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World roundup: October 22-23 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 21, 1600: Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army defeats the “Western Army” of Ishida Mitsunari at the Battle of Sekigahara. The victory left Ieyasu in virtually uncontested control of Japan and is generally marked as the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate, even though Ieyasu wasn’t officially appointed shōgun until 1603.
October 21, 1805: Though outnumbered, a British Royal Navy fleet under Horatio Nelson (who was killed in action) decisively defeats a combined Franco-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, near Cape Trafalgar in southern Spain. Britain had established naval supremacy over France years earlier through engagements like the 1798 Battle of the Nile. Trafalgar confirmed that naval supremacy and was the last major naval engagement of the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon’s plan to build a great new navy that would finally defeat Britain’s was derailed by his defeat on land years later.
October 22, 1884: The International Meridian Conference, which was a real thing, designates the line of longitude running through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich as the international Prime Meridian. Previously most major seafaring countries, at least, designated their own separate prime meridians that often ran through their capital cities (Germany used the “Berlin Meridian,” for example, and France used the “Paris Meridian”). But such was the ubiquity of British map-making that the UK prime meridian, which ran through Greenwich, became the international standard by default even before this conference made it official. Nowadays the international Prime Meridian is the IERS Reference Meridian, which still runs through Greenwich but is around 100 meters east of the previous one.
October 23, 42 BC: A Roman army jointly led by Triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian defeats Brutus’s Republican army in the second phase of the Battle of Philippi. Brutus committed suicide after the battle. As his co-commander, Cassius, had already killed himself following the first phase of the battle, on October 3, this left the Republican army leaderless and it unsurprisingly fell apart. Although there were other Republican leaders still in the field, like Sextus Pompey in Sicily, the defeat at Philippi marked the end of serious Republican resistance. The way was clear for the “Second Triumvirate” of Antony, Octavian, and the almost forgotten Marcus Lepidus to seize uncontested control of the Roman Republic.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to The New Arab, the Turkish military spent the weekend expelling Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters from Afrin. Over the past week and a half, give or take, HTS seized Afrin and other parts of northern Aleppo province from the Turkey-backed “Syrian National Army. The Turks didn’t appear to be especially concerned about this until HTS broke a previously agreed ceasefire on Monday, at which point the Turks intervened to put a stop to the conflict. At the time it wasn’t clear whether the Turks would force HTS to give back the territory it had taken but this report seems to indicate that they are.
The Lebanese and Syrian governments are reportedly starting negotiations on delineating their maritime boundary, not long after Lebanon and Israel agreed (at least in principle) to a US-brokered deal on that same subject. In theory, at least, it should be easier for Lebanon to work out its issues with Syria if for no other reason than that these two countries actually have diplomatic relations with one another and therefore don’t need a mediator to carry notes between them. But time will tell, I suppose. Discoveries of natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean are driving these efforts to resolve longstanding maritime disagreements.
On Saturday, Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian man after the vehicle he was in allegedly ran through a checkpoint outside the West Bank city of Qalqilya to enter Israel proper. Said vehicle allegedly struck an Israel soldier in the process. Also on Saturday, Israeli police in eastern Jerusalem shot a Palestinian teenager suspected of having attacked an Israeli with a knife. On Sunday, a motorcycle bomb killed a member of the Palestinian “Lions’ Den” militant group in the West Bank city of Nablus. There’s been no claim of responsibility here but the militants are accusing the Israelis of planting the explosive and that would certainly not be out of the question.
Elsewhere, the Israeli government is trying out a particularly draconian set of rules governing entry into the West Bank:
A 90-page ordinance replacing the previous four-page document came into effect on Thursday for a two-year pilot period. It is expected to stifle the Palestinian economy and academia and the work of aid agencies, and create complications for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families with dual nationality, who are already struggling to navigate a convoluted permit system.
Nearly all foreign nationals coming to volunteer, work or study in the West Bank will be granted only single-entry visas, some valid for just three months, and will have to leave between visas and wait – in some cases for more than a year – before reapplying for entry. In most cases, residency is limited to a 12- to 27-month period, making family life and long-term employment almost impossible.
“Fear of becoming entrenched” – settling down and staying in the West Bank long term – is grounds for denying a visa extension application, and individuals will have to leave and wait outside the area until additional visa or permit decisions are made.
People born in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and South Sudan – even if they have citizenship of a second country – are now barred from the West Bank except under exceptional circumstances. About 60% of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin.
Among the new obligations, foreigners are required to inform Israeli authorities should they enter into a relationship with a Palestinian individual. How romantic. The new measures, which reinforce the arbitrary brutality of perpetual occupation, will likely draw legal challenges in the Israeli court system.
Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi told reporters on Saturday that protests (he called them “riots”) over the death of Mahsa Amini while in morality police custody last month “are going through their final days.” There are reports out of Iran of strikes as well as ongoing demonstrations, particularly in Iran’s Kurdistan region, but getting verifiable news out of Iran is even more challenging than usual these days because of government clampdowns on internet access. There is no doubt, however, about the large solidarity protests that were held in cities around the world over the weekend, the largest of them in Berlin. International sentiment around this Iranian unrest has been enhanced by the story of Iranian competitive climber Elnaz Rekabi, who was flown back to Iran from a competition in South Korea earlier this month after competing without a headscarf. She’s reportedly been placed under house arrest, though she was able to post a note of thanks to her Iranian supporters via Instagram over the weekend.
Afghan officials said on Saturday that their security forces had killed six Islamic State fighters in an overnight operation in Kabul. They claim this group of fighters had been responsible for a couple of significant recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including the September 30 bombing of a women’s educational center that killed dozens of people.
As expected, the Chinese Communist Party’s congress wrapped up this weekend with the appointment of President Xi Jinping to another five year term as party boss, which means he’ll also be getting a third term as president in March. In addition to Xi, the new Politburo Standing Committee includes the head of Shanghai’s party branch, Li Qiang, who is expected to become premier when the current holder of that office, Li Keqiang, retires (also in March).
The makeup of the new (there are two holdovers besides Xi) PSC seems to consist of people known to be close to Xi, which suggests that he didn’t just maintain his control of the party at this congress but actually tightened it. There’s no obvious successor on the committee either, as all of its members are too old to succeed Xi in 2027 and serve two terms as party leader before their mandatory retirements. The party also added a few amendments to its constitution that seem to further elevate Xi’s place within contemporary Chinese governance and as a figure of historical import in the CCP’s legacy.
There was a strange interlude during Saturday’s closing ceremony when Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, was abruptly ushered out of the Great Hall of the People for some unknown reason. Officials later explained that Hu had taken ill, but video of the incident suggested that he was confused about why he was being removed from the hall. Now, Hu is 79 so these two things are not mutually exclusive, but it was an awkward incident that has raised some eyebrows.
North and South Korean naval vessels reportedly fired “warning shots” at one another in the vicinity of their maritime border in waters west of the Korean peninsula on Monday. The South Korean military is alleging that a North Korean merchant vessel crossed into South Korean waters, prompting South Korean forces to fire warning shots at it, which then triggered North Korean warning shots in response. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are higher than normal these days, with South Korea and the US resuming large-scale joint military exercises and North Korea conducting various weapons launches at the rate of almost once ever other day for the past month. Complicating things is the fact that the inter-Korean maritime boundary isn’t well delineated, which has led to violent encounters in the past.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed a new bilateral security agreement on Saturday that calls for expanded intelligence sharing and new joint exercises between their militaries-er, I mean, between the Australian military and Japan’s “self defense forces.” Neither explicitly said that this agreement was motivated by the idea of containing China but that sort of thing goes without saying these days.
Sudanese security forces killed another protester on Sunday, this time during a demonstration in Khartoum. That makes 118 people killed in similar circumstances since the Sudanese military seized power in an October 2021 coup. Elsewhere, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital of Sudan’s Blue Nile state, Damazin, amid reports that more than 200 people were killed in inter-communal violence in that state over the past week. The protesters appear to have been predominantly members of Sudan’s Hausa community, which has suffered a significant number of casualties due to that violence and has been organizing protests around Sudan to call for stronger protection from Sudanese authorities.
An apparent jihadist attack in western Niger’s Tillabéri region left at least 11 people dead on Saturday. Islamic State has been particularly active in Tillabéri and it’s likely they were responsible for this incident.
United States and United Kingdom officials are warning their citizens in Nigeria about the possibility of a terrorist attack in Abuja. They don’t seem to be going into much detail but they’ve cautioned people to stay away from government buildings, religious buildings, and other types of public facilities like schools. IS carried out an attack outside of Abuja back in July so these warnings don’t come entirely out of the blue.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries seized the town of Adwa in the Tigray region on Saturday when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front withdrew its fighters after taking what an aid worker characterized as “major losses” in comments to the AP. Ethiopia and its Eritrean allies have been on a roll in Tigray of late, seizing several towns over the past week as its delegates head to a new round of peace talks scheduled to begin in South Africa on Monday.
Al-Shabab fighters attacked a hotel in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo on Sunday, sparking an extended battle with police in which at least nine people were killed and 47 others injured. Police were apparently able to end the siege and kill three of the four attackers, the fourth having died in a suicide bombing that opened the attack. It’s unclear from the reporting but I don’t think the attackers are included in that figure of nine dead.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congolese soldiers battled M23 militia fighters in North Kivu province through the weekend, with M23 reportedly capturing a village that could put it in a position to threaten the provincial capital, Goma. At least four civilians were killed and “dozens” wounded in the fighting, which began on Thursday, and those are likely only partial figures as the situation is still in flux. Congolese military officials are claiming that they’ve contained the M23’s advance but it doesn’t appear that’s actually the case.
Russian officials over the weekend reiterated their calls for tens of thousands of people in Russian-occupied Kherson oblast to evacuate as Ukrainian forces continue to press an offensive to regain Kherson city. Meanwhile, Russian forces targeted the nearby city of Mykolaiv and continued striking electrical infrastructure.
Elsewhere, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a bunch of phone meetings with his Western counterparts over the weekend and his message to them was apparently a warning that the Ukrainian military might use a radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb,” sometime in the not too distant future. The Ukrainian government would, in this scenario, choose to irradiate part of Ukraine as a “false flag” stunt whereby it would blame Russia for the attack in an effort to discredit Moscow in the eyes of…well, I’m not sure. The Chinese government, I guess?
There’s no evidence that Ukraine has a “dirty bomb” though to be fair I don’t think it’s all that challenging to construct one if you have access to nuclear material and explosives. There’s some possibility that the Russian military might be preparing its own “false flag” defense for using a “dirty bomb,” but I’m not sure what the Russians would be expecting to achieve using such a device that they couldn’t achieve through less provocative means.
Conservative former Foreign Minister Anže Logar appears to have won the first round of Slovenia’s presidential election on Sunday but, as polling indicated, he finished far off of the 50 percent plus 1 needed to avoid a runoff. Logar will face attorney Nataša Pirc Musar in the runoff after she finished with around 27 percent of the vote to his roughly 34 percent. The runoff will be held on November 13 and polling has suggested that there may be an opening for Pirc Musar to consolidate the anti-Logar vote and win that second round.
Giorgia Meloni officially took office as Italian prime minister on Saturday, just a day after President Sergio Mattarella gave her the mandate to form Italy’s new government. She’ll lead Italy’s farthest right government since World War II and eyes will be on both its economic performance and whether it substantively changes Italy’s positioning within Europe and (in the short term) with respect to the war in Ukraine.
Sadly the dream of Boris 2.0 died on Sunday, when former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson withdrew his candidacy to succeed the outgoing Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative Party and PM. Even as he announced he wouldn’t be part of the leadership race, Johnson insisted that he had enough support among MPs to make the cut. We’ll have to take his word for it, because in terms of public endorsements he’d only won the backing of 60 Tory MPs, well below the 100 he’d have needed to participate in a leadership election.
Johnson’s departure leaves former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak as the prohibitive favorite. Sunak has the public backing of almost 150 Conservative MPs and is the only candidate known to have hit the 100 endorsement threshold. If that remains true by Monday then Sunak will automatically succeed Truss. If a second candidate gets to the 100 endorsement threshold—Penny Mordaunt would seem to be the only other realistic contender at this point—then the race will be put to a vote of Conservative Party members.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Alfred McCoy ponders the dangers of a New Cold War at a time when humanity is facing a climate catastrophe:
If the world is indeed entering a new Cold War, it bears little resemblance to the final years of that global conflict with its frequent summits between smiling leaders and its arms agreements aimed at de-escalating nuclear tensions. Instead, the world today seems more like the perilous first decade of that old Cold War, marked by bloody regional conflicts, threats of nuclear strikes, and the constant risk of superpower confrontation.
While world leaders debate the Ukraine crisis at the United Nations and news flashes from that battle zone become a part of our daily lives, the most dramatic and dangerous changes may be occurring at the other end of Eurasia, from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. There, Beijing and Washington are forming rival coalitions as they maneuver over a possible war focused on the island of Taiwan and for dominance over a vast region that’s home to more than half of humanity.
And yet, despite the obvious dangers of another war, the crises there are little more than a distraction from a far more serious challenge facing humanity. With so many mesmerized by the conflict in Ukraine and the possibility of another over Taiwan, world leaders largely ignore the rising threat of climate change. It seems to matter little that, in recent months, we’ve been given unnerving previews of what’s to come. “Geopolitical divides are undermining… all forms of international cooperation,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told world leaders at the General Assembly last month. “We cannot go on like this. Trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding, our planet is burning.”
To take in the full import of such an undiplomatic warning from the planet’s senior diplomat, think of geopolitical conflict and climate change as two storm fronts — one a fast-moving thunderstorm, the other a slower tropical depression — whose convergence might well produce a cataclysm of unprecedented destructive power.
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