:
  • July 18, 2017 – Palestinians threw stones at an IDF force operating in the Jilazoun refugee camp (Ramallah). An IDF officer was injured (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 18, 2017).
  • July 17, 2017 – A vehicle sped towards a roadblock in the Old City in Hebron near a Jewish community. The IDF force stationed at the site suspected a vehicular attack and shot at the driver. There were no casualties. The driver escaped (Judea and Samaria Rescue, July 17, 2017).
  • July 17, 2017 – Palestinians rioting against Israeli security forces in Silwan in east Jerusalem threw stones and Molotov cocktails. A Palestinian was injured by IDF fire (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 17, 2017).
  • July 17, 2017 – Israeli security forces operating in the village of Idna (west of Hebron) seized 2,000 shekels (about $560), transferred from Hamas to the family of a Palestinian terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. After his release the Palestinian carried out the terrorist attack on the eve of Passover in 2014 in which Deputy Commissioner Baruch Mizrachi was murdered (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 17, 2017).
  • July 16, 2017 – Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at an Israeli security force guard post at the T junction in Gush Etzion. There were no casualties (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 16, 2017).
  • July 15, 2017 – Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces in Silwan in east Jerusalem. One Israeli policeman was injured (Facebook page of Judea and Samaria Police Spokesman's Unit, July 15, 2017).
  • July 15, 2017 – Palestinians threw more than 25 Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces operating in Issawiya (northern Jerusalem). There were no casualties (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 15, 2017).
  • July 14, 2017 – Palestinians threw two IEDs at Israeli security forces on the Gush Etzion–Jerusalem road near the village of Khader. There were no casualties (Facebook page of Red Alert, July 14, 2017).
  • July 14, 2017 – Palestinian sources reported that a Palestinian was killed and two wounded during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Dheisheh refugee camp (Bethlehem region). The Palestinian who was killed was Baraa' Ismail Hamamda, 18. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) reported he was one of their operatives (PFLP website, July 14, 2017).
  • July 12, 2017 – Two young Palestinians were killed and one was injured while rioting against IDF forces in the Jenin refugee camp (Safa, July 12, 2017). The Fatah movement in Jenin claimed the two had belonged to its ranks (aljazeera.net and Wafa, July 12, 2017). The PA and Fatah strongly condemned their killing. The national consensus government claimed Israel was responsible for worsening the situation and for "hostilities" against the Palestinian people (Wafa, July 12, 2017). The PA minister of justice paid a condolence call on the families of the two Palestinians who had been killed; he came as a representative of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (Wafa, July 15, 2017).

The two Palestinians killed in the riot. Left: Aus Salameh throws stones at IDF forces in the Jenin refugee camp (Facebook page of the Fatah movement, July 13, 2017). Right: Sa'ad Salah (Facebook page of Wafa, July 12, 2017).
The two Palestinians killed in the riot. Left: Aus Salameh throws stones at IDF forces in the Jenin refugee camp (Facebook page of the Fatah movement, July 13, 2017). Right: Sa'ad Salah (Facebook page of Wafa, July 12, 2017).

Israel Security Agency Report on Terrorist Attacks, June 2017[5]
  • During June 2017 there was a decline in the number of terrorist attacks. A total of 93 attacks were carried out in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, most of them (80) involving the throwing of Molotov cocktails. In May 2017 there were 142 terrorist attacks.[6] In Judea and Samaria there were 72 terrorist attacks (113 in May 2017). In Jerusalem there were 21 attacks (29 in May 2017). A Border Policewoman was killed and three Border Policemen were wounded in a terrorist attack at the Nablus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, June 16, 2017). An operative in the Israeli security forces was stabbed (at Mevo Dotan, Samaria, June 1, 2017).

Significant Terrorist Attacks in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem since September 2015

Rocket Fire Attacking Israel
  • This past week no rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory.

Rocket Fire Attacking Israel

Riots at the Border Security Fence
  • Hamas exploited the demonstrations planned to protest the pressure Mahmoud Abbas exerts on the Gaza Strip and used them instead to support the terrorist attack on the Temple Mount. Several hundred Palestinians participated (Amama, July 14, 2017). The Palestinian media reported one Palestinian was injured, east of Jabalia (July 14, date, 2017).
The Gazan Humanitarian Crisis
  • The energy authority in the Gaza Strip reported that the power plant had resumed operations after fuel arrived from Egypt (al-Aqsa, July 13, 2017). The Gaza Strip electric company said that according to the amount of fuel at its disposal, it could provide electricity in cycles of four hours with 12-hour power outages (Palinfo, July 15, 2017).
  • The Gaza Strip environment authority reported that a recent analysis of sea water carried out in conjunction with the ministry of health revealed that 73% of the water along the coast was polluted. Only four areas were found where swimming was possible. The reason for the high percentage of pollution was the 110 thousand cubic meters (more than 29 million gallons) of untreated sewage poured into the sea, a result of the electricity crisis (website of the environment authority in the Gaza Strip, July 16, 2017).

Map of the Gaza Strip coastline where swimming is permitted (blue) and forbidden (red). The map was issued by Gaza Strip environment authority (website of the Gaza Strip environment authority, July 16, 2017).
Map of the Gaza Strip coastline where swimming is permitted (blue) and forbidden (red). The map was issued by Gaza Strip environment authority (website of the Gaza Strip environment authority, July 16, 2017).

  • The Jerusalem-based newspaper al-Quds quoted a report from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It said that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after Operation Protective Edge was proceeding very slowly because of the "siege" on the Gaza Strip and the inefficient apparatus used to import building materials. According to the report, between October 14, 2014 and June 30, 2017, 1.6 tons of cement had been delivered to the Gaza Strip, or one third of what was needed.
  • Of the 11,000 dwelling units completely destroyed during the Operation, (4,274 (38.8%) had been rebuilt and 1,516 units were under construction. More than 6,300 families (about 33,000 people) had nowhere to live. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, during the first quarter of 2017, 41.1% of Gazans were unemployed and 65% lived below the poverty line. In addition more than 60% of Gazans were supported by UNRWA and other international relief agencies (al-Quds, July 8, 2017).
  • A UN report dealing with the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip claimed that in view of the humanitarian crisis, in ten years the Gaza Strip will be unfit for human habitation. Robert Piper, "deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process and the humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory," accused the PA and the Israeli security forces of the current situation in the Gaza Strip and called on the international community to put the residents of the Gaza Strip at the top of their priority list (Reuters, July 11, 2017).
Hamas Activity against Jihadist Operatives in the Gaza Strip
  • A Hamas military court in the Gaza Strip sentenced three Salafist operatives who followed ISIS's ideology to prison terms of between five and seven months on charges of firing rockets at Israeli territory. The operatives had been detained by Hamas about four months previously. It is estimated that today Hamas holds about 550 Salafi jihadist operatives in detention, and whose cases will be transferred to Hamas' military court (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 15, 2017). The Salafi jihadist website in the Gaza Strip also reported that the Hamas military court had sentenced a number of its operatives to prison, apparently for involvement in firing rockets at Israel. The Salafi jihadist social networks did to issue threats against Hamas.
Military Activities in Hamas Summer Camps in the Gaza Strip
(from the Facebook page of the summer camps' committee in the Khan Yunis district, July 2017)

Military Activities in Hamas Summer Camps in the Gaza Strip (from the Facebook page of the summer camps' committee in the Khan Yunis district, July 2017)

Senior Fatah and PA Figures Visit the Family of the Teqo'a Terrorist
  • Jamal al-Muheisen, a member of Fatah's Central Committee and head of its bureau of mobilization and organization in Judea and Samaria, and Majed Faraj, head of Palestinian general intelligence, paid a condolence call in Teqo'a to visit the family of terrorist Muhammad Ibrahim Jibrin. Jibrin carried out a vehicular attack near Teqo'a on July 10, 2017. The two gave speeches (Facebook page of Fatah, July 12, 2017). The visit was another expression of PA and Fatah routine support for popular terrorism.

Jamal al-Muheisen (white hair) and Majed Faraj (next to him) pay a condolence call on the family of the terrorist operative from Teqo'a (Facebook page of Fatah, July 12, 2017).

[1]Shooting on the Temple Mount is an extremely rare occurrence. The last time was in 1982 when Alan Goodman, a Jewish American who had served in the IDF, killed a waqfbodyguard and wounded policemen. He claimed his motive was retaliation for the Coastal Road Massacre, carried out four years previously. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus forty years. He was released after 15 ½ years and deported to the United States. In addition, in April 2013 the Israeli security forces detained a squad of Palestinians from Ras al-Amoud and A-Tor in east Jerusalem planning to carry out several terrorist attacks, including a shooting attack on Israeli security forces in the Temple Mount compound (Israel Security Agency, April 17, 2013).
[2]The last time the Temple Mount compound was closed was the day after the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick in 2014. The last time the Israeli government closed the Temple Mount compound and cancelled the Friday prayer was in 1969, when a Messianic Christian tourist tried to set the mosque on fire.
[3]The Qur'an, Oxford World Classics, OUP, p. 210.
[4]An organized ne of Muslim men and women operating in shifts on the Temple Mount to protect al-Aqsa mosque and turn away Jews who try to enter the compound.
[5]According to data from the Israel Security Agency.
[6]The hundreds of incidents of stone-throwing do not appear in the statistics.
[7]A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, stabbing, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included.
[8]The statistics do not include mortar shell fire or rockets which misfired and fell inside the Gaza Strip.

Hamas constructs a buffer zone to secure its border with Egypt in response to a demand from the Egyptian regime.

Carrying out construction on the Palestinian side of the Rafah-Egypt border (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 29, 2017).

Carrying out construction on the Palestinian side of the Rafah-Egypt border (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 29, 2017).

Yahya al-Sinwar (pink shirt, center) head of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, pays a visit to the Rafah-Egypt border to inspect the construction of the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, July 5, 2017).

Yahya al-Sinwar (pink shirt, center) head of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, pays a visit to the Rafah-Egypt border to inspect the construction of the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, July 5, 2017).

One of the observation towers erected in the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 28, 2017).

One of the observation towers erected in the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 28, 2017).

Yahya al-Sinwar (holding binoculars) pays a visit to the Rafah-Egypt border for a first-hand look at the construction of the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, July 5, 2017).

Yahya al-Sinwar (holding binoculars) pays a visit to the Rafah-Egypt border for a first-hand look at the construction of the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, July 5, 2017).

Overview

1.      At the end of June 2017 the Hamas ministry of the interior and national security in the Gaza Strip began work on the foundations of a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The objective of the zone is to increase Hamas' control over the border area in order to prevent smuggling and keep terrorist operatives from entering and leaving the Gaza Strip. The zone will be 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) long and reach from Kerem Shalom to the sea. In most places it will be between 50 and 150 meters (55 and 165 yards) wide. It will have a paved asphalt road and the existing embankment will be renovated and covered with barbed wire. Observation towers will be constructed and the zone will be a system of floodlights and a network of security cameras will be installed.

2.      The construction of the buffer zone is apparently part of Hamas' commitment to Egypt to support the separation of the Gaza Strip from ISIS's Sinai Province, against which the Egyptian security forces have been waging an ongoing struggle. Egypt apparently conditioned the routine opening of the Rafah crossing for the passage of goods (including fuel for the Gaza Strip power plant) and people on Hamas' fulfilling a series of security-related demands. In ITIC assessment, one of those demands was that Hamas' security forces' achieve effective control along the Egyptian border in order to end smuggling and the provision of support for ISIS operatives in the Sinai Peninsula.

3.      In the past there was extensive military collaboration between ISIS's Sinai Province and the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military-terrorist wing: ISIS operatives helped smuggled weapons into the Gaza Strip, and Hamas helped manufacture weapons and uniforms for ISIS, hospitalized its wounded operatives and provided it with communications equipment. Apparently over the past year the relations between the two organizations cooled off. One reason was pressure from Egypt, which considers ISIS a threat to its national security.[1]

4.      The buffer zone will increase Hamas' ability to enforce its authority but will not hermetically seal the Gaza-Egypt border to the passage of terrorist operatives and weapons. In ITIC assessment, that is because:

A.      Hamas has a strong interest in smuggling weapons and military equipment into the Gaza Strip from the Sinai Peninsula. Therefore it does not have an interest in hermetically sealing their main route into the Gaza Strip. Thus it is reasonable to assume that even if Hamas does increase the enforcement of its authority along the border, it will continue its efforts to bring weapons and equipment into the Gaza Strip through the smuggling tunnels, which in all probability will remain after the construction of the buffer zone has been completed.

B.      It is probably that the jihadist operatives in the Gaza Strip will not cut their ties with ISIS's Sinai Province, and will circumvent Hamas' security measures. The participation of three operatives from the Gaza Strip (at least two of whom had been operatives in Hamas' military wing) in the attack on the Egyptian security forces in el-Barth(southwest of Rafah), in which 23 soldiers were killed and 33 injured, clearly illustrates that.[2]

C.      In exceptional circumstances (for example, a deterioration in relations with Israel) Hamas' interest in smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip and its relations with ISIS's Sinai Province may become warmer. That may occur even if warming relations with the Sinai Province involves risking Hamas' relations with Egypt.

The Buffer Zone

5.      The objective of the buffer zone is to increase Hamas ability to enforce its authority along the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt and prevent smuggling and the infiltration of operatives into and out of the Gaza Strip. According to Na'im al-Ghoul, commander of the Hamas-controlled national security forces, the objective of the zone is to increase the security forces' control along the border and remove obstacles that could limit their view of the landscape (YouTube, June 28, 2017). He added there would be channels for communication and full cooperation between Palestinian and Egypt security personnel (alresalah.net, July 5, 2017).

6.      The construction of the buffer zone is being financed by the Hamas ministry of the interior. The zone is expected to run from Kerem Shalom in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, a distance of 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles), and have an average width of between 50 and 150 meters (55 and 165 yards) (depending on the needs of local residents and the local physical conditions). At its western end it will reach a depth of 250 to 300 meters (about 275 to 330 yards). The entire area will be declared a closed military zone and Hamas will increase the deployment of security force operatives (alresalah.net, July 5, 2017).

7.      The buffer zone is planned to include the following (alresalah.net, June 28, 2017):

A.   An asphalt road25 meters (27 yards) wide from one end of the buffer zone to the other. It will be patrolled by Hamas security force operatives 24/7.

B.   The existing three-meter (about ten feet) embankment will be repaired and upgraded, and coveredwith barbed wire, which will have a number of open spaces.

C.  Observation towers will be constructedalong the route of the zone.

Left: A Hamas security force operative watches the [so-called] "Philadelphi Route" from the second observation tower erected in the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 28, 2017). Right: Yahya al-Sinwar (third from the right), head of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, mounts an observation tower overlooking the Egyptian border (YouTube, July 6, 2017).
Left: A Hamas security force operative watches the [so-called] "Philadelphi Route" from the second observation tower erected in the buffer zone (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 28, 2017). Right: Yahya al-Sinwar (third from the right), head of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, mounts an observation tower overlooking the Egyptian border (YouTube, July 6, 2017).

D.  The buffer zone will have a system of floodlights.

E.   A network of security cameraswill be installed and controlled from the national security forces' operations room. It will be under the direct control of the headquarters of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip.

8.      According to senior Palestinian security sources, construction work on the foundations of the buffer zone includes leveling the terrain, which is full of pits because of tunnel collapses; uprooting fruit trees; and repairing the existing embankment. The sources also reported that the houses of Palestinians living near the buffer zone will be evacuated and their owners will be compensated (france24 in Arabic, June 28, 2017). There will also beincreased deployment of security forces along the border and guard and observation posts will be built. According to Iyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the Hamas ministry of the interior, the construction work is expected to take about a month (al-Jazeera, June 28, 2017).

9.      According to Na'im al-Ghoul, commander of Hamas' national security forces, the tunnels endangering the border will be destroyed. All tunnels which are not currently in use will also be destroyed (alresalah.net, July 5, 2017). (Note: Thus it was not specifically stated that Hamas intended to destroy all the tunnels, without exception.)

10.   Yahya al-Sinwar, the head of Hamas' political bureau in the Gaza Strip, and other senior Hamas figures, visited the southern Gaza Strip for a first-hand look at the construction of the buffer zone from east to west. They visited the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Rafah crossing and the Hamas security forces' posts situated along the Egyptian border. Their guide was Tawfiq Abu Na'im, deputy minister of the interior, who briefed them on the situation in the area (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, July 5, 2017).

Construction of the Buffer Zone

The route of the buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Rafah-Egypt border (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 29, 2017).
The route of the buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Rafah-Egypt border (Facebook page of the Hamas ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, June 29, 2017).

Tawfiq Abu Na'im, deputy minister of the interior in the Gaza Strip, holds a press conference near the construction site. To his right is Brigadier General Na'im al-Ghoul, commander of Hamas' national security forces in the Gaza Strip (Facebook page of the national security forces, June 28, 2017).
Tawfiq Abu Na'im, deputy minister of the interior in the Gaza Strip, holds a press conference near the construction site. To his right is Brigadier General Na'im al-Ghoul, commander of Hamas' national security forces in the Gaza Strip (Facebook page of the national security forces, June 28, 2017).

Egypt's Reactions

11.   Egyptian correspondent, commentator and al-Ahram editor Ashraf Abu el-Houl told an interviewer from the Egyptian al-Ghad satellite channel that as far as Egypt was concerned, Hamas' construction of a buffer zone was a "dream" that no one had imagined Hamas would carry out. He said it reflected an improvement in Egypt-Hamas relations following the recent meetings. He said it also meant that Yahya al-Sinwar was making decisions for Hamas from the Gaza Strip, and not senior Hamas figures in Doha (Qatar) (al-Ghad TV, June 28, 2017). Gazan political commentator Husam al-Dajani said the construction of the buffer zone was in the joint interests of Egypt and Hamas, and reflected Egypt's full confidence in Yahya al-Sinwar in the wake of the recent meetings held in Egypt (Ma'an, June 29, 2017).

12.   Egyptian and Palestinian sources reported that Egypt asked Hamas to intensify its security measures along the border because ISIS operatives in the Sinai Peninsula had recently received advanced weapons, among them shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Such weapons are liable to make the clashes between ISIS operatives and Egyptian security forces more complex and deadly. According to the sources, that was one of the reasons leading Egypt to hasten an improvement in relations with Hamas and hold meetings with Hamas security delegations (al-Araby al-Jadeed, July 7, 2017)

[1]See the March 20, 2016 bulletin, "Hamas as a Supporter of Anti-Egyptian Terrorism: Hamas-Egyptian relations deteriorated following the Egyptian accusation of Hamas involvement in the 2015 assassination of the Egyptian attorney general."
[2]The Egyptian press accused Hamas because the terrorists who carried out the attack in the Sinai Peninsula entered through tunnels from the Gaza Strip. For example, according to the July 11, 2017 edition of the Egyptian regime-affiliated newspaper al-Youm al-Sabaa, the attack on the army post south of Rafah exposed Hamas' inability to defend the Gaza Strip. According to the article, there were two possibilities: either Hamas operatives plotted against Egypt's national security, or Hamas cannot control the Gaza Strip and its border with Egypt. The article says Hamas therefore bears direct responsibility for the crimes Palestinians from the Gaza Strip carried out on Egyptian territory

Spotlight on Global Jihad (July 6-12, 2017)

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Spotlight on Global Jihad

Meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, during which they agreed on the de-escalation agreement (The Russian President’s website, July 7, 2017)

Meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg, during which they agreed on the de-escalation agreement (The Russian President’s website, July 7, 2017)

SDF operatives making their way through the debris in Al-Raqqah (Orient News, July 4, 2017)

SDF operatives making their way through the debris in Al-Raqqah (Orient News, July 4, 2017)

SDF fighters in Al-Raqqah (Orient News, July 4, 2017)

SDF fighters in Al-Raqqah (Orient News, July 4, 2017)

Explosive vests found during the detention campaign (Orient News, July 10, 2017)

Explosive vests found during the detention campaign (Orient News, July 10, 2017)

Qassem Soleimani (left, wearing a hat) visiting near the Syrian-Iraqi border, south of Deir ez-Zor. Next to him is Khaled al-Marei, commander of the Al-Baqer Brigade, a Shiite militia from the Aleppo area supprting the Syrian regime (Qasiyoun, July 8, 2017).

Qassem Soleimani (left, wearing a hat) visiting near the Syrian-Iraqi border, south of Deir ez-Zor. Next to him is Khaled al-Marei, commander of the Al-Baqer Brigade, a Shiite militia from the Aleppo area supprting the Syrian regime (Qasiyoun, July 8, 2017).

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (center) in Mosul (Al-Sumaria, July 9, 2017).

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (center) in Mosul (Al-Sumaria, July 9, 2017).

Soldiers celebrating the liberation of the city (Nineveh Information Center, July 9, 2017)

Soldiers celebrating the liberation of the city (Nineveh Information Center, July 9, 2017)

Devastation in the city of Mosul (Al-Alam, July 10, 2017)

Devastation in the city of Mosul (Al-Alam, July 10, 2017)

Scenes of destruction in Mosul

Scenes of destruction in Mosul

Photos from the video released by ISIS (YouTube, July 3, 2017)

Photos from the video released by ISIS (YouTube, July 3, 2017)

Photos from the video released by ISIS (YouTube, July 3, 2017)

Photos from the video released by ISIS (YouTube, July 3, 2017)

The Australian doctor in a previous ISIS video from 2015 (YouTube, April 24, 2015)

The Australian doctor in a previous ISIS video from 2015 (YouTube, April 24, 2015)

Main events of the week

  • About three years after ISIS declared the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate in Mosul, and after around nine months of persistent fighting, the city of Mosul fell into the hands of the Iraqi forces. The Iraqi prime minister arrived in Mosul on July 9, 2017, and declared its complete liberation. The commander of the International Coalition against ISIS declared that the Iraqi forces had complete control of Mosul. However, it is apparently still necessary to remove the IEDs planted in the city by ISIS and complete the mopping up of the city from ISIS operatives, who are liable to hide among the residents.
  • Mosul has been taken over. What next?Following are some initial implications and insights in the wake of the takeover of Mosul:
  • The concept of the Islamic State with its jihadi nature based on territorial areas of control has suffered a severe symbolic and practical blow.This blow is expected to increase with the takeover of the city of Al-Raqqah, ISIS’s stronghold in Syria. In light of this, in the ITIC’s assessment, ISIS is expected to switch to a modus operandi of a terrorist and guerilla organization that carries out terrorist attacks and hit-and-run operations, as it did in the past. It should be noted that ISIS still retains areas of control throughout Iraq that it could use for launching large-scale operations.It can be assumed that the main targets of these operations will be the capital Baghdad, the Iraqi security forces, and Shiite population centers, with the aim of harming the Iraqi regime and provoking inter-ethnic tension in the country.
  • The most significant challenge facing the Iraqi regime and the international community is the rehabilitation of Mosul, where about 700,000 residents have become displaced persons. This rehabilitation is expected to be protracted and costly, in view of the extensive damage caused to the city’s homes and infrastructure (water systems, schools, hospitals, bridges). Any failure or delay in the rehabilitation process could intensify inter-ethnic tension and play into the hands of ISIS, which will make an effort to renew its activity among the Sunni population in the liberated areas. The experience accumulated to date with regard to the speed of rehabilitation of the Sunni cities liberated from the hands of ISIS does not bode well.
  • ISIS still has areas of control in northern Iraq, along the Syrian-Iraqi border, and in the northern Euphrates Valley.These are areas that are disconnected from each other without a prominent center of gravity, as was the case during ISIS’s control of Mosul. It appears that the cities of Tal Afar in northern Iraq and Al-Qaim in the Euphrates Valley, near the Iraqi-Syrian border, may serve as ISIS’s new control centers in Iraq. If the momentum of the Iraqi forces in the campaign against ISIS is not maintained, and these centers of gravity continue to exist, ISIS is liable to regain strength once it has regrouped following the fall of Mosul.
  • A struggle for control and influence in the liberated areas, and in Iraq in general, is expected to develop between Iran, on the one hand, and the United States and the West on the other. Iran aspires to prevent the US from advancing in Iraq, take control of the Iraqi-Syrian border area, and create a logistical route from Damascus to Baghdad (which will enable land traffic from Iran to Syria and Lebanon via Iraq). The Americans want to retain their influence in Iraq, but without massive involvement on the ground, and this places them in a position of weakness vis-à-vis Iran. The main proxy through which Iran is expected to realize its interests in Iraq is the Popular Mobilization, an umbrella framework of Shiite militias handled by Iran.

 

Russia and the Coalition countries

Announcement of a de-escalation agreement in southwestern Syria
  • On July 9, 2017, a de-escalation agreement between the US, Russia and Jordan entered into effect in southwestern Syria.As at July 10, 2017, there were six violations of the agreement by the Syrian Army, which attacked targets of the rebel organizations in the areas of Quneitra and Daraa.

The agreement on de-escalation in southwestern Syria was announced by the US and Russia on July 7, 2017(after Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump met on the occasion of the G20 summit in Hamburg). Jordan is also a party to the agreement. The agreement includes a cessation of hostilities between the forces of the Syrian regime and the rebel groups in southwestern Syria in the areas of Daraa, As-Suwayda and Quneitra.

 

  • Following are the principal statements about the agreement made by the US and Russia:
  • US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the agreement was aimed at curbing the violence on the Syrian-Jordanian border. He added that the details of the implementation of the agreement were now being discussed between Jordan, the United States and Russia and that the United States hoped to expand the agreement to additional areas in Syria. Rex Tillerson also noted that this agreement is different from previous agreements because this time Russia has displayed a new level of commitment. He also noted that the ceasefire agreement with Russia is the first indication that the United States and Russia are capable of working together in Syria (The Washington Post, July 7, 2017).
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the agreement would be monitored by the Russian military police, which would be deployed in the region and would be responsible for the security of the areas, in coordination with the United States and Jordan (AP, July 7, 2017). Lavrov also stressed the importance of the fact that the agreement affirms the commitment of Russia, Jordan and the United States to Syria’s territorial sovereignty and territorial integrity, in accordance with UN resolutions (Russian Foreign Ministry website, July 7, 2017).
  • Alexander Lavrentiev, the Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, said that the establishment of safe areas in Syria would begin within two to three weeks after the signing of the relevant documents. He noted that a key aspect of the Astana talks would be the establishment of a joint coordination headquarters that would monitor the safe areas (TASS News Agency, July 4, 2017). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia, the United States and Jordan had agreed to establish a control center in Amman that would monitor the ceasefire in southwestern Syria and would maintain direct contact with representatives of the opposition and government groups (Sputnik, July 10, 2017).

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel welcomes a genuine ceasefire in Syria. He noted, however, that such a ceasefire must not enable the consolidation of Iran and its satellites in Syria in general, and in southern Syria in particular.He said that he had discussed the issue with the US Secretary of State and with President Putin and that they understood Israel’s positions. According to him, Israel would continue to monitor the activity across its borders and would prevent the Hezbollah forces and the Iranian forces from establishing a presence near its border (Israeli Prime Minister’s Office website, July 9, 2017).

 

Main developments in Syria

The campaign to take over Al-Raqqah
  • The fighting in Al-Raqqah’s Old City still continues.  According to Luqman Khalil, an SDF commander, ISIS has so far lost about half of the Old City’s territory (Akhbar Al-Aan, July 8, 2017). Fighting also continued in several sites in west and south Al-Raqqah and on the city’s outskirts. The SDF forces received air support from the US-led Coalition aircraft, which carried out airstrikes against ISIS-controlled targets.

 

  • ISIS operatives continue to detonate car bombs (as they have done in Mosul) and attack the SDF forces. On July 7, 2017, ISIS operatives detonated a car bomb near the SDF outposts in east Al-Raqqah. There were reports on fatalities among the SDF forces (Sham Network, July 7, 2017). In the western part of the city, ISIS operatives planted an IED in an SDF vehicle. Several fighters were killed and wounded (Khotwa, July 5, 2017). Also, SDF forces reportedly downed an ISIS drone in Al-Raqqah’s neighborhood of Al-Sina’ah (Khotwa, July 5, 2017).
Idlib Province
  • The Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, a coalition of several organizations led by the Fateh al-Sham Front (formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda branch in Syria), launched a large-scale operation against ISIS due to the numerous attacks by ISIS operatives against organizations which are party to the coalition. During their activity, they exposed a large network of ISIS operatives which had operated in the western area of the Idlib Province. The network commander and eight operatives were detained. Weapons and car bombs were found in the possession of the detainees. Their interrogation revealed that the network was directly handled by ISIS. The network operatives admitted to carrying out over twenty terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets.
  • Following the exposure of the network, the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham began a large-scale detention campaign in the Idlib Province, during which they detained over a hundred ISIS operatives. Among the detainees are Abu Suleiman the Russian, ISIS governor in northern Syria; Abu al-Qa’qa al-Janubi, the ISIS official in charge of Sharia in northern Syria; and Abu al-Sawda al-Masri (i.e., the Egyptian). Several operatives who were to serve as suicide bombers were also detained in the campaign (Ibaa News Agency, the news agency of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, July 10, 2017).
Palmyra
  • Fighting continues between the Syrian Army and ISIS in the area of the Aarak and Al-Hail oil and gas fields, northeast of Palmyra. The Syrian forces advanced toward the city of Sukhnah (northeast of Palmyra) and reached a distance of about 10 km from the city (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 8, 2017). The Syrian forces were supported by airstrikes against ISIS targets in the area of Sukhnah and the desert area (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 9, 2017).
  • According to media reports, Qassem Soleimani, Qods Force commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, recently visited the area south of Deir ez-Zor, near the border between Syria and Iraq. There are also photos testifying to his presence there. Qassem Soleimani was there apparently in order to monitor closely the military activity of the Syrian forces and the Shiite militias in the Syrian Desert (Qasiyoun, July 8, 2017).
  • The city of Sukhnah, which has about 22,000 inhabitants (updated to 2004), is on the highway from Homs to Deir ez-Zor, about 125 km from Deir ez-Zor. The advance of the Syrian Army towards this city may indicate that the city of Deir ez-Zor (where a Syrian Army force is besieged by ISIS) is targeted by the Syrian forces, as part of the Syrian forces’ advance in several sectors eastward, towards the Euphrates Valley and the Syrian-Iraqi border. The fact that Qassem Soleimani is present south of Deir ez-Zor may also indicate the importance attributed to this area by the Iranians, as well as the Syrians (Qassem Soleimani customarily appears and has his picture taken at important fighting zones).

 

Southern Syria
  • A little while after the announcement on the de-escalation agreement in the provinces of Al-Suwayda, Daraa and Quneitra, six violations were recorded as the Syrian regime forces attacked rebel organizations in several villages in the Quneitra and Daraa areas (All4Syria, July 10, 2017).
  • “Syrian political sources” told a correspondent of the Al-Quds al-Arabi daily that Syria would not agree to include villages in the area of Quneitra, near the border with Israel, in the de-escalation agreement. According to these sources, this is because it may help the rebel organizations settle and control the villages in the Quneitra area and create a “security zone” for Israel. The sources said that the objective of the Syrian Army in its fighting there was to regain control of the villages in the Quneitra area. According to the sources, the purpose of the airstrikes carried out by Israel against the Syrian Army outposts in the Quneitra area is to prevent the Syrian Army from reaching the border. According to the sources, Russia agrees with Syria on this issue, and it will not pressure Syria to accept Israel’s position regarding the front in the Quneitra area (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, July 8, 2017).

Main developments in Iraq

The campaign for the takeover of Mosul
  • After nine months of fighting, and at the end of a fierce fighting in the Old City, the campaign for the takeover of Mosul ended. The Iraqi forces reportedly finished mopping up sporadic pockets of resistance in Mosul’s Old City (Nineveh Information Center, July 10, 2017). Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived in the city on July 9, 2017, and announced its complete liberation from ISIS (Al-Sumaria, July 9, 2017; Nineveh Information Center, July 9, 2017). According to an announcement by Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the International Coalition against ISIS, the Iraqi forces are in full control of the city (AP, July 10, 2017).

 

  • According to Iraqi police,over one thousand ISIS operatives were killed in the Old City, having fought their last battle after the rest of the city neighborhoods had fallen in the hands of the Iraqi forces. Dozens of armed operatives who tried to flee the city through the Tigris River were shot and killed. In addition, 65 vehicles carrying arms, twenty car bombs, a total of 24 motorcycles that served ISIS and 28 buildings used by the organization operatives were destroyed. Moreover, eight tunnels were uncovered (Al-Sumaria, July 9, 2017). However, the Iraqi security forces still need to complete the removal of IEDs from the city and searching for armed operatives that may have remained there.
  • Before the beginning of the campaign to liberate Mosul, the city had about 1.5 million inhabitants. According to UN data, about 920,000 inhabitants became displaced persons since the beginning of the campaign. About 220,000 have already returned, so about 700,000 remain displaced persons. The western neighborhoods of the city sustained the most damage, mainly the Old City, where persistent fighting took place, while in the east part of the city, life has begun to return to normal. According to UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande, “fighting in the city did end, but not the humanitarian crisis, as many of the displaced persons have lost all their property and they need a place for living, food, medical treatment, water and medical supplies. The levels of mental suffering are extremely high. One cannot imagine what these people have gone through” (Al-Ghad Channel, July 10, 2017).
  • There are still more and more reports of senior ISIS operatives being killed in the campaign for Mosul, including the head of ISIS’s health department, codenamed Dr. Abdallah and his deputy Dr. Khaled Qardash (Al-Naba, July 6, 2017); and Abu Yahya al-Iraqi, who served as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s senior aide (Al-Mayadeen, July 6, 2017).Iraqi and Syrian sources keep releasing news of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, but so far there is no reliable proof for that.
  • The UN Secretary-General declared that the rehabilitation of Mosul is a significant step in the fighting against terror and extremism. According to him, the UN is willing to support the Iraqi government in the rehabilitation of territories taken over from ISIS (the UN website, July 10, 2017). A report released by the UN assesses that the rehabilitation of the city of Mosul will cost over USD 1 billion (Al-Rafidayn, July 6, 2017).
ISIS attacks in other fighting zones in Iraq
  • Before the announcement on the completion of the takeover of Mosul, ISIS operatives attacked the Iraqi security forces in the area south of the city. On July 5, 2017, the Iraqi Army announced that it had repelled a massive attack by ISIS operatives in the area of Shirqat, about 90 km south of Mosul. According to the report, a total of 43 ISIS operatives were killed in the attack (Iraq Times, July 5, 2017).
  • On July 5, 2017, ISIS operatives carried out an attack in the village of Imam Gharbi, about 70 km south of Mosul, where several suicide bombers took part. Three operatives of the Tribal Mobilization (Al-Hashed Al-Ashaeri), a tribal force operating in support of the Iraqi government, were killed and 14 others were wounded (Shafaq News, July 5, 2017). ISIS released a message claiming responsibility for the attack (Sawarim, July 8, 2017).

Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula

The Sinai Peninsula

The Egyptian security forces reported that they had foiled a large-scale attack by operatives of ISIS’s Sinai Province against an Egyptian Army outpost in the village of Al-Barth, south of Rafah. During the attack, a car bomb reportedly exploded, killing 23 soldiers and wounding 33 others. The commander of the 103th Battalion was among those killed (Facebook page of the Egyptian Armed Forces, July 7, 2017). According to Egyptian sources, about forty ISIS operatives were killed in the attack, and six vehicles were destroyed.

 

  • The attack started when a suicide bomber drove a car bomb toward a checkpoint near the village of Al-Barth. This is a village of Tarabin tribesmen, who have been in an ongoing violent confrontation with ISIS’s Sinai branch. The village is situated on an important junction connecting central Sinai to the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. Other vehicles, with dozens of ISIS operatives, including another suicide bomber, also attacked the Egyptian security forces.
  • ISIS’s Sinai Province claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the announcement, the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers who blew themselves up with car bombs. Several other ISIS operatives also participated in the attack, storming the Egyptian forces and their collaborators (i.e., Tarabin tribesmen) who had been staying in a building there.
  • Following the terrorist attack, the Egyptian forces carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Sinai Peninsula. In addition, the Egyptian security forces reinforced their presence on the ground, set up numerous roadblocks and carried out searches in vast areas in order to round up ISIS operatives. They raided ISIS operatives’ hidings places and detained operatives (Al-Youm Al-Sabea, July 8, 2017; Al-Akhbar, July 9, 2017).

In view of the many casualties in the terrorist attack in the village of Al-Barth, the Egyptian Information Authority issued an announcement in several languages, according to which the Egyptian Army forces had managed during the first half of 2017 to drastically decrease the number of terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula and in Egypt proper. They said that six terrorist attacks had been carried out in Sinai and 25 in Egypt proper during that time, whereas 120 terrorist attacks had been carried out in Sinai and 532 in Egypt proper during the corresponding period last year. According to the announcement, the number of terrorist attacks decreased thanks to the intense activity of the Egyptian security forces (Al-Youm Al-Sabea, July 8, 2017). In spite of the optimistic figures, the Egyptian Army finds it difficult to subdue the operatives of ISIS’s Sinai Province. The Al-Barth terrorist attack proved once again that those operatives are capable of carrying out complex attacks, causing many losses to the Egyptian security forces.

 

 

Thwarting activity in Egypt proper
  • The Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that 14 ISIS operatives had been killed in clashes with the police in Alexandria. This happened after the police had detained, based on prior information, a group belonging to ISIS operatives in the Sinai Peninsula, which was engaged in training operatives in a training camp. The purpose of the camp was to receive new operatives from various provinces in Egypt, have them undergo military training, and put them in courses whose purpose, among other things, was to train suicide bombers. The police reportedly found seven automatic guns, a machine gun, a pistol, military equipment, and propaganda materials in the possession of the operatives in Alexandria (Al-Watan, July 8, 2017).

The conduct of the Islamic State

The weakening of ISIS
  • According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), three years after ISIS announced the establishment of the Islamic State, there is now evidence of the significant weakening of the Islamic State in all areas - economic, military and social. The Islamic State, which managed to establish eight provinces in Syria in its first year, and whose territory amounted to half of the territory of Syria, lost extensive territory in its third year. Moreover, after Turkey joined Operation Euphrates Shield, the Islamic State lost its remaining last gateway to the world outside Syria.
  • The loss of its territory has transformed ISIS from an offensive, unbridled force into a defensive force that relies on counter-reactions, lone-wolf terrorism and assassinations. All the elements fighting against ISIS also tried to compromise its economic ability. As a result, its financial resources dropped by 80%.In order to compensate for its financial losses, ISIS began to take over merchants’ money, imposed fines and even minted new coins.
  • At the same time, ISIS suffered from a drop in the number of fighters joining its ranks.This drop caused ISIS to recruit Syrian adolescents and men and even children. The SOHR documented the recruitment of some 5,000 children to the Lion Cubs of the Caliphate. These children took part in suicide bombing attacks, fighting, and executions. Calls for general mobilization by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also failed to improve the situation. At the same time, the number of detainees held by ISIS also dropped. Some were executed, some were released in exchange for fighting in the ranks of ISIS, and some were released in prisoner exchanges. The SOHR estimates that ISIS still holds around 4,000 detainees and abductees (SOHR, June 29, 2017).
Turkey
  • Turkey recently carried out a series of detentions of persons suspected of activity and ties with ISIS. According to the Turkish security forces, several dozen people were detained throughout the country (Al-Arabiya; Anatolia News Agency, July 5, 2017). In Istanbul, Turkish police detained 29 people suspected of activity in ISIS. Most of the detainees are foreign nationals (Hürriyet Daily News, July 7, 2017).

The battle for hearts and minds

  • ISIS’s Al-Raqqah Province released a video in English featuring an Australian doctor. The doctor criticizes the Western countries for the aggressiveness of the Coalition airstrikes and the damage and injustice that they cause. He calls on ISIS operatives to remain strong and carry out attacks in the West (Akhbar al-Muslimeen, July 3, 2017).
The same Australian doctor also appeared in a video released by ISIS in April 2015, showing the advanced medical services that it provided to the residents of the Al-Raqqah Province after taking control of the city. A number of foreign doctors were featured in the video, including the Australian doctor, codenamed Abu Yusuf the Australian. In the video, Abu Yusuf says that he works in the department of pediatrics at the hospital in Al-Raqqah and perceives his work at the hospital as part of jihad which is intended to help the Islamic nation. He also calls on Muslim doctors in the West to join the Islamic State (Daily Mail, April 26, 2015; YouTube, April 24, 2015).