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World roundup: February 4-5 2023
Stories from Iran, China, Cyprus, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
February 3, 1509: The Battle of Diu
February 3, 1966: The unmanned Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 becomes the first man-made object to make a soft, recoverable landing on the moon. The craft then sent back a series of photographs of the lunar surface before losing contact on February 6.
February 4, 1789: George Washington is elected the first President of the United States. John Adams finished second with 34 votes and thereby became vice president. New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island didn’t participate—the latter two because they still hadn’t ratified the Constitution, and New York because its legislature failed to choose its slate of electors in time.
February 4, 1861: Representatives of seven US states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina—meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to draw up a preliminary constitution for a new secessionist nation. Texas would soon join once the results of its February 1 referendum were tabulated. The “Montgomery Convention,” as the meeting is sometimes known, formed the basis of the future Confederate States of America.
February 5, 1810: A French army begins the two and a half year Siege of Cádiz, which had by this point in the Peninsular War become the capital of the rump government resisting Napoleon’s occupation of Spain. The defenders managed to hold out, even taking time to write a new Spanish Constitution (which was later discarded), until the Duke of Wellington led a British-Portuguese-Spanish army to victory at the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812. Suddenly facing the possibility that his besieging army could be cut off and surrounded, French general Jean-de-Dieu Soult lifted the siege and retreated. The Peninsular War continued until Wellington and the armies of the Sixth Coalition defeated and ousted Napoleon in 1814.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Turkish authorities say they’ve arrested 15 people related to recent warnings from various Western governments about potential Islamic State attacks in Istanbul, but can’t find any evidence of “concrete threats.” Supposedly IS operatives have been planning attacks against Western consulates, churches, and synagogues in Turkey’s largest city, prompting consulate closures and a slew of travel warnings. The Turkish government has been angered by the warnings, fearing (reasonably) that they could impact tourism.
Israeli occupation forces conducted another arrest raid on Saturday, this time targeting a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jericho. Surprisingly they don’t appear to have killed anyone in this case, but at least 13 people were wounded by, among other things, an Israeli anti-tank missile. The refugees didn’t have any tanks as far as I’m aware so the rationale for using that weapon in the course of the raid—or even for bringing it along—is unclear. In Gaza, meanwhile, the Israeli army reportedly shot down a “small aircraft” on Saturday. Israeli officials didn’t go into any detail so it’s unclear what this thing was or whence it came, though they did stress that it wasn’t a projectile weapon.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet’s effort to strip the Israeli Supreme Court of much of its authority. These protests have taken place every Saturday for the past five weeks and there’s no evidence to suggest they’ve affected Netanyahu’s decision-making in any way.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has reportedly agreed to a “conditional amnesty” for people arrested amid the protests that began following the death of Mahsa Amini back in September. The conditions involved make it unclear how many of the 20,000 or so people (according to human rights organizations) who have been so arrested would actually qualify for amnesty. Anyone found to have cooperated with foreign agents and/or “groups hostile to the Islamic Republic” need not apply, nor will the offer be eligible to anyone accused of arson or to those already sentenced to execution. A couple of those conditions are vague enough that the Iranian judiciary, which is not all that hung up on details like “facts” and “evidence,” could probably apply them to anyone. The amnesty could be good PR for Khamenei with Iranians who don’t necessarily support the protesters but also don’t necessarily agree with the government’s crackdown.
Pakistani police reported on Saturday that their forces had killed two Pakistani Taliban (TTP) “commanders” in an operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They also arrested four TTP fighters and seized a quantity of weapons. The two “commanders” were apparently wanted in connection with several killings of police officers and attacks on security outposts.
Myanmar’s ruling junta imposed martial law on Friday in 37 townships deemed to be “strongholds” of resistance. Among other things this means anyone arrested in these areas for any of a number of criminal offenses will be tried before a military tribunal with no possibility for appeal except in death penalty cases. Authorities had already imposed martial law in 11 townships in Yangon and Mandalay but these new additions appear to be less urban and are believed to be areas where Myanmar’s security forces have encountered “People’s Defense Forces” militias.
In what will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest operations in all of military history, US Air Force F-22 aircraft courageously shot down, with a missile and everything, the CHICOM BALLOON OF DEATH on Saturday after it had meandered out over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina. The US Navy is attempting to salvage whatever remains of the CHICOM BALLOON OF DEATH, probably in hopes that our engineers may determine by what sorcery the Chinese Communist Party was able to make this device float in the sky. They’ll probably also try to figure out what targets the CBOD surveilled and whether any of them warranted the three day national conniption fit the balloon triggered.
Any national sigh of relief over the CBOD’s destruction must immediately be tempered by news of a SECOND CHICOM BALLOON OF DEATH that is reportedly flying over “Latin America”—Colombia, specifically. It’s unclear what the Chinese government might be looking for there—a good Arepas recipe, maybe—but whatever is happening for some reason I don’t see the entire nation of Colombia spazzing out the way the US did. Shows what they know.
The Chinese government, for its part, has maintained its admittedly kind of stale “weather balloon” story and criticized the US for downing the device. Now that they know they can get the US to send out very expensive fighter aircraft to use expensive missiles to shoot down a hot air balloon, maybe they’ll start sending balloons into US airspace more frequently moving forward. I hope so; this has been fun.
At least 18 people were killed in two apparent jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso on Saturday. The larger of the two incidents involved an attack on a town in northern Burkina Faso’s Sahel region in which at least 12 people were killed (UPDATE: Burkinabé authorities have updated the death toll in this attack to 25). In the second incident, six solders were killed when their patrol struck a bomb in the Est region.
At least nine people were killed in an apparent jihadist attack on a refugee camp in western Niger’s Tahoua region on Wednesday. Nigerien officials announced details of the incident on Saturday. The facility houses people displaced from neighboring Mali by jihadist violence. At least one person was wounded and six more are still missing in the wake of the attack.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Someone fired on a helicopter used by the United Nations DRC peacekeeping force over the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province on Sunday, killing one peacekeeper. There’s no indication as to either responsibility or the weapon used to attack the vehicle. Certainly there’s no shortage of armed militant groups in that province, but it’s unclear how many of them have armaments that could target a helicopter.
UPDATE: Congolese authorities are blaming the M23 militia for this incident.
Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin indicated on Sunday that his mercenary fighters were engaged in street fighting against Ukrainian defenders on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut, the city in Donetsk oblast that’s been the focal point of Russian/Wagner attention for several weeks. If accurate this would suggest it’s the beginning of the end of Bakhmut’s defense, though I suppose only time will tell. In his Saturday video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t go into detail about the situation in Bakhmut but did say that conditions there, as well as in a number of other places in Donetsk, are “very difficult.”
Russian shelling knocked out electricity to the Black Sea port city of Odessa on Saturday. Authorities had restored critical systems later in the day but some 500,000 people are estimated to have lost power and it could be some time before it’s fully back on—and that assumes no further Russian attacks.
The Russian and Ukrainian governments concluded another prisoner swap on Saturday, with 63 Russian and 116 Ukrainian POWs reportedly being freed. The Russian Defense Ministry mentioned the release of prisoners in a “sensitive category,” which could mean accused spies but that’s not certain. The UAE apparently brokered the exchange.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov may be on his way out, according to a Ukrainian lawmaker named David Arakhamia. He’d be transferred to a lesser ministry rather than sacked outright. The reshuffle may be prompted in part by the advances Russian forces have made in Donetsk lately, but Reznikov may also be a casualty of the food procurement scandal that’s roiled Kyiv over the past couple of weeks. The Ukrainian military has reportedly been paying well above market rate for food supplies, which likely means somebody is siphoning the excess cash into their own pockets. Zelensky has fired a number of officials over the scandal, and while to my knowledge Reznikov himself hasn’t been implicated he was still defense minister when it happened.
Cypriot voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect themselves a new president on Sunday, with incumbent Nicos Anastasiades prevented by law from running for reelection. As expected, former Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides won the first round but finished with 32 percent of the vote, well shy of the 50 percent line required for an outright victory. He’ll face former UN ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, who slightly exceeded pre-election polling by taking 29.6 percent of the vote, in the February 12 runoff. Every head to head poll featuring these two candidates has had Christodoulides winning, usually by a fairly hefty margin.
The Peruvian government on Sunday widened its current state of emergency in the southern part of the country to encompass seven provinces—Apurimac, Arequipa, Cusco, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, Puno, and Tacna. All of them will be under a state of emergency for at least the next 60 days. Interestingly, authorities did not extend their current state of emergency for Lima, which is set to expire on February 13. I say “interesting” because protests are continuing to rock the Peruvian capital. Demonstrators came out en masse again on Saturday after Congress rejected yet another plan to advance Peru’s next general election to sometime later this year.
Finally, Forever Wars’ Spencer Ackerman outlines what an absolute blessing the Biden administration has been for the arms industry:
IT'S A GREAT TIME TO BE ALIVE if you're in the business of manufacturing and selling things that kill people at scale. The latest State Department statistics on the state of the domestic arms industry—and the U.S. is the world leader, as you'd expect from a reigning-if-embattled global hegemon—are eye-popping. So much so that a leading arms-industry analyst wonders if they represent "a new normal," beyond the war in Ukraine.
According to the latest roughly-annual tally of U.S. arms sales, released by the State Department last week, the U.S. defense industry registered $205.6 billion in arms sales during fiscal year 2022. That number encompasses both the $51.9 billion in hardware the U.S. government sells directly to foreign governments (known as Foreign Military Sales) and the far larger $153.7 billion those governments buy from export-designated U.S. arms manufacturers (Direct Commercial Sales).
Using prior State releases and a Congressional Research Service report for recent-historical comparison, that's something of a peak. Total-value Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales were $138.2 billion in fiscal 2021; $175.08 billion in fiscal 2020; $170.09 billion in fiscal 2019; $192.26 in fiscal 2018; $170.03 in fiscal 2017; and $151.5 billion fiscal 2016. Although once inflation is factored in—though I caution that I've done about all the math in this edition that I'm capable of—$205.6 billion may merely rival the high points of the extravagant Trump years rather exceeding them.
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