8 December 2023

Israeli forces say they are fighting in ‘the heart of Khan Younis.’

Victoria Kim and Shashank Bengali

Israeli troops are fighting in the heart of southern Gaza’s largest city, a military commander announced on Tuesday, describing some of the heaviest combat of the two-month war amid growing concerns that there is almost nowhere left for civilians to flee.

After days of warning civilians to leave the city, Khan Younis, Israeli forces stepped up their attacks overnight. Intense bombing was heard early Tuesday from inside Nasser Hospital, the city’s largest, where many Palestinians who have sought shelter were sleeping in hallways.

“We are in the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation — in terms of terrorists killed, the number of firefights and the use of firepower from the land and air,” the commander of Israel’s southern military command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, said in a statement. “We intend to continue to strike and secure our accomplishments.”

Israel Issues Stark Warning Amid Renewed Gaza Offensive: 'No Immunity'

David Brennan

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) units pressing into the southern Gaza Strip will leave "no hiding place" for Hamas fighters and other militants, a government spokesperson has said, as the Palestinian civilian death toll again spikes under Israel bombardment.

Eylon Levy said at a Jerusalem Press Club briefing on Tuesday morning that the "second chapter" of Israel's war on Hamas is now well underway, with the IDF push towards the city of Khan Younis being preceded by intense airstrikes.

"We're moving south to continue erasing the whole of Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip," Levy said. "All of its terrorist infrastructure, all of its governing infrastructure. We are going after every tunnel, every commander because the goal of this war is to totally destroy Hamas; total victory over the terror organization that perpetrated the October 7 massacre."

Palestinians inspect the damage in a residential area in Rafah following Israeli air strikes on December 4, 2023. Israeli troops are turning to the southern portion of the Palestinian territory to destroy Hamas.

The recent truce—agreed to allow the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli jails—eased the pressure on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But the fighting is now back in full swing.

Far from museum pieces, Iranian missile, munition, and UAV ambition on display

Fabian Hinz & Douglas Barrie

Tehran showed new UAVs and SAM systems that signal its desire for considerable capability improvements.

Amid Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, Hamas-backer Iran showcased a range of new or upgraded weapons in a development that arguably seeks to send a message to potential adversaries. The capabilities displayed were a rocket-powered ‘cruise missile’, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, improved variants of direct-attack and precision-guided munitions as well as a previously unseen long-endurance uninhabited aerial vehicle (UAV).

The weapons were presented to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Museum in Tehran on 19 November and highlighted the expansive nature of Iran’s weapons-development drive.

Speed ticket

Perhaps the most ambitious of these capabilities is the Fattah 2, a high-speed weapon concept. The IRGC displayed two mock-ups of the winged missile, with one featuring a first-stage booster derived from one of Iran’s many ballistic-missile designs, while an engineering mock-up showed the weapon’s rocket exhaust nozzle and two fuel tanks.

The Fattah 2 is reportedly capable of hypersonic speeds. A liquid-propelled winged missile in this class would notionally be capable of Mach 5-plus flight, but with a comparative short motor burn. During flight, the winged second stage that extends the range of the weapon is believed to separate from the booster in the exo-atmosphere. While Iran has not detailed the developmental status of the Fattah 2, the demands of its design, including the materials required to deal with aerodynamic heating as well as the challenges of control and guidance, suggest it is likely at an early stage.

The Two-State Solution in the Twenty-First Century


Hamas’s terrorist attack on October 7 has disabused many of us of our preconceived notions about the conditions for peace in the Middle East and the wider world. We are still reeling from the horrors of that day. In launching its attack, Hamas easily overcame Israel’s high-tech border security barriers without encountering any organized resistance. Its militants were able to slaughter more than 1,200 Israelis (mostly civilians) and take more than 200 hostages back to Gaza – broadcasting much of the carnage on social media.

How could this have happened? With the strongest army and the best intelligence services in the Middle East, Israel presumably tracks all terrorist activities and threats on both sides of its borders. Yet it was caught off guard by a group operating strictly from the isolated and closely monitored enclave of Gaza.

The events of October 7 shattered many illusions. Outside observers and participants alike had come to believe that the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was irresolvable, and thus only manageable. The new hope was that Israel could make peace and establish diplomatic relations with neighboring Arab countries without resolving or even paying attention to the Palestine question. Peace in the Middle East would be achieved without involving the Palestinians or creating a Palestinian state. We now know that this was an illusory goal.

In 1947, as the British Mandate for Palestine was approaching its end, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which sought to partition the territory into two states – one Jewish, and the other Arab. But as soon as Israel declared independence, in 1948, five neighboring Arab countries invaded, starting a war that has continued in one form or another to this day.

End Of Gaza ‘Pause’ Reinforces Importance Of A Ceasefire

Chris Doyle

Legend has it that, back in 64 A.D., the Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Although almost certainly a myth, the comment highlights how contemptuous the hated emperor was of his people. Many Palestinians feel that this is exactly what Western leaders are doing right now, in as medieval and barbaric a fashion as the infamous Nero. As their land is being ruthlessly bombarded and their people ethnically cleansed, the world is collectively fiddling.

It fits the pattern of deep-rooted and unrecognized anti-Arab racism that informs so much of the West’s decision-making, which I covered last month. Not one Western leader has yet, to my knowledge, condemned the numerous genocidal comments made by Israeli ministers, which continue to be uttered with total impunity. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich included the West Bank as well as Gaza in his scope of annihilation, saying last week: “There are 2 million Nazis in Judea and Samaria, who hate us exactly as do the Nazis of Hamas-ISIS in Gaza.” A hip-hop war anthem that reached No. 1 in Israel includes lyrics such as “let’s write names on the bombs, for the children of the Gaza envelope.”

The lack of reaction shows that this does not horrify politicians as it should. Likewise, the Western media, with a few honorable exceptions, is also not interested. Why would a world that ignores such genocidal calls be concerned about Palestinian civilians?

Last week’s pause in fighting, which was extended twice, proved exactly why getting a lasting ceasefire matters. A pause resolves nothing. The bombardment resumes — it does not deserve the term “fighting,” given the asymmetry. Pauses tell you all you need to know about the intent. The aim will be to resume the bombardment. The pause allowed some additional humanitarian aid in, but this is like fattening the victims for the eventual kill. A ceasefire, on the other hand, would indicate an intent to secure a more lasting deal; one designed to be the first step toward ending the horror.

Nothing encapsulates this complacent attitude more than the tiresome, almost pedantic debate over the terms “truce,” “pause” and “ceasefire.” These were the disgraceful verbal gymnastics that dominated the debate. The British Labour Party leadership went from calling for nothing to calling for humanitarian pauses and then to calling for a cessation of hostilities, but it did not dare utter the word “ceasefire.”

The Gaza War’s Fog Complicates Separating The Wheat From The Chaff

James M. Dorsey

Separating the wheat from the chaff in the Israeli-Palestinian fog of war is key to preparing for the day after the guns fall silent and resolving a conflict that constitutes a perennial regional ticking time bomb.

The separation frames US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s stark warning that “if you drive the civilian population in the arms of the enemy you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”

Although meant to pressure Israel to adopt military tactics that would reduce innocent Palestinian casualties in Gaza, Mr. Austin’s warning is about more than immediate fighting.

It is about leverage and standing in initially negotiating a permanent ceasefire and ultimately a resolution of the conflict.

Already perceptions of the war and of Israel and Palestine are shifting from initial empathy with Israelis as victims of a brutal attack to sympathy with Palestinians perceived as targets of an inhumane Israeli military campaign that violates much of international law.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is easier said than done. It involves challenging assumptions and myths and recognising uncomfortable and painful truths on both sides of the divide.

The separation is complicated by deep-seated emotions evoked by Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 Israelis, more than half of them civilians, and the carnage in Gaza wreaked by Israel’s determination to change reality on the ground with no regard for Palestinian lives.

The assumptions, myths, and truths are products of a combination of reality, emotions, vested political interests, and perceptions created by an information war in which truth is the first casualty.

How Does Israel’s 10/7 Crisis Compare?

Yoav J. Tenembaum

How Does Israel’s 10/7 Crisis Compare with other International Crises in Modern History?

Israel is engaged in one of its most challenging international crises since at least the Yom Kippur War of 1973. On October 7 (henceforward referred to as 10/7) Israel suffered the worst terrorist attack in modern history in proportion to the number of its inhabitants. As United States President, Joe Biden, said, 10/7 was like 9/11 multiplied by 15. This would amount to around 45,000 people, instead of around 3,000, that would have died on 9/11.

Assessing 10/7 in historical perspective may lead us to understand, beyond the singularity of the unprecedented attacks carried out by Hamas, the similarities of this international crisis with other international crises in modern history.

How does Israel’s current crisis compare with other international crises in modern history?

Henry Kissinger once wrote, “There cannot be a crisis next week, my schedule is already full.”

The irony of Kissinger’s statement reflects a basic truth about international crises. Decision-makers are usually surprised when a crisis erupts. They are either strategically or tactically surprised. In the first case, decision-makers are surprised by the event itself; in the latter by its timing and/or location.

For instance, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the invasion by North Korea of South Korea on June 25, 1950, and the terrorist attacks on the United States by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001 (popularly known as “9/11”) were all strategic surprises for the United States. U.S. decision-makers were surprised by the event itself.

The attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, was a strategic surprise for Israel. Israeli decision-makers were surprised by the attack, by the event itself.

Why Arab States Must Lead on Gaza

Lina Khatib

When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, it was 50 years and a day after the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That conflict had also begun with a surprise attack, when forces from Egypt and Syria caught the Israeli military and intelligence services off-guard. Back then, the Arab world stood united against Israel, with Arab oil-producing countries using an oil embargo to gain leverage in postwar peace negotiations and Arab armies supporting Egypt and Syria’s military campaign by sending forces into Syria.

Today, the regional picture is much more complicated. The Arab world is not united against Israel. Instead, on the eve of October 7, each Arab state had a different relationship with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed peace deals with Israel decades ago and continue to cooperate on security today. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) normalized its diplomatic relations with Israel more recently, signing the Abraham Accords in 2020. Before Hamas’s attack, Saudi Arabia and Israel, with the backing of Washington, were finalizing a deal to normalize ties. Qatar, adhering to its position of openness to communicating with all sides, kept its relationship with Israel informal while also hosting the political leadership of Hamas in Doha. Although these countries were frustrated with the growing tension between Israelis and Palestinians, none of them expected the situation to turn into war any time soon. Considering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contained, they focused on their own political and economic objectives, which often meant doing business with the Israeli government.

But Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, which has killed some 15,000 people, according to health officials in Gaza, has altered these relationships overnight. It is driving Arab states toward a more unified public position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. By the time Israel struck the Jabalya refugee camp at the end of October, the response from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE had become almost uniform, with all strongly condemning the attack and calling for a cease-fire.

How to Take Apart the Axis of Revisionists

Michael R. Pompeo and Peter Rough

“You must look at facts, because they look at you,” Winston Churchill once observed. One unpleasant fact that the war in Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief is that a global axis of anti-American powers is forming to undermine the U.S.-led international order. America’s adversaries are aligning their moves on the global chessboard and undertaking a process of strategic convergence.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, he sensed in the White House a weak and ineffectual opponent. Like fine wine gone to vinegar, U.S. President Joe Biden’s outreach to Putin culminated in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine — with Putin calculating that the Biden White House would simply swallow a bitter fait accompli as the Obama administration did with Putin’s seizure of Crimea. But Putin did not reckon with the tenacity of the Ukrainians. Against heavy odds, Ukraine repelled Russia’s initial attacks and remains in the fight to this day. Putin took aim at Biden’s glass jaw and struck Ukrainian steel instead.

Those losses have forced Putin to upgrade relations with three key allies: Iran, North Korea, and China. Last year, Iran began to supply Moscow with large numbers of Shahed kamikaze drones at a moment when Russia needed an affordable long-range strike weapon, culminating in last month’s biggest drone attack on Kyiv since the start of the war. Now, Russia and Iran are collaborating on a new drone production facility east of Moscow which will be able to produce thousands of drones each year. Worse, Iran is reportedly considering supplying Russia with ballistic missiles — a transfer made easier by the expiration of the missile embargo under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).

How Israel Missed Its Chance to Eliminate the Leadership of Hamas


The term “proportionality” is one of the most abused terms in just-war theory. The careless use of the term comes with a great cost in innocent lives lost. Israelis die when its leaders don’t act decisively out of fear of claims for acting “disproportionately.”

If there’s one consistent criticism international figures launch against Israel, it’s that its wartime responses to terror groups are disproportionate. In the current war, it took only a few days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of over 1,200 Israelis and kidnapping of 240 more for NGOs like Human Rights Watch to accuse Israel of responding disproportionately. The United Nations Human Rights Office has similarly said it has “serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”

Such accusations have been regularly launched since Israel began its series of intermittent operations against terrorist armies like Hezbollah and Hamas. Early in the 2006 war with Hezbollah, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan accused Israel of “disproportionate use of force.” This was a common refrain by human rights groups during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and the IDF’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Such pronouncements have a real impact. Polls showed that well over half of Europe’s residents felt Israel acted disproportionately in 2006. In 2018, when Hamas initiated months of weekly charges at the Gaza border fence, the U.N. Human Rights Council accused Israel of disproportionately firing on these protesters. This was in spite of the fact that Hamas terrorists were embedded with the mob and looking to break through the fence and launch raids on Israel. We now know what happens when Hamas catches the IDF unprepared.

It is critical to understand the meaning of the term “proportionality,” because it helps explain why one may morally fight a war despite the inevitable but widespread incidental killing of noncombatants. “Collateral damage” always occurs, especially in asymmetric warfare where one side purposely fights from the confines of a civilian population. Before going to war, one must consider whether its destructiveness will be out of proportion to the relative good that will be achieved by the war. So too, during war itself, one must ask whether the benefits of a particular strike or action will outweigh the toll on human lives.

Israel’s Impossible Dilemma

Hussein Ibish 

To no one’s surprise, Israel and Hamas have resumed fighting in Gaza after almost a week of temporary truces and prisoner exchanges. Despite American and other entreaties to limit civilian casualties, Israel appears determined to push into the south of Gaza, but its strategic thinking seems to end there, and to hold no plausible endgame in sight. As a consequence, the next phase of this vicious conflict will almost certainly lead Israel to an unenviable dilemma: whether to grant Hamas a small and ultimately hollow victory or a much larger and all-too-real one.

The next stages of the fighting seem clear. Israel will likely seize all of the significant aboveground urban areas in Gaza’s south, just as it did in the north. After that will come a major battle for control of Hamas’s extensive underground tunnel network, where most of the group’s fighters, leaders, equipment, and remaining hostages are presumed to be located. Ultimately, Israel may seek to destroy the tunnels themselves, perhaps by flooding them with seawater. In doing so, Israel will expect to have inflicted irreparable harm on Hamas, rendering it unable to govern Gaza or pose a threat to southern Israel for the foreseeable future.

All of those goals are plausibly achievable. But Israel’s larger stated aim—of utterly eradicating Hamas—is impossible. Hamas is a brand name, not a list of individuals and objects. Israel could destroy its leaders and all of its equipment, declare victory, and leave Gaza to its fate. Hamas, in some form, would still crawl out of the rubble and declare a “divine victory” of its own.

Not only that: Hamas has cadres all over the Middle East, including the group’s de facto diplomatic branch in Qatar, as well as significant pockets of fighters in the West Bank, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Israel could assassinate them all—and still, at the end of this round of fighting, somebody, in the name of Hamas, will declare victory over Israel, even if only by pointing to October 7 and claiming to have destroyed Israel’s veneer of invincibility, sense of impunity, and insufferable arrogance, while reviving the Palestinian issue on the international stage.

The morality of ending war short of 'total victory'


United States policy toward Israel’s war in Gaza was neatly summarized by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 30: “Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent civilians. And it has an obligation to do so.”

This posture — destroy Hamas but do so in observance of the laws of war — is not that of the administration alone. It has been widely embraced by official Washington.

A key defense of what would emerge as the hallmark of the Biden administration’s Gaza outlook came from Jo-Ann Mort and Michael Walzer in the New Republic on October 18. “A just war requires the defeat of Hamas,” they wrote. “It is a maxim of just war theory that the rules of war cannot make it impossible to fight a just war. There has to be a way to fight.”

In their view, the best way was “to fight with restraint, to reject indiscriminate bombing and shelling, to respect enemy civilians (many, many Gazans are opposed to Hamas), and take necessary risks to reduce their risks, and finally to maintain a clear goal: defeat for Hamas. Nothing more.”

Walzer is the author of Just and Unjust Wars, a hugely influential treatise on morality in war that has gone through successive editions since its publication in 1977. Walzer’s meditation on the just war was especially impressive for taking on a wide range of historical examples, but it was written under the shadow of the war in Vietnam. Walzer condemned that war not only as an unjustified intervention but also as one that was “carried on in so brutal a manner that even had it initially been defensible, it would have to be condemned, not in this or that aspect but generally.”

The Age of Diplomacy is Over

Brian Patrick Bolger

A new front has opened up in the Gaza conflict. The new front is not Lebanon or the West Bank, but one whereby all the traditional forms of war have ended. The essential features of war since the nation-state ascendancy post-Westphalia were, from the Medieval period onwards, wars of the “just state.” Wars were essentially conflicts between noble families, and since the average European traveled within a maximum radius of fifty kilometers throughout their life, war was something “out there,” not “imminent.” Conflicts didn't draw in disparate neighbors or nation-states on the other side of the known world. This began after the formation of nation-states in the nineteenth century. It also resulted from the contradistinction between maritime (the British Empire) and land-based (Germany in the twentieth century) ascendancies. The United States inherited the mantle of the maritime ascendancy but is now losing it.

Last month, Houthi rebels managed to kidnap the crew of an Israeli chartered ship in the Red Sea shipping lane. The import of this is not the disappearance of the poor crew of twenty-five non-Israelis but the nature of modern conflict. For Israel, the event constituted another front. For the globalized world, it was another example of the dysfunctional nature of modern geopolitics. The Houthis descent from a helicopter to capture the ship illustrates the fluidity, the fall of any semblance of “morality” from international affairs, the ending of borders, and the end of diplomacy.

No longer is diplomacy a chin wag between Napoleon and Alexander on a raft in the middle of the River Niemen at Tilsit in 1807, complete with fine wines and French cheeses. The forms of war have changed; solutions are technical and violent. The first maneuver is sending nuclear submarines to the Mediterranean. The age of diplomacy has shifted to the realm of computer games. We are now in danger of “technifying” reality. We can become distant from its consequences, immune to suffering.

Bhopal’s Endless Health Crisis

Nicholas Muller

This past weekend marked the 39th anniversary of the deadly night when methyl isocyanate, better known as MIC, smothered Bhopal in central India.

The contamination area was estimated to affect almost half a million people. The dense, highly toxic chemical used in pesticides burst from a local factory and went on to swiftly and silently kill thousands of people almost immediately. In the following years, it has directly and indirectly contributed to the deaths of thousands more. Those who survived suffer daily with a wide range of debilitating conditions, cancers, and shortened life expectancies, searching for any relief they can get without a clear medical solution.

“When I first came to Bhopal, a lot of people told me that the people who died that night were lucky. The ones who are left behind are the unlucky ones because they are bearing the brunt of not knowing what would make them feel better,” said Rachna Dhingra, who works with survivors of the early December 1984 disaster at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. She has worked as a campaigner for the Bhopal Group for Information and Action for more than two decades.

During her student years at the University of Michigan, Dhingra first came into contact with the fallout of the disaster after meeting Bhopal survivors and doctors who had come to speak at a shareholder meeting of Dow Chemical, which purchased Union Carbide in 2001. “I was shocked to hear that close to 19 years after the disaster … how dire things were in terms of healthcare, contamination, and justice,” she said.

A frontal view of the abandoned former Union Carbide pesticide plant which has not been secured or dismantled since the accident. 

Does Japan Dread Or Desire Its Influx Of International Tourists?

Gabriele Vogt and Sian Qin
Source Link

Kyoto is bracing for another influx of tourists. Next to the rollout of the city administration’s ‘mind your manners’ campaign, Kyoto has terminated its popular one-day bus pass to discourage tourists from using the city’s busses.

Extended queueing times and jammed public transport have inconvenienced locals. In 2022, roughly 80 per cent of residents complained about public transport and the streets being overly filled with tourists. Three quarters expressed concern over tourists’ behaviour, such as littering or eating while walking. The rising number of international travellers strains local infrastructure and public manners have been termed ‘sightseeing pollution’.

Kyoto’s relationship with international tourism is complex. The 52 million visitors to Kyoto in 2018 spent 1.3 trillion yen ($US8.7 billion), generating almost a fifth of the city’s nominal GDP. But the sector triggered a dynamic of ‘tourism gentrification’ with locals being pushed out from the housing market since short-term holiday rentals are more lucrative to landlords. Shops and restaurants started catering to travellers rather than locals.

In February 2020, Shoei Murayama, a long-time member of the Kyoto city assembly, ran his mayoral campaign on the main message that ‘overtourism’ was detrimental to the ancient capital city. Though he did not win the race, his campaign highlighted the debate about mass tourism.

The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the situation. Japan closed its borders to inbound tourists from April 2020 to October 2022, bringing tourism industry to a complete halt. During the prior seven years, from 2013, when Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the number of international visitors to Japan had more than tripled to almost 32 million in 2019.

‘The Thucydides trap’ becomes the Asia-Pacific theme song

Graeme Dobell

The Asia-Pacific ponders the growing chances of war.

Australia’s policy community shares the region’s unhappy understanding ‘that nations can sleep-walk into war, even when rational, objective self-interest on all sides cries out against it’. That nightmare scenario is described by Gareth Evans in the Australian chapter of the CSCAP Regional Security Outlook 2024, produced by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.

The editor of the annual survey, Ron Huisken, writes that the ‘relentless intensification of tension and animosity’ between China and the US has ‘deflated the regional spirit, inflamed quarrels, replaced optimism with trepidation and made Thucydides Trap into something of a regional theme song’.

With that tune in their ears, Huisken notes, prominent commentators around the Asia-Pacific ‘speak openly about the risk of major power war’.

Taking the temperature of the Australian ‘policy community’, former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans reports broad areas of Canberra agreement:
  • the ‘fragile and volatile’ regional security environment
  • the most formidable international challenge is ‘negotiating a course between the two neighbourhood giants, China and the United States’
  • the need for more resources for defence and foreign policy than ‘in more complacent decades past’
  • ASEAN continues to be a ‘supremely important defuser of cross-border tensions’ in Southeast Asia, but has proved incapable of ‘any kind of collective resistance to overweening behaviour by China’
  • the Quad commands ‘quite strong support’ in Canberra, albeit ‘more for its optics than any real military substance’
Evans says the ‘alarming vagaries’ of US domestic politics creates concerns about its ‘will and capacity to stay the course in its long self-appointed role as regional security stabiliser and balancer’.

Can China and America Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Younes Zangiabadi & Paul Dziatkowiec

The international tour of the Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee, an initiative established by Islamic nations at the Arab-Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia this month, marks a pivotal shift in the Middle East’s global diplomatic engagement and strategies with key external powers. This tour, which involves visits to permanent member states of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), aims to press the UNSC to coalesce around encouraging a sustained humanitarian truce, a long-term ceasefire, and a political solution in Gaza. The committee’s diplomatic journey began with visits to China and then Russia, engaging in high-level talks with their respective foreign ministers. This was followed by another ministerial meeting in London with the newly appointed British foreign secretary, David Cameron, to rally the support of Israel’s major European allies.

The committee plans next to visit France, another UNSC member, but the real end goal of these consultations will be to bring the United States—the most influential decision-shaper in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—closer to the committee’s own position of a speedy halt to the war.

This sequence of visits, beginning with Beijing and moving through other UNSC members, signals a broader shift in the Middle East’s regional geopolitics and diplomacy. It underscores an emerging multipolar order where Middle Eastern countries diversify their diplomatic engagements to address regional challenges.

The committee’s approach, particularly its initial focus on Beijing, reflects the region’s collective recognition of China’s growing role as a mediator in the Middle East, a status bolstered by its recent success in brokering the Iran-Saudi deal. In this evolving context, China is also capitalizing on its growing clout and positioning itself as an impartial mediator in the region, which some experts argue may be seen as a potential challenge to the United States’ traditional role and influence. Indeed, in contrast to China, regional elites today have somewhat less faith in Washington’s ability to play kingmaker and serve as a reliable security guarantor in the region, largely due to its unequivocal support for Israel in the current conflict.

The threat to global climate goals from organised crime in the Amazon

Irene Mia & Juan Pablo Bickel

Despite momentum in South America to address climate threats caused by insecurity in the Amazon rainforest, the issue receives little attention outside the region.

Given the accelerating climate crisis and the interest of world leaders in keeping global warming on a path compatible with the Paris Agreement goals, the theme of protecting the Amazon rainforest from deforestation is set to feature prominently at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28. The summit began in Dubai on 30 November and participants are focused on the implementation of past climate-finance pledges, notably those intended to benefit developing countries that are at risk from climate change or potentially able to affect its future trajectory. In South America, many pledges relate to initiatives to protect the Amazon rainforest. In this case, however, security issues are arguably just as important as climate finance.

Criminal economies are a major and growing contributor to deforestation, and because they are transnational, they cannot be countered effectively by countries acting alone. Regional leaders are increasingly aware of this point, as highlighted during the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization’s (ACTO) summit in August 2023. Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro said in his summit speech that regional countries should create an Amazon NATO to protect the rainforest, while the Belém Declaration described new commitments on related police, judicial and intelligence cooperation. Global awareness of the issue is lagging, however, limiting the extent to which international expertise and financial support have been brought to bear on the problem.

Criminal economies and deforestationSecurity conditions in the Amazon region have been worsening due to the prevalence and strength of non-state armed groups and the weakness of traditional governance, particularly law enforcement and under-guarded and porous national borders. The homicide rate in the Amazonian states of northern Brazil increased by 260% from 1980 to 2019, and in 2020 the rate in these states’ urban areas was 10 percentage points higher than the national average. This is in part because drug-trafficking organisations have developed new export routes transiting the Amazon River basin. Roughly 40% of all cocaine produced in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia now flows into Brazil, either to satisfy domestic demand or to be trafficked onwards to Europe, Africa and Asia.

Private Capital Mobilization for Climate Finance in an International Context

Cy McGeady and Gracelin Baskaran

The Issue

Trillions of dollars of investment are required for emerging market and developing countries (EMDCs) to meet their development and related climate goals. However, EMDCs receive a fraction of the capital and investments required to scale up renewable energy and curb emissions. This shortfall is, in part, the result of various macro and micro impediments that limit the development and execution of projects, thereby preventing the deployment of capital. These barriers include sovereign credit risk, currency risk, legal and regulatory uncertainties, and sectoral and project-specific risks. Reforms are required to address these challenges. Given the high reliance on state-owned utilities, power sector reforms can be particularly sensitive. Addressing these interrelated barriers to investment requires a comprehensive, country-led approach to secure buy-in, support sectoral solvency, and boost capacity over the medium and long terms. International financial institutions (IFIs) are well placed to advance this work. They can leverage their technical expertise, financial capacity, and risk mitigation tools to alleviate various macro, sectoral, and project-related risks, thereby advancing development and climate objectives.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate finance as “local, national or transnational financing—drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing—that seeks to support mitigation and adaptation actions that will address climate change.” While the UNFCCC underscores the importance of balancing investments in mitigation and adaptation, this brief concentrates primarily on the former. Specifically, it zeroes in on the investments necessary to curtail greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the power sector, which is responsible for nearly 40 percent of GHG emissions on a global scale. This brief focuses on emerging market and developing countries (EMDCs).

Ukraine's triple stalemate

Zachary Basu, Stef W. Kight

In three critical arenas — the halls of Congress, European capitals and on the battlefield — Ukraine's war effort has encountered a storm of stalemates that pose an existential crisis to the country's future.

Why it matters: With much of the world's attention focused on Israel and Gaza, President Biden and NATO's pledge to support Ukraine for "as long as it takes" is at serious risk. The implications could be devastating for Kyiv's democracy.

Driving the news: The White House warned Monday that without congressional action, the U.S. government will run out of resources to support Ukraine by the end of the year.
  • "There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money — and nearly out of time," Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young wrote to congressional leaders.
  • Bipartisan Senate talks on a border package paired with Ukraine funding reached a breaking point over the weekend, with no further meetings currently scheduled, congressional sources tell Axios.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will remotely join a classified briefing with senators Tuesday. An initial vote on a Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border funding package will be held Wednesday, but it's expected to fail without GOP support.

Latin America Is No Longer the ‘Backyard’ of the United States

James Cooper

On Dec. 2, 1823, during his seventh annual message to Congress, later to be called the State of the Union address, President James Monroe provided the foreign policy position of the United States that would dominate the Western Hemisphere for the coming 200 years: The Americas were for the United States to influence and the United States only. The U.S. would view any interference by foreign powers — the Europeans who had once colonized the region — as a hostile act. Washington would tolerate no colonies, no puppet monarchs, nor any political influence from Europe.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt provided his eponymous Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine to Congress, extending it to mean that the U.S. reserved the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of countries in the Americas as “the international police power.” While the Monroe Doctrine was meant to keep foreign powers out, the Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify the U.S. sending its military into countries around the region. The U.S. intervened in Mexico in 1914, in the Dominican Republic in 1904, in Nicaragua in 1911, and in Haiti in 1915.

Many more interventions ensued in the subsequent years. When the Soviet Union was constructing missile sites in Cuba in 1962, the U.S. government again invoked the Monroe Doctrine, albeit symbolically.

In the past few decades, however, the Western Hemisphere has experienced unprecedented foreign influence — and not from the United States. President Monroe would not be pleased. This trend has been fueled by a resource-hungry People’s Republic of China; by Russia providing investment in and increasing numbers of advisers to Venezuela; India’s preferential trade agreements throughout the region; and an opportunist regime in Iran anxious to extend its foothold in the Americas. A revitalized anti-Americanism has found favor across Central and South America with those who are anxious to reverse U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere — be it socially, economically or, for sure, geopolitically.

New Theory Unites Einstein’s Gravity With Quantum Mechanics

A radical theory that consistently unifies gravity and quantum mechanics while preserving Einstein’s classical concept of spacetime is announced today in two papers published simultaneously by UCL (University College London) physicists.

Modern physics is founded upon two pillars: quantum theory on the one hand, which governs the smallest particles in the universe, and Einstein’s theory of general relativity on the other, which explains gravity through the bending of spacetime. But these two theories are in contradiction with each other and a reconciliation has remained elusive for over a century.

The prevailing assumption has been that Einstein’s theory of gravity must be modified, or “quantised”, in order to fit within quantum theory. This is the approach of two leading candidates for a quantum theory of gravity, string theory and loop quantum gravity.

But a new theory, developed by Professor Jonathan Oppenheim (UCL Physics & Astronomy) and laid out in a new paper in Physical Review X (PRX), challenges that consensus and takes an alternative approach by suggesting that spacetime may be classical – that is, not governed by quantum theory at all.

Instead of modifying spacetime, the theory – dubbed a “postquantum theory of classical gravity” – modifies quantum theory and predicts an intrinsic breakdown in predictability that is mediated by spacetime itself. This results in random and violent fluctuations in spacetime that are larger than envisaged under quantum theory, rendering the apparent weight of objects unpredictable if measured precisely enough.

A second paper, published simultaneously in Nature Communications and led by Professor Oppenheim’s former PhD students, looks at some of the consequences of the theory, and proposes an experiment to test it: to measure a mass very precisely to see if its weight appears to fluctuate over time.

Space Force Speeds Up Launch Times to Respond to Threats

Josh Luckenbaugh

At 7:28 pm Pacific Time on Sept. 14, a Firefly Aerospace Alpha launch vehicle bearing a Millennium Space Systems-built satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. While this was one of many launches at the base this year, this mission, known as Victus Nox, had just made history.

Victus Nox — Latin for “conquer the night” — lifted off 27 hours after the receipt of launch orders, shattering the previous responsive space launch record of 21 days.

“This is going to be one of those things that I think makes it in the history books when we look back on what the Space Force added” by having a “service-level focus on producing tactically responsive space,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman said. “How fast can we respond with a launch and an on-orbit capability?

“I’m so proud of [Victus Nox] because it’s one thing to kind of walk through that timeline,” to think through the airlift needed, the infrastructure and telemetry of the launch facility, the safety checks, the payload integration, “these are massive checklists that have to be run,” he said at a Center for a New American Security event in October. “And for those that haven’t been in the launch business, I don’t think you can fully appreciate all of the work that goes into that, and on that timeline, amazing accomplishment.”

Victus Nox is part of the Space Force’s Tactically Responsive Space program, the goal of which is to ensure the United States can rapidly respond to on-orbit threats. An example of where the capability would have been useful took place in 2019, when a Russian satellite “cozied right up to an important” U.S. satellite, said Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, materiel leader and chief of Space Systems Command’s Small Launch and Targets division.

Reality Check: Chinese Military Spending in Context

William D. Hartung

The notion that the United States must increase its military budget and deploy a new generation of high-tech weapons to “keep up” with China is a common assertion in Washington policy making circles. One key element of this argument is the claim that China’s military budget is much higher than officially reported and is in fact rapidly catching up with the amounts spent by the United States. It is a short step from there to a series of arguments about spending more on the Pentagon overall and accelerating or sustaining a whole array of new weapons programs. 

This issue brief aims to put the arguments about China’s military budget and capabilities in context, both by exploring the available data on how much Beijing spends and by putting the issue of that spending in a larger context. The brief is organized in a series of points regarding the U.S.-China military relationship. The points are summarized as follows: 

1) The U.S. Outspends China on Its Military By a Substantial Margin Some experts have argued that China’s military expenditures are far higher than official reporting would suggest, once differences in purchasing power and the full range of China’s military-related activities are taken into account. But the most commonly used estimate of Chinese military spending, the annual analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), does in fact account for a wide range of activities that are outside of official Chinese figures. The latest SIPRI estimate puts U.S. military spending at a full three times what China spends – $877 billion versus $292 billion for 2022.

Even figures that attempt to adjust for relative purchasing power like Peter Robertson’s analysis based on his measure of “military Purchasing Power Parity” (PPP) – which are at best rough estimates – put U.S. spending levels well over spending by China, at $806 billion versus $476 billion for 2021, the most recent year that an estimate based on the military PPP approach is available. Thus, even under Robertson’s measure, Chinese spending is 59% of U.S. levels.3 These figures provide the best available estimates of annual Chinese military spending in recent years: between $292 - $476 billion. 

Navies raise their air- and missile-defence game

Louis Bearn & Nick Childs

Navies are shoring up their shipborne air-defence capabilities given the increasingly complex threats to surface units, with maritime forces drawing upon lessons from current conflicts. Asia has set the pace for developments in recent years, but air-defence requirements are becoming increasingly prominent on European maritime order books.

A new race is on among navies to shore up their shipborne air defences in the face of threats that are becoming more potent and more complex. Naval platforms are increasingly called upon to defend against faster and more capable anti-ship and land-attack cruise and ballistic missiles, many of which are proliferating among states and non-state actors. On top of that, current conflicts are driving a new focus on the threat of small and difficult-to-detect uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) and direct-attack munitions that can overwhelm traditional shipborne air defences.

Moving targets

On 19 October, amid the Hamas–Israel war, the Pentagon announced that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Carney, operating in the Red Sea, had shot down a number of cruise missiles and UAVs launched by Yemen’s Ansarullah (Houthi) movement and potentially headed for Israel. Among the weapons used by the ship were Standard SM-2 missiles. Subsequently, the destroyers USS Thomas Hudner and USS Mason also downed air threats reportedly from locations in Yemen.

In the Ukraine conflict, Kyiv’s sinking of the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva in April last year with land-based Neptune anti-ship missiles also set alarm bells ringing. There were multiple factors in the ship’s demise, but among them was that the ship’s ostensibly formidable legacy Soviet-era air defences were evidently not up to the job.