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Defense & Security
11.07.2018. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. Official Opening Ceremony for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) SUMMIT 2018

Home alone: The sorry state of Europe’s plans for self-defence

by Nick Witney

With the possibility of a second Trump presidency looming, it is high time to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans Lest anyone had missed the point, Donald Trump has now provided helpful clarification of his attitude towards America’s NATO allies – and specifically those that fail to spend the benchmark 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. If elected he would, he declared at a campaign rally, “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to underspending NATO allies. Reacting to a storm of protest from European leaders, he was happy to repeat himself: “Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?”. Nowadays, it is less easy for complacent Europeans to shrug off such observations as typical Trumpisms. They have evidence that Trump redux would be likely to apply his malevolent instincts much more efficiently than he did in his chaotic first term as president. And the chances of him having the opportunity to do so are increasingly likely: he has now steamrollered the opposition in the early Republican primaries, and is ahead of Joe Biden in the polls. No one can any longer ignore the real possibility that in less than a year’s time the occupant of the White House could toss the whole responsibility for keeping Ukraine in the fight against Russia into European laps, whilst insisting that from here on in they see to their own defence. It would therefore hardly be premature if Europeans began to explore how each other views the situation; to make contingency plans; and even to take some precautionary steps. The two key challenges are obvious. The first is how to get more weapons, and especially ammunition and air-defence missiles, to Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion, Europeans have done better at this than might have been expected – but they have not done as well as the need now demands, and not nearly enough to support Ukraine if the United States withdraws its aid. The EU, and especially the European Commission, have played a prominent role here, providing financial incentives for member states to donate from their own stocks and to expand production facilities. But talk of moving European defence industries onto a war footing has yet to be realised; and although the commission will shortly unveil proposals for an ambitious European defence industrial strategy, this can only succeed if member states evince more enthusiasm for collective action than they have so far shown. Only three months ago France, Germany, Italy, and Spain jointly warned the commission to stay off their turf and respect national “prerogatives” on defence. The second key challenge that Europeans should be facing up to is how they would defend themselves without US backing against a Russia that had – the possibility can no longer be discounted – imposed a humiliating ‘peace’ on Ukraine. The “dormant NATO” plans being proposed by right-wing US think-tanks foresee a wholesale withdrawal of US ground forces from Europe. But Europeans have huge psychological difficulties in bringing themselves to discuss the US as they would any other foreign power, even in situations where their own strategic interests are manifestly different from those of the superpower. NATO’s disastrous involvement in Afghanistan, for instance, would never have dragged on for so many fruitless years had not its European members studiously avoided any collective discussion of a campaign which each saw exclusively through the prism of its own bilateral relations with the US. Compounding these challenges is the fact that there is no institutional setting in which Europeans could confer. Their task is, in effect, to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans, but this can hardly be discussed in NATO. That organisation, after all, is where European militaries gather to be told what to do by Americans, but the current US administration can scarcely be expected to lead a discussion premised on its own defeat in the November presidential election. The EU has neither locus nor credibility in military operational matters. The reality is that, if a strategy for defending Europe without the Americans is to emerge, this can only be on an ‘intergovernmental’ basis – through bilateral and minilateral discussion amongst Europe’s main defence players. At the alliance’s 2022 Madrid summit, NATO doubled down on its strategy of forward defence. Russia’s war on Ukraine has demonstrated that we are in a technological era in which defensive systems have the advantage over the traditional means of attack. Destroying massed Russian armour turned out to be relatively easy; getting Russians out now that they have dug themselves in is the devil’s own job. So in Madrid allies resolved to reinforce NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” – boosting in-place forces in eastern and central Europe. But predictably, Europeans have been happy to leave this largely to the Americans, who reinforced their presence in Europe with an additional 20,000 troops. The challenge for European chiefs of staff and defence planners now is to work out how, if the need arises, to substitute for US in-place forces in the frontline states; what capabilities and defensive infrastructure will be needed to halt any assault at the borders; and how to organise the communications and data networks necessary to form an effective system that ties together disparate sensors and missile, drone, and artillery assets. Such planning is now an urgent requirement, not just as a matter of military preparedness, but for psychological reasons. Europe’s frontline states have long felt their western European allies lack not only US military credibility, but also a serious understanding of the scale of Putin’s threat. Europeans will only hang together under a second Trump presidency if they are ready to trust each other, and specifically if the most vulnerable states see a real prospect of western European states putting many more of their bodies on the line as in-place forces. The last couple of years, in which predominantly eastern European states have agreed to purchase an astonishing $120 billion of weapons from American contractors, suggests a fatal tendency to believe that maybe Trump can be propitiated by such largesse. Fortunately, the return of Donald Tusk as Poland’s prime minister has substantially increased the odds of Europeans hanging together even in a Trump 2.0 scenario. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland (the Weimar Triangle) have just met to discuss strengthening Europe’s efforts. If, as expected, the British Labour party returns to government later this year, then the United Kingdom would be an obvious addition to this group. Indeed, a necessary one: it is hard to envisage a credible European defence of the continent that did not clutch in Europe’s second nuclear power. Keir Starmer has made clear his ambition to restore defence ties severed by Brexit. There is no time to waste: the prime minister-in-waiting could usefully make an early trip to Paris to initiate conversations with the UK’s closest continental ally.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Russia: Violence, Power and Another 12 Years

by David R. Marples

Twenty-five years ago, Russian president Boris Yeltsin chose his fifth and final prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In a decade marked by financial crisis, disastrous war, corruption, and Yeltsin’s lengthy illness, the term of the prime minister was always limited. They were the target when anything went wrong in the Russian Federation, as it often did. The latest choice was not expected to last long either. A former head of the Federal Security Services, he had served earlier in a desk job in Dresden for its predecessor, the KGB, a position that ended abruptly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the East German Communist state. Putin may have remained obscure, but prior to his appointment as Prime Minister he managed to attach his career to the popular mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Putin was appointed deputy mayor, but Sobchak lost his campaign for re-election in 1997 and was later accused of corruption. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2000. Putin’s sudden rise culminated with the unexpected resignation of Yeltsin at the end of 1999. He became acting president until the elections of March 2000, and then won easily with only one serious opponent, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Putin restarted the war in Chechnya, which had ended with a treaty in 1997 that left the status quo in place. The new war was conducted ruthlessly. The Chechen capital Grozny was erased and several other towns were completely destroyed. The Chechens mounted an effective terrorist campaign outside of their territory. In October 2002, about forty Chechen terrorists attacked a Moscow theatre, holding some 700 people hostage. Russian special forces, on Putin’s orders, stormed the theatre after gas was pumped into the auditorium. All the terrorists died, but so did over 100 attendees. Putin’s ruthlessness was evident. There would be no compromise with terrorists. In 2004, the Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated. Putin wanted Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan, who had switched sides in the war and offered his services to Putin, to succeed him but he had to wait three more years for him to reach the minimum age of 30. Domestically, Putin was fortunate. After a disastrous decline in the late 1990s, oil and gas prices began to rise. The Russian economy recovered. Putin accepted the credit. He removed those oligarchs of the Yeltsin era who refused to stay out of politics; the others became part of his regime. He also gradually began to reassert Russian regional dominance. In several former Soviet republics this was the era of “color revolutions” with popular leaders replacing corrupt figures, often holdovers from the Soviet era. In Ukraine’s Orange revolution protests, Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-European leader defeated pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych after a rerun of the third round of the election. To the south, Mikeil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia with similar goals. Putin’s response was to work more closely with Belarus, a reliably ally under Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and to promote the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a counter to expanding NATO. Aside from Belarus, most of the Central Asian states were included. Alongside this, relations with the West began to decline. Though Putin had some common ground with US president George W. Bush – both were faced with terrorism linked to militant Islamic groups – he resented having to kowtow to the United States as the sole world policeman. He believed the West had fomented the color uprisings. In 2008, after NATO forces colluded with the formation of Kosovo, Putin claimed that the territorial agreements that ended the Second World War had been violated. Russia openly backed two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and invaded the small Caucasian state in the same year, occupying Gori and other towns. In that same year, Putin completed his second term as president, the maximum under the Russian Constitution, and switched positions with his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, thirteen years his junior, a diminutive figure whom the West bizarrely regarded as a reformer and a liberal who would moderate Russian policies. The period 2008–12, with Putin in the background, saw one major success. After an insipid presidency marked by foreign travel and symbolic concessions to Ukrainian nationalism, Yushchenko fell from power in 2010 receiving just 1.5% of the popular vote. Yanukovych, the former governor of Donetsk, was finally president. Still, there was strong opposition to Putin’s return to power in 2012 (having amended the constitution to allow himself to do so), led by former deputy prime minister and governor of Nizhny Novgorod Boris Nemtsov. Mass protests took place in Moscow and several other cities. Putin was again triumphant, well ahead of Zyuganov and maverick nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Russia faced another crisis in Ukraine in 2014. After Yanukovych decided not to sign the Association Membership with the EU in Vilnius, mass protests began in Kyiv’s Maidan. Yanukovych tried to break them up by force on November 30, which catalyzed a mass movement. By February, Yanukovych had fled and over 100 protesters were dead. In March 2014, Putin began his invasion of Ukraine by occupying Crimea. Russia also backed a separatist revolt in the Donbas, Yanukovych’s home area, with two small breakaway republics announcing their metamorphosis into “people’s republics.” They were largely unrecognized, even by Russia but they remained in place for the next eight years, after Ukraine’s ramshackle army failed to recapture them. Putin’s third term also saw the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, who was walking outside the Moscow Kremlin with his Ukrainian girlfriend. A Chechen gang was the main suspect, possibly on the orders of Kadyrov. Russian agents had already assassinated several other troublesome figures: the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who monitored the Chechen war in diary form; and Russian defector Aleksandr Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium-210 in London by a former member of the FSB. After 2014, Putin appeared to cast off any illusions that he was approachable, moral, or confined by the usual protocols of a world leader. He began to regard the West as degenerate and in decline, and democracy as a failed experiment. He became extremely rich through his links with oligarchs, and powerful through his siloviki (those authorized to use force against civilians), a holdover from his days as head of the secret police. A hierarchical structure emerged, Putin, his Security Council (including his powerful Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov), his United Russia party that controlled the Duma, and the masses. Using social media, the Russian leadership disseminated a world perspective that anathematized the Americans, NATO, “Gay Europe,” the West, which sought to control the world and reduce Russia to a second-rate power. There were some followers in unexpected places: admirers in the West, some of whom met regularly in discussions of the Valdai Club, some in academia who refused to shed their earlier admiration for Putin’s strong leadership, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and eventually President Donald J. Trump in the United States. By now Putin had developed a vision for his country and the future: a restoration of empire, the ‘Russkiy Mir’, that would include most of Ukraine, Belarus, and later other lands of the Baltic States, Georgia, and Moldova. But it must start with Ukraine, the sacred heartland of the Russian state and Crimea, where it all began in 988 with Prince Vladimr of Kiev (formerly known as Volodymyr of Kyiv). To ensure a righteous foundation and a renewed sense of identity, Putin turned to the ‘Great Patriotic War’, the time when the Soviet Unon had thrown back the Nazi hordes and liberated democratic Europe. The collaborators of that era were linked to his contemporary enemies: Ukrainian and Baltic nationalists. Russian historians began to revise a narrative of the war centred on the Holocaust of the Jews. In the new version, Russians were the main victims of Nazi Genocide. This delusional and twisted interpretation of the past pushed Putin into an expanded war in February 2022, one calculated to destroy the Ukrainian state founded in 1991. That attempt failed because the Ukrainian army was much stronger and backed by the population. But it is still in progress and has costs tens of thousands of lives. The emperor is now crowned again for another six years. Legally he can remain in office until 2036, when he will turn 84. By then Russia may be even larger, but with fewer people as population decline continues, advanced by wars and with resources depleted as oil and gas supplies dwindle. In such a scenario, Russia will continue to be ruled by a physically declining tyrant, still feared by his timid associates. They have seen what happens to those who cross his path. But Vladimir Putin is not immortal and, in that sense, his time in history is little more than the tick of a clock.

Defense & Security
The Israeli-Lebanese border along the coastal road, south of Enn Naqoura

Between War and Agreement with Lebanon: The Conflict Over the Land Border

by Orna Mizrahi , Stephane Cohen

Demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon is an important and necessary step—but is it right to do under fire? In this document, INSS researchers provide an answer to this question and detail the background and points of disagreement between the two countries on this issue As part of the American-led efforts to use diplomatic means to end the fighting that has been ongoing for nearly five months between Israel and Hezbollah, the need to demarcate an agreed-upon border between Israel and Lebanon was also on the agenda. The Lebanese government is eager to include border demarcation in any ceasefire agreement and has adopted the same policy on this matter as Hezbollah, linking an end to the fighting to the cessation of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip and presenting a hardline maximalist approach to border demarcation. Negotiations over the land border between the two countries are likely to be exhaustive due to the complexity of the issue and the wide gaps between the sides. It would be wrong, therefore, to conduct them under fire. At the same time, as part of an agreement to end the conflict, it is feasible to include an agreement over the establishment of a mechanism to discuss the issue at the next stage—once the fighting on the Israel–Lebanon border has died down. Increasingly concerned that the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could escalate further and turn into an all-out war, the United States is working to advance a diplomatic move that would lead to a ceasefire. France, and more recently the United Kingdom and Germany have joined the Americans in this effort. The Americans have entrusted the task to US President Joe Biden’s close adviser, Amos Hochstein, who successfully brokered the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which was signed in October 2022. At the behest of the Lebanese, Hochstein has been trying over the course of the past year to recreate this success and to get the parties to agree to a permanent land border. Thus far, he has not been successful. Beirut recently raised again the issue of demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon in the framework of efforts to secure a ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah, which have been engaged in limited combat along Israel’s northern border since Hezbollah initiated the conflict on October 8. The fighting has been ongoing since then, in parallel to the war in Gaza. In their discussions with American officials, acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, have been pleased by the Biden administration’s willingness to help broker a ceasefire and to restore quiet to southern Lebanon. They say that they are committed to a diplomatic solution and to international decisions, with an emphasis on UN Security Council Resolution 1701. At the same time, they have taken a hardline position and have been forced to toe the Hezbollah line. They have done so not only in terms of linking an end to the fighting on the Lebanon border with a cessation of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip but also in terms of their demands when it comes to demarcating the land border. Their opening position is intransigent. In their diplomatic meetings and in interviews they have given to the media, both Mikati and Habib have raised the demand that Israel withdraws from every inch of Lebanese territory and, at the same time, they speak about the Mandate-era border, which was adopted as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, as the reference point rather than the Blue Line, the line of withdrawal identified in 2000 by the United Nations, without prejudice to any future border agreement. Reports in the Israeli and Lebanese media suggest that the issue was also raised during Hochstein’s recent visits to Israel (on January 4 and again on February 4) and Beirut (on January 11), but for the time being, Hezbollah and, in its wake, the Lebanese government are adamant that they will not pursue a diplomatic channel as long as the war in Gaza is ongoing. Milestones in the Demarcation of the Border between Israel and Lebanon The border between Israel and Lebanon, which is around 120 kilometers in length,[1] was demarcated more than a century ago as part of the Franco–British Agreement on Mandatory Borders that was signed in Paris in December 1920. That agreement saw the two European superpowers divide up the territory of the Ottoman Empire between them and agree on the borders between both Lebanon and Syria (readers must understand that it was not between Lebanon and Syria specifically, but between the territory of both and Palestine), which were under the French Mandate, and Palestine, which was under the British, from the Mediterranean Sea to Hama (which now makes up the border triangle between Israel, Syria, and Jordan). The agreement drew out the general path of the border, and the sides agreed to set up a joint commission to demarcate the exact path of the border. The commission was headed by two officers—French Lieutenant Colonel Paulet and British Lieutenant Colonel Newcombe. The commission demarcated the border, and in March 1923, the final agreement was approved by both countries. It was ratified in 1935 by the League of Nations. The system used by the commission to demarcate the border—a process that took an entire year and which left behind meticulous documentation of its work—was old-fashioned and problematic; it led to huge inconsistencies in the border. The border they drew up did not fully correspond to the border that was agreed on in Paris in 1920, but it was marked on the ground using piles of rocks. These piles were eventually replaced by 71 posts known as boundary pillars (BPs), of which 38 were placed along the Israel–Lebanon border. It should be noted that most of these BPs disappeared or were destroyed, making later demarcation difficult. Throughout the Mandatory period, right up until Israel and Lebanon gained their independence, the boundary drawn up by the commission was recognized as the international border. It was also the boundary that was used for the March 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Lebanon. That agreement, which the Lebanese are citing as their reference point for demarcation today, was not a detailed demarcation of the boundary. Rather, the agreement merely stated that the “armistice line will run along the international border.” In other words, along the border that was drawn up by the two Mandatory powers and approved in 1923.[2] Following the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000 and as part of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 (1978), the United Nations tried to demarcate the IDF’s withdrawal line using a team of its own cartographers. They drew what became known as the Blue Line, which deviates in several points from the Mandate-era boundary, and they based it on cartographic data and the interpretation thereof by members of the team. Israel and Lebanon both accepted the Blue Line as the line to which IDF forces would withdraw from southern Lebanon, but Lebanon submitted reservations that turned into points of contention between the sides. The UN approach is to recognize a border line upon which both parties will agree, although it is doubtful that Lebanon will agree to the Blue Line as the basis and likely will insist on the 1949 line. After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel and Lebanon agreed to physically demarcate the Blue Line on the ground, and to this end, a professional committee was formed. This committee determined the exact location of 470 reference points along the Blue Line—around four such points for every kilometer. The goal of marking the border using blue barrels was to make the border clear to the local population, to military personnel, and to the United Nations—and to prevent any inadvertent Blue Line crossings or violation. Thus far, however, barrels have only been placed on around half of the reference points (more than 270). Each of them was only placed after Lebanon and Israel had examined its exact position and given their approval. Points of Contention between Israel and Lebanon Along the Border Region After the delineation and demarcation of the Blue Line, Lebanon presented reservations regarding 13 points along the Blue Line, covering an area of 485,000 square meters (not including the territory in the triangle of borders with Syria beyond the 1949 Armistice Line). To this day, this remains the main point of contention between the two countries. According to the Lebanese, these points deviate from the boundary that was determined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement (see the map in Appendix A). These points have been discussed at length over the years in contacts between the sides as part of the tripartite meetings and coordination mechanism established by UNIFIL. On a number of occasions, there were even reports that they have reached understandings about a solution for seven of them (although there has been no official announcement that they have been resolved). In July 2023, before the outbreak of the current conflict, the Lebanese foreign minister claimed that of the 13 contested points, agreement had been reached over seven, and that there were only six left to be resolved. Two months later, however, the Lebanese army issued an official statement in which it said that it still sees the 13 as being violations by Israel (the Lebanese see the territory on their side of the 1949 Armistice Line and the Blue Line as having been occupied by Israel) and that nothing had been finalized on the matter. Moreover, the army said representatives in the tripartite coordination mechanism did not have the authority to approve this. Recently, against the backdrop of negotiations, the issue was again raised in an interview given by Mikati. On February 1, he claimed that seven of the 13 points had already been settled, but that there were still major gaps in the positions of both sides with regard to the remaining six. Five days later, the foreign minister made a similar argument. The table below shows the 13 contested points, most of which could be resolved with some good will from both sides. At the same time, a number of points of strategic importance will be hard to resolve—primarily the first point close to the coast at Rosh Hanikra (B1), given its strategic location and its importance to both sides. This was one of the reasons that Israel demanded within the maritime agreement to preserve the status quo at this particular point, which was initially intended to be the starting point for the maritime demarcation, and to postpone the discussion on it until negotiations took place over the land border. >> Table: Lebanese reservations over the demarcation of the Blue Line    According to some recent reports, in addition to the 13 familiar points, Lebanon has already presented more Israeli violations and has demanded that Israel withdraw from 17 other areas beyond the Blue Line, some of which correspond with the 13 previous areas of contention. This is in contrast to the recently stated position of the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister, both of whom referred only to the 13 contested areas. Details of these points, as published by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper, appear in Appendix B. In addition to the points of contention along the Israel–Lebanon border, there are also a number of substantial contested points on the Golan Heights. The Lebanese have laid claim to areas that were captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War in the border triangle between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. According to Beirut, Israel must return these territories, which it claims as its own, before any resolution of the conflict with Syria, which has opted not to deal with the issue at the current time. Further complicating the situation in these areas is the Golan Heights Law that Israel passed in 1981, which formalized the change in the legal status of the Golan and determined that the area fell under Israeli law, jurisdiction, and authority. These disputes form a major part of Hezbollah’s narrative. The organization argues that it is fighting for the liberation of more Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, while exacerbating the already intense disputes between Beirut and Jerusalem and using them as part of its struggle against Israel. Therefore, it is no coincidence that many of Hezbollah’s military attacks during the past nearly five months of fighting have also been directed at the areas of Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms. There are two main areas in question: The northern part of the village of Ghajar: Lebanon claims sovereignty over the northern part of the village, which is located on the original border between Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon’s claim is not entirely groundless, since the Blue Line dissects the village, in accordance with the findings from 2000 by UN cartographers, who worked according to maps in their possession. The northern part of the village, therefore, is in Lebanese territory, even though it was captured by Israeli forces from Syria in 1967 and its residents are Alawites. Lebanese complaints intensified after September 2022, when Israel erected a fence to the north of the village to prevent infiltrations from Lebanon. The erection of this fence was done in coordination with the IDF, which took into account the residents’ suffering from having their village split in two and the fact that entry was only possible via a border police and military checkpoint. Closing off the village from the north allowed it to open to visitors. In addition to the northern section of the village, Lebanon is also demanding territory to the east of the village. The Shebaa Farms: This is an unpopulated agricultural area on Mount Dov (the foothills of Mount Hermon), between the village of Ghajar and the Lebanese village of Shebaa (in the border triangle), which Beirut claims belongs to the village. From an Israeli perspective, this strategic area is vitally important in order to monitor a hostile region. Evidence of this was provided in October 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were abducted in a cross-border raid. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah’s first attack during the current conflict, on October 8, was against Mount Dov, which has become a key target over the past months. In contrast to the official Lebanese position, Hezbollah also has claims to more Israeli territory, which it wants to “liberate from occupation.” There are seven Shiite villages in the Upper Galilee which were abandoned or evacuated, and then captured by Israel during the War of Independence in 1948. It should be stressed that in official statements from Beirut about the border dispute with Israel, these villages are not mentioned. However, it is likely that, even after the resolution of the dispute over border demarcation between the two countries, Hezbollah will continue to refer to these villages as occupied Lebanese territory. This is an integral part of its efforts to maintain its status as “defender of Lebanon” and it will be used to incite hostility toward Israel. From an Israeli perspective, it would be wrong to negotiate the border demarcation under fire. The issue of border demarcation has, as mentioned, come up as part of the diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel; the Lebanese side (and, it seems, the mediators) raised it as one of the things that Israel could offer in order to promote a ceasefire. However, given the ongoing escalation and the possibility of all-out war, it appears that it would not be the right course of action for Israel to include negotiations over the future land border in talks aimed at securing a ceasefire—notwithstanding the importance of an agreed-upon resolution of the issue. There are several reasons for this: The time element: Negotiations are likely to be long and complex, given the profound disagreements that exist, especially over three points: Rosh Hanikra (B1); the village of Ghajar; and the Mt. Dov/Shebaa Farms. Such talks will not be completed quickly and will not lead to a ceasefire any time soon, especially given that the Lebanese side is currently presenting a particularly hard line. Israel, on the other hand, is interested in an immediate end to the fighting, so that the evacuated residents of the North can return to their homes as soon as possible. This argument is also supposed to convince the Americans, who are also keen to secure a ceasefire sooner rather than later and to avoid regional conflagration. An achievement for Hezbollah and the loss of a bargaining chip: If Israel were to hand over territory to Lebanon—no matter how little—as a result of the current conflict, it would inflate Hezbollah’s sense of accomplishment, as well as its claimed status as the ‘protector of Lebanon.’ It would also strengthen its argument to remain an armed organization, against the wishes of those citizens in Lebanon who want it to turn over its weapons to the Lebanese army. Moreover, Israel would lose a bargaining chip in the anticipated negotiations over the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, especially in terms of its desire for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River. The same is true of a partial solution, regarding, for example, the seven border points over which there is agreement in principle. While Hezbollah would portray this as a “victory,” the disagreements and the reasons for continued conflict would remain unaddressed. There is no official address on the Lebanese side with which Israel can sign any agreement, given the political vacuum that exists there. Since the last election in Lebanon, in May 2022, a transitional government has been in power and, since the end of President Michel Aoun’s term of office in October 2022, Lebanon has yet to elect a replacement. As per the constitution, it is the Lebanese president who has the authority to sign such agreements; indeed, it was Aoun who signed the maritime border agreement with Israel on his last day in office. Similarly, opponents of any agreement with Israel could challenge the authority of the current interim government to engage in negotiations on any issue with Israel. In conclusion, reaching an agreement on the route of the land border between Israel and Lebanon would be an important element in forging a new reality in the region. However, it would not be right to hold a complex discussion on the issue, and certainly not to accept a partial agreement that would include Israel’s surrendering of territory, as long as Hezbollah has not agreed to cease the current fighting, which it initiated. Therefore, Israel must reject the inclusion of the issue in the preliminary understandings over a ceasefire and must insist that negotiations over the demarcation of the land border only take place at a later stage. Appendix A Map of the Disputed Areas According to the Lebanese Side  Appendix B Lebanese Claims of Israeli Violations Along the Blue Line    Note: These are areas that Israel currently occupies and which the Lebanese claim violate the Blue Line. This list was published on September 7, 2023, by the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah. [1] “It’s time to talk about the Blue Line: Constructive re-engagement is key to stability,” March 5, 2021, [2] Haim Srebro, True and Steady: Mistakes in the Delimitation of the Boundaries of Israel and Their Correction (Tzivonim Publishing, 2022), p. 143.

Map of Countries with elections in 2024

A landmark year for Africa and the democracies

by José Segura Clavell

2024 has begun intensely and looks extremely busy for the neighboring continent: up to 18 countries will hold general elections at a time of global polarization where democracies are strained by the rise of populism and the growing influence in Africa of countries like Russia, China, and Türkiye. It is not every year that the African continent has an electoral calendar as relevant and extremely busy as the one we are starting in 2024: specifically, 18 general elections are expected to be held this year in Africa. Comoros, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Chad, Tunisia, Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Algeria, Republic of Guinea, South Sudan, and Guinea Bissau have already passed, will or should go through this important stage in the next twelve months. And I maintain that it is a transcendental year because the test of democracy for all these countries is taking place in a context of enormous global polarization, in a world that seems to increasingly reward populist options. In the background of our observation of all these electoral processes and aware that, in many countries, certain deficiencies in democratic culture can be detected, there is a fundamental debate underway among Africans themselves, but which challenges us directly. Aren’t we in the West trying to impose a model of democracy that, as we can see, has not been useful in so many African countries? A complex debate, undoubtedly, but as a democrat, it does not allow for many nuances in my view, beyond the fact that what matters is that the people can participate in their government and express themselves, and that they can do so in freedom, without coercion, threats, or conditions. However, all these processes must also be seen from a geopolitical point of view. Europe, which has always insisted the most on democratic demands, is losing steam in Africa. The European Union, and the voids it leaves behind have been filled by countries such as China, Russia, or Türkiye, which do not hesitate to violate democratic procedures or respect for human rights. Because Russian influence in certain areas of Africa has not only been military: its interference in fields such as disinformation has weakened the democratic approaches that we, Europeans, have always defended and inspired. And China, which would almost deserve another article, will be discussed another day, since its dominance is economic, tied by the granting of credits. It is also evident that among African youth a clear critical analysis of colonialism, and how their countries have been related to European countries until today, is growing. In West Africa, the one around us, this clearly leads us to France, which is highly questioned throughout the Sahel, but which in a certain way affects the image of all the countries that we could include in what we call “the West”, whether we have a colonizing history or not. And that should also call us to reflect on how badly we have done and how selfish we Europeans have been with the African continent, giving priority to our commercial and geopolitical interests. Not so long ago, and forgive the harshness of the term, is where we went to hunt black people later sell them, in a spurious trade of human beings. Some of these electoral processes will take place in territories of great relevance for our country, such as the neighboring Senegal, that current sender of a large part of the people who come to us on board of small boats and “cayucas”. I write these lines on a morning (Friday, January 26th) in which, despite a horrible windstorm and very rough seas, the arrival of cayucos to the Canary Islands has not stopped, six of them in the last few hours, with more than 300 people, one of them to the island of El Hierro with two corpses on board. The drama does not stop, and it is even more difficult for me to digest it amidst information from Fitur in which we celebrate the wonderful prospects for the arrival of more and more tourists. There is barely a month to go before a key electoral process for Senegal, this friendly country, until a few years ago considered a beacon for democracies throughout West Africa. Journalist José Naranjo, who lives in Dakar, wrote the other day in El Pais that these are the most open elections in recent Senegalese history. Many of the Senegalese migrants who arrived in the Canary Islands during this record-breaking 2023 pointed to the political climate in the country and its impact on local economies as one of the causes for risking their lives at sea, so it is clear the importance of how the election results unfold, and how the electoral results are accepted. This is followed by the Sahel countries. The ‘non-democratic’ situation in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger or Chad is extremely complex, reflecting the tense geopolitical moment they are experiencing, marked by the rise of terrorism – the pressure exerted by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, with an increasingly well-founded fear of their expansion towards the West African coastal countries, like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo or Benin –, the European withdrawal from the region and the subsequent rapprochement with Russia of the countries currently governed by military juntas. In the Sahel, three countries are due to hold general elections in 2024 to return to the democratic path. They are Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. In Mali and Burkina Faso, the situation is almost the same: after two coups d’etat in each case, the resulting military junta expelled from the country the European military missions that were assisting them in the fight against terrorism and moved closer to Russia. Amid sanctions by the international community and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the countries not only postpone the elections (in the case of Mali), but also argue that, given the delicate moment of the fight against jihadist forces, organizing election is not a priority. The last of our Sahelian neighbors is Mauritania, a country with close economic and even sentimental ties to the Canary Islands archipelago. Mauritania is a Sahelian country that differs from its neighbors in that it is not governed by a military junta, but by a democratically elected president. The current ruler, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, came to power in 2019 after elections that were deemed free and transparent by international observers. Ghazouani has pushed for a gradual political opening, releasing political prisoners, allowing the return of exiles, and favoring dialogue with the opposition. However, the country continues to face challenges such as the threat of jihadist terrorism, poverty, slavery, and ethnic discrimination. Its presidential elections are scheduled for June 22. Very soon we will see our Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, visiting the country. Another country facing a key election this year (expected in October) is South Africa. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), the party that succeeded with Mandela in defeating segregationism, faces its biggest challenge since the end of apartheid, as polls suggest it could lose its absolute majority in Parliament for the first time. Some corruption scandals, the economy (inflation, unemployment, or electricity blackouts) and the great inequalities experienced by South African society seem to have questioned the traditionally, calm majority, of the party now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Let us not forget that, together with Nigeria, South Africa is the economic engine of the African continent and that, at the global and geopolitical level, it is already a leading player. Its decisive gesture of suing Israel for genocide against the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice has put it in the limelight, positioning it as the voice of the global south at a time when that global south is making a decisive place for itself on our geopolitical map. All this is to explain that we are facing a series of elections in key countries in our neighborhood, with complicated histories and complex contexts that we must keep an eye on. Because this year there are not only elections in the United States. Next door, in Africa, everything that happens also concerns us. Article written by José Segura Clavell, General Director of Casa África, and published on January 26th, 2024 in and on January 27th, 2024 in Kiosco Insular and Canarias7.

Energy & Economics
Argentine President Javier Milei takes the stage to speak during the 2024 CPAC Conference at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Washington DC on February 24, 2024

Javier Milei ended a DC - sized deficit in... nine weeks

by Peter St. Onge

Argentina’s Javier Milei is racking up some solid wins, with the fiscal basket case seeing its first monthly budget surplus in 12 years. Apparently, it took Milei just nine and a half weeks to balance a budget that was projected at 5% of GDP under the previous government. In US terms, he turned a 1.2 trillion-dollar annual deficit into a 400 billion surplus. In 9 and a half weeks. How did he do it? Easy: he cut a host of central government agency budgets by 50% while slashing crony contracts and activist handouts. For perspective, if you cut the entirety of Washington's budget by 50%, you'd save a fast 3 trillion dollars and start paying off the national debt. It turns out it can be done, and the world doesn't collapse into chaos.    Milei Making Fast Progress Deficits aren’t the only win Milei's logged. He’s slashed crony regulation, got rid of currency controls, and recently slashed rent prices by removing controls — that actually led to a doubling of apartments for rent in Buenos Aires, slashing rent costs. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing: a bill to privatize corrupt state-owned companies — to effectively de-Soviet the Argentine economy — was blocked by the socialist opposition who serve the government unions who would lose their jobs. Meanwhile, a major Milei reform to make it a lot easier to hire people but would hurt unions was struck down by the high court, which said it must go through Congress. Having said that, for the average Argentinian, these are deckchairs on the Titanic compared to the elephant in the economy: Argentina's hyperinflation. Just last week, the monthly inflation figure came in at 20.6% — on the month. That was a lot better than the outgoing government, but it still left year-on-year inflation at 254%. Why so high? Partly because Milei had to free up the exchange rate to smooth the path to dollarization — for Argentina adopting the US dollar instead of the local confetti. But mostly because the rivers of money printed by the previous socialists continue to run through the battered ruins they left of Argentina's economy. After all, Milei's only been in office for two months.  Argentina’s Dollarization Milei's reforms will continue to be trench warfare. But his inflation progress is going to be key to retaining support. He just notched a big win with the deficit, but it only stops the bleeding — the patient is still on life support. To fully kill Argentina's hyperinflation, Milei would need to make real progress on the dollarization — or, dare we dream, a gold standard. On dollarization, that would involve announcing a months-long window for peso assets to be revalued in dollars. He's been preparing the groundwork so far — the currency controls and deficits are a big help. And he's surely motivated to do it since dollarization in other countries like did it like Ecuador has 90% public support. But it is a complicated process, and if done badly, he'll be dead in the water. The stakes are high. And not just for Argentina: If Milei succeeds, he'll be a model for radically shrinking government in other countries in Latin America, in the rest of the world, and even for our spineless goblins in Washington. Originally published at

Western Sahara Wall in Morocco, Western Sahara. March 22, 2008: Demonstration for the independence of the Sahara Occidental in front of the Moroccan wall

48 years after, there is no time for peace in the Western Sahara

by María López Belloso

In a world marked by growing tensions and conflicts in places such as Gaza, Ukraine, and Yemen, the 48th anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27 invites us to reflect on the importance of peace in a context where escalating violence threatens to overshadow any possibility of international harmony. Paradoxically, the Western Sahara conflict does not seem to be one of the conflicts of greatest concern to the international community. Thus, the 2022 annual report of the International Crisis Group did not include the Saharawi conflict among the 10 to be considered in 2023, although it did not foresee the Gaza crisis either. In the current global landscape, peace is at a crossroads, challenged by conflicts that seem to be emerging in different parts of the world. From the live-streamed genocide in Gaza to the conflicts in Ukraine and Yemen, it is clear that the escalation of violence, is on the rise. But this is only the visible side of the coin. According to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, there are currently more than a hundred-armed conflicts in the world, including 7 in Europe and 45 in North Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, recently the more than 350 high-level participants from over 70 countries who took part in the Munich Security Conference have demonstrated the incoherence of foreign policy by showing double standards in the application of personalized international law in the conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine. An appeal for peace and dialogue Although the motto of this conference, which began in 1963, is “Peace through dialogue”, peace and dialogue have disappeared from the equation, eclipsed by an exchange of accusations and requests for armament support. Only the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Layen, reflected on the democratic costs of the current global situation, asking whether “democracy will survive in the world and whether we can defend our values”. In this context, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic takes on a special relevance, reminding us of the urgent need to prioritize peace over discord. Throughout the decades, the Saharawi people have maintained a firm commitment to peace, even amidst provocations and breaches of agreements by Morocco. Their longing for a peaceful future has been eloquently manifested in their participation in conflict resolution efforts and in their constant willingness to negotiate peace. Despite the adversities, the Sahrawis have shown an admirable resistance, reaffirming their commitment to regional stability in a context in which no one seems to remember that it is now 48 years since the start of the conflict at Europe’s doorstep, with over 250,000 people struggling to survive in the refugee camps in Tindouf, increasingly forgotten by donors and international society. Even though the Sahrawi people have references such as Aminetu Haidar, internationally awarded for her peaceful resistance and struggle for human rights, reminding us that peace, despite the provocations and challenges, remains a fundamental objective for the Sahrawi people, the international community bets on whitewashing Morocco by granting it the presidency of the Human Rights Council. The complex international relations The recent trip of the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, to Morocco has raised questions about his commitment to international law. Ignoring Morocco’s occupation and exploitation of the Sahrawi territory not only contravenes fundamental principles, but also highlights the complexity of international relations in an increasingly interconnected world. In this critical context, there is a need for spaces for reflection that can shed some light on this bleak panorama. The University of Deusto will soon host the conference “Western Sahara: Exploring New Perspectives from International Law and International Relations” to analyze the complexities of the situation in Western Sahara, explore new perspectives and seek solutions from the field of international law and international relations. It will be a space for constructive dialogue, with the hope of finding paths towards peace and justice in a region marked by controversy. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, “in dark times” it is imperative to remember that peace and international cooperation are fundamental to building a sustainable and fair future. The situation in Western Sahara provided us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can move towards a world where respect for international law and peaceful conflict resolution are the norm, not the exception.

Defense & Security
A miracle glass on the Yemen of the world map

The impact of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea on the Yemen crisis

by Sergey Serebrov

The U.S.-British coalition’s military intervention in Yemen has become the most dangerous expansion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (PIC), taking a heavy toll on the security in the Middle East and creating a parallel hotbed of military standoff in the Red Sea. There is no consensus in the region’s countries on the root cause of the current escalation, with some governments blaming the terrorist sortie of the Qassam Brigades militants from Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood (known as Toofan in Arabic) on October 7, 2023, while others—the abnormal situation of the decades-long occupation and blockade of Palestine by Israel, mentioned by UN Secretary General A. Guterres in October 2023. Yet they are all united in extremely negative assessments of the humanitarian consequences of the Iron Swords operation by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. The final document of the LAS and OIC summit in Riyadh on November 11, 2023, attended by 57 heads of state, had the most pacifist tone possible, but it clearly condemned Israel’s war crimes campaign and demanded “an immediate ceasefire along with the opening of humanitarian corridors.” While rejecting the adoption of collective non-military measures of pressure on Israel proposed by the so-called Axis of Resistance and a number of other states, a caveat was made that they could be applied individually: “The resolution calls on the members of the OIC and LAS to use diplomatic, political and legal forms of pressure as well as deterrent measures to stop the colonial occupation administration’s crimes against humanity.” Russian scholars V.V. Naumkin and V.A. Kuznetsov attribute the strategy of the Israeli government and the militarist policies of the U.S. and UK as the main reason for aggravation of the PIC: “Rejecting the draft settlement by founding an independent Palestinian state (within the borders as of June 4, 1967 with the capital in Eastern Jerusalem), prescribed by resolutions of the UNSC, which would exist side by side with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is driving the problem into a dead end. And pumping American and British weapons into Israel only prolongs the bloodshed. Continued attempts to resolve the Gaza conflict by force are disastrous for the future co-existence of the two peoples.” Discussions at the UN showed that this conclusion is shared by most countries in the region, i.e. the fuse for spontaneous outbursts of resistance to the existing order remains unextinguished. Yemen is one such hotbed. Deep political divisions, an unfinished nine-year war with the Arab Coalition (AC) and a massive humanitarian disaster affecting 80 per cent of the population did not prevent the country’s inhabitants from voicing their attitude to the Gaza tragedy. Political activism and anti-Israeli sentiments rose everywhere. The epicenter was 14 of the country’s 22 most populous provinces, controlled by the authorities of Sana’a, where an alliance between the Houthi movement Ansarullah and the core of the country’s former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), formed a coalition regime in 2016 that recognized Yemen’s current constitution. These provinces are home to more than two-thirds of the country’s population (about 23 million people) as well as the largest cities, such as Sana’a, Ibb and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The internationally unrecognized regime in Sana’a, targeted in March 2015 by a massive AC military operation at the request of the legitimate Yemeni authorities to neutralize it, has suddenly become one of the main centers of the region’s current political dynamics. The Ansarullah leadership’s public support of the Palestinian resistance has become a powerful springboard for strengthening of its status and authority both within Yemen and at the regional level, consolidating the ideological foundations of the Houthi movement as a new national symbol and political platform for the country. Castigating the U.S. and the UK for aiding Israel with its war in Gaza as “complicit in crimes against humanity,” the movement’s leader sayyid Abdul Malik al-Houthi placed an explicit emphasis on the importance of involving the peoples and governments of all Arab and Islamic states in the Palestinian struggle, while underscoring the vanguard role of Yemen. The Ansarullah leader condemned the Arab states that continued to pursue the course of normalizing their relations with Israel, calling on them to abide by the moral principles of Islam, which do not allow tolerance for the “usurper who clearly violates the rights of the Palestinian people.” He described Hamas’ Toofan operation as “a game-changer due to inflicting tangible losses on the Zionist enemy,” and Yemenis’ support for it as their “religious and moral duty.” Sana’a announced joining the Palestinian war on Israel and its readiness to send “hundreds of thousands of soldiers” at the right moment. The authorities organized the collection and transfer of money to Gazans, and they switched to active military support of the Palestinians in mid-October 2023 by launching missiles and drones towards the Israeli port of Eilat in an attempt to divert Israeli forces and hamper the port’s operations. On November 19, 2023, they arrested the ship Galaxy Leader, owned by an Israeli businessman, enforcing a ban they had imposed in mid-November on the navigation of Israeli ships and cargo through Yemeni territorial waters. Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Nebenzya said in early January 2024: “It is impossible to deny what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been going on for three months,” while the U.S. “has turned the UN Security Council into a hostage by vetoing resolutions on an immediate ceasefire.” Since October 2023, the leader of Ansarullah has personally called on the people to participate in regular mass solidarity actions almost weekly, as part of a campaign he called “The Battle of Allah’s Promised Victory” and the Holy Jihad. To coordinate the mass demonstrations, which often involved more than 2 million people, and to provide ideological guidance, the authorities in Sana’a established the “Support for Al-Aqsa” committee, which turned those protests into weekly grand-scale political actions. The slogans of these marches, especially after the launch of Military Operation ‘Prosperity Guardian’ against Yemen on January 12, 2024, took on an increasingly militant tone: “You are not alone... we stand together with Gaza!”, “From the faithful people of Yemen—help, help Toofan,” “the Flood of al-Aqsa has already come—it will defeat the insolent countries,” “Al-Aqsa Flood, come and wash away the barriers and walls!” The Houthi ideology is based on the concept of the “Quranic path” proclaimed by the founder of this movement, sayyid Hussein B. al-Husi (1959-2004). The key tenet is that the consciousness of each Muslim believer and the Islamic community as a whole needs to be reformed and entrenched upon the rails of spirituality and morality as dictated by the holy book, which will make “ummah”, the entire Muslim community, exemplary and advanced. This progress towards the ideal should be led by a spiritual leader, personifying the selfless service to the faith and having genetic affiliation to the descendants of the Prophet’s house—the sada (hence the singular—sayyid). Among his main functions, as the doctrine has it, is to take care of the community’s readiness to defend the moral values of Islam against its worst enemies. Sayyid Hussein listed their names in his cliché (Arabic: sarkha), which he first uttered in a lecture to a youth audience in January 2002: “Allah is great! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse to the Jews! Victory to Islam!” This clarion call has become a distinctive marker of the Houthi and the Ansarullah movement, and posters with this text have been a permanent feature of meetings, marches, and wall decorations in public institutions and schools since 2016. After the Prosperity Guardian coalition’s bombings commenced, a new term of the “evil trinity” (ash-shir al-thulathi)—Israel, the U.S. and the UK—appeared in the Houthi narrative. In the expert community, the autonomy and authenticity of the Houthi ideology and socio-political movement with deep Yemeni roots are generally not in doubt. The Houthi were not and are not “agents” or “proxies” of Iran, despite their growing cooperation in recent years. In the Houthi movement, as was correctly noted by the well-known orientalist B. Haykel, the influence of not only Shiite but also Sunni currents of modern political Islam, as well as secular ideologies, including “nationalism and anti-colonialism” [1], is quite conspicuous. The Houthi movement also purports to protect Yemen’s sovereignty, rebuild its economy on the basis of its own resources and modern technology, improve its education system and restore its historical glory as the heart of the entire Islamic world and one of the main hubs of Islamic civilization. Helen Lackner, the British researcher of Yemen, said: “The charge of acting as Tehran’s proxy serves as an insult to an organization that has its own motivations and ideological position.” After 2016, Ansarullah shares equal seats with the General People’s Congress (GPC) on the Supreme Political Council (SPC) representing in a binary coalition government the central executive authorities in a full-fledged state-type republican system that encompasses provincial and local levels. The regime is based on the old bureaucracy created by President Abdallah A. Saleh, remaining loyal to the coalition authorities in Sana’a after Saleh’s death in December 2017 and retaining the same structure and core, with Ansarullah members added as managers and employees. The SPC is spearheaded by one of the movement’s leaders, Mahdi Mashat, while the government of national salvation is headed by GPC member Abdul Aziz bin Habtoor, a former rector of the University of Aden. The shibboleths of external propaganda characterizing the Houthi as “militias,” “jamaat,” “rebels,” “insurgents,” or “tribes” do not correspond to the socio-political nature of the movement, nor do they agree with the contemporary Yemeni realities. Beside the executive branch, the Houthi are represented in parliament, the judiciary and all security agencies, including the army and intelligence. Together with the GPC, they define the regime’s foreign policy as well as cooperation with the countries of the so-called Axis of Resistance that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This comes precisely as a result of the Decisive Storm, a foreign military operation launched nine years ago. According to formal criteria, the Ansarullah organization since 2015, in the situation of a protracted crisis related to the division of the Yemeni nation and the foreign AC intervention, having retained the signs of a socio-political movement, functionally made a leap into the category of transitional actors moving from quasi-state to the state type body. It should also be noted that under the extreme conditions of war and blockade, the coalition regime in Sana’a achieved consolidation, which was not the case (for objective reasons) in the camp of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen (GoY or IRG), which received major military and financial support from the Arab Coalition. Organizationally, since the very beginning, the IRG has been in a state of chronic systemic disintegration that sparked direct armed clashes between its factions. Mass popular demonstrations in support of Palestine in the IRG-controlled part of the country, which covers about 75% of its territory, were sporadic and less crowded. Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), attended the November summit in Riyadh, where he expressed his condemnation of Israel’s military operation in Gaza and Yemenis’ solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, he distanced himself from the hostile stance to IRG policy of the unrecognized regime in Sana’a, especially on the military blockade of Israeli shipping and navigation. “The terrorist attacks by the Houthi in the Red Sea are harming the freedom of global trade and the peoples of the region, doubling above all the suffering of the Yemeni people, whose survival is 90% dependent on imports,” he said. Opinions were divided among the leaders of other factions within the IRG, but most of them supported the establishment of the American-British Coalition (ABC) and the listing of the Houthi as global terrorists by the U.S. on January 17, 2024, which signaled a possible setback of the Yemeni conflict. The most likely scenario for the conflict, which promises to be protracted and extremely unsavory to the ABC, is for the Anglo-Saxon partnership to exploit the complex military and political environment for a further instrumentalization of existing rivalries. The above analysis of the Sana’a policy shows that the ABC command could not expect Sana’a to lift the maritime sanctions against Israel through military blackmail, as this would mean a backdown on the entire ideology of the regime, defined by the mentioned Houthi concept of the “Quranic path.” The lifting of the ban on Israeli shipping was promised by the Sana’a authorities only after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza and the opening of humanitarian corridors, which was officially voiced at all levels even before the launch of the ABC military operation in Yemen. Official spokesman of Ansarullah, Muhammad Abdulsalam, warned the ABC command about this intention immediately after U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the ABC establishment in December 2023: “the ABC mission is to provide a cover for Israel and to proceed with illegal militarization of the Red Sea that will not stop Yemen which will continue to provide legitimate support to the people of Gaza.” U.S. claims that Operation Prosperity Guardian is designed to “undermine and degrade the ability of the Houthi to endanger seamen and threaten global trade on one of the world’s most important waterways” are questionable as well, as the AC’s attempt to accomplish a similar task militarily for nine years is known to have been unsuccessful, ending with a transition to a de-escalation phase in April 2022. Since March 2015, U.S. and UK officers have been represented on the AC command staff, contributing to the Decisive Storm operation by using the same methods, the same weapons and the same intelligence sources as the ABC currently relies on. One of the major military outcomes of the AC’s “old” campaign was the emergence of a localized industrial base at the Sana’a disposal to build and maintain the kind of modern-day arsenal that made the transition to a political settlement of the crisis the most expedient choice for all sides. Finally, the proposition of the ABC command that the operation in the Red Sea was designed to protect the safety of commercial shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which accounts for about 14% of the world’s commercial cargo turnover, also proved to be completely untenable in the first month and a half. Already at the stage of the Anglo-Saxon coalition formation, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, suggested: “They have assembled a so-called ‘international coalition’ (which quite characteristically consists mainly of American ships), which is supposed to ‘ensure security’, although in reality the legitimacy of its actions raises the most serious questions in terms of international law. We should not have any illusions about the true goals of the authors of the resolution. This is not about ensuring the safety of navigation in the Red Sea at all, but an attempt to legitimize (post factum) the actions of the aforementioned ‘coalition’ and have Security Council’s endorsement for an unlimited time.” Operation Prosperity Guardian per se was the main cause behind the escalation of tensions and a threat to the navigation of all other carriers. It is no coincidence that neither the littoral states of this subregion nor the leading foreign states that use this route have yielded to the pressure or expressed any willingness to join the coalition. Egypt, 10% of whose budget depends on Forex earnings from Suez, saw the ABC action as “a dangerous acceleration of events in the southern Red Sea and Yemen ... with potential risks of a wider conflict in the region due to Israel’s ongoing attacks in the Gaza Strip.” His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, said even before the ABC attacks in Yemen, the “from Qatar’s political perspectives, no military action leads to a resolution. We are closely watching developments in the Red Sea, but our greatest fear is the consequences of being drawn into an endless loop of region-wide tensions. We hope for an early end to what is happening to the civilian ships via diplomatic means. That will be the best way possible.” Essentially, all countries in the subregion agreed that the best way out of the military conflict in the Red Sea would be to fulfill the Sana’a demands to the Israeli authorities, i.e. putting an end to a devastating war in Gaza. Of all the countries in this subregion, only Bahrain, home to U.S. and British naval bases, joined the ABC. Objective data on the ship traffic through the Suez Canal shows that the drop was only about 2% in the first thirty days after the seizure of the Israeli ship by the Yemeni military. A deeper dive began only after the U.S. announcement of the ABC on December 18, 2023, reaching a record 50% by the end of February 2024, after the strikes on Yemen commenced, when the Sana’a authorities added to their sanctions list the U.S. and UK military and their merchant ships, which became the main targets of their attacks starting in mid-January 2024. A summary of the first month of Operation Prosperity Guardian was over 400 air and missile strikes by ABC forces on Yemeni territory and more than 25 retaliatory attacks by the Sana’a authorities against ABC and Israeli naval targets with the sinking of the British merchant ship Rubymar carrying ammonia fertilizers in February 2024. Nor has it been possible to stop the Houthi from launching missiles toward Israel. Besides the military risks to shipping, the ABC operation also threatened the ecology of the Red Sea waters, which is an important traditional source of income for fishermen in the coastal states. The true strategy of the ABC in Yemen can only be judged by the further course and results of the campaign, which promises to have far-reaching consequences for the entire region. Its most likely development will be an attempt to torpedo de-escalation, which has defined the downward dynamic of the “old” military crisis in Yemen involving the AC since April 2022. There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, the decisive move by KSA and Sana’a to remove the regional component of the Yemeni crisis has been highly successful in bringing it out of the stalemate it hit after the failure of the Kuwait round of UN-sponsored talks in 2016. The de-escalation process was accompanied by exchange visits of official delegations from Riyadh and Sana’a in April and September 2023 and their preparation of a compromise settlement formula that would satisfy both sides. The Houthi surrender as the only scenario for ending the war became a thing of the past, and the consolidation of the Ansarullah political alliance with the GPC core within the ruling regime in Sana’a finally appeared to get a sort of recognition. This shift removed the main motive for the AC to continue the war and meant a reorientation of the regional leader, Saudi Arabia, to deep readjustment of the entire system of subregional relations and to zero out its involvement in external military conflicts. To finalize the process, all that remained was to sign a ready-made roadmap and start preparing a national dialogue in the Yemeni format with the participation of Ansarullah under the auspices of the UN. Second, de-escalation was largely achieved due to the normalization of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations in March 2023, mediated by China. For the U.S. and the UK, this change meant, among other things, undermining their fundamental long-term geopolitical construct, which had been used for decades to structure the system and dynamics of regional relations across the Middle East. It was based on the exploitation of Sunni-Shiite and Iranian-Saudi contradictions, into which anti-American and anti-Israeli manifestations were also implanted as a sign of “Shiite” (aka “Iranian”) influence in the countries of this region. The conflict in Yemen has long ago proved its complete unsuitability for analyzing the Yemeni realities. The sociocultural ground in this country has ruled out the transformation of Yemeni contradictions into sectarian ones, as the relations between both dominant autochthonous religious communities of Yemen—Shafi’i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia)—have remained traditionally tolerant and friendly. The religious framing employed has been much more influential in sharpening their dichotomies with the proselytizing radical version of the Salafi ideology of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood* operating within the Islah Party. The attribution of the “Iranian agent” label to the Houthi has generally remained very superficial to Yemeni political discourse proper and has not become a fully effective tool for manipulating this rivalry. Third, the very fact that Riyadh entered direct negotiations with Sana’a, mediated by Oman, signaled the increasing role of sovereignty in the system of subregional politics and the process of its transition to a more friendly architecture of relations, less dependent on the military presence of extra-regional superpowers in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Back in the summer of 2019, the UAE unilaterally announced the end of its military involvement in the AC operation in Yemen. The KSA’s new strategy toward Yemen has been heading in the same direction. Various attempts by the U.S. special ambassador to Yemen, T. Linderking, to slow down and derail this process were not quite successful. The U.S. emissary either inspired the KSA with mistrust of Iran’s intentions after the restoration of KSA-Iran diplomatic relations, or warned the Arabian countries that the U.S. would not leave Yemen out of its control anyway, saying, in particular, that the final stage of “an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni political process [should] take place under U.S. auspices” instead of the UN format recognized by all parties. The UN mission in Yemen, which played an important and very positive role in the success of the “Oman track,” may also have been a source of discontent for the Anglo-Saxon partnership. A roadmap to end the KSA's military involvement in Yemen within three years was prepared by late 2023, which Hans Grundberg, the current head of the mission, publicly announced on December 23. This marked a de facto major step toward the final international legitimization of Ansarullah as a full-fledged participant in the political process. The struggle to keep the roadmap for a Yemeni settlement afloat, albeit in a postponed mode due to the ABC military intervention, is of fundamental importance for the future status and security systems of Arabia and the Red Sea. This is evidenced, in particular, by the KSA’s choice to consolidate the agreements reached with Sana’a after the Western coalition began bombing Yemen. At a meeting with T. Linderking in February 2024, KSA Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to “provide assistance to Yemen in facilitating a dialogue between the parties to reach a political solution under the auspices of the UN.” In addition to the KSA’s own experience of waging war in Yemen, there is a solid scientific basis for this choice: following a comprehensive analysis of the genesis and state of the Ansarullah organization, the authors of The Houthi Movement in Yemen, a fundamental monograph recently published by the KSA, conclude that “regardless of the final result, it seems that the Houthis will remain a key player in Yemen’s cultural, social, economic and political scenes for the foreseeable future [2].” Over the years of war, the leading Yemeni centers of political influence (CPIs) within the IRG and both active participants in the AC—the KSA and the UAE—brought about an amalgam of interests, which, in the context of a military intervention by the powerful ABC, risk being manipulated by the neocolonial project of the Anglo-Saxon partnership. By playing up intra-Yemeni contradictions and staging the pulling of certain Yemeni CPIs to their side, the two leading players of the ABC may try to turn them into an instrument of their policy both in the crisis zone and in the entire subregion. Unfortunately, they have serious and objective prerequisites for this attempt at sowing discord. The success of the “Omani track” within the Riyadh-Sana’a bilateral format in achieving sustainable de-escalation in the conflict zone was achieved almost without the participation of all the other CPIs in the IRG. This narrower format created a ground for their dissatisfaction and natural concerns about the current situation. The Emirati actors on the IRG’s Emirati flank, represented by General Aidarus al-Zubaidi’s Southern Transitional Council (STC) and General Tareq M. Saleh’s Political Council of the National Resistance Forces, were particularly wary, directly criticizing certain provisions of the roadmap that, in their view, provided excessive economic advantages to the hostile authorities in Sana’a—for example, their right to a share of the proceeds from the export of Yemeni oil to pay off debts on the salaries of civil servants. The ABC’s operation against Sana’a provoked something of a revenge attempt on the part of these CPIs within the IRG. President Rashad al-Alimi and the leaders of the Emirati flank of the PLC were quick to express their willingness to cooperate with the ABC, although each of the three CPIs had very different perspectives and goals in mind, both for themselves and for the future of the country. All the old political science constructs introduced to launch and accompany AC’s military campaign began to rapidly return to the Yemeni narrative: the diminutive labeling of the Sana’a authorities as “Houthi,” “militia,” or “rebels”; the reanimation of the Iranian expansion bugaboo through the Ansarullah movement, ostensibly willing to bring the Red Sea under Iran’s heel, etc. At the same time, the political reasons for the rivalry between the CPIs of the Saudi and Emirati flanks in the IRG camp have not disappeared. The probable supply of arms by the ABC to one of the flanks in the AC camp, or even to one of the CPIs on either flank, will inevitably lead to imbalances in the fragile configuration of forces, not only along the IRG-Sana’a Alliance (SA) axis, but also within the IRG camp. The risk of these CPIs clashing with each other is sometimes not lower, and in some scenarios even higher, than with the SA. Suffice it to mention the fact that the official policy of the leading faction on the Emirati flank, the Southern Transitional Council or STC, to withdraw the South within the 1990 borders of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), enshrined in the National Charter of Honor of the South that adopted in May 2023, is emphatically denied by most of the other Yemeni CPIs within the same IRG, as well as by both SA members. The ABC’s military involvement in the internal Yemeni tangle is difficult to coordinate and predict. It carries the risk of completely transforming the situation and ricocheting into the camp of the IRG itself as well as the AC partners backing it. This is exactly the scenario that the Qatari leader warned about, speaking of the endless loop of conflicts into which Arabia is being drawn by the aggression in Yemen recently unleashed by the ABC. *** In conclusion, we should emphasize the importance of historical and socio-cultural factors, underpinning the notion of identities that play a primary role in conflicts both in Yemen and in the region in a broader sense. Especially because these are particularly visible and instrumental in the current escalatory ladder. Amar Bendjama, Algeria’s representative to the UN, described what is happening in the Red Sea as a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, reminding that “the primary responsibility for maritime security rests with coastal States — best positioned to ensure the safety of crucial waterways — and underscor[ing] that any collective effort lacking the active involvement of such States is likely to fall short of achieving the desired results.” He also noted that “the Red Sea is more than just a trade route — it is steeped in civilizations and communities with legitimate aspirations and hopes.” * This organization is declared terrorist and banned in Russia. 1. The Houthi Movement in Yemen Ideology, Ambition and Security in the Arab Gulf / Ed. Abdullah Hamidaddin, I.B. TAURIS, King Feisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies Series, KFCRIS, 2022. P. 21. 2. Ibid. P. 3.

Elections in Portugal

What in at stake in the portuguese elections of march 10, 2024?

by Ángel Rivero

Portugal and Spain are two countries that share the same geopolitical position and parallel histories too. This makes mutual knowledge a source of information that should be valued by both countries, because one has much to learn from the experiences of the other. Unfortunately, as in the last century, it seems that getting to know oneself by studying one’s neighbor has little audience in both Spain, and Portugal. That is why it is worth it to insist on paying attention to what is at stake in the upcoming Portuguese legislative elections on March 10, 2024. The first thing to note is that this is an early election since the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, decided to dissolve the Parliament because of the corruption scandal involving António Costa, the socialist prime minister, who resigned on November 7, 2023. Costa´s resignation was agreed with the President of the Republic, and this explains the long period of time given to the Socialist Party so that it could recompose its leadership and face elections. The President of Portugal, elected by direct suffrage, has the power to dissolve the Parliament, even if the Government enjoys majority support as was the case, a prerogative reminiscent of the monarch in the old constitutional monarchy. The new leader of the Socialist Party is Pedro Nuno de Oliviera Santos, former Minister of Infrastructure and Housing under Costa and an enthusiastic supporter of the government agreements with the far left, known in Portugal as the “geringonça”. This data is important because it signifies that the radical sector of the Socialist Party has triumphed over the traditional moderate wing, and therefore, if the parliamentary numbers add up, a government like Costa’s first one in 2015 could be repeated. In that scenario, after losing elections, the Socialist Party was able to form a government with the support of the Communist Party and the Bloco de Esquerda. A novelty that deeply altered what had been until then the Portuguese party system. It is also relevant that, as a minister, Santos blocked the high-speed connection between Madrid and Lisbon, an infrastructure that should have been completed decades ago, and displayed a provocative and swaggering rhetoric in his relations with Spain. As a compliment, he has been dubbed as the Portuguese Pedro Sánchez. However, the chances of him reaching the government seem remote. That is why Santos has stated that if the center-right, which is running under the acronym of its historic coalition Democratic Alliance (AD), were to win the elections, he would allow them to govern as a minority, so they could not have to rely on the far-right Chega! Party. But these manifestations neither express moderation nor political generosity because, in fact, the only possibility for the PS to govern is, precisely, that, as was the case before 2015, the right-wing would allow it to govern in a minority if it wins the elections, that is, if it manages to be the force with the most votes and seats. Santos has demanded reciprocity from the AD after making his attractive offer. Meaning that, if the PS comes out on top, it should be able to govern. It is somewhat ironic that this approach is taken by an enthusiastic supporter of what happened in 2015 when Passos Coelho was ousted from the government after winning the elections thanks to an agreement between the PS and the far left. However, if the PS was able to capitalize on the results of 2015 to achieve an absolute majority in the 2022 elections, at the expense of the weakening of the far left – it came close to doing so in the 2019 elections –, things are quite different today. 2015 was an exceptional moment for the Portuguese far left as it garnered nearly 20% of the votes. But since then, it has continued to decline, and polls for these elections confirm the demise of the Communist Party, whose voters have moved to Chega!, and the likely confirmation of the weakness, if not irrelevance, of the Bloco de Esquerda. The latest Portuguese elections of 2022 resulted in the following outcomes shown in table 1: But recent polls from the last few days show the PS with between 20 and 30% of the vote, indicating a severe blow with the loss of half or at least a quarter of its votes; the Alianza Democrática between 21 and 33%, a slight increase compared to the last elections. The party that is growing the most is Chega!, which would go from 7.28 to 15 or even 19% of the votes, according to the polls. In contrast, the far left would be annihilated. If the 2022 elections were already one of the worst results in their history, these could still worsen. The latest polls indicate that the Communist Party would reach between 2 and 4%, with most surveys placing it at 2%, and the Bloco de Esquerda between 3 and 8%, with most polls placing the vote for this party between 3 and 4%. In short, even if the PS were to win, it would not have the option of repeating the “geringonça” of 2015, so strongly defended by its current leader Santos. That is, Santos could only govern if the old tradition of allowing the party with the most votes to govern were to be revived, a tradition he helped to destroy. But on the right side, things are also not clear. Although recent polls consistently indicate that the AD will surpass the PS, it seems difficult for them to reach a sufficient majority with the seats of IL Iniciativa Liberal, center-right, which polls give between 2% and 6.6%, although polls that give it 6% dominate. Luis Montenegro, the leader of the PSD who presents himself as the head of the AD coalition, along with the CDS-PP and the PPM, has established a political exclusion with Chega!; and André Ventura, its popular leader, has indicated that he will not support an AD government if they are not allowed to be part of it. So, as things stand, there could be the paradox in Portugal where the Assembly of the Republic is largely dominated by the right-wing parties, yet the AD government would be extremely weak. Paulo Raimundo, leader of the Portuguese Communist Party, says that their former voters now support Chega! because they are desperate. But something must have to do with the fact that Chega! has voted in favor of all social policies of the Costa government, particularly regarding the increase in the minimum wage, pensions, and other benefits. Portugal’s evolution in its party system shows a closer proximity to the European trend than Spain: the decline of the far left, the rise of the far right, and a certain fragmentation and weakening of the central bloc of governing parties. This means that in a context of weakness in the left Portuguese, the governing right may not be able to capitalize on it, despite being majority, due to being divided and having incompatible projects. The Democratic Alliance points the way to the necessary unity of the right to win elections and form a solid government, but its components are weakened parties whose main asset is their history, something that, according to the polls, lacks sufficient appeal to halt Chega! and thus offer a consistent government alternative.

Demonstrators marching along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to encourage the Biden administration in ending its support of Haitian dictators

Haiti Mission Lacks Interlocutor Plus Peruvian Congress Purges Top Judges

by Shannon K. O'Neil , Will Freeman

No interlocutor for Haiti mission’s international troops. Haiti’s acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced he will resign. The timeline for his resignation is still unclear—it depends on the appointment of a transitional presidential council, jointly proposed by the United States, the Caribbean Community, and Henry’s administration. Henry’s announcement comes less than two weeks after he and Kenyan President William Ruto agreed to send 1,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti as part of a Kenya-led multinational security mission (MSS). The mission’s aim is to support Haiti’s overwhelmed and outgunned national police force, less than 10,000-strong. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Benin, among others, may join their mission, potentially adding thousands more troops and police officers. And donor nations, including the United States, Canada, Germany, France and Guyana, have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in support. Yet the response looks to be too late and too little. Kenya’s promise to send officers is still in doubt, as courts have blocked government plans for over six months, and opposition lawmakers may mount a fresh challenge. Donor financial pledges total less than half the UN’s estimated need. And even if the troops arrive, they may not have a functioning government to work with. As the international community dithered, the situation on the ground deteriorated. Gangs now control over 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and have attacked police stations, a port, Port-Au-Prince’s international airport, and two prisons, releasing some four thousand inmates. With Henry having agreed to resign—but no new government currently in place—it’s unclear who can play the role of interlocutor for the MSS. Without stability, more Haitians will flee. Already, over 126,000 Haitians have arrived as part of the Biden administration’s new humanitarian parole program that allows them to come and work for two years, outnumbering tens of thousands of Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants that also qualify. Mexico received more than 40,000 Haitian asylum requests in 2023 alone. And more look to join the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living across the Western Hemisphere if the Haitian state fails. Peru’s “pact of the corrupt” is succeeding where Guatemala’s failed without international pressure. Last year in Guatemala, an incongruous coalition of lawmakers from different parties earned the nickname the “pact of the corrupt” as they joined forces to erode the rule of law and overturn election results. Thanks in large part to sustained international pressure, including targeted U.S. sanctions against nearly 300 lawmakers, Guatemala’s “pact” failed to keep President Bernardo Arévalo, an anti-corruption reformer, from taking office. A group of far-right and far-left Peruvian lawmakers is conducting a similar move, passing laws to reduce judicial independence and undermine conditions for free and fair elections. On March 7, Peru’s “pact” fired two of the seven top magistrates from the National Justice Board, which names prosecutors and judges and helps choose election authorities. This could enable lawmakers to influence the selection of election authorities next year in the run-up to Peru’s 2026 general elections by threatening further purges. Last year, a coordinated joint statement from U.S., EU, and Latin American embassies in Peru forced lawmakers to back down from firing the National Justice Board magistrates. But this time around, similar democracy eroding moves triggered less unified international pushback. Senators Tim Kaine and Ben Cardin released statements in defense of the National Justice Board, and the State Department’s global anti-corruption coordinator met with the magistrates before the ouster. That could help explain why Peru’s congress fell short of the votes it needed to suspend more magistrates, including the National Justice Board president. But without more coordination and the threat of targeted sanctions, Peru’s “pact of the corrupt” seems to have won this round. This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.

A look at the massive protest march in Gaza at Freedom Plaza and the White House

Will Gaza Defeat President Joe Biden?

by Dennis Altman

Election prospects for Joe Biden are looking dimmer as the war in Gaza steadily worsens and the casualties of civilians increases. How will Americans vote on the Palestinian issue? Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election because of opposition to his policies in Vietnam. Jimmy Carter’s chances of re-election were crushed when the attempt to rescue US hostages in Iran failed. Will the war in Gaza have the same effect on President Joe Biden? The United States is increasingly isolated internationally over its support for Israel. It has had to use its veto in the Security Council on three occasions to prevent calls for an immediate ceasefire, when not even the United Kingdom was prepared to do more than abstain. Biden has a long history of support for Israel, but even he has clearly lost patience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After the initial Hamas attacks he flew to Israel to express solidarity, but also to warn against over-reaction. He has repeated that warning consistently, both publicly and privately, but the United States continues to provide Israel with arms and to protect it in international fora. Until recently that was a position supported by most Americans. However the last few months have seen a major rift develop among Democrats, with increasing numbers criticising Biden for his unwillingness to put further pressure on Israel. Vice President Kamala Harris has publicly pressured Israel to halt its ongoing assault on Gaza. At the same time some of the most strongly pro-Israeli lobbyists have deep connections with Democratic politicians. It’s important to recognise that some of Israel’s strongest defenders are not Jewish, and particularly on the Republican side are often associated with fundamental Christians who accept the claims of the Israeli right to all of Palestine. Traditionally, American Jews have tended to vote Democrat at a higher rate than their economic status might suggest. But there are significant Republican connections with both right-wing Jews and the Israeli lobby, and Netanyahu made little secret of his preference for Donald Trump, who both recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and brokered peace with some of the Gulf states. The Jewish population of the United States is less than three percent, but it is heavily concentrated in a few states and Jews tend to vote more often than other groups (the figures are rubbery, in part because many people with Jewish backgrounds are non-religious and not connected to organised community organisations). The Palestinian population is small, and even the Arab-American population is probably less than that of Jewish-Americans, unlike the situation in Australia. Not all Jews support Israel, and opposition to the Netanyahu government is larger and better organised than in Australia. But there are sufficient Jewish and Arab Americans for whom Gaza is an important enough issue to determine their vote. And here lies the problem for Biden. Trump, who has managed to combine friendship with anti-Semites and unwavering support for Israel, has little to lose through the unfolding tragedy in Gaza. Few of his supporters would be concerned with his closeness to Netanyahu, but he may well increase his support among former Democratic Jewish voters who like his support for Israel. Of the six states that are generally regarded as likely to swing the results of the presidential election only two, Arizona and Pennsylvania, have sufficient Jewish voters that even a slight decline in their support could cost Biden the state. The bigger problem for Biden is people on the left who are so outraged by his continuing support for Israel that they may choose to either not vote or vote for a third-party candidate. In the American system, with first past the post voting for president in all but a couple of states, a third-party candidate could erode Biden’s lead in a number of crucial states. Voters who feel they cannot support his policies can of course choose not to vote—or could vote for Greens Party leader Jill Stein, who has called for an immediate ceasefire, or Robert Kennedy Jr, who speaks more vaguely of peace and a less militaristic foreign policy. Neither of them is a potential winner, but they have the capacity to take left-wing votes away from Biden. The Biden campaign are clearly worried about this, particularly in Michigan which has a sizeable Arab-American population. The presidential election is over ten months away, and no-one can predict whether the war in Gaza will be over, although it would be absurdly optimistic to assume any realistic settlement. Domestic issues—the economy, immigration—will be more significant, as will the apparent health of the two men who are fighting to be the oldest US president in history. But there are enough Americans for whom the scars of Gaza are sufficiently traumatic to determine how they will vote—or not vote—in November. And on balance this can only help Donald Trump.