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World roundup: March 7 2023
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Mali, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
March 6, 961: The Siege of Chandax ends with a Byzantine victory and their recovery of the island of Crete.
March 7, 1573: The Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War ends with an Ottoman victory and a treaty that leaves the hitherto Venetian island of Cyprus under Ottoman control. Although this 1570-1573 war is best remembered for the 1571 naval Battle of Lepanto, which was a resounding victory for the Holy League, that victory came after the last Venetian city on Cyprus, Famagusta, had already fallen to an Ottoman siege. The treaty recognized the overall Ottoman victory and obliged Venice to pay a war indemnity on top of its loss of Cyprus and some territory in Dalmatia.
March 7, 1799: Napoleon’s army successfully captures the city of Jaffa, whose site is part of modern day Tel Aviv, after a very brief siege. The engagement is perhaps best known for Napoleon’s decision to conduct a mass execution of the defeated Ottoman garrison, killing at least 2000 and by some accounts more than 4000 men. He apparently hoped that his brutality here would encourage other cities along his march into Syria to surrender peacefully, but instead it seems to have prompted the garrison in Napoleon’s next target, Acre, to resist more vigorously.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
United Nations General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi announced on Tuesday that three countries—Gabon, Lebanon, and South Sudan—have paid enough of their back UN dues to have their UNGA voting rights restored. Venezuela is now the only UN member still prevented from casting a vote in that body. The Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia are all deep enough in arrears that their voting rights could be suspended, but the Assembly waived their suspensions back in October due to extenuating circumstances.
The Israeli missile strike that shut down Syria’s Aleppo International Airport early Tuesday also killed at least three people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which identified one as a “Syrian officer.” The Syrian government is also saying it’s had to divert flights carrying humanitarian relief for earthquake victims in northern Syria away from Aleppo to airports at Damascus and Latakia. It’s unclear when the airport might be able to reopen.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is apparently leaving open the possibility of endorsing joint opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu instead of fielding its own candidate in May’s election. HDP is the largest Turkish opposition party that is not in the six party coalition that announced Kılıçdaroğlu as its nominee on Monday. A couple of smaller Turkish left-wing parties have also suggested they could back Kılıçdaroğlu in May, with the goal of winning a first-round victory over incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Their support, and particularly HDP’s support, could be a double-edged sword. HDP has a large base but it’s predominantly Kurdish and left-wing, and its endorsement could have the effect of turning off conservative and/or Turkish nationalist voters. Those blocs are going to break for Erdoğan anyway, but Kılıçdaroğlu’s chances of winning may rest on his ability to appeal to a large enough segment of those voters.
Israeli security forces killed at least six people and wounded 11 more in another West Bank arrest raid on Tuesday, this time in a refugee camp in Jenin. The target, apparently, was the suspect in the murder of two Israeli settlers in Huwara last month, which prompted a mob of settlers to rampage through that town. He was one of the six people who were killed. The Israeli forces apparently used rockets during the raid, exhibiting an inspiring level of concern for potential civilian casualties. Israeli forces have killed at least 68 Palestinians this year.
Speaking of Huwara, another settler mob descended on the town late Monday to…celebrate, I guess? the Purim holiday. At least five Palestinians had to be hospitalized due to the ensuing violence while the perpetrators apparently had a good time dancing with Israeli security personnel. Settlers have killed at least five Palestinians so far this year.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani replaced his prime minister/interior minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Thani, on Tuesday, naming Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani as PM and Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani as interior minister. Mohammed had previously served as foreign minister and as far as I know still holds that post, though a replacement may be announced soon. I don’t think there’s anything to read into this shakeup apart from promoting younger officials who may have closer ties to Tamim than the 55-ish year old Khalid.
Iranian authorities have apparently made a number of arrests in connection with the spate of illnesses that has impacted scores of Iranian schools (primarily girls’ schools) in recent weeks, which seems to indicate that those illness were in fact caused by some sort of poison. More than 5000 students are believed to have been affected. There’s no indication as to motive or even as to the toxin that’s being used.
A new investigation from Haaretz reveals the extent of Israel’s arms relationship with Azerbaijan:
An investigation by Haaretz, based on publicly available aviation data, reveals that over the past seven years, 92 cargo flights flown by Azerbaijani Silk Way Airlines have landed at the Ovda airbase, the only airfield in Israel through which explosives may be flown into and out of the country.
Israel has had a strategic alliance with Azerbaijan for the past two decades, and Israel sells the large Shi’ite-majority country weapons worth billions of dollars – and in return, Azerbaijan, per sources, supplies Israel with oil and access to Iran.
According to foreign media reports, Azerbaijan has allowed the Mossad to set up a forward branch to monitor what is happening in Iran, Azerbaijan’s neighbor to the south, and has even prepared an airfield intended to aid Israel in case it decides to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Reports from two years ago stated that the Mossad agents who stole the Iranian nuclear archive smuggled it to Israel via Azerbaijan. According to official reports from Azerbaijan, over the years Israel has sold it the most advanced weapons systems, including ballistic missiles, air defense and electronic warfare systems, kamikaze drones and more.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament on Tuesday that the Chinese government has agreed to restructure some $2.9 billion in Sri Lankan debt, which should clear the last hurdle for Wickremesinghe’s government to secure an International Monetary Fund bailout. Sri Lankan officials have already met IMF austerity demands but debt restructuring has remained elusive and China was the country’s last major creditor in that regard. The Sri Lankan rupee ticked up in value on Tuesday in anticipation of an IMF deal, which could materialize later this month.
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will apparently not attempt a repeat of his predecessor Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Instead, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is going to visit him in the US. Pelosi’s trip last August drew a harsh economic and military response from Beijing and one assumes the Taiwanese government would prefer to avoid a repeat. McCarthy could of course visit Taiwan sometime after Tsai’s visit, but that would risk blowback from China and also would force Tsai to spend time with Kevin McCarthy twice when I’m certain once would be more than enough.
The commander of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces paramilitary unit and deputy head of the country’s ruling junta, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, criticized his fellow junta leaders in a speech to RSF fighters on Tuesday for refusing to step aside and turn power over to a civilian transitional government per the agreement the junta reached with the civilian opposition back in December. Dagalo, a war criminal (allegedly) whose RSF was (allegedly) responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Darfur conflict, might seem like an odd guy to be championing the virtues of lawful civilian governance, but…well, actually that is kind of odd. I suspect he’s trying to position himself for a full shift into politics if/when the transition is finally over, but maybe that’s just me being cynical.
At Foreign Policy, the Institute of Current World Affairs’ James Courtright argues that violence toward West African Fulani communities is fueling jihadist militancy:
On the morning of Dec. 30, 2022, members of a government-supported militia went house to house killing dozens of civilians in the small town of Nouna in northwest Burkina Faso. According to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International, the militia specifically targeted men from the Fulani ethnic group. Although the government announced 28 people were killed, witnesses say they buried more than 80 corpses after the militia dispersed.
Across central Mali and Burkina Faso, national militaries, their new foreign partners, and local ethnic militias are again committing mass atrocities against Fulani civilians in the name of the fight against jihadis. According to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, more than half of the civilians killed by the military or ethnic militias in Burkina Faso and Mali last year were Fulani—despite the fact that they make up around 10 and 14 percent of each country, respectively.
This rise in killings of Fulani civilians comes amid a renewed government offensive in central Mali, expansion of civilian auxiliaries in Burkina Faso, and the exit of French troops from both countries. The targeting of Fulani communities—based on the canard that they all support jihadi insurgents—is perpetuating the conflict, facilitating jihadi recruitment of Fulani, and risks spreading the violence into vulnerable southern states.
Al-Shabab fighters reportedly recaptured a military base in southern Somalia’s Jubaland region on Tuesday, after losing control of the facility back in January. There’s no indication as to casualties and the Somali military may attempt to retake the base so the fighting might not be over yet.
Elsewhere, some 98,000 people are estimated to have fled recent fighting in the breakaway Somaliland region into southeastern Ethiopia, according to both the UN and Ethiopian NGOs. This is a relatively undeveloped part of Ethiopia and the suddenness of the refugee influx has clearly overwhelmed the capacity to care for them, particularly given the severe drought afflicting the region.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
There have been reports of new fighting between Congolese security forces and M23 militia fighters in North Kivu province even as a new attempt at a ceasefire was set to begin at midday on Tuesday. The clashes began on Monday evening after what AFP describes as “several days of relative calm.” There have been casualties but no specific casualty figures appear to be available. Militia fighters reportedly seized a village called Karuba that is just 30 kilometers west of the provincial capital, Goma.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed on Tuesday that a Russian early warning and control aircraft was indeed damaged by saboteurs at Belarus’s Machulishchy Airbase last month. According to Lukashenko the plane was not seriously damaged and 21 people have since been arrested in connection with the incident. Belarusian authorities are alleging that their main suspect is tied to Ukrainian security services, a claim the Ukrainian government has denied.
According to The New York Times, “new intelligence” reviewed by US analysts suggests that the bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines back in September was carried out by an unspecified “pro-Ukrainian group.” That’s remarkably non-specific and it seems whatever this “intelligence” is it doesn’t offer any further details about these alleged perpetrators—or, at least, no details that the US intelligence community is prepared to launder through the NYT. Apparently there’s no evidence that the perpetrators acted at the behest of the Ukrainian government (an allegation Ukrainian officials were at pains to deny on Tuesday), though it’s possible they were operating at the behest of and/or with the cooperation of elements within the government and/or Ukrainian security services. Or, you know, maybe “pro-Ukrainian group” means the US Second Fleet. Your guess is as good as mine.
I don’t know what to make of this story or indeed of the bombing in general. Seymour Hersh laid out an equally anonymously sourced account of the United States carrying out the bombing last month, and undoubtedly this Times story is the US intelligence community’s attempted answer to the fuss that’s raised. At this point I think the only thing you can know for certain is that the US hasn’t found any evidence that remotely implicates Russia or else that would be the A1 headline in every major US newspaper and BREAKING NEWS on every cable news network. But this “pro-Ukrainian group” story has so many holes it can’t help but raise more questions than it answers. Are we really supposed to believe that this “group,” with no ties to a government or military, was able to acquire hundreds of pounds of explosives and place them around the pipelines without being detected? Doesn’t it seem much more likely that they would have had some institutional support along the way? Even if we allow that it wouldn’t exactly have been Mission Impossible to blow up the pipelines, I don’t think you could just grab ten guys from the local Ukrainian-American Club and expect them to be able to pull this operation off without help.
Elsewhere, the NYT also reports on the thinking behind Ukraine’s decision not to withdraw from the embattled city of Bakhmut. It may be that the idea is not to wear the Russian military down in general but specifically to exhaust the Wagner Group’s manpower to prevent its fighters (many “recruited” from Russian prisons) from being used in any more human wave-style offensives in other parts of Ukraine. I’m not sure the logic here makes sense, particularly given that Russia still has a lot of prisoners it could throw into the conflict, but it could be a plausible explanation for Kyiv’s decision to stick with what seems like a doomed defense.
Finally, writing for Forbes, the Quincy Institute’s William Hartung celebrates America’s status as the world’s leading arms dealer:
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) came out with its annual analysis of the global arms trade this week and as usual, the United States was the number one weapons exporter by a large margin. For the five years from 2017 to 2021, the U.S. accounted for 39 percent of major arms deliveries worldwide, over twice what Russia transferred and nearly 10 times what China sent to its weapons clients. In addition, the U.S. had far more customers – 103 nations, or more than half of the member states of the United Nations.
The rapid arming of Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion has put weapons transfers squarely in the public eye, but few Americans know how extensive the U.S. trade is, or that their government is intimately involved in it, either through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deals brokered by the Pentagon or Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) licensed by the State Department. In essence, the U.S. government is the world’s largest arms dealer, with all the responsibility that that entails. The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) underscored this point in its January 2018 report, “With Great Power: Modifying U.S. Arms Sales to Reduce Civilian Harm,” which provided a series of practical recommendations on how to avoid situations in which U.S. arms “fall into the wrong hands or become associated with corruption, human rights abuses, violations of the laws of war, and human suffering.” Unfortunately, current U.S. policy continues to fall short by all of these measures.
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