US-Israel rift heads for moment of truth over Rafah

US-Israel rift heads for moment of truth over Rafah
An Israeli and US flag are reflected on a conference table as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on March 26, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 28 March 2024
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US-Israel rift heads for moment of truth over Rafah

US-Israel rift heads for moment of truth over Rafah
  • As Netanhayu refused to heed warnings against attacking Rafah, the US for the first time allowed a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution to pass
  • But critics say Biden's not using his key point of leverage — cutting US military assistance to Israel — shows his action is more of a PR stunt

WASHINGTON: The United States has taken a public distance from Israel as never before over the Gaza war but the decisive test will be Rafah and whether Israel heeds US warnings against an offensive in the packed city.

The United States on Monday abstained at the Security Council, allowing a resolution to pass for the first time that called for an immediate ceasefire, infuriating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who delayed a delegation to Washington to discuss US concerns on Rafah.
But in a stance surely noted by Netanyahu, President Joe Biden has made clear he will not use his key point of leverage — cutting US military assistance to Israel.
Annelle Sheline, who recently resigned in protest from the State Department, where she had been on a fellowship working on human rights, said the Biden administration may be shifting but that its actions so far — including the resolution and plans for an emergency pier to bring in aid — amounted to “PR stunts.”
“I can only hope that things are starting to change. Unfortunately, I don’t yet see the US actually using its leverage as far as ending or withdrawing support for Israeli military operations, turning off the tap of weapons,” she told AFP.
Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute who was a top White House aide on the Middle East under former president George W. Bush, said Biden was responding at the United Nations not just to domestic politics but to calls from US allies to compromise and not keep vetoing resolutions.
A resolution “is a signal, but it doesn’t in any tangible way impact Israel’s ability to prosecute the conflict,” Singh said, while arms restrictions would “come at a much higher cost” strategically and politically.

Israel has been waging a relentless military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s surprise attack on October 7 that was the deadliest in Israel in its history.
The United States has repeatedly warned Israel not to attack Rafah, the southern city where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have taken shelter, but Netanyahu last week vowed to press ahead after a direct appeal from visiting Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
US officials say they will present alternatives to the Israeli delegation on Rafah that will focus on striking Hamas targets while limiting civilian casualties.
Stephen Wertheim, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that US officials’ presentation of alternatives “indicates to me that they believe some sort of military operations will occur and they’re trying to limit the damage of that operation.”
Singh said the holding pattern on Rafah hurt the United States and Israel as international pressure builds.
“I would say that probably there’s a desire in Washington for them to get on with whatever they’re going to do one way or the other — absolutely protect civilians from harm, but this kind of perpetual indecision, I think, is itself harmful,” Singh said.
James Ryan, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project, said: “You do own it a bit more if you give them plans and they don’t go well.”

US criticism has been mounting against Netanyahu with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch backer of Israel and the highest-level elected American Jew, in a bombshell speech criticizing the conduct of the war and urging new elections.
A Gallup poll released Wednesday said only 36 percent of Americans approved of Israel’s actions, down from 50 percent in November.
Biden is a lifelong supporter of Israel who, facing a tough reelection fight in November, is feeling the wrath of the left in his Democratic Party on Gaza, where the United Nations is predicting famine.
Netanyahu, also battling for his political life at the helm of a far-right coalition, is a veteran fighter in Washington who has aligned himself with much of the Republican Party and clashed with three Democratic presidents.
“Both Biden and Netanyahu benefit from having some degree of friction between them,” Wertheim said.
“Possibly the one thing that could save Netanyahu's government once a new election occurs is for Netanyahu to be able to say to the public, I’m the one figure who was able to stand up to the Americans and also preserve America’s support for us,” he said.
Biden, in turn, is eager to show he is pushing back against Israeli “brutality” without imposing costs by restricting weapons.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of theater that serves the political interests of the leaders,” Wertheim said.
 


Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing

Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing
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Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing

Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing
  • Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy
ROME: The Italian coast guard has recovered 14 more bodies from last week’s shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 34 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens are still missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, recovered on Friday, were transferred to a port in Calabria. Three coast guard ships were active in the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the motorboat had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight last Sunday, about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The latest deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
Updated 22 June 2024
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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
  • The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June

SEOUL: A nuclear-powered United States aircraft carrier arrived Saturday in South Korea for a three-way exercise stepping up their military training to cope with North Korean threats that escalated with its alignment with Russia.
The arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group in Busan came a day after South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest a pact reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week that pledges mutual defense assistance in the event of war. South Korea says the deal poses a threat to its security and warned that it could consider sending arms to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion as a response — a move that would surely ruin its relations with Moscow.
Following a meeting between their defense chiefs in Singapore earlier in June, the United States, South Korea and Japan announced Freedom Edge. The new multidomain exercise is aimed at sharpening the countries’ combined response in various areas of operation, including air, sea and cyberspace.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June. South Korea’s military didn’t immediately confirm specific details of the training.
South Korea’s navy said in a statement that the arrival of Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates the strong defense posture of the allies and “stern willingness to respond to advancing North Korean threats.” The carrier’s visit comes seven months after another US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, came to South Korea in a show of strength against the North.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group also participated in a three-way exercise with South Korean and Japanese naval forces in April in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China’s territorial claims are rising.
In the face of growing North Korean threats, the United States, South Korea and Japan have expanded their combined training and boosted the visibility of strategic US military assets in the region, seeking to intimidate the North. The United States and South Korea have also been updating their nuclear deterrence strategies, with Seoul seeking stronger assurances that Washington would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally from a North Korean nuclear attack.


Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
Updated 22 June 2024
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Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
  • China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense ministry said Saturday it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a day after Beijing said “diehard” advocates of Taiwan’s independence could face the death penalty.
China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
It has stepped up pressure on Taipei in recent years and held war games around the island following last month’s inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te.
On Saturday, Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft and seven naval vessels operating around Taiwan during the 24-hour period leading up to 6:00 a.m. (2200 GMT).
“32 of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a line bisecting the 180-kilometer (110-mile) waterway that separates Taiwan from China.
The ministry added that it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly.”
The latest incursion came after China published judicial guidelines Friday that included the death penalty for “particularly serious” cases of “diehard” supporters of Taiwanese independence, state media reported.
On May 25, Taiwan detected 62 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, the highest single-day total this year, as China staged military drills following the inauguration of Lai, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist.”


Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
Updated 22 June 2024
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Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
  • More than two years into the conflict, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday said Russia had launched a “massive” overnight attack on energy infrastructure in the country’s west and south.
“Equipment at (operator) Ukrenergo facilities in Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions was damaged,” the energy ministry said, adding that two employees were wounded and hospitalized in Zaporizhzhia.
It said this was “the eighth massive, combined attack on energy infrastructure facilities” in the past three months.
More than two years into the Russian invasion, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity and forced Kyiv to impose blackouts and import supplies from the European Union.
Ukrainian authorities on Thursday said energy infrastructure, including a power station, had been damaged in a major overnight attack which left seven employees wounded.
DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, said the strikes caused “serious damage” at one of its plants.
Russian attacks have destroyed half of Ukraine’s energy capacity, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky said this week that all hospitals and schools in Ukraine must be equipped with solar panels “as soon as possible.”
“We are doing everything to ensure that Russian attempts to blackmail us on heat and electricity fail,” he said Thursday.
DTEK chief executive Maxim Timchenko warned that Ukraine “faces a serious crisis this winter” if the country’s Western allies do not provide military aid to defend the energy network.
Zelensky has repeatedly urged Ukraine’s allies to send more air-defense systems to protect the country’s vital infrastructure.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Washington would prioritize deliveries of anti-air missiles to Kyiv, ahead of other countries that have placed orders.
Zelensky said in a message on X he was “deeply grateful” for the US move.
“These additional air defense capabilities will protect Ukrainian cities and civilians,” he wrote.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
Updated 22 June 2024
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”