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World roundup: November 9 2023
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Myanmar, Spain, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
November 9, 1799: In what became known as the Coup of 18 Brumaire, a group of plotters including Napoleon Bonaparte forces the Directory and its legislatures to disband and replaces that government with the French Consulate, with Napoleon as First Consul. The plotters manufactured a phony Jacobin coup attempt and used that as cover to undertake their own coup. Napoleon was able to overthrow the Directory and sideline his fellow coup plotters, leaving him as the most powerful man in France.
November 9, 1989: A (botched, as it turns out) announcement by the East German government that it would open checkpoints along the Berlin Wall leads a throng of East Berlin residents to the wall in an attempt to get into West Berlin. Amid the crowds of people trying to cross, some began chipping pieces off of the wall, and over the next several weeks what had been the most in-your-face symbol of the Cold War was torn down.
At Responsible Statecraft, Paul Pillar warns that the US and Israeli failure to plan for the future of Gaza could take the current crisis down an even darker road:
The absence of a feasible and specific post-war plan for the Gaza Strip is even less excusable with Israel itself than with the United States, given that Israel is the one inflicting the current devastation, but that absence may be more comprehensible. The ongoing assault is in large part a matter of uncontrolled rage and revenge following Hamas’s brutal attack in southern Israel on October 7. When Isaac Herzog, who occupies Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency and is a relative moderate in Israeli political terms, says there are “no innocent civilians in Gaza” and that the entire Palestinian nation is “responsible” for what happened on October 7, this reflects how much sheer rage and unfocused hatred are driving Israeli policies — which is not an environment conducive to careful advance planning.
The notion that “destroying Hamas” must take overriding priority and be accomplished before any cease-fire, or even serious planning about what comes after, misinterprets the source of any future security threats to Israeli citizens emanating from Gaza. It also is a prescription for unending war in Gaza.
In Gaza news:
The Biden administration proclaimed its latest alleged diplomatic success on Tuesday by announcing that the Israeli military (IDF) has agreed to daily, localized four hour “pauses” in its activities around Gaza City to allow a window for civilians to evacuate. This is apparently different, somehow, from the evacuations the IDF already seemed to be implementing, though Reuters indicated that there was no obvious change in the IDF’s approach on Thursday as opposed to the previous day. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have reportedly fled the city over the past few days but many more are still there, some number of them unable to leave.
The IDF has reportedly continued a slow advance into Gaza City. Satellite imagery, for example, shows Israeli forces pushing south along a coastal road. There’s no reliable systematic means of tracking the conflict as far as I know, but anecdotal reports do suggest that fighting between the IDF and Gazan militants has been steadily moving deeper into the city and closer to Shifa hospital, the largest medical facility in the city and a potential target given that the IDF claims Hamas has built its main headquarters underneath it. Shifa and a number of other Gazan hospitals were hit in apparent Israeli strikes on Thursday, which is not a new development but seemed worth mentioning. The death toll since October 7, according to Gazan health officials, has risen to more than 10,800.
I hope it goes without saying that localized four hour pauses in the carnage are in no way a sufficient response to the intense humanitarian crisis that now grips Gaza. It’s barely even window dressing, especially when the purpose isn’t to get help to people but rather to facilitate the forced transfer of Gaza City’s population elsewhere. The US is still in discussions around a pause of perhaps three days in the Israeli campaign in return for the release of as many as 15 of the hostages Hamas and other militant groups are holding. The Israeli government and the Qatari government, mediating with Hamas) are also part of these talks, which are taking place in Doha and include CIA Director William Burns. There is hope that this could be the first of several exchanges, with Hamas using the time afforded by the pauses to carry out the logistical work that hostage releases require. Three days is enough time to surge additional humanitarian relief into Gaza but is still far short of the full ceasefire this situation demands.
The Rafah border checkpoint reopened on Thursday for evacuations, after that effort had been suspended the previous day for unknown reasons. According to Reuters some 695 foreign nationals and 12 wounded Gazans (plus ten companions) were able to cross into Egypt. Aid shipments into Gaza have continued, with 106 truckloads entering the territory on Wednesday.
An Israeli propaganda outlet called “HonestReporting” (the name seems ironic but I gather it’s meant sincerely) has accused several Western media outlets of complicity in, or at least foreknowledge of, the October 7 attacks by Hamas and other Gazan militant groups in southern Israel. As far as I can tell this inflammatory accusation is based on the fact that photojournalists whose work was used by the outlets in question (which have all denied the charges) were able to get pictures of the attacks as they were occurring. The accusations also redound to the journalists themselves, with the suggestion being that they’re either working with Hamas or were tipped off to the attacks and chose not to inform Israeli authorities or make any other effort to stop them. That case is also thin, to say the least. Tossing around accusations like this is dangerous, particularly amid a conflict that’s seen dozens of journalists killed by the Israeli military. It reads as an attempt to justify those killings and pre-justify the killings of reporters moving forward.
Israeli occupation forces killed at least 18 Palestinians across the West Bank on Thursday, including 14 in a single raid in Jenin. That is the deadliest individual raid in the West Bank since 2005, according to AFP. Israeli forces and settlers have now killed some 180 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since October 7.
US forces in Iraq were the targets of three attacks on Thursday—drone strikes on the Ayn al-Asad and al-Harir airbases and a bombing near Mosul Dam. Three US soldiers suffered minor wounds as a result of the bombing but otherwise there were no casualties. The timing suggests that the US military’s latest attack on a militia weapons depot in Syria, which reportedly killed nine people. did not have a deterrent effect and may actually have achieved the opposite of deterrence.
Indian and Pakistani forces shot at one another across Kashmir’s Line of Control overnight, with one Indian border guard dying in the exchange. It’s unclear what provoked the incident. Indian officials are accusing the Pakistanis of shooting first. I haven’t seen any comment from Pakistani officials but I imagine they’ll say the same thing about the Indian side.
The Washington Post sums up what has been a very successful couple of weeks for a few of Myanmar’s ethnic rebel factions:
On Oct. 27, an alliance of three ethnic armed organizations that had largely stayed out of the conflict launched the sudden, coordinated offensive in the strategic northern state of Shan, which borders China, Laos and Thailand.
In the span of 10 days, the Three Brotherhood Alliance said it had captured more than 100 military outposts and seized control over several major highways and border crossings, which is expected to hurt the junta financially. Photos and videos posted on social media show rebel soldiers marching triumphantly through townships and posing in front of weapons reportedly taken from military battalions.
Speaking to a state broadcaster last week, a spokesman for the junta, Gen. Zaw Min Tun, made the rare admission that the military had ceded control of three towns in Shan.
The Kachin Independence Army has also been on the march and localized People’s Defense Forces militias seem to be taking advantage of the unrest to launch their own attacks on government forces. In a security council meeting on Wednesday, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing reportedly accused one of the Brotherhood Alliance factions, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, of financing the new offensive via profits from drug trafficking. The MNDAA has denied the accusation. Junta-appointed President Myint Swe warned that Myanmar “will be split into various parts” if the the rebel advance is not defeated.
Fano militia fighters reportedly seized control of much of Lalibela on Wednesday, but by Thursday they’d left and the town was back in the hands of Ethiopian federal security forces. There had been reports of new fighting in Lalibela, one of Ethiopia’s most famous heritage sites, on Wednesday but it’s taken some time to learn the extent of what happened and details still appear to be sparse. Amhara Fano fighters have been battling the government on and off since Ethiopian officials announced a general demobilization of regional paramilitaries across the country back in April.
The United Nations Security Council voted on Thursday to suspend the withdrawal of the African Union’s Somali peacekeeping mission for at least the next 90 days. The AU shifted that mission to a transitional footing last year with the intention of turning the fight against al-Shabab fully over to Somali security forces by the end of next year. A few months later the Somali government announced a new “total war” against the jihadist group, in which its forces worked alongside and helped to bolster clan militias as they resisted al-Shabab’s control, and for several months that effort made significant progress. But that progress petered out earlier this year, and in August it seems the Somali military suffered a significant defeat—details about this still seem to be murky—and has since been losing ground. Hence the decision to slow down the AU transition process.
The South African government has reportedly decided to abandon the 2030 carbon emissions target it set under the terms of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. It had agreed to reduce annual emissions to at most 420 metric tons by, in part, winding down and eventually decommissioning eight coal power plants (six by 2030 and the other two by 2034). It’s now planning to leave those plants alone indefinitely due to what Reuters termed “a power supply crisis.” Who could have predicted, really. South Africa still intends to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, so if you stop back around 2043 or so you’ll be just in time for the big announcement that they’re going to miss that deadline as well.
Ihor Zhovkva, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that Kyiv is making plans to hold a “global peace summit” perhaps as soon as February. This would be the culmination of the various “peace conferences” Ukraine has been organizing this year—you know, the ones that intentionally exclude Russia, one of the war’s two combatants. One assumes this summit won’t involve Russia either, but it will involve a lot of discussion about Zelensky’s “peace plan,” which notably includes zero Ukrainian concessions. Even Zelensky’s staunchest backers no longer seem to think that’s feasible.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has reportedly come to terms with the second of the two Catalan separatist parties whose support he needs to form a government. Santos Cerdán, an official in Sánchez’s Socialist Party, announced an agreement with the Junts Party on Thursday. Its main component is an amnesty for anyone still implicated in the outlawed 2017 Catalan secession referendum, including the currently self-exiled Junts leader Carles Puigdemont. Sánchez had already reached agreement with the other Catalan party, the ERC, last week. The deal with Junts also reportedly includes the promise of negotiations around Catalan regional autonomy and possibly a new referendum, though it’s unclear what (if any) concessions Sánchez has agreed to make in those areas.
Mathematically Sánchez still needs the support of Basque separatists to win parliamentary confirmation, but that’s likely to be an easier negotiation than these talks with the Catalan parties have been. Sánchez has been governing in a limited caretaker capacity since June’s election. If he’s unable to get past the parliamentary finish line for some reason, Spain will hold a snap election in January.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced on Thursday that he’s scheduled a snap election for March 10. His decision came a couple of days after Prime Minister António Costa resigned amid an intensifying corruption investigation. Rebelo de Sousa apparently opted to let the current parliament complete its 2024 budget process. Parliament is expected to hold its final vote on that budget later this month. Costa’s Socialist Party had also apparently requested a March date in order to allow it time to choose a new party leader.
It turns out that Brazilian authorities were not uniformly thrilled that the Israeli government took credit on Wednesday for breaking up an alleged Hezbollah ring operating on Brazilian soil. Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino responded obliquely to Israeli comments on Thursday by pointedly noting that “no foreign force orders around the Brazilian Federal Police.” Presumably that would include Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Dino added that “we appreciate appropriate international cooperation, but we reject any foreign authority that deems to direct Brazilian police bodies, or use our investigations for the use of propaganda or its political interests.” He didn’t mention Israel by name but the implication was hard to miss.
Dominican Foreign Minister Roberto Álvarez accused the Haitian government of multiple border violations in a news conference on Thursday. His charges stem from an incident on Tuesday in which Dominican soldiers and Haitian personnel apparently disputed the delineation of their shared border in one northern area. Álvarez characterized the incident as “a flagrant violation of Dominican territory.” The Haitian government (such as it is) had leveled similar accusations at its Dominican counterpart on Wednesday. Tensions between the two countries have been high amid a dispute over water rights on the Dajabón River, known as the Massacre River in Haiti.
A couple of recent studies offer grim news regarding Greenland’s glaciers:
Greenland’s mountain glaciers and floating ice shelves are melting faster than they were just a few decades ago and becoming destabilized, according to two separate studies published this week.
The island's peripheral glaciers, located mostly in coastal mountains and not directly connected to the larger Greenland ice sheet, retreated twice as fast between 2000 and 2021 as they did before the turn of the century, according to a study published on Thursday.
“It got a lot harder to be a glacier in Greenland in the 21st century than it had been even in the 1990s,” said Yarrow Axford, a professor of geological sciences at Northwestern University and a co-author of the paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Dr. Axford’s team found that glaciers in southern Greenland have become shorter by 18 percent on average since 2000, and glaciers elsewhere on the island have become shorter by 5 to 10 percent.
The melting of Greenland’s glaciers is a huge contributor to global sea level rise and threatens to decimate Greenland’s ecosystem.
Finally, POLITICO reported earlier this week on a leaked dissent memo being circulated at the US State Department regarding the Biden administration’s approach to the situation in Gaza:
The message suggests a growing loss of confidence among U.S. diplomats in President Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East crisis. It reflects the sentiments of many U.S. diplomats, especially at mid-level and lower ranks, according to conversations with several department staffers as well as other reports. If such internal disagreements intensify, it could make it harder for the Biden administration to craft policy toward the region.
The memo has two key requests: that the U.S. support a ceasefire, and that it balance its private and public messaging toward Israel, including airing criticisms of Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians that the U.S. generally prefers to keep private.
The gap between America’s private and public messaging “contributes to regional public perceptions that the United States is a biased and dishonest actor, which at best does not advance, and at worst harms, U.S. interests worldwide,” the document states.
From a purely political perspective, Speaking Security’s Stephen Semler points to polling that shows a massive disconnect between US voters and national US politicians in terms of support for a Gazan ceasefire. At some point, and I know this is a controversial idea but bear with me, maybe somebody in the allegedly representative US government should try listening to the people they’re supposed to be representing.
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