News from Israel, Turkey and Great Britain

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on August 26, 2014

ISRAEL – Israel mulls Gaza tunnel detection system as truce talks continue

The Israeli army is researching a new sensor-based system designed to detect tunnels being dug by Palestinian militants trying to infiltrate into Israel from Gaza.

[Just as Israel built a separation wall to stem a wave of suicide bombings and developed the Iron Dome air-defense system to blunt rocket attacks, it is already casting for deterrents to address the newest Palestinian threat.]

A Palestinian fighter from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza August 18, 2014. (Reuters)

Disclosure of the tunnel detection innovation – said to have been developed by soldiers from the army’s Talpiot unit – comes after a two-and-a-half week ground incursion into Gaza during which military officials said they found and destroyed more than 30 tunnels.

Israel accuses Hamas and other militant groups of developing a tunnel network to carry out terror attacks. [While the military said it had managed to destroy 32 tunnels during ground operations that started July 17, Israeli officials acknowledged that many more tunnels likely remain. Inside the tunnels, the military said it found rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, AK-47 assault rifles and motorcycles – evidence that they said showed they were intended as a way to kidnap and kill Israelis.]

MapIsraelDestruction of the tunnels was identified as the main goal of the army’s Operation Protective Edge offensive after it switched to a ground invasion on July 17, having hitherto consisted largely of aerial bombardments targeting militants and rocket launching sites.

Operational tests on the fledging new system are expected to be conducted soon, reported Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which said it had been four years in the making. Developers have already carried out pilot tests on sewage tunnels in Tel Aviv.

If further tests are deemed successful, the system could be installed along the 40-mile frontier between Israel and Gaza at a cost of $282 million and $422 million, according to a senior military officer quoted by Yedioth.

“The system is based on sensitive sensors that can identify subterranean digging and hollow spaces underground,” the newspaper quoted the officer as saying. “The army will recommend the implementation of a double-defensive approach: both the system of sensors and a new thickened physical infrastructure to prevent subterranean infiltration.”

TURKEY – President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan names ally Ahmet Davutoglu as new Prime Minister

Turkey’s president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan named Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to succeed him as ruling party leader and prime minister, promoting an ally who is expected to show unstinting loyalty to the new head of state.

Mr. Erdogan – who has dominated Turkey’s political scene for 11 years as prime minister – is to be inaugurated as president next week after his election victory earlier this month.

Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after he announced Davutoglu as the new Turkish prime minister

Turkey’s president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after he announced Davutoglu as the new Turkish prime minister

Mr. Davutoglu immediately vowed that “no seeds of discord” could be sown between him and Mr Erdogan, who wants to rule as a powerful head of state and is set to remain Turkey’s undisputed number one.

Mr. Erdogan announced the decision on Thursday after a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, to cheers from the party elite and a blast of Turkish folk music.

Mr. Davutoglu’s nomination will be rubber-stamped by an extraordinary congress of the AKP on August 27 and he will take office a day later when Mr. Erdogan is inaugurated. …

Mr. Davutoglu has been a loyal servant to Mr. Erdogan as an advisor before being promoted to the job of foreign minister in 2009.

He enjoyed an elite Western-style education and is fluent in several languages but emerged as the chief architect and ideologue of Turkey’s assertive foreign policy under Mr Erdogan.

Criticized as neo-Ottoman or even pan-Islamic* by some academics, the core of Davutoglu’s policy has been to make Turkey a world power projecting its influence across the region. [*Pan-Islamism is a political movement advocating the unity of Muslims under one Islamic state – often a Caliphate – or an international organization similar to a European Union with Islamic principles.]


But while Turkey’s importance has unquestionably grown in the last years, critics say the policy has left Ankara [the government]  isolated and surrounded by crisis-torn countries whose problems are spilling over the border.

Mr. Davutoglu’s loyalty has never been in question and his first comments after being named indicated there would be no splits between his future government and president Erdogan.

“I assure you that our party will continue to stand together. No seeds of discord can be planted between you and me, Mr. President,” he said. “This restoration movement which we started 12 years ago will continue without any interruption,” he added, referring to the period since the AKP [Erdogan’s party] first came to power in 2002.

Opponents blasted the choice, saying Mr. Davutoglu would be no more than a puppet of Mr. Erdogan and the promotion was an unjustified reward for a disastrous stint as foreign minister.

“One would wish that the office of prime minister is built upon achievements, not failures. Today Davutoglu is a man regarded more with criticism than praise,” said Aykan Erdemir, lawmaker of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

As president, Mr. Erdogan is widely expected to wield great influence over his party in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary polls. …

GREAT BRITAIN – London’s mayor says Britons who go to Syria ‘are guilty until proved innocent’

Britons who travel to Syria and Iraq without informing the authorities should be presumed to be potential terrorists until proved innocent, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson says.

In an article for The Telegraph, Mr. Johnson warns that police are finding it “very difficult” to press charges against suspected jihadists* without direct evidence of their “ghastly” activities. [*a jihadist is a Muslim who advocates or participates in a jihad, which is a war fought by Muslims to defend or spread their beliefs]

He suggests there should be a “swift and minor change in the law” to introduce a new “rebuttable presumption”* that those who travel to war zones without notifying the authorities have done so for “terrorist purposes.”  [*a rebuttable presumption is an assumption made by a court, one that is taken to be true unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise. For example, a defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent until proved guilty.]


An image grab taken from a propaganda video uploaded today by jihadist group ISIL allegedly shows ISIL terrorists at an undisclosed location in Iraq’s Nineveh province.

The Mayor also joins calls for jihadists to be stripped of their citizenship, despite opposition from Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who warned over the weekend that such a move would be illegal.

Mr. Johnson calls for control orders, which kept terrorism suspects in their homes, to be brought back amid concerns that hundreds of jihadists could return to Britain and pose a threat to national security if ISIS (the Islamic State) loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Johnson’s intervention came as Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to the U.S., said intelligence agents believe they have identified “Jihadi John,” the Briton responsible for beheading the American journalist James Foley, after employing voice recognition technology.

Ambassador Westmacott also disclosed that 70 militants have been arrested after returning from Syria, a number of them carrying instructions for “very specific missions” to unleash terrorist atrocities on British soil.

Mr. Johnson says Britain needs to help to “close down” the Islamic caliphate* before it is too late, adding that “doing nothing is surely worst of all.”  He says: “If we let [ISIS] get their way, then we will be acquiescing, first, in a gigantic and violent change in international borders. [*caliphate is a Muslim world government ruled according to sharia (Islamic law)].

“Next, we will be allowing a new and hideous regime to be born, a country where black-flag waving jihadis compete to show they have the most bigoted and reactionary understanding of their religion by persecuting women, Jews, Christians, gays, Yazidis ande Shi’ites.

“The place would be a giant training ground for terrorists and wannabe jihadis. We need to try to close it down now, before it gets worse.”

Senior lawyers said that Mr. Johnson’s proposals for “rebuttable presumption” would mark a “profound change” to British law.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced new laws under which terrorist offenses committed in Syria will be prosecuted as if they have taken place on British soil.

The lawyers said Mr. Johnson’s plans would go significantly further by shifting the burden of proof from police and prosecutors on to suspected jihadists.

Mr. Johnson also says that suspected terrorists who do not return to Britain and “continue to give allegiance” to ISIS should be stripped of their citizenship. Similar calls have been made by David Davis, the Tory MP, and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

(The news briefs above are from London’s Daily Telegraph on Aug. 12, 21 and 24.)


ISRAEL - On Hamas' Gaza tunnels and Israel's response:

When Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007, the Islamist group set aside tunnel building and focused its military funds on rockets, according to analysts and former military officials.

Tunnel building was revived a few years later, however, by Israel's development of the Iron Dome air-defense, which largely neutralized the threat of Hamas's rockets, said Eado Hecht, a defense analyst who teaches at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.


Turkey’s government:

From a March 2014 BBC report on Prime Minister Erdogan: