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Defense & Security
Saint Basil's Cathedral as viewed from Red Square.

There Was Once a Counteroffensive

by Pascal Boniface

The war in Ukraine is developing not quite as expected. Kiev's army is on the defense, Moscow's troops are advancing. All the while, the distance between the West and the rest of the world is increasing The year 2023 was a catastrophic year for geopolitical affairs. The war between Russia and Ukraine that began a year earlier continues, followed by the war between Israel and Hamas that broke out on October 7. The expected collapse of the Russian army did not happen. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of PMC Wagner, who openly questioned Vladimir Putin’s authority, died officially by accident. Vladimir Putin’s power is now even more firmly established in Russia. Westerners, who decided to leave Russia to impose sanctions on it, allowed it to recover $100 billion worth of abandoned assets for next to nothing, which the Russian government was able to redistribute among its cronies. The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in the summer of 2023 has failed. The most likely scenario in this context is, of course, that the military situation will freeze, allowing Russia to retain some Ukrainian territory. This represents a heavy defeat for the West, as they themselves have stated that they will lose their credibility if Ukraine loses the game, and that Putin will win the war by default. The Ukrainian issue is also the subject of intense debate in the USA, with Republicans and Democrats arguing over whether to continue supporting Ukraine on a massive scale. The White House continues to massively support Kiev, but if Donald Trump returns to power next year, American aid to Ukraine will indeed be suspended. Vladimir Putin will be able to prevail, at least from a communications standpoint. The great mistake of the West is that it confused the desirable (Russia’s defeat) with the possible. However, demographics are in Russia’s favor: there are four times as many Russians as Ukrainians. The Russian defense industry is operating at full capacity and is supported by Iran and North Korea. Russia is weakened by the departure of many Russians who fled repression and mobilization. It is cut off from the Western world united against it, but on the other hand, it retains the cards to play in the so-called Global South. You could say that the war in Gaza has benefited its cause. Indeed, on October 7, 2023, Hamas launched deadly attacks against Israel. Israel has launched a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas. By carrying out massive bombing raids that have already killed more than 24,000 people and created a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Gaza is a children’s graveyard. If nothing justifies the October 7 terrorist attacks, nothing justifies the massive and indiscriminate bombing of civilians who would otherwise be subjected to a blockade. This situation in the Middle East is a real argument for Vladimir Putin against the West. The latter actually continues to ask the countries of the Global South, non-Western countries, to adopt sanctions against Russia that has seized territories by force and bombed civilians, which is forbidden by international law. But the same Western countries recognize Israel’s unconditional right to self-defense, while Israel also occupies territories and bombs civilians. For the affected Israelis, there will be a before and an after October 7. They thought they lived in a safe haven, protected from harm, but found that they did not. These attacks came as an undeniable shock to Israel. But there will also be wars before and after the Gaza war, because the images of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip under Israeli bombardment that we see now may be less visible in the Western world, but are widespread around the world and will also remain in the collective consciousness. In both cases, to varying degrees, there is a difference in understanding between Western and non-Western countries. Western countries condemn Russia and support Israel. Non-Western countries think it is completely abnormal to condemn Russia and not condemn Israel for bombing civilians. This difference in perception is growing and isolating the western world from the rest of the world.

Defense & Security
 COSCO Shipping vessel in the Red Sea.

China's powerlessness in the Red Sea

by Johann C. Fuhrmann

Houthi attacks pose a strategic dilemma for Beijing. Washington has asked Beijing for support to curb attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on merchant ships in the Red Sea, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing US government circles. China's own interest in de-escalation and securing trade and supply chains appears to be obvious. However, why China is holding back in the conflict, even though it is economically heavily dependent on exports, raises questions. Despite displeasure: Beijing's restraint The Yemeni Houthi militia has been attacking ships and thus supply chains in the Red Sea since mid-November last year, presenting the Beijing leadership with a strategic dilemma: as an exporting nation, China is dependent on secure trade routes, while at the same time the People's Republic is striving to establish itself as a force for peace and order in the region. For the Chinese leadership, this means walking a political tightrope with an uncertain outcome. There is no question that the current attacks by the Houthi militia on merchant ships in the Red Sea are a thorn in China's side. Mao Ning, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, recently appealed to the Houthi militia to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea. The Houthi militia sees itself as part of the "Axis of Resistance" against Israel, which also includes the radical Islamic group Hamas. On 12 and 13 January 2024, the United States and the United Kingdom, with the support of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, launched a series of attacks against the Houthi in Yemen with airstrikes and cruise missiles in response to the terrorist organization's attacks. Around 60 percent of Chinese exports to Europe pass through the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. "The attacks have tripled container prices for Red Sea passages and extended transit times by many days when bypassing the Houthi route. At the end of December, Chinese car manufacturer Geely warned of delays in the delivery of its electric cars due to the 'situation' in the Red Sea," reports Beijing-based FAZ correspondent Jochen Stahnke.[2] The crisis has long since reached the port of Piraeus in Greece, in which the Chinese state shipping company COSCO holds a 67 percent stake. Due to supply bottlenecks for Chinese batteries, according to rbb information, even production at the Tesla plant in Grünheide, Brandenburg, will have to largely cease at the end of the month[3]. The disruption to supply chains is hitting the Chinese economy at an extremely unfavorable time. The People's Republic is in the midst of a real estate crisis, is struggling with high youth unemployment and faces the threat of deflation. In the face of these challenges, the Chinese economy is relying heavily on exports. A recent example of this is the announcement by Chinese car manufacturer SAIC to acquire 14 transport ships. Apparently, dissatisfaction with the current developments in the Red Sea has also reached the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Mei Xinyu from the Chinese Academy for Economic Cooperation, a think tank linked to the Ministry of Commerce, underlines this in a blog post with the words: "There is one thing that the Huthi rebels and their supporters need to understand: The biggest user of the Suez Canal route is none other than China."[4] It is striking that the Beijing Foreign Ministry's call for de-escalation in the Red Sea followed a statement by the Houthi that there would be no future attacks on Russian and Chinese ships. Nevertheless, China's trade also relies on ships sailing under different flags. According to media reports, some ships even use radio signals to pretend to be Chinese, even though they do not originate from China - for fear of attack. The Beijing press praises this practice as a success of Chinese "soft power". Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University, explained this to the Global Times, saying: "The Houthi militias have no interest in attacking Chinese ships. The reason is simple: China makes fair comments and takes fair actions on issues in the Middle East. China has no special interests in the region and is only committed to peace, security and stability in the region."[5] However, no mention is made of the extent to which the escalation is damaging the core interests of the Chinese economy. Meanwhile, the political leadership in Beijing is keeping a surprisingly low profile with regard to the conflict. What is striking, however, is that Chinese state propaganda blames the USA and Israel in particular for the escalation of violence and presents the People's Republic as a guarantor of peace. In this context, the Global Times emphasizes: "China's justice lies in not taking sides or being biased. China does not support the use of force by the Huthi in the Red Sea to disrupt trade routes. At the same time, however, it criticizes the biased approach and double standards of the US in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the use of force to counter violence."[6] The question remains, however, how China's efforts to appear neutral can be explained, especially in light of the fact that the conflict in the Red Sea is severely disrupting the People's Republic's trade interests. China's strategic dilemma The US request to China to provide support in the fight against the Houthi rebels has so far met with no response in Beijing. There is no indication that China has any interest in participating in the US-led military mission - on the contrary. There is also no indication that Beijing is trying to influence the Huthi through diplomatic channels. This at least seems possible, as the Houthis maintain close ties with Iran, with which China has good relations. The reluctance of the government in Beijing can be attributed to a variety of reasons. China is a major trading partner of Iran, which in turn supports the Houthi rebels. China sources around a tenth of its crude oil needs from the mullahs, and Beijing avoids angering Tehran by turning against the Houthis. There also appears to be no demand on Iran to influence the Huthi. Moreover, Beijing has explicitly sided with the Palestinians in the Gaza war. Paul Nantulya from the National Defense University in Washington believes that the competition between China and the US also plays a role: "Participation in a US military operation would be seen as 'capitulation to US interests' and 'humiliation of China' by the Chinese political and military establishment," Nantulya told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.[7] China also sees itself as an advocate of the "Global South", the so-called developing and emerging countries. In the Middle East conflict, this attitude is manifested in China's solidarity with the Palestinians. This support is in line with China's general orientation as an advocate for countries outside the Western sphere of influence, particularly in Latin America, Africa and the Arab world as a whole. In doing so, China is positioning itself against what Beijing perceives as the "imperialist" United States and its allies. There is no question that Israel is perceived in this context primarily as a "US ally" and an "imperialist power" in the Middle East, despite its previously good relations with the People's Republic. In his article for the Frankfurter Rundschau, Sven Hauberg adds another dimension to these observations. He quotes May-Britt Stumbaum, an Asia expert at the Center for Intelligence and Security (CISS) at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, who explains: "I think China is keeping out of it because they have very little operational experience and there is a great risk that they will embarrass themselves." Stumbaum emphasizes that China may be acting cautiously for this reason, so as not to reveal its actual military capabilities. "Nobody should know how strong the Chinese military really is. But that would no longer work if China took part in missions and openly showed its weaknesses."[8] Outlook: China as a regulatory power - has Beijing run out of steam? It is currently still extremely convenient for China's leadership to criticize US military attacks as warmongering, while securing maritime trade routes is actually also in Beijing's interests. At present, China is leaving it to other states to defend its own interests in the region. The key question, however, is how long this cost-benefit calculation can last from Beijing's perspective. The disruption of supply chains in international trade is currently hitting China, which is in a precarious economic situation, at a sensitive point. The situation is not comparable to Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine. Here, China has at least managed to benefit economically, as China's exports to Russia have risen sharply. At the same time, the People's Republic is benefiting from cheap energy supplies from Russia, which has recently made Moscow the most important crude oil supplier for Beijing, overtaking Saudi Arabia. China's hopes of becoming a regulatory power in the Middle East and curbing the influence of the USA in the region have suffered a setback. Just under a year ago, Beijing undoubtedly pulled off a surprise diplomatic coup: Through China's mediation, an unexpected agreement was reached between Iran and its arch-enemy Saudi Arabia in April 2023, which included the resumption of regular diplomatic relations and the exchange of ambassadors. However, the Chinese dream of gaining international recognition as a factor of influence and stability in the Middle East seems to be coming to an early end these days in view of China's impotence in the Red Sea. References: [1] Financial Times 2024: US urges China to help curb Red Sea attacks by Iran-backed Houthis, abrufbar unter: https://www.ft.com/content/bba68661-6c9b-41b5-ab74-d573b3a27c54, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [2] Stahnke, Jochen 2024: Wie China mit den Huthi-Angriffen im Roten Meer umgeht, in: FAZ.net, abrufbar unter: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/israel-krieg/wie-china-mit-den-huthi-angriffen-im-roten-meer-umgeht-19466421.html, 25.01.2024. [3] rbb24: Tesla muss Ende Januar Fertigung wegen Lücken in Lieferketten stoppen, abrufbar unter: https://www.rbb24.de/wirtschaft/beitrag/2024/01/tesla-gigafactory-produktionsstopp-brandenburg.html, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [4] Mei, Xinyu 2024: Huthi-Spiel mit dem Feuer, in chinesischer Sprache abrufbar unter: https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20231217A05WXS00, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [5] Global Times 2024: US escalates Red Sea tensions, while China voices fairness, Ausgabe: 17. Januar 2024, S. 5. [6] Global Times 2024. [7] Siehe hierzu den lesenswerten Beitrag: Hauberg, Sven 2024: Suezkanal ist wichtige Handelsroute – doch China hält sich im Kampf gegen die Huthi-Rebellen auffallend zurück, Frankfurter Rundschau, abrufbar unter: https://www.fr.de/politik/krieg-china-huthi-miliz-rebellen-rotes-meer-iran-suezkanal-usa-israel-gaza-zr-92782955.html, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [8] Hauberg, Sven 2024.

Defense & Security
Permanent Observer of Palestine to United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks at UN Security Council meeting on Israeli-Palestinian conflict at UN Headquarters.

From Ceasefire to Post-War Government in Israel and Gaza: Punishment, Patronage or Political Legitimacy?

by Benedict Moleta

However a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is achieved, neither punishing Benjamin Netanyahu nor patronising a non-elected Palestinian administrative entity will produce tenable post-war governments. The only viable path will be one that is paved with political legitimacy. Two months after Hamas’ attack on Israel, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter to formally bring the gravity of the war in Gaza to the attention of the Security Council. Gutteres judged that the war was “fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region.” While such concerns are thus being expressed at the highest international level, it remains an open question how Israel and Gaza are to be governed once a permanent ceasefire is eventually achieved. Unresolved and volatile conditions in local, regional, and international political environments indicate that a variety of factors will need to be considered in any credible post-war proposal. Locally ‒ in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza ‒ it is difficult to identify anything resulting from the November 2023 truce that was beneficial to the Netanyahu government. By allowing negotiations with Hamas to proceed (via Qatari mediators), in order to free a limited number of captives, Netanyahu was being drawn away from his initial position of outright refusal to “surrender to terrorists,” and drawn into a pragmatism of dividing members of hostage families from one another. Predictably, Netanyahu faced renewed public anger from the families of those still in captivity once the truce broke down. On the Palestinian side, and unpromising for both the Netanyahu government and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of their ability to manage future conflict in the West Bank, the release of 240 Palestinian teenage and women prisoners (some jailed for attempted murder) prompted scenes of public jubilation. This provided authentic propaganda for Hamas during the truce, spreading in real time on Telegram channels. One Palestinian former detainee announced she was proud of Mohommed Deif and Yahya Sinwar for not having forgotten her. Her gratitude to Hamas’ leaders in Gaza was an expression of popular resistance that is not likely to evaporate when the women and children return to their homes. Even less encouraging for the prospects of effective security cooperation between the PA and Israel in the West Bank, the release of these women and minors indicated simultaneously that Israel was unable to keep them incarcerated and that the PA had been able neither to prevent their incarceration previously, nor to free them now. Since 1994 the PA’s Western-endorsed security cooperation with Israel has proceeded alongside Israel’s “administrative detention” of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, detained without trial or charge. The liberation of these 240 women and minors can only be attributed to the negotiation with Hamas into which Israel has been drawn. One poll conducted during the week of prisoner exchanges showcased a dramatic increase in Palestinian support for Hamas. These street-level displays, of course, do not indicate that Hamas is on the way to mobilising political imagination throughout the West Bank. Nor is it capable of forcing itself back into the sphere of government from which it was removed after winning the 2006 elections. But it would be difficult to describe the truce and the prisoner exchanges as having damaged Hamas’ popular legitimacy. Regionally, Israel’s siege on Gaza has elicited strong responses that have demonstrated increasing antagonism on and around Israel’s borders. To the north, Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called Netanyahu “the butcher of Gaza.” To the south, Yemeni Houthis have staged brazen attacks on Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea. In each case, Iran’s presence has been felt. Turkiye’s cultivation of diplomatic common ground with Tehran over Gaza has proved troublesome, while the Houthis have relied considerably on Iran for military aid. But glib condemnation of these regional alliances will be of little use when it comes to developing viable post-war political and governmental arrangements. Simply pointing the finger at Iran will not provide Israel with new geostrategic techniques for avoiding a multi-front war. Nor will it provide the United States with new geostrategic ideas for controlling the international disorder emanating from Gaza. At the international level, the strained position of the United States has become more pronounced, and the United Nations more vocal. As fighting resumed following the truce, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israel’s war cabinet that it may not be able to count on many more months of international support for its siege on Gaza. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin meanwhile has suggested that Israel risked “strategic defeat” if it could not combine its war aims with the protection of civilians. The US-Israel relationship may be “ironclad” now as earlier, but the US government’s highest foreign policy and defence officials also seem to be acknowledging that Israel’s sovereignty has been challenged as never before. While Israel is naturally focussed on military objectives and geostrategic conditions, Blinken and Austin were making it clear that the lives of civilians in Gaza lives must also be taken into account. By 6 December, international pressure had come to fully bear on Israel’s prosecution of its war aims. While the UN Security Council’s permanent ceasefire resolution was vetoed by Washington, it was clear that what E.H. Carr called the “political community of nations” was keen to make its wishes heard. Ideally these wishes will lead to a cessation of hostilities, comparable to that achieved by Resolution 1701 in 2006, at the close of the second Lebanon war. However, a month later the wishes of the international community had not become a reality; no binding UN Security Council resolution had brought a ceasefire into effect. As the war proceeds into 2024, sceptics might be forgiven for observing that, today, declarations of international governance still have something about them of the “embryonic character” that Carr warned of in The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 84 years ago. By whatever means a permanent ceasefire is achieved, all parties will eventually need to face the long-term question: “How are Israel and Gaza to be governed after the war?” In order to be credible, post-war proposals will need to put aside the attractions of punishment and patronage, and will need to come to terms with enduring fundamentals of political legitimacy. Punishing Benjamin Netanyahu by calling for his resignation may seem legitimate to the families whose loved ones have been killed or are still in captivity. Certainly, there are enough former Israeli statesmen and security chiefs who consider Netanyahu a disgrace or a liability. But having Netanyahu gone will not produce a new coalition government ˗ led by Benny Gantz or anyone else ˗ that can magically restore psychological security in the lives of Israelis and political stability in the State of Israel. Punishment will not induce rehabilitation. International patronage of an unelected Palestinian administrative body may be the best way to prevent inclusion of Hamas in a post-war government. Such a consideration may also ensure that the Palestinian Authority is “revitalised.” But this would be a repeat of 2007, when principles agreed among outsiders overturned Hamas’ election victory. At worst, a Palestinian government managed under international patronage would be a reversion to the post-Oslo dialectic that Anne Le More described in 2008 as “political guilt, wasted money.” Any credible proposal for democratic post-war government in Israel and Gaza will need to start from the political fundamentals as summed up by Olivier Roy: “there can be no democracy without political legitimacy.” The future will need to be governed by people and parties arising within local political life, and who are voted for by the local population, and who are held accountable by the political will of Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Defense & Security
Israel tank with ammunition.

Where do Israel and Hamas get their weapons?

by Terrence Guay

The fighting continues between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas militants in and around Gaza. The death tolls continue to rise, but where do the weapons keep coming from? The Israeli government estimates that Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7, 2023, killed 1,200 people in Israel. Since then, both sides have fired missiles and rockets, mortars and other weapons at each other. Israeli missiles and bombs have killed over 25,000 people in Gaza, according to the United Nations. Hamas has launched over 13,000 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel and killed 189 Israel Defense Forces soldiers. As a scholar of the global defense industry and international weapons trade, I see that both Israel and Hamas make some of their own weapons and get the rest from suppliers in other nations. Israel’s weapons supply Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been acutely aware that it is surrounded by hostile countries with many more inhabitants. Its defense strategy has emphasized self-sufficiency and advanced technology. This philosophy has been reinforced and refined by the nation’s experience in prior wars in 1948-49, 1956, 1967 and 1973, as well as prior conflicts in Gaza and the West Bank. And its defense spending matches this priority. In 2022, Israel spent 4.5% of its gross domestic product on defense, a share that was the lowest in decades but more per person – US$2,623 – than any other country except Qatar. For a small country, Israel has a highly regarded defense industry, which can ramp up production on short notice in case of increased fighting. Three Israeli companies rank among the world’s top 100 arms producers: Elbit Systems manufactures ammunition and artillery; Israel Aerospace Industries produces unmanned aerial vehicles; and Rafael makes air defense systems. Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries collaborated to develop the highly regarded Iron Dome missile defense system. The U.S. provided development aid, and about half of Iron Dome’s components are made in America. Led by those firms, Israel has gone from being a net weapons importer to the world’s 10th-largest arms exporter. Much of its success in the weapons industry is a result of entrepreneurship and innovation within the overall economy, as well as civilian-military linkages. Since most Israelis are required to serve in the military, they develop decision-making and leadership skills at a young age. They also tend to be given tasks with high levels of responsibility. All of this contributes to the country’s startup and entrepreneurial culture. Israel also imports weapons from other countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s arms transfers database, 68% of Israel’s weapons imports from 2013 to 2022 came from the U.S. Another 28% came from Germany. Imports are funded in part by $3.3 billion of military aid provided annually by the U.S., along with $500 million for missile defense cooperation. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the U.S. has provided more than 5,000 MK-84 munitions, a type of 2,000-pound bomb. As of late December 2023, the U.S. had sent artillery shells, armored vehicles and basic combat tools to Israel, delivered in 230 cargo planes and 20 ships. U.S. military aid to Israel also includes stockpiled weapons. For years, the Pentagon has stored weapons in Israel, presumably for use by the U.S. military. But the U.S. has allowed Israel to draw down some of these supplies during the Gaza conflict. In fact, the U.S. has directed some of these stored armaments to be sent to Ukraine, which allows those warehouses in Israel to be restocked with more advanced equipment. Less sophisticated bombs and bullets shipped to Ukraine will free up space, to be filled with precision-guided munitions from the U.S. Hamas’ weapons supply In response to Israeli blockades, Hamas has constructed an elaborate and extensive tunnel complex under Gaza and across the Egyptian border. Hamas gets most of its weapons from Iran. The weapons are transported though Egypt and smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels. But Hamas’ weapons also include AK-47 assault rifles from China and Russia, and rocket-propelled grenades manufactured in North Korea and Bulgaria. In the murky global arms trade, it can be difficult to determine who is selling weapons to whom. A weapon manufactured in one country could end up in the hands of Hamas by way of one or more intermediary countries. Like nonmilitary goods, copycat armaments also are part of the weapons business. Hamas fighters are using a variety of Soviet-era weapon designs that have been copied and manufactured by China and Iran. Hamas even manufactures some arms in Gaza. Local factories, some of which are within the underground tunnels, produce mortars, rockets, rifles and bullets. Some countries, such as Russia, give Hamas permission to imitate their products. Iran trains Gaza-based engineers on design and production techniques. Ironically, when the Israeli military destroys buildings and equipment in Gaza, material from the ruins is recycled by Hamas factories into weapons. As the war progresses, Israel will likely be in a position to restock its depleted weapons, so long as Washington continues to provide political and military support. But with Israel now occupying much of Gaza, it will be far more difficult for Hamas to reload.

Defense & Security
Israel and Palestine flag

Political Insights (4): The Palestinian Authority’s Response to the Israeli Aggression on Gaza Strip

by Atef-al-Joulani

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah was caught off guard by Al-Aqsa Flood Operation on 7/10/2023, followed by a widespread Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip (GS) and continuous incursions into various areas of the West Bank (WB). The PA has been confused, hesitant, helpless and weak in responding to the evolving confrontations and in taking practical measures against these aggressions. This situation raises questions about the factors influencing the PA’s position. First: Determinants and Influential Factors: The most important factors influencing the PA decisions and positions regarding the Israeli aggression on GS and incursions into WB can be summarized as follows: 1. The PA is concerned about its existence and role in light of threats from the right-wing Israeli government to undermine the PA, limit its role and accuse it of financing terrorism. The lack of condemnation of Hamas’ attack on October 7 has further complicated the situation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated the readiness of the Israeli army to confront the PA security forces, describing the Oslo Accords that established it as a “fateful mistake.” 2. There is a contrast in opinions within the PA regarding how to deal with the aggression on GS: one advocating neutrality, caution and waiting for the outcome of the confrontation between Hamas and the occupation forces, and the other emphasizing the necessity of taking practical actions to preserve the PA’s image and avoid condemnation for complicity and abandonment. News indicate that Mahmud ‘Abbas, Hussein al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj adopt the first, which has reflected clearly in the PA’s decisions and current position. 3. The security obligations imposed by the Oslo Accords, requiring the PA to coordinate security with Israel, maintain security conditions and prevent resistance activities. Unlike previous cases where the PA hinted at freezing security coordination with the occupation, it is noteworthy that no such position was made concerning the current aggression. 4. The US has called the PA to engage with its visions and arrangements in order to manage GS after the current confrontation with Hamas. The PA has responded to these demands, expressing its readiness to manage GS, after the end of confrontations, within a political framework that includes WB and GS. 5. The political rivalry with Hamas and the desire to weaken it as a strong political opponent. Some PA prominent influential figures believe that the current confrontation between Hamas and Israel presents a crucial opportunity to settle the competition with their political rival and regain control over GS. 6. The positions of influential Arab parties that seek to end Hamas’ rule of GS, weaken it and enhance the PA’s role in WB and GS. They also want to stop the increase of resistance activities in WB, which threaten the PA’s influence. 7. The PA’s fear of economic repercussions if it adopts positions that provoke the Israeli side. Israel has decided to withhold about $156 million from the monthly clearance funds, claiming that this amount includes salaries, allowances for employees and expenses for GS. There are indications that the Israeli security cabinet is considering the possibility of releasing the withheld clearance funds to the PA and allowing workers from WB to work inside the occupied Palestinian territories under new security conditions. 8. The decline of the PA’s popularity among Palestinians due to its weak position concerning the war on GS and its inability to resist the widespread incursions in WB. Numerous angry protests in WB cities have called for the resignation of the PA’s president. A recent opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Political and Survey Research in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung revealed a significant decline in the PA’s popularity. About 58% of respondents called for its dissolution, while 72% supported Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, and 64% opposed the PA’s participation in meetings with the United States, with the involvement of Arab countries, in order to discuss the future of GS after the war stops Second: The PA’s Position on the Aggression: Through monitoring the PA’s actions and positions during the 70 days of Israeli aggression on GS and the continuous invasions of WB cities, its stance can be summarized in the following points: 1. The PA had limited reaction, only declaring its rejection and condemnation of the Israeli aggression without undertaking effective and influential action to counter it. It relinquished its role in protecting the Palestinian people, or at least acknowledged its implicit inability to do so. 2. The PA participated in the meetings of joint Arab and Muslim action institutions and became a member of the committees derived from these meetings to follow-up their decisions. 3. The PA prevented its security forces from confronting the ongoing Israeli attacks in WB. It continued pursuing resistance groups and conducting arrests among Palestinian activists. 4. The PA worked to restrain popular activities in WB that support the resistance and oppose the Israeli aggression on GS. It limited the spaces for popular movement and prevented interaction with the Israeli forces. 5. The Palestinian mission at the United Nations (UN), along with some Palestinian ambassadors, have effectively clarified the Palestinian position, countered the Israeli narrative and worked to issue from the UN General Assembly resolutions to cease fire. They also confronted US proposals condemning the resistance. 6. The PA avoided calling for any joint national meetings to strengthen the internal front against the Israeli aggression. It emphasized that the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are the sole representatives of the Palestinian people, excluding any other party. Conclusion In general, the PA’s position aligned with the official Arab stance, dominated by a negative view of the Palestinian military resistance and reformist Islamic movements. This aligns with its desire for the PA to replace Hamas in managing GS. Despite presenting itself as the representative of the Palestinian people, expressing their suffering and aspirations, its practical behavior on the ground in WB, especially through maintaining security coordination with Israel, suppressing popular movements and preventing any escalation of Intifadah, civil disobedience and armed resistance, established for a “comfortable” environment for Israel. It practically sidelined over three million Palestinians in WB from engaging in resisting activities, except under exceptional circumstances. It seems that the PA leadership prefers a policy of waiting, anticipating what will result from the Israeli aggression on GS, with some of its leaders considering the defeat of the resistance and the dominance of the occupation a matter of time. Consequently, the PA is the candidate to take over the administration of GS, but it refuses to overtly acknowledge this, so as not to appear that it is coming riding Israeli tanks. For this would lead to further deterioration of its already declining popularity and loss of credibility. It prefers having transitional phase before assuming responsibility, within a national consensus if possible and a broader vision for genuine progress in the peace process. Therefore, it is unlikely, in the coming days, that a substantial change in the PA’s position on the Israeli aggression on GS will occur, given the continued influence of the mentioned factors and while it is waiting for battle outcomes to become clear.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier launching a drone for reconnaissance

How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict

by Kristen D. Thompson

Drone technology has been used extensively in twenty-first-century armed conflict, but the Russia-Ukraine war is driving innovations in autonomous warfare not seen on other battlefields. From drones that fit in the palm of the hand to drones weighing more than 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), Ukraine has built and acquired a diverse fleet of remotely piloted aircraft to complicate and frustrate Russia’s advances. The constantly evolving scope of this technology and its ever-growing use signal not only the potential for drones to level the playing field in the Russia-Ukraine war, but also their ability to influence how future conflicts are waged. Why is the war in Ukraine a hotbed for drones? As the war enters its third calendar year, neither side is close to achieving air superiority. Most military analysts expected that Russia, with its superior air power, would quickly seize control of contested airspace early in the conflict. But surprisingly, Ukraine’s defenses, later bolstered by Western systems, were able to repel and deter Russian aircraft from making near-border and cross-border strikes. The inability of either side to break through the other’s integrated air defenses has forced them to increase the agility of their fielded forces and rely more heavily on standoff weapons, including long-range artillery, missiles, and drones. These conditions have led to the development of new drone technologies that could help Ukraine level the playing field in the air battle and possibly turn the tide of the war in its favor. What technologies are in use? Ukraine’s drone deployment has evolved with the changing battlefield. During earlier stages of the war—when Russia’s air defense and electronic-warfare capabilities were less pronounced—Ukraine relied on larger drones such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar to great effect. The TB2’s ability to carry multiple air-to-ground munitions and loiter for long periods allowed Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian air defenses and strike heavy targets. However, as time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models more easily. The TB2 may maintain some relevance—its sensor suite and considerable range still enable Ukrainian operators to collect intelligence—but Ukraine has nonetheless shifted to using smaller drone technology to adapt to Russian advances. The more abundant, smaller drones are proving to be serious game changers in that they have given Ukraine better battlespace awareness and more capability to hit targets. The Ukrainians have tapped into commercial technology—the same recreational products available to civilians—to get cheap, off-the-shelf drones onto the battlefield quickly. Many of these “hobbyist” drones have been acquired through grassroots crowdfunding efforts, or “dronations.” At just one thousand dollars per unit, the small drones can be rapidly amassed and repurposed by operators for a specific effect. For example, the popular first-person view (FPV) drones commonly used for racing or filmmaking are retrofitted with makeshift explosives and flown to strike fixed targets at relatively low cost. These drones can carry out single-use strikes with high precision while remaining less susceptible to Russian air defense systems. Additionally, the Ukrainians have repurposed significant aspects of their domestic economy to support the new drone supply chain, increasing their drone-making capabilities through public-private partnerships. One year ago, Ukraine had seven domestic drone manufacturers and it now has at least eighty. As for Russian drone technology, Moscow deploys indigenous models, such as the Orion, Eleron-3, Orlan-10, and Lancet, but Western sanctions on crucial Russian supply chains have prevented Moscow from excelling in drone production. Instead, Russia has turned to Iran for a steady supply. The Russians now boast an extensive fleet of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones that can carry 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms) of explosives over a range of 1,200 miles (1931 kilometers). How are drones shaping the war? This conflict has demonstrated the battlefield advantages of drones, which have become smaller, more lethal, easier to operate, and available to almost anyone. They compress the so-called kill chain, shortening the time from when a target is detected to when it is destroyed, and they can bolster a military’s ability to reconnoiter the forward edge of the battlefield. Drones with longer endurance profiles can effectively conduct hours of reconnaissance, enabling other, more advanced drones to carry out precision strikes deep inside enemy territory. Other models enable individual soldiers to monitor adversary movement without risking lives or giving up the soldier’s position. Drones can also play an important international humanitarian role, for instance, by conducting battle and collateral damage assessments or exposing war crimes. U.S. drone manufacturer Skydio recently donated nine drones that—with their high-resolution cameras—will be used to help Ukraine document potential Russian war crimes. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), images captured will be used to aid the Office of the Prosecutor General in documenting many instances of human rights abuses. What are the defenses against drones? Drones are susceptible to air defenses. Larger drones with a distinct radar cross-section are easy, slow-moving targets for air defense interceptors and anti-drone guns; both Ukraine and Russia have downed thousands of drones with their interceptors and artillery. However, the continual use of these systems by both Ukraine and Russia can be prohibitively costly, as a single drone could cost thousands or even millions of dollars to intercept. An emerging challenge of counter-drone defense is the need to develop and employ a system that is cheaper than its target. Crucially, smaller drones that can swarm toward a target are more difficult to shoot down. as they can overwhelm air defense systems. A key countermeasure has been to utilize electronic warfare in the form of jammers, spoofers, and high-energy lasers that prevent drones from reaching their target. Jammers—used by both Russia and Ukraine—send out powerful electromagnetic signals that can cause a target drone to fall to the ground, veer off course, or turn around and attack its operator. As the war progresses, both sides are continually investing in and adapting electronic warfare tactics to counter the innovations of their adversary. How will the drone war evolve? The Russia-Ukraine conflict has demonstrated that innovations in drone technology can change the balance of power in the air defense domain especially. While Russia seeks to build pockets of air superiority and bolster its drone production and anti-drone defenses, Ukraine continues to develop both more and less sophisticated solutions. In a recently uncovered partnership project with Iran, Russia finished constructing a drone factory in Tatarstan, 500 miles (805 kilometers) east of Moscow, where it could produce an estimated six thousand Shahed-136 prototypes (renamed the Geran-2 by Moscow) by mid-2025. This expanded drone production could be enough to counter Russia’s shortage of drones on the front lines and turn the tide of the conflict in its favor. However, Ukraine’s ability to acquire and crowdsource commercial drone technology, tactically modify drones in the field based on real-time feedback, and alter tactics to defeat anti-drone systems have proved to be crucial to its war effort. Even while overmatched force-wise, Ukraine has shown how savvy technological adaptation can change twenty-first century warfare and could tip the balance of power in favor of the force that is more innovative. Editor’s Note: Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author.

Defense & Security
Successful North and South Korean satellite launches

A tale of two satellites: ISR on the Korean Peninsula

by Timothy Wright

Successful North and South Korean satellite launches underscore both countries’ ambitions to possess an independent space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to support their respective deterrence postures. Paradoxically, better ISR capabilities may also improve stability on the Korean Peninsula. Within two weeks, North and South Korea have each successfully launched their first military geospatial imaging satellites. Although the information-gathering capabilities of North Korea’s satellite are probably inferior to South Korea’s, Pyongyang will likely improve this over time, possibly with Russian assistance. Space-based systems will increase Pyongyang and Seoul’s capability to hold each other’s territory at risk, but paradoxically may also improve stability. Targeting tactics Space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems play an important role in the so-called ‘kill-chain’ through which militaries detect, track and engage targets with precision-strike systems. Pyongyang and Seoul possess large arsenals of precision-guided ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles, but their respective ISR capabilities to inform targeting decisions are less mature by comparison. North Korea has developed several types of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) for ISR purposes, but sensor, endurance and communications constraints limit their utility, and they are vulnerable to South Korean and United States air defences. South Korea has more advanced ISR capabilities, but it has historically relied on United States space-based assets for its geospatial imagery needs.    North Korea said that it developed a space-based ISR capability to provide its armed forces with ‘real-time information’ to improve its ‘war deterrent’. Following the successful launch of the Malligyong-1 satellite on 21 November, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that it provided North Korea with ‘eyes’ to complement its ‘fist’. To underline this point, North Korean state media claimed the satellite imaged Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and other ‘ major targets in the enemy region’ that North Korea could target in a conflict, without releasing imagery. Similarly, South Korea said that it is developing its space-based ISR capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of its so-called 3K deterrence architecture. It envisages South Korean forces detecting and targeting North Korean missile launchers and command-and-control in the event of an imminent or unforeseen North Korean missile launch. Both countries have made clear their recent launches are merely a first step to building out a space-based ISR layer. North Korea has said that it will launch an unspecified number of satellites in the future. Seoul plans to follow the 1 December launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the deployment of four synthetic-aperture radar satellites by 2025, giving it an all-weather capability. Launch implications Although North Korea’s launch is an achievement for Pyongyang after earlier launch failures, the satellite’s likely poor image quality might provide limited initial returns. After a prior North Korean launch of a military-satellite similar to the Malligyong-1 failed, South Korean and US investigators judged, based on recovered parts, that the payload had ‘no military use’, suggesting its sensors and communication equipment were of poor quality. Even so, the successful launch on 21 November provides Pyongyang with an independent capability that will likely mature through domestic refinement, illicit acquisitions and potentially foreign assistance. South Korea claims that Russia provided unspecified input on the Chollima-1 satellite-launch vehicle (SLV) following two failed launch attempts earlier this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin also apparently pledged to provide support for North Korea’s space programme during a September meeting with Kim at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, possibly as repayment for much-needed ammunition to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Because SLVs incorporate dual-use components and technologies that can also be used in ballistic missiles, Pyongyang’s satellite launch was condemned by France, the United Kingdom and the US as destabilising and a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea’s sanctioned ballistic missile programme. The Chollima-1 SLV’s first-stage rocket motor, for instance, is derived from the Soviet-designed RD-250 engine that has powered several different North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as the Hwasong-14, Hwasong-15 and Hwasong-17. An advancement in North Korea’s SLV capabilities will undoubtedly have some benefits for its ballistic missile programme. Although Pyongyang regularly tests ballistic missiles, it is unlikely to have used this launch to disguise testing military capabilities related to its missile programme. South Korea’s military space programme also has received some external assistance. The country launched its satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 SLV from the US government’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. Future satellite launches might continue to use US technology alongside South Korea’s burgeoning SLV capability. Supporting stability Perhaps paradoxically, Pyongyang and Seoul’s new space-based ISR capabilities may have some unexpected stability benefits by reducing mutual fears of pre-emption. In a crisis, a lack of information may exacerbate pre-emption fears and could trigger escalation. South Korea’s deterrence doctrine is based on Seoul’s fear that North Korea may pre-emptively use conventional or nuclear weapons against it. North Korea is arguably concerned about South Korea’s analogous precision-strike capabilities, evidenced by recent changes to its nuclear doctrine to delegate launch authority if Kim were killed. Although space-based ISR will allow North and South Korea to target each other more effectively in a conflict, their new capabilities might also be useful in a crisis by providing Pyongyang and Seoul with greater situational awareness that could reduce the risk of inadvertent escalation.

Defense & Security
Israel and Hezbollah's willingness to avoid full-blown war.

Why both Israel and Hezbollah are eager to avoid tit-for-tat attacks escalating into full-blown war

by Asher Kaufman

The killing of a Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon on Jan. 8, 2024, has raised concern that the conflict between Israel and Hamas could escalate into a regional war. Wissam al-Tawil, the head of a unit that operates on Lebanon’s southern border, was killed in a targeted Israeli airstrike just days after a senior Hamas leader was assassinated in Beirut and amid sporadic attacks by Hezbollah on Israeli targets. But how likely is a full-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah? The Conversation turned to Asher Kaufman, an expert on Lebanon-Israel relations at the University of Notre Dame, to assess what could happen next. What do we know about the latest strike? We know that it was an Israeli drone that killed al-Tawil. Hezbollah has since released picture of him with Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s secretary general, and Qassem Soleiman, the former head of Quds Force – one of Iran’s main military branches – who was assassinated by the U.S. in 2020. This suggests that al-Tawil was a major target for Israel, as he clearly had connections with top figures in Lebanon and Iran. The fact that it was a drone attack is also important. This suggests that the operation was based on good Israeli intelligence on al-Tawil’s whereabouts. This wasn’t a chance encounter. This was clearly a calculated and precise attack. After the operation, Israel said al-Tawil was responsible for a recent missile attack on Israel’s Mount Meron intelligence base in northern Israel. That attack was in response to the earlier assassination of a Hamas leader in Beirut. So what we are seeing is a pattern of tit-for-tat strikes. So this doesn’t mark an escalation? I don’t see the killing of al-Tawil as an escalation, as such. Rather, it is a targeted retaliation by Israel to the earlier Hezbollah strike on one of their facilities. There are some important things to note in that regard. It was just 10 kilometers north of the Israel-Lebanon border. This is still within the geographical area where the two sides have been exchanging fire since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel. So this is still within the realm of border skirmishes, to my mind, and falls short of full war. Is it in the interests of Israel to escalate conflict? I don’t think either side is interested in full-blown war, for different reasons. For Israel, the pressure is from outside the country. There is immense international pressure on Israel not to start a full-blown war with Hezbollah. Indeed, U.S. Secrtary of State Antony Blinken is currently in the region and visiting Israel with that message: Do not start a war with Hezbollah. I think there is a realization, certainly in the international community, that a full-blown war between Hezbollah and Israel will decimate Lebanon and also lead to major destruction in Israel. What about pressure within Israel? Certainly within Israel there is a strong lobby for war with Hezbollah. The thinking among Israeli military hawks here is a powerful military blow against Hezbollah would allow people living in the north of Israel to return to homes they evacuated when it looked like war might be in the cards. Indeed, the Israeli Ministry of Defense wanted preemptive war with Hezbollah after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. But U.S. President Joe Biden stopped that from happening for the same reason that Blinken is currently trying to dissuade Israel from further escalating the conflict. And what about Hezbollah? How might it respond? Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, is between a rock and a hard place. The majority of Lebanese people clearly do not want a war. But any attack resulting in the deaths of high-ranking Hezbollah figures will be met by internal demands for action. But there is a tipping point for Hezbollah, as there is for the Israelis too – which is why this tit-for-tat pattern is such a risky matter. On the Lebanese side, if Israel hits strategic Hezbollah assets deep in Lebanon – that is, outside the border areas – or launch an attack that leads to mass civilian deaths then it might lead to full-blown conflict. But so far that has not been the case. The attacks by Israel have been surgical and precise. In the case of the Hamas leader killed in Beirut, it was only Palestinians killed. It was a humiliation for Hezbollah for sure – it happened in Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut. But it wasn’t on Hezbollah assets, such as personnel, strategic sites or command centers. Israel has limited its attacks largely to the border area. Public sentiment is still very strongly against war in Lebanon. Certainly there is strong sympathy for Gazans. But the prevailing sentiment in Lebanon is that support cannot come at the price of Lebanese lives. And that suits the Hezbollah hierarchy at present. They know that the threat of war is their most important card. Once played, they can’t use it again. Is there a diplomatic way forward? Both parties are looking at diplomacy. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that his country’s preferred path is “an agreed-upon diplomatic settlement.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the goal of returning Israeli citizens to their homes in the north would be done “diplomatically” if possible. But added, “If not, we will work in other ways.” Similarly in Lebanon, the talk is of a diplomatic solution – notably by enforcing United Nations Resolution 1701, which calls for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River and for Israel to withdraw to the international border. So it isn’t that there isn’t a credible diplomatic path. And the fact that both sides use the language of diplomacy suggests there is no appetite for full-blown war. Indeed, the U.S. has long been trying to get Israel and Lebanon to resolve disputes over their shared borders. Both sides signed a U.S.-brokered maritime agreement in 2022, and there have been attempts at a similar deal in regards to the land boundary. There remained disagreement over 13 spots along the border. But since Oct. 7, the U.S. has tried to use the prospect of a negotiated land solution based on U.N. Resolution 1701 to diffuse tension between Israel and Lebanon. The Lebanese government has said it welcomes U.S. efforts to resolve the disputes. On the Israeli side, too, they are going along with U.S. attempts to keep U.N. Resolution 1701 on the table – I think, mainly to keep America on side. Does Iran have any role in influencing Hezbollah’s response? Iran has immense influence over Hezbollah – it pays for military operations and equipment. But Hezbollah is not only an Iranian proxy; it has domestic considerations, and its interests lie with the Lebanese political scene. For that reason, Hezbollah is attuned to the domestic popular pressure in Lebanon against a war. Also, I don’t think Iran wants to see an escalation. Like Hezbollah, Iranian leaders know that threat of war – through their proxies in the region – is their most valuable asset. And I don’t think Iran is ready to use it. Iran might also be concerned that if fighting escalates, then it will be drawn into war. Iran has so far played a smart game since the Oct. 7 attacks – it has stayed away from the battlefield, while supporting the sporadic attacks on Israel by Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria. But a full war between Israel and Hezbollah may draw Iran into direct confrontation with Israel and the U.S. And that is something that leaders in Tehran will most likely not want, especially after a terror attack in Iran on Jan. 3 exposed how vulnerable Iran is internally.

Defense & Security
Kim Jong Un’s Latest Threats of War

What to Make of Kim Jong Un’s Latest Threats of War

by Patrick M. Cronin

Why is Pyongyang ringing in the new year with warmongering? North Korea’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, is predicting a year of living dangerously, marked by the “highest risk of confrontation.” Addressing an end-of-year party plenum, Kim Jong Un cautioned that “war can break out at any time.” He added, however, that foreign military confrontation would be met by “a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate” the enemy and subjugate “the whole territory of South Korea.”  Kim’s dire forecast is a matter of concern, but not because deterrence is likely to fail. The North Korean leader wants others to fear the prospect of war, which is why he (once again) threatened that the Korean peninsula is “on the precipice of nuclear war.” But Kim wants to sharpen his “treasured sword,” not fall on it.  North Korea may be viewed as preternaturally bellicose, but menacing discourse is not harmless prattle. The sharp rhetoric emanating from the Kim regime masks serious internal and external goals that impinge on vital U.S. national interests and regional security. For starters, Kim needs to justify his fixation on military spending. Clearly, three military parades, 44 missiles, and 64 flights a year are difficult to sustain. The notion that U.S. and allied military exercises are making the thought of war on the peninsula “realistic” is propaganda. Even so, Kim’s pledge to launch three more military spy satellites in the coming months is realistic, if also suggestive of one of the concrete benefits of adopting Russia as North Korea’s primary defense partner. North Korea’s anemic economy cannot support additional military spending. The ambitious five-year defense modernization plan Kim unveiled three years ago is perpetuating the country’s impoverishment. Pyongyang’s boast of a 40% increase in the country’s gross domestic product last year masks a fragile and sanctioned economy, overly dependent on China, which accounts for 90% of North Korean exports. While North Korean exports to China rebounded to about $300 million in 2023, a shocking 57% of that total came from exports of wigs, false beards, eyebrows and eyelashes. A weak and vulnerable economy is precisely why the North Korean regime places a higher priority on cyber theft than it does on legal trade. When you can raise more than $2 billion from hacking, who needs to maintain so many foreign diplomatic outposts in Africa? So, U.S. and South Korean authorities must step up their game if they are to prevent cyber heists like the one on Orbit Chain on New Year’s Eve that probably netted North Koreans $81.5 million in cryptocurrency.  Kim Jong Un also is relying on cooperation with like-minded partners to compensate for his diplomatic failures with South Korea and the United States. Having strengthened ties with Russia by providing additional ammunition for Moscow’s war of aggression — and North Korean mortar and rocket shells are increasingly visible on the Ukrainian battlefield — Kim is in a position to leverage relations with Beijing.  China’s Xi Jinping, locked in a fierce competition with the United States, appears eager to lend an extra hand to help North Korea. Xi’s New Year’s Day greeting to Kim said that “the new situation in the new era” further underscores the need to take “a strategic and long-term perspective” on China-North Korea relations. North Korea’s diplomatic outreach to Russia and China not only is a counterpoise to growing trilateral relations among the United States, Japan and South Korea but also a useful means of undermining Seoul as it begins a two-year stint as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council.  Setting a belligerent tone to commence the year is also Pyongyang’s way of trying to subvert South Korea’s democratic government. There was no subtlety in labeling South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state.” Furthermore, as South Koreans mark the centennial of the birth of former president Kim Dae-jung, the Kim regime might be engaging in wishful thinking that progressives will rise in protest against the conservative administration of Yoon Suk-yeol. Politics is as polarized as ever and South Korean police are reinforcing security after the stabbing of the leader of the main opposition political party and an online threat to kill the head of the ruling People Power Party. But Kim Jong Un must have an even greater fear of losing his totalitarian power than is suggested by state-controlled media. Burnishing Kim’s credentials as a benevolent father figure and feigning more democratic elections shows a need to appeal to popular support. Even more telling was the Jan. 1 airing on North Korea’s KCTV of the movie A Day and A Night, which highlights the real story of how a nurse uncovered a counter-revolutionary plot to overthrow the Kim Il Sung government. The point of the Pyongyang-produced movie is to ensure North Korean people are sufficiently motivated to protect their leader.  Finally, threatening conflict is a cost-effective way for the Kim regime to amplify America’s trending theme of dread about the fate of American democracy. The West has a rich supply of smart pessimists who regularly churn out frightening warnings. No doubt Kim also would like for us to unburden ourselves by accommodating a nuclear North Korea and removing U.S. troops from the peninsula.  Oh, to recall the “beautiful letters” that Kim Jong Un penned to then-President Donald Trump after their brief flirtation with peace in the summer of 2018. 

Defense & Security
Attempts to create a “world without Hamas”

Political Analysis: A World Without Hamas?!!

by Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

From the start of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, Israeli calls to crush Hamas have escalated, joined by major Western powers calling for the end of Hamas’ rule in Gaza Strip (GS) and its exclusion from the Palestinian decision-making circle. This has coincided with a global campaign vilifying Hamas, accusing it of terrorism, and seeing it as an obstacle to achieving peace and stability in the Middle East. Arab and regional forces have also actively worked against Hamas, affecting their external relations and its security and developmental strategies. Arab leaders and officials have openly discussed this in closed rooms with Western leaders or with figures who later revealed it in the media, such as Dennis Ross and Thomas Friedman.A World Without Hamas:So, these powers believe that Hamas is the problem, and that its leadership is now sought after, with the solution to regional stability being the exclusion of Hamas. Let’s deal with the hypothesis of getting rid of Hamas calmly and objectively. We should ask those who have filled the world and the media against Hamas some simple questions. Hamas emerged as a movement in 1987, nearly forty years after the decision to partition Palestine and the 1948 war and the establishment of the Israel. What have peace-loving powers done during these forty years to grant Palestinians their rights, end Israeli occupation, and implement United Nations (UN) resolutions?! Was Hamas the obstacle and the problem?! After more than thirty years of the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, which the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership hoped would establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank (WB) and GS within five years. Who disrupted the implementation of the agreement? Who destroyed the peace process? Who destroyed the two-state solution? Who turned the Oslo experience and the peace process into a catastrophe for the Palestinian people? Wasn’t it the Israeli side who doubled the number of settlers, seized land, Judaized holy sites, and turned the Palestinian Authority (PA) into a functional security entity serving the occupation? After more than twenty years of the (Saudi) Arab Peace Initiative launched in 2002, wasn’t it the Israeli occupation that ignored and thwarted it, leaving it on the shelf, if not in the trash bin?! And, assuming there was no Hamas throughout this period, would the Israelis have granted Palestinians full sovereignty to the WB and GS? Or is the problem deeply rooted in the essence of Zionist ideology and the dominant Israeli mindset that rejects this?! For example, during the period 25/2–3/3/1996, after several operations carried out by Hamas in retaliation for the assassination of Yahya ‘Ayyash that shook Israel, major Western powers, Israel, the PA, and several Arab and world countries rushed to hold an international conference titled the Summit of Peacemakers, on 13/3/1996, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to support the peace process and combat “terrorism.” The PA, in collaboration with the Israeli occupation and the United States, using all means of suppression and brutality, launched a smear campaign against Hamas in an attempt to eradicate anything related to the Islamic resistance movement. Practically, the PA spared no effort and succeeded, to a large extent, in dismantling most, if not all, of the resistance cells, and largely managed to strike the organizational structure of Hamas and stifle its popular base. Then what?! In the following four years, the situation stabilized for the PA, and its nine Security Forces met all Israeli demands and achieved the targeted “quality standards.” However, Israel, on the other hand, did nothing but continue its plans of Judaization and settlement, using the settlement process as a cover to penetrate the Arab and Muslim region and normalize relations with it. The matter culminated in the failure of the Camp David II negotiations in July 2000. And the question that arises is, during that period, practically a “world without Hamas,”’ why was the promised peace settlement not achieved? Therefore, Yasir ‘Arafat lost any hope of realizing the dream of the Palestinian state he aspired to. This frustration played a fundamental role in pushing ‘Arafat to support the Al-Aqsa Intifadah that erupted in September 2000, with the participation of Fatah elements, both popularly and militarily. As for the second result, it is that Hamas, in a very short time, regained its strength, advanced to lead armed resistance, and gained unprecedented popular support, culminating in its overwhelming victory in the 2006 Legislative Council elections. Attempts to create a “world without Hamas” by the PA have been repeated since 2007 for many years in WB. Hamas has suffered (and still suffers) from the PA’s repression (along with Israeli repression and US expertise), its pursuit, closure of its institutions, and the targeting of its organizational structure. So, what was the result after 16 years?! The result is that Hamas is the most popular faction in WB, or at least the fundamental competitor to Fatah!! Otherwise, why did the Fatah leadership shy away from the election obligations and the putting the Palestinian house in order, in the spring of 2021, and continues to evade them until now?! Even in GS, the suffocating blockade and participation in five destructive wars over 16 years have only increased Hamas’s strength and popularity!! Therefore, the question directed at Israel is: If WB is under your direct and indirect occupation, and you have failed over 36 years to uproot Hamas, even with a Palestinian partner, and it still maintains its popularity; what do you expect even if you manage to reoccupy GS? Why insist on “trying the tested” and “reinventing the wheel”?Will of the Occupation… or the Will of the People?!There is a fundamental question that arises: Does a “world without Hamas” reflect the will of the occupation and its allies, or the will of the Palestinian people?! Therefore, does Israel and its allies have the right to guardianship over the Palestinian people? Is it their right to impose their standards on the Palestinian people in choosing their representatives and leaders? What audacity and arrogance is it that the enemy decides the form and specifications of the leadership of a people who are victims of occupation?! The second fundamental question is, why do the Western world, Arab normalizers and their allies seek to adapt the situation in Palestine according to the desires and standards of the occupation and in a way that pleases Israel? Instead of working according to hundreds of international resolutions and the inherent rights of peoples to self-determination, to adapt the situation in favor of ending the occupation and exerting all pressures on it to force it to do so?! Therefore, the persistence of Israel as a “state above the law,” securing its occupation, and ensuring its continued subjugation of another people is the abnormal situation that must be eliminated. Hence, if the Palestinian people choose Hamas as an expression of their free will, the correct approach is to respect the will of the people, not the will of the occupation. Hamas governed GS according to the majority elected by the Palestinian people, and it did not come with an Israeli or US permission or approval. Thus, it remains whether they are satisfied or unsatisfied; this is not their business.Realistic Indicators:Indicators show that after more than 75 days of the brutal Israeli aggression on GS, Hamas’s popularity remains high and continues to rise, and the Palestinian environment still rallies around it inside and outside Palestine. The methods of massacres and atrocities have deepened the desire of the Palestinian people for revenge and for making more sacrifices to end the occupation. Thus, Israel’s mad desire to reach a “world without Hamas” has only strengthened Hamas and elevated its status among Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and the world as a movement of resistance and liberation. This happened at a time when the ugly face of the occupation was increasingly exposed. The latest opinion polls released by the Palestinian Center for Political and Survey Research on 13/12/2023 show a rise in Hamas’s popularity and more support for the resistance line, with an overwhelming majority demanding the resignation of ‘Abbas. Moreover, if there were a referendum on the most popular factions or parties in the Arab and Muslim world, Hamas might win by a comfortable majority, gaining a position that no other Palestinian faction, party, or Arab or Muslim leader could dream of. Perhaps Abu ‘Ubaidah, whose name and face we do not know, would receive far more votes than many leaders and presidents whose names echo in the media day and night!!Hamas and the International Community:If the world were without Hamas, would it be better for the international community to support the Palestine issue? In fact, the objective study of the course of the world’s interaction with the Palestine issue, its prominence on the international agenda, and the increasing percentage of votes for it since the emergence of Hamas until now (1987–2023), indicates that whenever there is resistance, an atmosphere of uprising, confrontation with the occupation and an ascendance of Hamas’s role, this voting percentage increases in the UN and its institutions, as well as in the official and popular global interaction. Conversely, whenever the trend of peace settlement and the imposition of a state of “calm” prevails, international interest and support, as well as voting percentages in the UN, decrease. Israel exploits this to further its settlement and Judaization, moving towards closing the Palestinian file and imposing its visions that erase the rights of the Palestinian people in their land and holy sites. Researchers, such as Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay, have written about this phenomenon.Hamas and “Terrorism”:Several Western countries accuse Hamas of “terrorism” and killing civilians, seeing the need to delegitimize it internationally. However, for the Palestinian people, Arabs, Muslims and everyone who believes in the right of the Palestinian people to liberate their land, Hamas is seen as a moderate, open Islamic movement, a national liberation movement whose existence is linked to confronting Zionist terrorism and ending the occupation. Crushing and sidelining Hamas will not eliminate the essence of the liberation idea; it is an inherent and sacred right for any people with dignity seeking to determine their destiny on their own. Accusing Hamas of terrorism is merely a tool to prevent any legitimate resistance against the occupation. Regarding the issue of targeting civilians, perhaps there is no room for discussion here, but historically, it suffices to note that since its inception, Hamas has sought to focus on military objectives. After the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre carried out by a Zionist called Baruch Goldstein in 1994, Hamas offered to avoid killing civilians from both sides, but the Israeli occupation ignored it and continued its massacres. Documented statistics indicate that Israel has killed more than 11 thousand Palestinian, the overwhelming majority being civilians, from 2000 until just before the recent Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7th. The whole world has witnessed the Israeli massacres in GS… Let’s first talk about the “Zionist terrorism.” The moderate Islamic civilizational ideology is the most powerful, deep and widespread school of thought in Palestine, the Arab world and the Muslim world. Palestine, with its great religious significance and heritage, occupies a central place in the hearts of every Arab and Muslim. This school of thought, even if Hamas were hit, has the potential to reproduce a stronger and wider movement. It is associated with a just battle worth sacrificing and dying for, linked to the status of Palestine and not necessarily to the existence of Hamas. It is an entrenched ideology in Palestinian society and the Ummah (Muslim nation). It is foolish to ignore it and insist on going against the tide of history after thirty years of British colonialism and seventy-five years of Zionist colonization, using the same mechanisms that have proven their failure. *** The clear result of this discussion is that those who talk about a world without Hamas do not mean Hamas alone, but they aim to target the resistance of the Palestinian people and their vibrant and free forces. They want a world conducive to the continuation of occupation, injustice and the subjugation of the Palestinian people… They want Palestinian people without will, a people dancing to the tunes of the occupation, a people without claws and teeth, which will never happen!! Instead, global efforts should focus on creating a world without colonization… without occupation… without a Zionist settler-colonial expansionist project. It should be a world that respects the free will of peoples and pressures Israel, not those fighters for their freedom. It should be a world that stops evading the obligation that will happen sooner or later, which is the liberation of Palestine and ending the occupation.