World roundup: November 3 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Pakistan, Brazil, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 2, 1917: The Balfour Declaration is issued.
November 2, 1964: Saudi King Saud bin Abdulaziz is ousted in an internal family coup. Saud and his brother/crown prince, Faisal, had been engaged in a power struggle since their father’s death in 1953, one that Faisal really won earlier in the year when he and the rest of the ruling family stripped Saud of most of his authority and forced him to name Faisal as his regent. Saud’s mismanagement of the country, along with concerns that he was losing the “Arab Cold War” to Gamal Abdel Nasser and republicanism, led to his marginalization and ultimately removal from power. Finally in November the ruling family officially deposed Saud and made Faisal king.
November 3, 644: The second Muslim caliph, Umar, is assassinated. Between the total conquest of the Persian Empire and the capture of most of the Byzantine Empire, Umar’s caliphate saw a massive expansion in the Arab empire that had been established by Muhammad. He was murdered by a slave, Piruz Nahavandi (or “Abu Lulu”), who had previously been a soldier in the Persian army. His motives are unclear, but revenge for the Arab conquest may have been among them.
November 3, 1903: Panama declares itself independent of Colombia, at the encouragement of a US government that wanted to deal with an independent and…oh, let’s say “persuadable” Panamanian government in constructing the Panama Canal. Commemorated as Panamanian Separation Day.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Officials in Iraqi Kurdistan say that a Turkish drone strike killed at least one Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighter and wounded two other people near Sinjar on Thursday. A local report has at least two people dead.
The implementation of Lebanon’s 2022 national budget has been delayed because outgoing President Michel Aoun refused to sign it before his term ended on Monday. Because the Lebanese presidency is a relatively weak office, Aoun’s refusal to sign off doesn’t prevent adoption of the budget but it does put off that adoption until later this month. Lebanese officials had been planning to implement the budget’s new exchange rate of 15,000 Lebanese pounds per US dollar on November 1 and now it will be at least a couple more weeks. The new rate is much closer to the pound’s real/black market exchange rate than the current official exchange rate of 1500 per dollar. This also delays negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a potential bailout, as the budget and the new exchange rate are seen as IMF prerequisites.
Benjamin Netanyahu completed his comeback on Thursday, as Israeli officials confirmed that he and his far right pals won 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset in Tuesday’s election. That’s down slightly from the 65 seats they’d looked to be on pace to win as the count was ongoing but still represents a comfortable majority, especially by recent Israeli standards. Israeli President Isaac Herzog will presumably designate Netanyahu as prime minister next week, after which he’ll have 28 days to form a coalition. It’s unlikely he’ll need anywhere near that many.
Israeli occupation forces marked Netanyahu’s victory with the killing of no fewer than four Palestinians in at least three fatal incidents in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem on Thursday. Israeli soldiers killed at least two people, one of them a teenager, in a skirmish in the West Bank city of Jenin, and another in a West Bank village near Jerusalem who allegedly threatened soldiers with a “firebomb.” In eastern Jerusalem, a Palestinian attacker allegedly stabbed an Israeli soldier before being killed. Elsewhere, Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired a rocket out of Gaza on Thursday after the election results were announced. It sounds like Israeli air defenses intercepted the projectile but an Israeli retaliation may yet be forthcoming.
There was an apparently violent clash between protesters and police on Thursday in Karaj, a city a bit over 40 kilometers from the Iranian capital, Tehran. Iranian media is reporting that at least three people were killed, one of them a member of the Basij militia that Iranian authorities often employ in attacks on anti-government protests. Demonstrators were marking 40 days since the death of Hadis Najafi, a 22 year old woman killed by Iranian security forces while participating in the ongoing protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini back in September. This illustrates one of the factors behind the longevity of those protests, which are now being fueled in part by rage over the violent government attempts to suppress them.
The Biden administration on Thursday blacklisted six people, 17 entities, and 11 ships all allegedly connected with an oil smuggling ring that the US claims has been raising money for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and for Hezbollah. The network has (again, allegedly) been operating out of the UAE and blending Iranian oil with oil from other sources in order to sell Iranian product despite US sanctions.
AFP is reporting, based on anonymous Kyrgyz sources, that the Kyrgyz and Uzbek governments have come to an agreement that delineates their entire border. Said border, like other Central Asian borders, has never entirely been delineated, which has led to occasional disputes in the 30+ years since the Soviet Union dissolved. The agreement appears to give Uzbekistan control of the important Kempir-Abad reservoir, which has been the cause of some of those disputes. Details aren’t available but presumably there’s some provision for jointly managing the reservoir’s water, as that is a major resource issue for both countries.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was shot by an apparent would-be assassin on Thursday as his march on Islamabad stopped in the city of Wazirabad. The shooter hit Khan in the leg and he appears to be fine, more or less, but at least six other people were shot in the incident and at least one of them was killed. Unsurprisingly, questions are swirling about the identity and motive of the shooter. It’s possible this was some sort of extremist attack, but given Khan’s openly hostile relationship with the Pakistani security establishment these days and given the government’s vague threats to put a stop to his march on the capital, there’s already speculation that this was an officially sanctioned and/or conducted attack—and that speculation is already sparking new protests.
Amnesty International issued a new report on Thursday documenting the Myanmar junta’s diversion of aviation fuel from civilian to military purposes. The junta has made full use of its air power in battling Myanmar’s various ethnic militias as well as the local defense forces that have emerged since last year’s coup to fight for a restoration of civilian rule. As you might expect, civilians have frequently fallen victim to junta airstrikes. Amnesty is calling on the companies that have been supplying aviation fuel to Myanmar for civilian use to stop doing so.
Chinese meteorologists are predicting a dry winter, especially in the southern part of the country, and that means a potential drought in the already drought-stricken Yangtze River basin. Which means trouble for China’s hydropower industry during winter, and that in turn likely means Chinese authorities will turn to coal to make up the power deficit. Given that the droughts are being caused by climate change I believe this is what’s known as a vicious cycle.
The North Korean military may have fired off as many as six missiles on Thursday, one day after it launched 23 of them in an outburst over US-South Korean military exercises. One of Thursday’s six may have been an intercontinental ballistic missile, though based on its flight path the South Korean military is speculating that it misfired. This is the projectile that the Japanese government said flew over central Japan, prompting air raid warnings in several prefectures. Japanese officials now say there was no overflight and they issued the warning after losing track of the missile on radar. Meanwhile, the US and South Korean militaries decided on Thursday to extend their “Vigilant Storm” exercise beyond its previously scheduled end point on Friday. This will probably spark more weapons launches from what seems like an increasingly frustrated North Korean government.
The United Nations is warning of an impending hunger crisis in South Sudan that exceeds levels the country suffered during its civil war:
The New York Times has more details on Wednesday’s Ethiopian peace deal—enough to conclude that this is indeed an agreement made largely on the Ethiopian government’s terms. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, with which the Ethiopian government has been at war for almost two years, is obliged under the peace agreement to disarm within 30 days, while federal forces will occupy the Tigray regional capital, Mekelle, and take over control of airports and other key facilities throughout the Tigray region. It’s going to be hard to spin that as anything other than a surrender by the TPLF, which may be hard for some TPLF fighters to swallow.
Additionally, as I noted yesterday the deal says nothing explicitly about the presence of Eritrean soldiers and Amhara regional forces in Tigray. There is a provision requiring Ethiopian forces to man an unspecified border (presumably the Ethiopian-Eritrean border) to defend against “provocation or incursion,” which is probably an oblique reference to the Eritreans. But the territory currently identified as western Tigray is occupied by Amhara forces in furtherance of a longstanding Amhara claim on that land. Resolving that issue may prove particularly challenging.
A roadside bomb killed at least two people and left five more injured in Mogadishu on Thursday. There’s been no claim of responsibility to my knowledge but it would be shocking if the bomb had been placed by anyone other than al-Shabab.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the UK ambassador in Moscow, Deborah Bronnert, on Thursday to lodge a protest over the alleged British participation in last weekend’s drone strike on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. The UK has denied involvement in the attack but has not denied training Ukrainian military personnel in tactics that could have been used in the attack. Russian accusations initially seemed to suggest that UK personnel played a direct role in Saturday’s attack but it now seems like they’re focusing more on the UK’s role training Ukrainian forces and supplying them with armaments. Moscow has also accused the UK of carrying out the attack that ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines back in September, but from what I can tell there’s nothing more than rumor supporting that claim at present and it doesn’t seem like they raised that issue with Bronnert.
The deputy administrator of Russian-occupied Kherson oblast, Kirill Stremousov, suggested in an interview on Thursday that Russian forces will be abandoning their positions on the western side of the Dnipro River. There’s been some speculation that Russia would pull those forces back to the eastern side of the river to prevent them from being cut off from the rest of the Russian military. Russian officials have maintained that there’s no plan to retreat and Stremousov seemed to walk his comments back a bit in another interview later on Thursday. Ukrainian officials, for their part, seem to be treating Stremousov’s initial comments, as well as other recent signs that may point to a planned withdrawal, as potential disinformation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says it’s inspected three Ukrainian nuclear sites and found no evidence supporting Russian allegations that Kyiv is preparing a “dirty bomb.” I do not know what this inspection was really supposed to accomplish, inasmuch as the Russian government—assuming it actually believes Ukraine is building a “dirty bomb” (which is debatable)—is highly unlikely to accept the IAEA’s conclusion. The audience was presumably the always undefinable “international community,” for whatever that’s worth.
The Russians and Ukrainians conducted another prisoner swap on Thursday, with 107 captives on either side being freed. Most of the prisoners released by the Russians were captured during the unsuccessful defense of the city of Mariupol earlier this year.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is in Turkey this week to, in part, urge the Turkish government to approve the pending NATO memberships of both Finland and Sweden. Turkey and Hungary are the only two current NATO members yet to ratify the Swedish and Finnish applications, and Hungarian officials have said they intend to take up the issue next month. By contrast, Turkish officials haven’t indicated when, or even if, they plan to do likewise. Appearing with Stoltenberg in Istanbul on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu intimated that Ankara still isn’t satisfied with the Swedish government’s progress in meeting Turkey’s various demands. That said, with a new and more right-wing government now in power in Stockholm there may be some movement in that regard in the near future.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen stepped down on Wednesday even though left of center parties won a narrow parliamentary majority in Tuesday’s general election. It seems Frederiksen, who is more conservative than the parties that have been supporting her minority government, is sticking to a pre-election pledge to try to form a new, broader coalition with at least one right of center component, perhaps the new Moderate Party that emerged on Tuesday as the third largest party heading into the next legislative session or the Liberal Party, which finished second behind Frederiksen’s Social Democrats. If she’s unsuccessful she can presumably fall back on the left of center parties and simply continue her minority government.
The post-election protests by supporters of lame duck Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appear to be waning, as President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s team is beginning the transition process. Since Sunday, truckers have been blockading highways across Brazil to show their support for Bolsonaro and, I suspect, to create enough chaos that the military might step in and overturn the election result. But in statements on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bolsonaro called for an end to the blockades, and while he has yet to concede his loss (and may never do so) it’s clear he’s not going to contest the outcome. As a result, the blockades are losing momentum. Brazil’s Federal Highway Police could only identify 24 active roadblocks as of Thursday evening, down from 126 the previous day and hundreds more earlier in the week. Lula’s running mate and transition coordinator, Geraldo Alckmin, was due to arrive in Brasilia Thursday afternoon to begin the formal transition, and as far as I know that went as scheduled.
There are reports of fighting in Port-au-Prince, as Haitian police on Wednesday began an operation to break the gang blockade around the city’s main fuel terminal. The blockade has exacerbated Haiti’s descent into political and economic chaos, preventing fuel from getting to and from the port and thus causing disruptions to key public services. According to AFP police are claiming that they’ve seized control of at least part of the terminal but there’s no independent confirmation of that and so far no official comment from authorities.
The UN General Assembly held its annual vote to condemn the US embargo on Cuba on Thursday. The resolution passed 185-2, with the US and Israel voting no and Brazil and Ukraine abstaining. As ever, the vote is purely symbolic.
Finally, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice looks at the ways the US government obfuscates the true extent of the War on Terror:
This proliferation of secret war is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is undemocratic and dangerous. The conduct of undisclosed hostilities in unreported countries contravenes our constitutional design. It invites military escalation that is unforeseeable to the public, to Congress, and even to the diplomats charged with managing U.S. foreign relations. And it risks poorly conceived, counterproductive operations with runaway costs, in terms of both dollars and civilian lives. So how did we get here?
Two sources of the government’s ability to wage war in secret are already the subject of much discussion. The first is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was enacted in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Notwithstanding the limitations in its text, the 2001 AUMF has been stretched by four successive administrations to cover a broad assortment of terrorist groups, the full list of which the executive branch long withheld from Congress and still withholds from the public. The second is the covert action statute, an authority for secret, unattributed, and primarily CIA-led operations that can involve the use of force. Despite a series of Cold War–era executive orders that prohibit assassinations, the covert action statute has been used throughout the war on terror to conduct drone strikes outside areas of active hostilities.
But there is a third class of statutory authorities that enable undisclosed hostilities yet have received little public attention: security cooperation authorities. Congress enacted these provisions in the years following September 11 to allow U.S. forces to work through and with foreign partners. One of them, now codified at 10 U.S.C. § 333, permits the Department of Defense to train and equip foreign forces anywhere in the world. Another, now codified at 10 U.S.C. § 127e, authorizes the Department of Defense to provide “support” to foreign forces, paramilitaries, and private individuals who are in turn “supporting” U.S. counterterrorism operations.
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