On Monday, two Katyusha rockets were fired at Balad Air Base in Iraq, a base owned by the Iraqis but often used by American troops. The Russian-made Katyusha rocket is very popular amongst militias and third-world militaries because it is inexpensive and highly mobile. In fact, both Palestinian militants and Hezbollah have fired thousands of these rockets into Israel. The downside of the Katyusha is that it is not very accurate, which is why both rockets fired at Balad landed outside the base only damaging a house. The base itself was once key for coalition forces during the Iraq War, but most Americans living there now are contractors or employees of private companies. The last time Balad came under attack was in January 2020 after Iranian Quds Force leader General Qasem Soleimani was killed by the US.
We move now from rockets to missiles. Also, on Monday, Iran released a video which they say was shot in their new secret “missile city”. Row upon row of missiles are seen stacked in a cement-walled hide-away ready to be deployed against their enemies. General Hossein Salami, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said, “What we see today is a small section of the great and expansive missile capability of Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces.” This mysterious missile city is not the first of its kind, according to the Iranian military. They claim to have numerous others along the Persian Gulf with the ability to hit any Middle Eastern nation that they choose. This is obviously concerning to many countries in the area.
Recent reports have also warned of the Revolutionary Guards preparing missile launchers at a secret site in the city of Al Mayadin to wreak havoc at the Al-Omar oil field in Syria which houses a large US military base. Despite Iran’s threats of retaliation, the nation’s enemies will not just remain idle while these attacks ramp up.
Last June, there was a massive explosion in the country’s eastern mountains. The resulting fireball lit up the early morning sky in Tehran twelve miles away. While the Iranians claim that the cause was a gas tank explosion at a non-military site, most believe that it was the destruction of a tunnel system and a missile production facility. Eyes turned to the US and Israel, who denied all knowledge of any such operation (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
Speaking of Iran, last week I wrote about their leadership enhancing their uranium enrichment program by upgrading their centrifuges (in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) from the IR-1 model to the more advanced IR-2. It turns out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was way off in their report.
Just three days ago, they released new findings that said that Iran has jumped all the way to the IR-4 model. “On 15 March 2021, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding the cascade of 174 IR-4 centrifuges already installed at FEP with natural UF6,” read the report. FEP is referring to the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, and UF6 is uranium hexafluoride which is the chemical compound fed into the centrifuges.
While the international community scrambles about trying to come up with ways to convince Iran to come back to the standards of the JCPOA, Iran just keeps moving forward with their enrichment process as the clock ticks ever closer to them becoming nuclear weapons capable.
Iran is busy not just building up their own stock of weapons but supplying many of those weapons to terrorist militias of the region. Yesterday, a shipment of weapons was flown by at least four 747s from Iran to Syria, landing at the Damascus International Airport. That night, light streaks filled the Damascus sky as an Israeli airstrike targeted the shipment. Subsequent explosions of weapons “cooking off” confirmed that Israel accomplished its objective. We are not going to just sit by while Iran strengthens those who want to kill us.
On Tuesday, the day after the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, soldiers of the Syrian 4th Armored Division and members of the regime intelligence service were ambushed and slaughtered by Sunni militants. The convoy was in Daraa Province and was on its way to arrest a former opposition leader. The militants, who were loyal to this commander, opened fire killing 21 and severely wounding five more. In the decade since this conflict began, more than 388,000 have been killed and millions have been left homeless.
Protestors continue to set fires in Lebanon as the descent of the Lebanese lira (pound) increases in speed. Even though the official exchange rate is 1523 lira to the US dollar, the black-market rate is as much as 16,000 lira to the dollar. Since October 2019, the Lebanese currency has lost 90 percent of its value. The government is unable to do anything about it, because it is in a post-election stalemate. President Michel Aoun is pro-Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist militia organization that has spread itself like a virus into every aspect of the Lebanese government. Prime Minister-delegate Saad Hariri, billionaire son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is very much anti-Hezbollah and recognizes the destruction the organization has brought to the country. Yet even though he has been nominated to be prime minister for a third tenure, he has not been able to take office because he cannot get enough backing to form a cabinet. The power of Hezbollah is great, and Lebanon will be trapped in this downward slide until the nation is able to break its hold.
The United Arab Emirates continued to deepen relations with Israel by establishing a $10 billion fund for investments in Israel. This money will be directed to particular areas of partnership – space, healthcare, water, manufacturing, energy, and agricultural technology. This is great news for both the UAE and Israel, and it is easy to wonder if this was part of what was on the agenda for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cancelled trip to the Emirates last week. Related to this news is the announcement that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI – a state-owned company) will work with the Emirates’ EDGE group on anti-drone technologies. This collaboration will focus on two areas. First, there is the detection of hostile drones. Second, they will be working on countermeasures like jamming communications with operators and technologies for downing drones using lasers, electromagnetic pulse, and other methods. With the increase of UAVs (drones) being used by terrorist militias, particularly the Houthis, this partnership is more important than ever.
This spirit of working together is just another in the growing acceptance of Israel into the Middle East community. On Monday, Jared Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump, wrote, “We are witnessing the last remnants of what has been called the ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’. The Arab world will cease to boycott Israel. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and Mauritania are on their way to normalize relations with Israel.” What is leading to this change? Much of it has to do with the shift in perception of the Palestinians. Kushner asserts that the belief that the Middle East would never resolve their differences with Israel until the Palestinian issue was dealt with was a myth. “That was never true,” he said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees that greater peace is in Israel’s future. In a statement, he said, “I brought four peace agreements, and there are four more on the way.” Are he and Kushner speaking of the same four countries? That’s very possible. Others speculate that he could also be thinking of Niger or Indonesia or others. No matter which countries he’s talking about, it certainly means good news for the geopolitical situation of the Middle East.
Sunday saw the opening of the Kosovo embassy in Jerusalem. This small Balkan nation has now become the third country after the US and Guatemala to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to the true capital of Israel, Jerusalem. Kosovar Ambassador Ines Demiri tweeted, “A truly proud and historic moment for Kosovo-Israel relations…. The greatest honor of my life is to have this opportunity to open the embassy and proudly serve my country in Israel.” As an Israeli, let me say to you, Ambassador Demiri, we are proud to have you serving in our great nation.
Finally, I want to tease you for an article that I am going to write this weekend. On Tuesday, archaeologists announced the discovery of new Dead Sea scrolls. This is the first discovery of its kind in 60 years. Along with coins, an ancient in-tact basket, and the body of a mummified child, 80 fragments containing parts of the twelve minor prophets were located. This stash was likely hidden in the caves during the Bar Kokhba rebellion of the second century. It was after this uprising against Rome that Judea was removed from the map and renamed Syria Palestina. Jerusalem, too, was given a new title – Aelia Capitolina. This discovery is wonderful news that has all Israel buzzing. I will tell you more about it this weekend.