Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
World roundup: November 7 2023
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Nigeria, Portugal, and elsewhere
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
Sorry folks but I am wiped out. We’re going to have to skip the voiceover tonight.
TODAY IN HISTORY
November 7, 1811: At the Battle of Tippecanoe, a US force led by future President William Henry Harrison (then governor of the Indiana Territory) defeats a group of Shawnee and allied tribal fighters and is able to destroy their nearby base, known as “Prophetstown.” Harrison had led a small army to Prophetstown with the aim of attacking an Indigenous confederacy formed by Shawnee chief Tecumseh (who was not present for the battle). Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, led a group of the confederacy’s fighters in an attack on Harrison’s camp before dawn on November 7 but were ultimately unable to break the larger American force and had to retreat. Though fairly indecisive in its outcome the battle is considered one of the key engagements in “Tecumseh’s War,” a conflict that bled into the War of 1812. Today it’s probably best known as part of the campaign slogan for the Harrison-John Tyler presidential ticket in 1840: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!”
November 7, 1917: The Third Battle of Gaza ends with the Ottoman Yıldırım Army Group abandoning Gaza and Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force occupying the town. The first (in March) and second (in April) battles of Gaza had both ended in indecisive Ottoman victories, by which I mean the Ottomans held their positions but were unable to force the EEF back. Britain’s capture of Beersheba a week earlier was decisive and an extended British bombardment on November 6 proved to be the final straw for the Ottoman defenders. Capturing Gaza put the EEF well on its way to capturing Jerusalem, which it would do around Christmas.
It’s been one month since Hamas and other Gazan militant groups launched their attacks on military outposts and communities across southern Israel that killed more than 1400 people. That means it’s been one month since the Israeli military (IDF) began its intense bombardment of Gaza, part of a military operation that has killed 10,328 people (more than 4200 of then children) and wounded over 25,000 according to Gazan officials, and displaced some 1.5 million according to the United Nations. That also means it’s been nearly one month since the Israeli government imposed what it called a “siege” of Gaza, blocking food, water, medicine, and other goods from entering the territory. Residents inside Gaza were already struggling with inadequate supplies of those goods due to a 16+ year Israeli blockade, but they are now in acute crisis according to multiple UN agencies and humanitarian aid organizations.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Tuesday that Israeli forces are now “in the heart of Gaza City,” which he described as “the largest terrorist base ever built” in what I assume was another attempt to frame excessive civilian casualties as militarily justified. The near-term goal now seems to be locating Hamas’s tunnel network and “disabling” as much of it as possible—which may kill anyone inside, militants and hostages alike. The tunnels are a key element of the militants’ guerrilla approach to combating the IDF and any deeper Israeli penetration or occupation (we’ll get to that) of Gaza will certainly mandate their destruction.
Gaza City residents are still trying to flee south through corridors the IDF is opening up in its lines. Previous estimates have suggested that somewhere around 350,000 to 400,000 civilians were still in Gaza (Gazan officials have suggested the number is considerably higher). Some of them are simply refusing to leave while others may have left and returned (after realizing that the IDF was still bombing southern Gaza too), but at this point many of the people who haven’t heeded evacuation calls are probably unable to do so. They could be elderly, wounded, and/or (especially after a month without food, clean water, or medicine) sick.
The IDF has been notably opaque about how it decides what and when to strike and how it weighs the likelihood of civilian casualties against the value of its target, probably because if it were transparent about those things it would appall most of the world and put Israel’s Western allies in an even more challenging spot than they are already. But The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Israeli air campaign seems to be transitioning to “dynamic targeting,” meaning they’ve run out of predesignated targets and are now looking for targets of opportunity. That sort of campaign requires making a lot of impromptu decisions under pressure and invariably increases the risk to civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News in the US on Monday that he envisions Israel “for an indefinite period” having “the overall security responsibility” for Gaza whenever the military operation ends. Much has been made of this comment over the past day or so but to me the main takeaway is that Netanyahu still has no idea how he wants this to end. This isn’t terribly surprising given that the operation began as an enraged retaliation for the October 7 attacks but it’s not a great sign that we’re a month in and the endgame is still undecided between mass slaughter, mass displacement, indefinite military reoccupation, and bringing the inept/corrupt/discredited Palestinian Authority back in to govern Gaza. Each of those options is some combination of incomprehensible and unfeasible. The Biden administration was quick to say it doesn’t support Netanyahu’s idea, though it’s not like he’s shown any interest listening to US advice so far anyway.
On that front, according to Axios Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Monday to encourage him to order a three-day “pause” in the Gaza campaign with the aim of securing the release of some number of the hostages Hamas and company are still holding. Netanyahu is still insisting on a full hostage release as a precondition for a pause and it’s unclear whether Biden made any headway.
Iraq’s Erbil airport came under drone attack on Tuesday. As you’ve probably already guessed, that facility does house US military personnel and this is another in the series of attacks on such facilities carried out by Iranian-backed militias against US forces in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks. Indeed, a US outpost in Syria also came under attack on Tuesday and in all there have been at least ten (now 12) such attacks across both countries since Thursday and 40, if my math is right, since October 17.
A minibus exploded in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood in western Kabul on Tuesday, leaving at least seven people dead and 20 more wounded. At time of writing there had been no determination as to the cause of the blast but an Islamic State bomb would seem a likely possibility.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spent the past few days visiting China, becoming the first Australian PM to do so since 2016, and he appears to have made some headway in improving what had become a fairly tense relationship. For example, Albanese and Chinese leaders agreed to resume what had been an annual meeting between the Chinese premier and the Australian PM and agreed to institute multi-entry visas.
Negotiations between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces group in Saudi Arabia produced minimal results as their initial round wrapped up on Tuesday. The combatants agreed “to address obstacles to the delivery of relief aid,” which means nothing, but definitely did not agree to a ceasefire. Even if they had agreed to a ceasefire, given the history of this conflict it’s unlikely it would have held. It’s unclear when, or even whether, there are plans to resume negotiations.
The mayor of the northern Malian town of Kidal, Arbakane Ag Abzayack, told the AP on Tuesday that a pair of drone strikes killed at least 14 people. These were presumably military strikes though Malian authorities have not commented as far as I know. Kidal is a stronghold for the rebel coalition that declared war on the Malian state in 2012 and recently resumed its rebellion due to tensions with Mali’s ruling junta. The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Kidal over the past couple of weeks has increased tensions between the coalition and the junta. The Malian military has said it is using drones against what it calls “terrorists” in the Kidal region.
Criminal bandits attacked a school in northwestern Nigeria’s Katsina state on Sunday, killing at least 13 students. The attack was probably intended as an abduction, but according to local officials a volunteer defense force responded quickly and was able to drive the attackers off.
In case you missed it, Alex Thurston’s newest FX column discusses Nigeria’s bleak security outlook:
In what is becoming a tradition for incoming Nigerian presidents, when Bola Tinubu took office in May of this year he promised to restore Nigeria’s security. “Security shall be the top priority of our administration,” he said in his inauguration speech, “because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence. To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security doctrine and its architecture.” Yet while Tinubu has shown himself to be an energetic reformer in the economic arena (albeit with a pro-investor bent that has compounded the hardships of the poor, at least in the short term, and that has not stopped the slide of the naira), his security approach has been far more conventional. A collective groan went up, from the commentariat and numerous citizens, when Tinubu announced his pick for defense minister: Bello Matawalle, whose single term as governor of the northwestern Zamfara state overlapped with an explosion of severe banditry there. More and more, insecurity and criminality appear to be the norm in much of Nigeria, rather than the exception.
Nigeria’s multilayered and multifaceted security challenges include not just banditry, but also oil theft, separatist violence, farmer-herder clashes, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflagrations, kidnapping for ransom, other forms of organized crime, and jihadism. In a way, jihadism is the most stubborn of these crises, and the longest continually running form of mass violence in the country. Nigeria’s tilt from episodic violence into endemic insecurity could be dated to 2010, when the Boko Haram movement began a phase of systematic insurgency. It is not that Nigeria was free of violence or crisis before that year, but authorities often managed to cajole, buy off, suppress, ignore, or otherwise deal with successive crises before that. Boko Haram has been Nigeria’s open wound. And to push the metaphor further, Boko Haram weakened the body politic and primed it to receive other wounds that now also refuse to heal.
There are reports of renewed violence in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, between Ethiopian security forces and Fano militia fighters and between residents of Amhara’s Oromia Zone. Over the weekend that fighting included heavy weapons fire in Lalibela, a city famous for its medieval rock-hewn churches—structures that, as you might imagine, are not well suited to surviving a modern military conflict. In the Oromia Zone, at least 30 people have been killed in new clashes between members of the Oromo and Amhara communities.
Meanwhile, at Foreign Policy researcher Mohamed Kheir Omer warns that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s desire for a Red Sea port, and the Eritrean government’s ongoing support for those Amhara militias, may wind up fueling a new Horn of Africa war:
In the five tumultuous years from 2018 to 2023, the dynamics between Eritrea and Ethiopia have veered from hostility to cooperation and now—ominously—toward the brink of war.
Their shifting relationship is deeply intertwined with regional politics and power struggles, primarily revolving around Ethiopia’s ambitious quest to regain access to the Red Sea, which it lost in 1991 after Eritrea’s independence. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has consistently blamed, behind closed doors, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for accepting Eritrea’s independence. Abiy has also reportedly blamed Eritrea for derailing the Pretoria peace agreement signed between the TPLF and the federal government that ended Ethiopia’s civil war—in which Eritrea fought on the government’s side against the TPLF—last year.
On Oct. 13, Ethiopian media aired a previously recorded speech by Abiy to the parliament, highlighting the Red Sea’s importance for Ethiopia’s future to either propel it towards greatness or plunge it into oblivion—as well as stating its ambition to establish a naval base. (A naval force has already been formed).
This revelation unsettled neighboring countries such as Djibouti and Somalia, and even the United States, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently urged both countries to refrain from provocation and respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries in the region.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Fighting between the Congolese military and the M23 militia in North Kivu province has reportedly cut the primary power lines running into the provincial capital, Goma, plunging the city of some 2 million people into a blackout. M23 has been advancing slowly on Goma in recent weeks. Fighting left at least three people dead on Tuesday in the town of Bambo, which is only around 60 kilometers north of Goma.
The Russian government officially quit the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) on Tuesday. Vladimir Putin had signaled his intention to take this step earlier this year, arguing that NATO expansion since the end of the Cold War had rendered the treaty—which limited NATO and Russian military forces in the area between the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Ural Mountains in the east—meaningless. NATO member states, including the US, announced on Tuesday that they’re suspending their participation in the pact.
Apparent Ukrainian shelling killed at least six people and wounded another 12 in the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk on Tuesday, according to local Russian-appointed authorities. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said that their forces had rebuffed multiple Russian attacks near three eastern Ukrainian cities: Avdiivka, Kupyansk, and Marinka. The Ukrainians seem to think that the Russian military is gearing up for another major assault on Avdiivka but that its plans have been complicated by heavy rain in recent days.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa tendered his resignation on Tuesday amid an investigation into corruption within his administration that is apparently targeting him personally. Following a meeting with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Costa indicated his innocence but said that “the dignity of the functions of prime minister is not compatible with any suspicion about his integrity, his good conduct and even less with the suspicion of the practice of any criminal act.”
Chilean President Gabriel Boric has set December 17 as the date for another constitutional plebiscite. A new draft charter written this time by a predominantly conservative commission was presented to Boric on Tuesday. The new draft is apparently even more conservative in some respects than the current Chilean constitution, which was drawn up during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Polling apparently suggests the draft is a long shot to be adopted.
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted 13 members of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel and four entities allegedly involved in the drug business. The administration has been heavily sanctioning the cartel and related businesses primarily over its role in the manufacture and transport of fentanyl.
IT IS ABOUT AS BAD AS IT CAN GET for Secretary of State Antony Blinken. This weekend, he attempted to sell allied Middle East capitals on the green light President Joe Biden gave to Israel to flatten Gaza, while also proposing some meager measures to mitigate the resulting mass Palestine suffering. All he heard was rejection, and it’s the kind of rejection that spells the end of Biden’s Middle Eastern strategy.
In Israel, with the $14 billion military package Biden is moving through Congress in his back pocket, Blinken asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to institute “humanitarian pauses.” These humanitarian pauses are a nebulous idea to have Israel briefly stop bombing, shelling, and raiding to allow food, water, medicine, and other necessities of life into Gaza. The request stops far short of a cease-fire that hundreds of thousands around the US marched for this weekend.
To the Biden administration, the humanitarian pause must have seemed an elegant way to thread the needle between the contradictory demands of Israel and Washington’s Arab partners on Gaza. Yet, immediately after meeting with Blinken on Friday, Netanyahu rejected it. No one familiar with Netanyahu’s career—which includes humiliating then–Vice President Biden in 2010 with settlement construction in Jerusalem when Biden was there to push the resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians—has an excuse for expecting otherwise. Not only is Netanyahu in grave political danger the moment the war stops, but he is experienced in running through a yellow light when he knows the United States is unwilling to give Israel a red one. Accordingly, Israel turned off communications in Gaza, which the Biden team took credit for restoring when Israel shut them down the previous weekend, and the whole predicate of the humanitarian pause is to deliver the aid that formed the most concrete achievement of Blinken’s last trip to the region.
Thanks for reading! Foreign Exchanges is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.