World roundup: November 5-6 2022
Stories from Iran, China, Sudan, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 4, 1979: The Iran Hostage Crisis begins
November 4, 1995: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by a right-wing Israeli radical named Yigal Amir. Rabin’s murder is often seen as the reason for the failure of the Oslo peace process, which he’d begun a couple of years earlier with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Oslo’s internal flaws probably doomed it to failure anyway, but Rabin’s killing did hasten the shift of Israeli politics to the right and led indirectly to Benjamin Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister.
November 5, 1556: At the Second Battle of Panipat, the army of the would-be Hindu ruler of northern India, Hemu (or Hemchandra Vikramaditya), is defeated by the Mughal Empire under the young Emperor Akbar and his regent, Bayram Khan. A wounded Hemu was brought before Akbar to be executed, but it’s said the 13 year old emperor refused, so instead he touched Hemu with his sword while Bayram Khan actually did the killing. The Mughal victory ended a string of successes by Hemu, a Hindu notable who became the de facto ruler of the remnants of the Suri empire before claiming a regal title in his own right after defeating the Mughals and occupying Delhi earlier in the year. His death collapsed his kingdom and left the Mughals as the unchecked power in northern India.
November 5, 1605: Guy Fawkes is arrested by English authorities for his role in the “Gunpowder Plot,” a scheme by a group of Catholics to blow up the House of Lords with King James I in it and install James’ young daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic monarch. Fawkes became the symbol of the plot, and his arrest is celebrated annually as “Guy Fawkes Day” or “Guy Fawkes Night.” Fawkes’ image went from reviled would-be assassin in the years following the foiled plot to something more sympathetic by the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Since the publication of V for Vendetta, whose protagonist wears a Guy Fawkes mask, his image has morphed further into a symbol of resistance to the establishment, whatever one defines that to be.
November 6, 1865: The CSS Shenandoah surrenders in Liverpool, almost six months after Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s surrender at Bennett Place, North Carolina, had ended the US Civil War. The Shenandoah circumnavigated the globe, having set out from England in October 1864 with a mission to disrupt Union commerce. It sailed through the Indian Ocean to Australia, then spent some time attacking US whaling vessels in the North Pacific before planning an attack on San Francisco and then aborting it when its captain, James Waddell, learned of the war’s end. He opted to return to Liverpool and surrender there due to concerns that his crew would be treated as pirates by the US government.
November 6, 1975: The Green March begins
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Delegates to the United Nations’ COP27 climate summit in Egypt opened the festivities on Sunday with an agreement to discuss the notion of compensating countries in the developing world for the damage they’ve suffered because of the developed world’s use of fossil fuels. This is the first time that particular issue will be on the agenda at one of these summits, and though the US and other wealthy countries will do whatever they can to quash the idea of compensation, just making it part of the conversation is something of a key milestone.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least ten people were killed and 77 wounded when the Syrian military shelled parts of rebel-held Idlib province on Sunday in retaliation for earlier attacks by the Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militia. At least five Syrian soldiers were killed in that HTS shelling, which took place the previous day. Sunday’s shelling hit displaced persons camps west of Idlib city, and the SOHR characterized at least eight of the ten people killed as civilians.
Israeli occupation forces killed killed one Palestinian and seriously wounded another near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday. They were apparently throwing rocks at Israeli cars and had damaged several of them. I’m not sure how many damaged Israeli cars are worth a Palestinian life but I imagine the Israeli Defense Forces have some sort of conversion metric.
The Washington Post offers a bit of confirmation for something that’s been clear for a couple of weeks now, which is that for all its supposed anger at the decision by OPEC+ to cut global oil production last month, and all its talk about reassessing the US-Saudi relationship as a result, the Biden administration’s plan is to do nothing and hope this spat blows over. With that in mind, the administration is trying to spin a couple of recent Saudi moves as evidence that the kingdom is trying to make nice with Washington. The Saudis have, for example, voted to condemn Russia’s supposed annexation of parts of Ukraine in the United Nations General Assembly, and last month Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged $400 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Not to be ungrateful, but the former is a meaningless gesture and the latter is about one day’s profit for Aramco. So they’re not exactly bending over backwards.
According to Iranian state media, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps test launched a new space rocket on Saturday, a solid-fueled model it’s calling the “Ghaem-100 satellite carrier.” The IRGC says it’s hoping to use the vehicle to put its Nahid communications satellite into orbit. Iranian space launches are always monitored by the US because of potential overlap between space rocket and missile technology. That overlap can be overstated, but it’s still fairly significant especially when the space vehicle in question uses solid fuel.
Elsewhere, Iran’s ongoing protests continued through another weekend, with particularly heavy demonstrations still being reported in the Kurdistan region and on college campuses. Security forces reportedly fired on demonstrators in the town of Marivan in the Kurdistan region on Sunday, wounding at least 35 of them. The NGO Iran Human Rights now says that at least 186 people have been killed in protests sparked by the mid-September death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Additionally, at least 118 people have been killed over that time in Sistan and Baluchistan province, which is roiled by unrest whose roots are somewhat distinct from the Amini protest movement.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told reporters on Sunday that he aims to resume his “march on Islamabad” on Tuesday, which I assume means he’s recovering well after being shot by would-be assassins on Thursday. Indeed, Khan was released from hospital later on Sunday so he must be doing OK. He’s planning to pick back up in Wazirabad, the site of the attack. Khan is continuing to accuse the Pakistani government and military of orchestrating Thursday’s shooting, charges that Pakistani officials have denied. The post-attack climate raises a serious dilemma for Pakistani authorities who may have been planning to interdict Khan’s march before it enters Islamabad. If they use force to try to stop the march now it will reinforce suspicions that they were involved in the shooting.
At least one person was killed and ten wounded on Sunday in a bombing targeting a passenger bus in the southern Philippines’ Sultan Kudarat province. Authorities seem to think this attack is connected to an ongoing extortion campaign involving the Yellow Bus Line company, which was operating the targeted bus. They believe the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group has been attacking the company’s vehicles to force it to make protection payments. Speaking of BIFF, the group’s fighters attacked soldiers in Maguindanao province late Friday, killing one and wounding two more.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing this week, a trip for which he took significant criticism both domestically and from Germany’s Western pals. The Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven argues that the trip highlighted the limitations of China’s relationship with Russia—and showed how the West can maintain those limitations:
The explanation for China’s failure to help Russia lies partly in an ongoing Chinese tendency to strategic caution, which (outside the South and East China Seas) remains far greater than most Western commentary acknowledges. Chinese restraint is also however due to fear in Beijing that military and economic aid to Russia would lead the European Union to join the United States in imposing very damaging economic sanctions on China.
Clearly however this cuts both ways: If China is refraining from helping Russia’s war in Ukraine because it wishes to keep good economic relations with Europe, then if Germany and Europe radically reduce economic ties to China under U.S. pressure, Chinese aid to Russia is likely to increase proportionately.
The North Korean military marked the end, finally, of the US-South Korean “Vigilant Storm” military exercise on Saturday by launching four short-range ballistic missiles off of the country’s western coast. Given how active they were earlier in the week that’s positively sedate. The final round of exercises apparently included at least one US B-1B strategic bomber, a show of force that the US has made on the Korean Peninsula in the past but not for several years until Saturday. The B-1B was originally designed to deliver nuclear payloads but it’s since been converted to conventional use only. That conversion has been regularly verified by Russian inspectors under the terms of the 2011 New START accord.
Sudanese junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan told a group of soldiers on a base outside of Khartoum on Sunday that he is, as previously reported, negotiating with civilian opposition groups about establishing a new constitution that includes the formation of a civilian transitional government. He stressed, however, that he’s got no plans to talk with two groups closely linked to former Sudanese president/dictator Omar al-Bashir: the defunct (and proscribed) National Congress Party and Sudan’s Islamist community. There’s been speculation that the junta was facilitating the rehabilitation of former NCP members as a counterweight to those civilian opposition groups, speculation that Burhan rejected in his remarks. Islamists and NCP remnants are likely to make their voices heard during any Sudanese transition whether the junta enables it or not.
Members of a local herding community attacked a village market in Nigeria’s Benue state late Thursday, killing at least 18 people in the latest outbreak of farmer-herder violence to strike in that country. The two communities find themselves in existential and therefore frequently violent competition over scarce resources like arable land and water. Their rivalry can take on religious elements as well, since the herders are predominantly Muslim Fulani peoples and the farmers are typically Christian.
A suicide bomber killed at least five people and wounded 11 others in an attack on a military training facility in Mogadishu on Saturday. Unsurprising, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. Elsewhere, US Africa Command confirmed on Saturday that it had undertaken a “collective self defense” airstrike targeting al-Shabab fighters in Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region on Thursday. There had been indications that some sort of US airstrike had taken place in accounts of recent fighting in that region between al-Shabab and the Somali military with allied militias.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
At least 16 people were killed and 25 others are missing after an inter-communal attack in the western DRC’s Kwilu province on Wednesday. The Yaka and Teke communities have reportedly been fighting on and off over land and tax-related grievances since July, leaving over 180 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
In news from Ukraine:
The Russian-controlled government of Ukraine’s Kherson oblast said on Sunday that part of the province lost power and water service, including Kherson city. It’s blaming an act of “sabotage” by Ukrainian forces that damaged several power lines. Authorities were planning to restore power by the end of the day on Sunday but I don’t know if they were able to do so.
Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, are accusing Russian forces in Kherson of destroying a number of civilian boats moored along the Dnipro River and then repurposing their engines and other equipment for military use. There’s good reason for the Russians to destroy boats that the Ukrainians could use to cross the river should they wind up in position to contemplate doing so, but the damage is apparently causing fuel to leak into the river which as you might imagine is not great from an environmental perspective.
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Biden administration has been “privately encouraging Ukraine’s leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia and drop their public refusal to engage in peace talks unless President Vladimir Putin is removed from power.” The point, lest you start accusing the administration of enslaving itself to Putin’s wishes or whatever The Discourse is saying about diplomacy these days, is not to increase the potential for negotiations. Rather it’s meant to show that the Ukrainians are being reasonable while the Russians are being intransigent. This is supposed to assure countries that might be wavering in their support for Ukraine, worried that they’re helping to extend a very damaging conflict, that they’re backing the side that wants to bring the conflict to an end.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian confirmed on Saturday that Iran has provided armed drones to Russia—but, he insisted, it did so prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amirabdollahian further insisted that the Iranian government would take action if it were presented with evidence that its drones are being used in Ukraine. There’s already significant evidence that Iranian drones, or Russia knock-offs of Iranian drones, are being used to great effect in Ukraine, and Western governments have alleged that Iran has deployed personnel to Crimea to train the Russians in using those drones.
Thousands of ethnic Serbs protested in Mitrovica on Sunday in opposition to the Kosovan government’s plan to outlaw Serbian-issued license plates and force vehicle owners to use plates issued by Pristina instead. Most Kosovan Serbs reject Kosovo’s independence and view the government in Pristina as illegitimate. Over the weekend, hundreds of ethnic Serbs resigned their public sector gigs, including police officers, government workers, and members of parliament, in protest of the license plate shift and after Kosovan authorities sacked a Serb police officer who had refused to enforce the change.
It looks as though Haitian police were able to break up the blockade that several criminal gangs had erected around Port-au-Prince’s main fuel terminal during an operation that began on Wednesday and ran through Thursday. As of Sunday authorities were still not sure when the terminal would be able to start operations again but the end of the blockade should allow some basic public services and economic activity to resume. G9 gang leader Jimmy Cherizier issued a statement on Sunday announcing that he and his fellow gang leaders had “decided” to allow the terminal to reopen, which seems like a somewhat fanciful interpretation of events but presumably means they’re not planning to try to reimpose the blockade—at least, not in the near future.
Finally, and returning to a theme we mentioned earlier in this roundup, World Politics Review’s Dalia Dassa Kaye sees the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to substantially change the underlying nature of the relationship between the US and the Gulf Arab states:
Because of these differing narratives, unrealistic expectations now exist on all sides. The U.S. cannot expect the region to take its side against Russia, or even against Iran—this is no longer the Cold War when Washington could expect partners to align with it against ideological enemies. Washington is learning that partnerships come with risks, and that just keeping partners on “our side”—which no longer appears feasible at any rate—may not be enough to justify turning a blind eye to their repressive policies at home or destabilizing activities abroad that implicate the United States.
For their part, Washington’s Arab partners are realizing that their expectations of unquestioned U.S. military support regardless of Washington’s regional and international priorities are equally unrealistic. But at the same time, they believe they have more leverage in today’s geopolitical context, and they have no desire to return to their “client state” status of the Cold War era. Ties with Russia among the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, member states—comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman—have only grown stronger in recent years and the Ukraine war does not appear to be reversing this trend.
To be sure, GCC ties with the U.S. remain extensive, and Russia—or China, for that matter—cannot replace U.S. military engagement in the Middle East anytime soon. But at the very least, Washington’s partners are seeking to keep their options open in a region no longer dominated by the United States. Arab partners have not been willing to cut economic or military ties with Russia even after its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine should be a wakeup call for Washington to adjust to these realities and lower its expectations. Outdated transactional relationships based on models like “oil for security” are not working and are sure to keep disappointing.
If you ask me, we should give the Russians and Chinese a chance to replace US military engagement in the Middle East right now. I know it’s a long shot, but I believe in those guys and I think they can do whatever their hearts desire. And it should work out just as well for them as it has for the United States all these years.
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