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World roundup: June 15 2021
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Algeria, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 14, 1821: Badi VII surrenders Sudan’s Sennar Sultanate to Egyptian forces under the command of Ismail Pasha. Sudan would remain Egyptian until it gained independence in 1956, though to be fair after 1899 it was really governed more as a separate British colony than as part of Egypt.
June 14, 1830: The French army lands at Sidi Fredj, beginning France’s invasion of Ottoman Algeria. Algiers fell on July 7 and France formally annexed the country, though it would take decades for the French to colonize and pacify most of it. Algeria gained its independence in 1962.
June 15, 1215: King John of England signs the Magna Carta at Runnymede, under pressure from a group of rebellious barons. The document included provisions protecting church prerogatives and establishing protection from illegal imprisonment, a right to a speedy trial, and limitations on taxation (for the barons, not in general, though it’s since been interpreted more broadly). Instead of ending the rebellion the charter inflamed it, as John and a council of barons created to oversee its implementation quickly fell out and John had the document declared null by Pope Innocent III. This led to the First Barons’ War, in which the rebels and their French ally were defeated but young King Henry III (John had died during the war) and his regent, William Marshal, issued a revised Magna Carta as a concession to help end the unrest.
June 15, 1389: The Battle of Kosovo
As of this writing (1:30 AM GMT June 16, 9:30 PM ET June 15), Worldometer’s coronavirus figures show 177,393,233 total cases of COVID-19 worldwide to date, with 3,837,600 reported COVID fatalities. According to the New York Times vaccine tracker, over 2.41 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide, or roughly 31 per every 100 people.
The New Arab is reporting that the Syrian army shelled the Jabal Zawiyah region of Idlib province early Tuesday, killing at least one person, while a car bomb in the city of Azaz killed at least two people. Jabal Zawiyah is located near the strategically important M4 highway and has been a relatively frequent target for government artillery in recent says, despite the fact that Idlib is supposed to be under a ceasefire. Rebel and Turkish forces have participated in the fighting as well, so it hasn’t been a one-sided affair. Azaz, near the Turkish border in Aleppo province, is controlled by Turkey’s rebel proxies and so the Kurdish YPG militia is likely the prime suspect.
Tariq Saleh, the nephew of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who fell out with the Houthis back in 2017 and joined the nominally pro-government coalition, says his forces are positioned on Yemen’s Mayun Island, located in the Red Sea. That seemingly confirms recent reports that the UAE is responsible for the mystery airbase being constructed on the island, since Saleh’s militia is Emirati-backed. There are at least some elements in Yemen’s own government that have called for an investigation into the airbase, which sits on the strategically vital Bab el-Mandeb strait that serves as a chokepoint for maritime traffic between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, while the Emiratis haven’t been interested in talking about it.
In a developing story, AFP is reporting new Israeli airstrikes on Gaza early Wednesday in retaliation for “arson balloons” that were apparently released from inside the enclave into southern Israeli territory. Details are very sparse at this point but the airstrikes targeted at least one Hamas military site. These are the first Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since last month’s sustained conflict ended.
Whether intentional or not, Hamas’s decision to intervene in clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem last month, which sparked that aforementioned conflict, has boosted the group’s popularity among Palestinians. New polling has 53 percent of Palestinians agreeing that Hamas is “most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people.” The Palestinian Authority’s current ruling party, Fatah, only musters 14 percent support for the same question. I’d say this bodes poorly for Fatah’s chances in the next Palestinian election, but Fatah is under no obligation to hold an election as long as its polling is this dismal. And it’s probably an ephemeral bump—support for Hamas usually spikes after any extended conflict with the Israeli military and then subsides within a few months.
According to The Wall Street Journal, ultra-orthodox parties used to sitting in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu are now working with Netanyahu to undermine his successor:
Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, frequently relied on the religious parties for support. He formed just one short-lived coalition without them and, as opposition leader, is teaming up again with ultra-Orthodox parties in an attempt to open cracks in the new government. Mr. Netanyahu convened his first meeting with them on Monday, and said they would meet at least once a week as they push ahead plans to quickly topple the new administration.
Flashpoints already are emerging.
Agreements signed between the new coalition’s members provide for more competition in regulating kosher projects and allow regional and municipal rabbinical authorities to preside over religious conversions, something currently restricted to the state religious Jewish authority controlled by the ultra-Orthodox. The issue directly affects the influence of the community, and ultra-Orthodox groups already are mobilizing support and focusing their ire squarely on [new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett, a 49-year-old former commando and tech entrepreneur who is religious and wears the kippah.
“[Bennett] sold out all of our values,” said Mr. Maklev, who previously was deputy minister of transport. “The new government will be a complete abandonment of religion.”
In an effort perhaps to appeal to the far-right, and to show the Palestinians who’s (still) in charge, Bennett’s government on Tuesday allowed a large group of far-right Israelis to march through eastern Jerusalem. An annual march to commemorate the Israeli seizure of eastern Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War was canceled earlier this month after authorities forced the organizers to change their planned route to something less inflammatory, so Tuesday’s march was a do-over for that event. Palestinians held a “day of rage” counter-protest that was, of course, met with a heavy police response. More than 30 Palestinian demonstrators are believed to have been wounded and several arrested.
Unknown gunmen attacked three polio vaccination teams in different parts of Nangarhar province on Tuesday, killing at least five vaccine workers and wounding four others across all three incidents. The Taliban has denied responsibility but it generally does not approve of vaccine programs and a local faction could have carried out these attacks. Alternatively, the Islamic State also has a presence in Nangarhar and its fighters could have been responsible.
The Karenni National Defense Force, which was formed in opposition to February’s military coup and operates out of Kayah state, has announced it will cease offensive operations against Myanmar security forces but is still opposed to the country’s ruling junta. Several “people’s defense forces” have emerged since the coup to oppose the junta and its security forces. But thus far their attacks have done little to impact Myanmar’s political situation even as they’ve triggered military retaliations that have caused hundreds of casualties.
The Chinese military buzzed Taiwanese airspace on Tuesday with a whopping 28 fighters, perhaps the largest yet in a very extended series of flights through the island’s air defense identification zone. The large posse may have been motivated by the G7 summit over the weekend, whose final statement included a comment about Chinese-Taiwanese affairs that prompted Beijing to accuse the group of “interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
In a somewhat related story, the US Navy is currently sailing a carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan through the South China Sea on a “freedom of navigation” mission. China’s inevitable complaint about this mission will be completely unreasonable, in contrast to US complaints when one of The Bad Guys sends a warship or two into the Atlantic Ocean. Those complaints are completely justified, you see.
The Chinese government already had something to complain about before the Reagan and its group entered the South China Sea. Beijing’s mission to the European Union expressed some outrage on Tuesday over the previous day’s NATO summit communique, which among other things marked China as A Threat. The mission accused NATO of having “slandered” China. Man, I hope nobody tells them about the European Union summit (see below).
Representatives from the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North faction led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu concluded a round of peace talks in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on Tuesday without an agreement. On the plus side, I guess, Reuters is citing a “senior SPLM-N official” who claims they’ve worked out “more than three-quarters” of a peace deal. Hilu’s SPLM-N faction was one of two major Sudanese rebel groups that did not sign on to a collective peace agreement with the country’s interim government last year. Ending Sudan’s various uprisings is one of the key elements in Sudan’s political and economic transition program.
Protests against police brutality have become a nightly event in a couple of neighborhoods in Tunis over the past week and are now spreading to other parts of the city. The apparent spark was the death of a 32 year old man named Ahmed Ben Ammar in police custody on June 8. Allegedly he died from “ingesting marijuana” but gee whiz, it seems like that explanation hasn’t been very satisfying to many people and there’s a pervasive sense that he was beaten to death. Tunisian authorities insist that any acts of police brutality are the work of a few isolated bad apples, but the sheer number of those acts points to something more systemic.
Algeria’s establishment National Liberation Front (FLN) has, surprise surprise, emerged from Saturday’s parliamentary election as the largest party in parliament, with control of 105 seats. That’s actually considerably better than FLN had been expected to do and yet it still represents a loss of around 55 seats. The Islamist Movement of Society for Peace party, which had claimed victory earlier this week, emerged with 64 seats, making it the second largest party in parliament though it finished behind “independents,” who won a total of 78 seats. FLN’s traditional coalition partner, the Democratic National Rally party, won 57 seats, which means that even combined they’re still more than 40 seats shy of a majority. All of this took place amid a gaudy 23 percent turnout, easily the lowest for a parliamentary election in Algerian history.
An al-Shabab suicide bomber attacked a military training center in Mogadishu on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 20.
The Kenyan Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it will reopen its embassy in Mogadishu and restore full diplomatic relations with Somalia “as soon as possible.” The Somali government broke ties with Kenya back in December after the Kenyan government invited the government of the autonomous Somali state of Jubaland to Nairobi. Somali Foreign Minister Abdirizak Mohamed reached out to the Kenyan government over the weekend with an offer to restore those ties.
Joe Biden met with EU leaders in Brussels on Tuesday and, somewhat in contrast with his stops at the G7 over the weekend and NATO on Monday, actually seems to have accomplished something tangible:
President Biden and European Union leaders reached a deal Tuesday to put to rest a 17-year-old trade dispute about subsidies for aircraft manufacturers, officials said, a significant step in calming trade relations after the fury of the Trump years.
A five-year truce, which was announced at a meeting Tuesday in Brussels between Biden and the top leaders of E.U. institutions, was the latest effort in a transatlantic reconciliation tour that the new president started last week at the Group of Seven summit in Britain.
Biden notably did not agree to lift tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on certain European imports, but this agreement will forestall any new trade shenanigans related specifically to the longstanding aerospace issue. The move to create some US-European unity was of course framed as part of the broader program to Counter China, because that’s pretty much how we frame everything the United States does these days. EU leaders graciously agreed to deem China a “systemic rival” to their interests, which is undoubtedly going to draw an angry response from Beijing any minute now.
Biden will, as we all know, be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. The two men are expected to talk past one another on a variety of issues, including Ukraine, the Arctic, arms control, cybersecurity, election interference, and human rights. They’re not expected to agree on anything, but if there is some potential for congeniality it will probably come in the form of some vague statements about working together on climate change and/or stabilizing Afghanistan.
The vote counting is done and Pedro Castillo’s lead over Keiko Fujimori stands at 44,058 votes or roughly 0.25 percent of the vote. Normally I would say this is the point where election officials declare a winner pending whatever recounts or challenges Fujimori might decide to file, but Peruvian officials have notably not declared Castillo the winner as yet. Fujimori has not only not conceded, she’s started suggesting that she should be handed the presidency regardless of the vote count because COMMUNISM or whatever, which is certainly in keeping with her family’s deep appreciation for democracy. Castillo has been more open in the past couple of days about referring to himself as “president-elect” and otherwise affirming his apparent victory, but he still seems to be waiting for an official statement before he really starts celebrating.
At least 23 people were injured on Tuesday in a car bombing on a military base in the northern Colombian city of Cúcuta. As far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility, but North Santander province, where Cúcuta is located, is home to a wide array of armed groups, from National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels to dissident ex-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters to more mundane criminal organizations.
Joe Biden on Tuesday made nine ambassadorial nominations, including former US Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as ambassador to Mexico, former Deputy Secretary of State (and current Morgan Stanley Managing Director) Thomas Nides as ambassador to Israel, and Julianne Smith as ambassador (or “permanent representative”) to NATO. Smith served as Biden’s deputy national security adviser when he was vice president and comes to her new gig by way of the Center for a New American Security and WestExec Advisors, along with a large number of other Biden foreign policy appointees.
Finally, and although it’s probably to no avail, Responsible Statecraft’s Andrey Baklitskiy and Sahil Shah have a pretty good suggestion as to where Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin should focus their attentions tomorrow:
While Presidents Biden and Putin walk down a freshly laid red carpet at Villa La Grange, their militaries will be operating some 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads ready to be launched on short notice and capable of destroying the opposite side many times over. As the United States and Russia still possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, finding pathways to greater transparency, predictability, and stability on the nuclear file will be high on the agenda in the coming days.
Geneva is a symbolic location for the summit. In 1985, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in the same city, kicking off what would be the start of a critical process to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons. Now, a generation later, most of their achievements are gone or hang by a thread. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which removed intermediate-range nuclear forces from the frontlines of the Cold War, no longer exists, as does the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that formed part of the backbone of strategic stability between Moscow and Washington since 1972. Even a mere six months ago, the fate of the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty — the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START — was in doubt.
Luckily, President Biden grasped the gravity of the situation and extended New START at the last minute and invited President Putin to hold a summit. Over the last few weeks, experts and former diplomats and military figures across the Euro-Atlantic space, including Washington and Moscow, have come forward with a range of recommendations. Our conversations with these groups — such as the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group, Deep Cuts Commission, and a variety of others — and relevant current officials on both sides suggest that there is growing awareness of an urgent need for a sustained dialogue on arms control between Moscow and Washington, and the impulse will have to come from Presidents Biden and Putin. The good news is that the summit will not need to produce a solution to all of the problems at hand; this would be unrealistic to expect. But for the few things the presidents should do, there is no time to lose.