World roundup: June 5-6 2021
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, and more
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 4, 1615: The army of the Tokugawa Shogunate captures Osaka, ending a siege that had begun the previous month. This was the second Tokugawa siege of Osaka in less than a year—the initial incident, which lasted from November 1614 to January 1615, had ended with a peace agreement that quickly collapsed. With its capture of Osaka, the Tokugawa clan was able to force the disbanding of the Toyotomi clan, the last serious obstacle to full Tokugawa control over Japan.
June 5, 1963: In what’s become known as the 15 Khordad Movement, protests and riots break out in cities across Iran after the arrest of a previously little-known Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over his criticisms of the Iranian government.
June 5, 1967: The Six Day War begins.
June 6, 1982: The Israeli military invades Lebanon, beginning a new phase in the Lebanese Civil War that’s also known as the Lebanon War.
June 6, 1944: The Allied invasion of France begins with the “D-Day” amphibious landings in Normandy, the largest amphibious military operation in history. Despite heavy losses, the Allies were able to establish five beachheads and by mid-June (though it took longer than planned) they secured a small but crucial foothold in northern France. From there they began the final phase of World War II on its Western Front.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for June 6, 2021:
174,040,148 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+326,239 since yesterday)
3,743,764 reported fatalities (+7666 since yesterday)
According to the New York Times vaccine tracker, over 2.09 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide, or roughly 27 per every 100 people
In this weekend’s global news:
Finance ministers from the G7 nations agreed at a meeting in London on Saturday to impose a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15 percent. The measure should make it harder for large multinational companies, particularly tech firms, to seek out corporate havens and use them to dodge their ta—aaaaaaand there’s already a loophole. Apparently the tax is only supposed to apply to “profit exceeding a 10% margin,” meaning that Amazon, certainly one of the largest companies in the world but one that claimed only a 6.3 percent profit in 2020, could be unaffected. Sounds kind of absurd to me but what do I know?
At least 17 people were killed on Saturday in an apparent Houthi ballistic missile strike on the Yemeni city of Maʾrib. The projectile hit a gas station in one of the city’s neighborhoods. Maʾrib has been the target of a months-long Houthi offensive that the US government has blamed for undermining its misguided efforts toward diplomacy, and as it happens the strike took place as Omani negotiators were in Sanaa urging the Houthis to agree to a ceasefire. There’s no indication that Houthi leaders are interested in what the Omani delegation has to say, but the fact that they received the delegation in the first place could be a small sign of progress.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen says its forces shot down a Houthi drone heading toward Khamis Mushait on Sunday. The Houthis claim the drone successfully carried out its attack, presumably on the nearby King Khalid airbase, but there’s no word on that from the Saudis and as usual there’s no independent confirmation either way.
Soldiers from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga forces reportedly battled fighters from the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) on Saturday in Iraq’s Duhok province. At least five Peshmerga personnel were killed in the clash. There’s no work on any PKK casualties. The PKK operates bases in northern Iraq and while it’s usually busy fighting the Turkish military it does have occasional run-ins with the KRG, which does not condone the group’s presence in Iraq.
In somewhat related news, a Turkish drone strike on a displaced persons camp in Iraq’s Erbil province on Saturday left at least three people dead. The camp is located in the Makhmur district, which is home to several displaced persons facilities that, according to the Turkish government, function more or less as PKK recruitment centers. Turkey’s anti-PKK operations in Iraq rarely stray this far south, partly (one assumes) to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi government. As far as I know Baghdad hasn’t responded to this strike, but it does occasionally complain about Turkey’s military activities on Iraqi soil (though there’s nothing the Iraqis can do about it).
Elsewhere, the US military’s C-RAM defense systems reportedly shot down a rocket near Baghdad’s airport and two drones over Iraq’s Ayn al-Asad airbase on Sunday. Both of those facilities house foreign military personnel and are frequent targets for rocket and drone attacks from Iraqi militias and Islamic State fighters.
Jordanian police clashed overnight with supporters of lawmaker Osama al-Ajarma, who was recently barred from serving in parliament for one year after allegedly “insulting the body in a speech,” according to Reuters. At least four police officers were wounded in the fighting.
The head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, Nadav Argaman, warned publicly on Saturday of a heightened potential for political violence, as outgoing (probably) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his most ardent supporters have taken to using inflammatory rhetoric to target members of the “Change” coalition seeking to oust him. They’re particularly targeting the man who looks like he’ll be succeeding Netanyahu as PM, Naftali Bennett, so much so that Shin Bet has decided to give Bennett a security detail before he takes office. Netanyahu has rejected the insinuation that he’s trying to foment violence, even as he continues to demonize a potential cabinet led by Bennett, a leading figure on the Israeli far right, as “dangerously left-wing.”
Netanyahu is also now making allegations about some kind of unspecified electoral “fraud,” which is very Donald Trump of him, but as far as I can tell he’s just venting about Bennett having waffled between Netanyahu and the “Change” group. That’s not really “fraud.” It’s devious, maybe, but not fraudulent in any legal sense.
Israeli authorities on Sunday arrested two of the most prominent Palestinian activists in the ongoing dispute over home ownership in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Muna el-Kurd and her twin brother Muhammad el-Kurd. Both were later released amid heavy protests. Those arrests came a day after Israeli police arrested Al Jazeera reporter Givara Budeiri, who needed treatment for a broken hand and bruises after her encounter with the cops. She was released a few hours later. It’s been a real banner week for Israeli police, is what I’m saying. And all on the weekend anniversary of the Naksa, the Israeli seizure of the Occupied Territories during the 1967 Six Day War, to boot. Excellent timing.
It’s been another busy weekend in Afghanistan. Late Friday, Taliban fighters attacked a police station in Baghlan province, killing at least six police officers, while an apparent friendly fire incident saw 13 members of a pro-government militia, including one of their commanders, killed by an Afghan airstrike in Badakhshan province. On Saturday, Taliban fighters captured a district of Nuristan province, east of Kabul, while at least 11 people were killed by a roadside bomb in Badghis province. As of Sunday evening the Taliban were “on the verge,” according to Deutsche Welle, of capturing a district in Faryab province after a heavy assault that began with a car bombing and has left at least ten and perhaps as many as 30 Afghan security forces dead.
At least three and perhaps 20 or more people were killed on Saturday when Myanmar security forces attacked villagers in the country’s Ayeyarwady region. The security forces apparently entered a village in that region to search for weapons and possibly to make an arrest, and that sparked a confrontation.
Inter-communal violence between the Fellata (Fulani) and Taisha (Arab) peoples in Sudan’s South Darfur state on Saturday left some 36 people dead and 32 wounded. Details are sparse but authorities seem to be blaming the fighting on a “land dispute.”
At least two people were killed by an apparent suicide bomber at a checkpoint in the southern Libyan city of Sebha on Sunday. Whatever remains of Libya’s Islamic State branch is mostly clustered in the southern, less populous and therefore less secured part of the country, so chances are fairly good this was an IS operation.
At least 11 people were killed on Thursday by unidentified attackers in northeastern Mali’s Ménaka region. The victims were all apparently Tuareg. Northeastern Mali is, like much of the Sahel, plagued by jihadist groups, though the attackers reportedly made off with the victims’ livestock so this could in theory have been an act of banditry.
The official death toll now stands at 132 following attacks late Friday on two villages in western Burkina Faso’s Yagha province. Casualty figures from this massacre are increasing rapidly (I’ve already seen the figure of 174 being thrown around though I can’t find any news outlet going with it yet) and I would expect it to continue to rise as authorities assess the aftermath. No group has claimed the attacks, but with Yagha sitting along the Nigerien border and given the high number of civilians killed, there are some reasons to think IS was behind them.
In yet another massacre, at least 88 people were reportedly killed on Thursday when unknown attackers swept through seven villages in Nigeria’s Kebbi state. There are still many people missing following these attacks and so the death toll is likely to keep rising in this case as well. Authorities seem to be attributing the attacks to the same non-specific “bandits” deemed responsible for most of the violent incidents in the increasingly violent northwestern part of the country.
At least 11 people were killed late Saturday when another group of unidentified gunmen attacked a town in southwestern Nigeria’s Oyo state. Without some handle on who carried out the attack it’s impossible to know what the motive was, but there are a couple of possibilities. Oyo state has recently seen clashes between the Yoruba and Hausa communities—the latter hail from northern Nigeria but groups will travel south for commercial reasons. It’s also possible that this attack is another instance of the herder-farmer violence that often strikes communities across the middle band of Nigeria as those communities compete for the same arable land. The farmer-herder conflict zone has narrowed and moved south in recent years due to climate change.
In northeastern Nigeria, meanwhile, the Islamic State West Africa Province group has released an audio recording, apparently by leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi, in which it claims responsibility for the death of former (?) Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. ISWAP fighters reportedly killed Shekau (technically he killed himself to escape capture) in a battle in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest last month. His death is unconfirmed, this ISWAP recording notwithstanding, and may remain so indefinitely. The only real confirmation, short of the discovery of Shekau’s body, would be a statement from his Boko Haram faction, but at this point it’s unclear how much of that faction still exists, if anything.
At least two people were killed and 23 wounded on Sunday by a suicide bomber who was apparently trying to attack a military convoy in Mogadishu. The bomber struck near a bus terminal, which helps explain the fairly high casualty figure and the fact that many of them were civilian. Al-Shabab was presumably responsible though as far as I know it has yet to claim the attack.
Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party won a somewhat surprising victory on Sunday in a state election in Saxony-Anhalt, taking 36 percent of the vote to the far-right Alternative for Germany’s 22.5 percent. AFD had been expected to win the vote, but in the end the CDU actually improved on its performance in the state’s 2016 election. State elections are not really our thing around here, but given that this was the last one before Germany’s federal election in September, and as the result suggests a potential shift in fortunes for the CDU and its new leader/chancellor candidate, Armin Laschet, this one seemed relevant.
Peruvian voters headed to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president from the runoff pairing of leftist Pedro Castillo and right-winger Keiko Fujimori. I don’t expect we’ll have anything substantive to say about the outcome until at least tomorrow—early exit polling has Fujimori at 50.3 percent and Castillo at 49.7 percent, very much in the “too close to call” range. But we can note a handful of last minute polls, none of which had any good news for Castillo. Two polls released Friday showed the race a statistical tie, with one by Ipsos putting Castillo nine-tenths of a point ahead and the other by CPI giving Fujimori a lead of 0.2. Another Ipsos poll released Saturday had Fujimori ahead by 0.7 while a survey from IEP had her up by one tenth of a point.
Nicaraguan authorities have arrested another prominent opposition politician, Arturo Cruz, who can perhaps commiserate with the already-arrested Cristiana Chamorro in detention. Like Chamorro, Cruz was/is a potential candidate ahead of November’s presidential election. He’s also an ex-Contra who had a fling with Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, amid the Iran-Contra Affair and later served as Nicaragua’s ambassador to the US. He was arrested under Nicaragua’s treason law, which was updated in December to give the authorities, in particular President Daniel Ortega, fairly wide latitude to declare someone—say, a prominent opposition figure—a traitor.
There was also an election in Mexico on Sunday, and while the presidency isn’t on the ballot the course of the final half of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s term will probably be determined by its outcome. All 500 seats in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies are up for grabs along with 15 governorships and countless local offices. Some 89 people were killed in election-related violence over the course of the campaign, including 35 candidates mostly for local office. Polling shows López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement winning by everything the legislative election from a narrow margin to a blowout. The size of its victory, as much as the victory itself, will determine how much López Obrador is able to do over his final three years.
Finally, at The New Republic, UCLA’s Aslı Bâli and Cornell’s Aziz Rana are feeling considerably better about Joe Biden’s domestic policy thus far than they are about his foreign policy:
As Israel prepared to remove Palestinian families to make way for settlers in East Jerusalem, and launched airstrikes on Gaza that demolished homes and killed hundreds of Palestinians, including scores of children, Democrats in Washington experienced what one pollster called a “tectonic” shift. Newly elected representatives such as Cori Bush and Marie Newman were calling attention to American complicity in Israeli practices. Even more traditionally pro-Israel senators, such as Bob Menendez and Chris Coons, offered unusual criticism, with Menendez describing being “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions.” For a generation, Democrats had stood, almost unanimously and unconditionally, behind Israel; now, suddenly, even some of the most reliable supporters were wavering.
President Joe Biden, for his part, gestured to this context by stating that “Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.” But at every turn, he has remained true to his long-standing and nearly unquestioned support for Israel: He defended Israeli military actions, saying the airstrikes were not a “significant overreaction”; declined to call publicly for an immediate cease-fire; and pledged to replenish Israel’s air defense system. (In response, over 500 Biden campaign alumni published a letter calling for him to do more to protect Palestinians and hold Israel accountable.)
This is a sign of a broader trend: Even as Biden has tacked left on domestic issues, his foreign policy approach is largely trapped within an outdated consensus. Despite the global crises and endless conflicts that have engulfed American politics over the last two decades, Biden is recycling past judgments about alliances, security needs, and overall dominance, not only on Israel but also on China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and the list goes on. When Biden declares that “America is back” and “ready to lead the world,” he is signaling a shift in tone, not substance. The United States’ preexisting, Manichean vision of the globe—with its “unshakable” allies and “rogue” states—remains entrenched. The problem is that this vision exacerbates the very crises that Biden now imagines can be resolved by simply going back to the well.
I empathize with this critique. But on the bright side, Biden isn’t tacking left on domestic issues anymore either, so at least everything seems to be back in Democratic Party balance. I hope that helps.