World roundup: October 6 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: For paid subscribers, there will be no roundup tomorrow. I’ll return with a jumbo-sized edition on Sunday.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 5, 610: Heraclius (d. 641) becomes Byzantine Emperor after executing his predecessor, Phocas.
October 5, 1789: A group of women angry over high food prices and scarcity march from Paris to the royal residence at Versailles, attracting a crowd of supporters along the way. The “Women’s March on Versailles,” saw its goals morph along the way, from a simple demand for food to a broader call for the royal court to return to Paris, where it might be more immediately accountable to the public. Louis XVI eventually agreed to that demand, and the victory helped lend momentum to the budding revolutionary movement.
October 6, 1973: The Yom Kippur War begins
October 6, 1981: Members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during the annual “Military Day” parade celebrating the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. EIJ targeted Sadat over his diplomatic outreach to Israel after the war, culminating with the 1978 Camp David Accords.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The US military is claiming that its forces killed a senior Islamic State official named Wahid al-Shammri in a raid in northeastern Syria on Thursday. Another IS member was reportedly wounded and two more captured in this operation. Shammri was allegedly involved in trafficking weapons and fighters for IS. The raid took place in a village in a government-controlled area, which is interesting in that past US operations like this have tended to stick to rebel-controlled areas.
Later in the day US Central Command announced that it had carried out an airstrike that killed two more senior IS figures in Syria: the group’s deputy Syrian commander, who goes by the name “Abu ʿAla,” and an official in charge of “prisoner affairs.” This strike was apparently also conducted in a part of northern Syria that’s under government control.
The Turkish government has chosen diplomat Şakir Özkan Torunlar as its new ambassador to Israel, restoring its relations with Israel to the ambassadorial level for the first time in five years. Torunlar has served as ambassador to several other countries, including most interestingly Palestine. His appointment probably indicates some level of Turkish sensitivity to restoring full relations with Israel whole remaining mindful of the Palestinian issue.
Hopes for a maritime border agreement between the Israeli and Lebanese governments have gone from high to rather dismal in the state of just a couple of days. Amos Hochstein, the US State Department’s Senior Advisor for Energy Security and point man for the Biden administration’s mediation efforts, submitted a new proposal last week that received a positive response from both parties. They appeared to be on the way to a deal as recently as Tuesday, when the Lebanese government proposed a few “amendments” to Hochstein’s proposal. Now it appears the Israeli government has not only rejected those changes, it’s put its military on alert for any hostile action in waters that are currently claimed by both states. It’s unlikely the Lebanese government will try anything, but Hezbollah has threatened to take action should Israel attempt to exploit disputed offshore energy deposits.
With Israel looking at a snap election next month, domestic politics are a factor in getting a deal done. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had criticized Hochstein’s proposal and was clearly prepared to make it a campaign issue. The additional Lebanese asks may have made it impossible for Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to say yes and certainly gave him a justification for saying no.
It seems that OPEC+’s decision to drastically cut global oil production has caused a bit of an anti-Saudi/anti-UAE backlash in some quarters in Washington. Three Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would withdraw all US military assets from both countries and issued a corresponding statement calling the price hike “a hostile act against the United States.” Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the US Senate, issued a statement via Twitter in which he argued that “the royal Saudi family has never been a trustworthy ally of our nation” and that “it’s time for our foreign policy to imagine a world without their alliance.”
I don’t expect any significant policy changes to come from any of this. The production cut all but ensures that Democrats will head into next month’s legislative election dealing with the fallout of high gasoline prices and they may feel like their best political recourse is to try to blame those prices on the already unpopular Saudis. But the Saudis under Mohammed bin Salman have made their relationship with the US increasingly partisan and that could have longer term repercussions.
The Biden administration on Thursday sanctioned seven Iranian individuals, including the country’s communications and interior ministers, in connection with the recent crackdown on protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Meanwhile, with talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal more or less on ice at this point, a newly released survey from the Eurasia Group Foundation finds that 78.8 of Americans want the US government to continue negotiating “to prevent Iran from obtaining or developing a nuclear weapon.” That’s a bit of a blinkered interpretation of the situation, since it’s not clear Iran would pursue nukes even if the talks completely broke down, but it still indicates significant support for the talks. Even among Republicans, the survey found support for negotiations exceeding 70 percent when respondents were told that it was the US that withdrew from the original deal.
Although the Sri Lankan government has received a fair amount of financial assistance from a wide range of international benefactors in recent weeks, Foreign Policy’s Michael Kugelman argues that its economic and political situations are still quite volatile:
Even with the increased support, Sri Lanka’s immediate economic outlook looks grim. Inflation surged to more than 70 percent in August and remained nearly as high in September, defying predictions from Sri Lanka’s Central Bank that prices would fall. Financial analysts estimate that inflation will remain high until mid-2023, predicting economic contraction.
Making matters worse, the IMF package won’t be finalized until the fund’s executive committee approves it—and that may not happen until December. If the deal is finalized, that will mean more austerity measures. Although it praised Sri Lanka for its recovery efforts this week, the World Bank hasn’t announced any new assistance. In May, it said fresh financing would be offered only when an “adequate macroeconomic policy framework is in place.”
Since President Ranil Wickremesinghe took office in July, Sri Lanka’s political crisis has eased. He was sworn in after a secret parliamentary vote appointing him to serve out Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remaining term. But the protesters haven’t gotten what they wanted: a government free from the Rajapaksas’ influence. Wickremesinghe is widely seen as close to the family, and most of his cabinet ministers also served in the previous government. (Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself quietly returned to Sri Lanka a month ago, despite how radioactive he has become.)
The Biden administration on Thursday sanctioned three individuals and one entity for allegedly procuring weapons for Myanmar’s ruling junta. The centerpiece of these blacklistings appears to be a businessman named Aung Moe Myint, whose firm, Dynasty International Company Limited, and two of its directors were also sanctioned. They’re alleged to have purchased Russian weapons by way of Belarus for the regime’s security forces.
The United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday voted 17-19, with 11 abstentions, against a US-backed motion to debate allegations of Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang. This is only the second time in the council’s history that members have voted against a motion of this kind and while most of the commentary around this vote has focused on the supposed damage to the council’s credibility I think it should be noted that the United States probably lost this vote because several countries were unwilling to risk alienating Beijing. Some of the countries that voted no or abstained may have bought into Chinese rhetoric that their own human rights records might be next to go under the microscope, but my guess is that this vote was mostly about influence trading and The World’s Only Superpower™ came up short.
A network of at least 54 Sudanese civilian “Resistance Committees” has negotiated a new joint charter that seeks to roll back steps taken by Sudan’s ruling military junta and to install a civilian transitional government. One of the things this new charter seeks to undo is the “Juba Agreement,” a deal the junta cut back in 2020 with several of Sudan’s various militant factions that hasn’t really been implemented as intended. The question is whether this charter is going to achieve anything, and to that end it’s worth noting that the junta’s leadership has been suggesting in recent weeks that they’re prepared to cede some authority to a civilian government. But how much authority, and when they might actually be willing to cede it, are questions that remain unanswered.
Bandits in northern Nigeria’s Zamfara state killed three soldiers in an attack on a military convoy on Tuesday. A similar ambush attempt on Wednesday was driven off by Nigerian forces. A group of bandits attacked a security outpost in another part of Zamfara on Wednesday, destroying the facility and wounding a police officer. Authorities seem to think these attacks are connected and can be tied to a single bandit leader, Bello Turji, whose brother was among a dozen people killed when the Nigerian military carried out an airstrike on his home last month. The theory is that Turji is out for revenge following that incident.
At this point the best indication that the invasion of Ukraine isn’t going according to plan is probably the sheer amount of backbiting going on within elite Russian circles. The Russian-appointed governor of Ukraine’s Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, joined the list of unhappy customers on Thursday when he recorded a video message lambasting unspecified “generals and ministers” for making a mess of things. As far as I know none of this verbal sniping has reached the level of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, let alone that of his boss, Vladimir Putin. But if Russia’s struggles continue Shoigu might start to feel some heat.
The UN General Assembly is expected to debate a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine next week, with a vote possibly on Wednesday. The Russian delegation is reportedly pushing for a secret ballot on the assumption that countries might be more willing to vote in support of Russia, or at least abstain, if said vote were not public. Like every other vote the UNGA takes this one will be non-binding, but clearly Moscow would like to minimize its embarrassment.
In a speech to Australia’s Lowy Institute on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested that NATO should undertake “preemptive strikes” to prevent or deter Russia from using nuclear weapons in Ukraine. His comments drew a furious denunciation from Moscow and, later, a clarification from Kyiv that Zelensky was not talking about preemptive nuclear strikes. Which I guess makes his remarks marginally less provocative? Regardless, there are some things that are better left unsaid and I suspect this is one of those things.
Zelensky is also reportedly asking for longer-range ammunition for Ukraine’s US-provided weapons systems, including the 300 kilometer Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), arguing that the Ukrainian military needs the extra range to target Russian drone facilities and other logistical positions well behind the front lines. Specifically they say they want to attack targets in Crimea. But the thing is, with the kind of range the ATACMS offers the Ukrainians could also strike targets well inside Russia, by which I mean parts of Russia that aren’t internationally recognized as parts of Ukraine. That this could intensify/expand the war probably goes without saying, which is why the Biden administration has so far resisted these requests. Will it continue resisting them? The administration has been on an escalator in terms of the power and sophistication of the arms it’s providing to Ukraine since the start of the war, and it would be very difficult to step off of that escalator now. So I suspect at some point it will agree to provide these arms, but we’ll see.
Polling, by the way, still shows strong support in the US for continuing to bolster Ukraine’s war effort. So for now, at least, there’s no political cost for the Biden administration to consider as it mulls over these weapons requests.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Thousands of people turned out in Banja Luka on Thursday to protest the election of Bosnian Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik as president of Republika Srpska on Sunday. They’re alleging that Dodik rigged the vote and that the real winner was his main opponent, Jelena Trivić. Dodik, who won by a narrower than might have been expected margin, denies the allegations.
The Swedish government has begun investigating the leaks that opened in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines last week. The verdict so far is, uh, “serious sabotage.” Which I’m pretty sure everyone already knew. The question is who carried out said sabotage. A related question is whether the Swedish government is going to be willing to declare the findings of this investigation should they point in a direction other than Russia.
A new poll from Genial/Quaest gives first round winner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over runner up Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October 30 presidential runoff. Whether you want to give any credence to Brazilian polling after it did not do so well in projecting the first round outcome is entirely up to you. Bolsonaro, looking for ways to boost his support among working class Brazilians heading into the runoff, is reportedly considering a dividend tax to pay for expanded welfare payouts and targeted consumer debt relief. The latter is a policy Lula had already proposed.
Gunmen killed at least 18 people, including the mayor of the town of San Miguel Totolapan, in an attack in Mexico’s Guerrero state on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, a state legislator in Morelos state was gunned down by two men riding a motorcycle in the city of Cuernavaca. This makes 18 mayors and eight state legislators assassinated under the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has made increasing use of the Mexican military in an effort to tamp down violence without having much success.
Finally, and tying back to something we discussed earlier in this newsletter, the Eurasia Group Foundation’s survey found that young Americans harbor some fairly heterodox views about the utility of US military power and about the friends (and enemies) Washington has been trying to keep:
Compared to other groups, younger respondents showed significantly greater concern about human rights abuses committed by the United States and its allies and expressed doubts about Washington’s ability to create change through military force. Notably, a majority of young survey respondents (55 percent) rejected the idea that America is an “exceptional nation.”
On Israel, young respondents were the only age group that said Washington should stop selling weapons to Tel Aviv, with most of them justifying this decision as a response to Israeli human rights violations stemming from its “enduring occupation of Palestine.”
Human rights concerns also appeared to drive youth concerns about America’s use of drone strikes, according to Linetsky. A majority of younger respondents (56.7 percent) held a negative view of the tactic, while older groups largely viewed drones as a valuable tool for fighting terrorism.
When it comes to China, 56.5 percent of younger survey takers said the U.S. should reduce its military footprint in Asia and shift the burden to regional allies. Support for increasing our troop presence in the region tracked directly to age, with more than 63.6 percent of respondents over 60 years old arguing in favor of such an increase.
Respondents were much less split when it came to arms sales to Saudi Arabia: nearly 70 percent said Washington should stop selling weapons to Riyadh, and that majority held across differences in age and party affiliation.
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