Netanyahu convenes Iran war drill, scorns UN nuclear watchdog

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech during the annual ceremony for Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers at the Yad LaBanim Memorial in Jerusalem on April 24, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 05 June 2023
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Netanyahu convenes Iran war drill, scorns UN nuclear watchdog

  • The Israeli prime minister’s office issued footage of the drill
  • It appeared to depart from Israel’s 1981 strike on Iraqi reactor

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up threats to attack Iranian nuclear facilities on Sunday, convening a rare cabinet war drill after he accused UN inspectors of failing to confront Tehran.

With Iran having enriched enough uranium to 60 percent fissile purity for two nuclear bombs, if refined further — something it denies wanting or planning — Israel has redoubled threats to launch preemptive military strikes if international diplomacy fails. Israel has long maintained that for diplomacy to succeed, Iran must be faced with a credible military threat.

“We are committed to acting against Iran’s nuclear (drive), against missile attacks on Israel and the possibility of these fronts joining up,” Netanyahu said in a video statement from Israel’s underground command bunker at its military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The possibility of multiple fronts, Netanyahu said while surrounded by security cabinet ministers and defense chiefs, requires Israel’s leadership “consider, if possible consider ahead of time,” its major decisions.

Netanyahu’s office issued footage of the drill. The publicity around the preparations appeared to depart from Israel’s 1981 strike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor and a similar sortie in Syria in 2007, carried out without forewarning.

UN WATCHDOG SAID IRAN PROVIDED SATISFACTORY ANSWER

Earlier, Netanyahu levelled sharp criticism of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), following a report last week by the UN watchdog that Iran had provided a satisfactory answer on one case of suspect uranium particles and re-installed some monitoring equipment originally put in place under a now-defunct 2015 nuclear deal.

“Iran is continuing to lie to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency’s capitulation to Iranian pressure is a black stain on its record,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in televised remarks. The watchdog risked politicization that would lose it its significance on Iran, he said.

The IAEA declined to comment.

On Wednesday, the agency reported that after years of investigation and lack of progress, Iran had given a satisfactory answer to explain one of three sites at which uranium particles had been detected.

Those particles could be explained by the presence of a onetime Soviet-operated mine and lab there and the IAEA had no further questions, a senior diplomat in Vienna said.

In an apparent reference to this, Netanyahu said Iran’s explanations were “technically impossible.”

However, the Vienna diplomat also said the IAEA’s assessment remained that Iran carried out explosives testing there decades ago that was relevant to nuclear weapons.

After then US President Donald Trump quit the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran ramped up uranium enrichment. Israeli and Western officials say it could switch from enrichment at 60 percent fissile purity to 90 percent — weapons-grade — within a few weeks.

In a 2012 UN speech, Netanyahu deemed 90 percent enrichment by Iran a “red line” that could trigger preemptive strikes.

Military experts are divided, however, on whether Israel — whose advanced military is believed to be nuclear-armed — has the conventional clout to deliver lasting damage to Iranian targets that are distant, dispersed and well-defended.

Focussing domestic attention on Iran might provide Netanyahu with respite from a months-long crisis over his proposals to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. But opinion polls showed that both those concerns are trumped, for Israelis, by high living costs.


UN Security Council due to vote to close Sudan political mission

Updated 8 sec ago
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UN Security Council due to vote to close Sudan political mission

UN: The United Nations Security Council is due to vote on Friday to end a political mission in war-torn Sudan, diplomats said, after the country’s acting foreign minister requested the move earlier this month and described the mission’s performance as “disappointing.”
A war erupted on April 15 between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces after weeks of rising tension between the two sides over a plan to integrate forces as part of a transition from military rule to civilian democracy.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation to reporters on Tuesday: “You have two generals that completely disregard the interests of their population.”
When asked whether the conflict was a failure of the United Nations or African Union, Guterres said: “It’s time to call a spade a spade. This is the fault of those that sacrificed the interests of their people for a pure struggle for power.”
The draft council resolution terminates the mandate of the UN mission, known as UNITAMS, on Dec. 3 and requires it to wind down over the next three months. UNITAMS was established by the 15-member council in June 2020 to provide support to Sudan during its political transition to democratic rule.
The draft text “recognizes the importance of UN agencies, funds and programs, underlines the necessity of an orderly UNITAMS transition and liquidation in order to ensure the safety of UN personnel and the effective functioning of all UN operations, including humanitarian and development assistance.”
A UN country team providing humanitarian and development aid will remain in the country.
Violence against civilians in Sudan is “verging on pure evil,” a senior United Nations official warned earlier this month, as a humanitarian crisis in the country worsens and ethnic violence escalates in the western region of Darfur.
“The United Nations is not leaving Sudan,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
“Despite what is going on with the political mission, I think it is very important for people to remember that we have humanitarian colleagues in large numbers who remain present in Sudan, assisting people who are in need of dire humanitarian aid,” he said.
The UN special envoy to Sudan announced in September that he was stepping down, more than three months after Sudan declared him unwelcome.
Last week Guterres appointed veteran Algerian diplomat Ramtane Lamamra as his personal envoy for Sudan. The draft Security Council resolution encourages all parties to cooperate with the envoy.


Israel’s Herzog meets UAE counterpart to push for hostage release

Updated 01 December 2023
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Israel’s Herzog meets UAE counterpart to push for hostage release

  • During his meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Herzog underlined ‘the necessity to act in any way possible to free the Israeli hostages’
  • Since the truce began on Nov. 24, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners

DUBAI: Israeli President Isaac Herzog met his Emirati counterpart on the sidelines of UN climate talks on Thursday as part of a diplomatic push to release hostages held by Hamas.
Herzog’s visit to the United Arab Emirates comes nearly eight weeks into the Israel-Hamas war and coincides with a day-long extension to a truce that has seen Israeli hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
During his meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Herzog underlined “the necessity to act in any way possible to free the Israeli hostages held captive by the murderous terrorist organization Hamas,” a statement from his office said.
He “appealed” to his Emirati counterpart “to employ his full political weight to promote and speed up the return home of the hostages,” the statement said.
In a separate statement on X, formerly Twitter, Herzog said he would hold “a series of diplomatic meetings” in Dubai to push for the release of hostages.
More than 140 heads of state and government are due to address COP28 on Friday and Saturday, including Herzog, who is scheduled to make a speech lasting three minutes on Friday.
“In my meetings with world leaders I intend to raise the firm demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza,” Herzog said.
“In addition, I will detail and emphasize efforts to provide more and more humanitarian aid to the civilians of Gaza,” he added.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was also scheduled to speak at COP28 but his office said he was no longer going and his foreign minister would take his place.
Since the truce began on November 24, 70 Israeli hostages have been freed in return for 210 Palestinian prisoners.
Around 30 foreigners, most of them Thais working in Israel, have been freed outside the terms of the deal.
Israel has made clear it sees the truce as a temporary halt intended to free hostages, but there are growing calls for a more sustained pause in the conflict.
Fighting began on October 7 when Hamas and other militants from the Gaza Strip poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240, according to Israeli authorities.
In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and unleashed an air and ground campaign that the Hamas government in Gaza says has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.
The war has cast a shadow over the UN climate talks in Dubai with activists demanding a permanent cease-fire and an end to Israel’s 17-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The UAE is one of the few Arab states to recognize Israel, having established ties in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords. But it is at pains to show solidarity with Palestinians.
It has dispatched a 150-bed field hospital to Gaza and has pledged to take in 2,000 Palestinians, including 1,000 children and an equal number of cancer patients, for treatment.


Jordan’s king calls on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza

Updated 30 November 2023
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Jordan’s king calls on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza

  • “The monarch urged the international aid community to do their bit and save Gazans who have endured a brutal war,” said one delegate who requested anonymity
  • “People in Gaza need a sustained cease-fire now,” Medecins Sans Frontieres international president

AMMAN/RAFAH: Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday urged UN aid officials and international groups to pile pressure on Israel to allow more aid into the beleaguered Gaza enclave where the humanitarian situation is worsening, officials and aid workers said.
They said the monarch told an emergency meeting in Amman of UN officials, heads of Western non-governmental organizations and representatives of Arab donors it was unacceptable that Israel continued to hold back sufficient aid flows.
“The monarch urged the international aid community to do their bit and save Gazans who have endured a brutal war that has turned their land into an unliveable place,” said one delegate who requested anonymity since deliberations were taking place confidentially as requested by the royal palace organizers.
A temporary truce between Israel and Hamas built around hostage and prisoner releases has allowed substantially more aid into the densely populated territory of 2.3 million people in the past six days. But deliveries of relief including food, water, medical supplies and fuel remain far below what is needed, aid workers say.
“People in Gaza need a sustained cease-fire now. It is the only way to stop indiscriminate killings and civilian injuries and allow for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid on a meaningful scale,” Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) international president Christos Christou said.
“We are already witnessing a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions and it will get worse if the violent onslaught resumes,” he told reporters in Amman.
With Israel refusing to allow any aid in through its borders, supplies have been flown and driven into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for delivery to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
Red Crescent workers unloaded and sorted the latest deliveries of aid at Al Arish airport in northern Sinai on Thursday. A Reuters reporter saw long lines of container and flat bed trucks queued up on the side of the road to Rafah.
Israel has bombarded Gaza in response to an Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel by Hamas militants who killed some 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostage.
Gaza health authorities say more than 15,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israel’s attack, about 40 percent of them children, with many more feared dead and lost under rubble.
The Israel-Gaza border is inoperable following the Oct. 7 attack from Gaza, an Israeli official said. Israel had previously called for increasing the amount of aid taken into Gaza from Egypt, including shipments provided by Jordan, said the official, who requested anonymity.

BORDER BLOCKAGE
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and senior UNRWA officials attending the Amman conference told delegates it was crucial Israel reopens the Kerem Shalom border crossing that before the war handled more than 60 percent of the truckloads going into Gaza.
Bottlenecks and capacity limitations at the Rafah crossing mean it cannot handle more than 200 trucks a day.
“Before the war Gaza used to receive 500 trucks every day. We have never come close to that figure since October 7,” said UNRWA director of communications Juliette Touma, the UN aid agency providing aid to Palestinians.
Trucks carrying aid through Rafah have to first go through Israeli inspections at the crossing between Nitzana in Israel and Al-Awja in Egypt, to ensure that only limited supplies of fuel are allowed and prevent what they term dual usage goods from entering.
Israel’s control of the amounts and type of goods entering Gaza has curtailed the aid effort, and its acceptance of only limited supplies of fuel was hampering the health system’s recovery, according to health and aid workers.
Truck drivers on the Egyptian side of the border said they sometimes faced days-long waits at the Nitzana crossing before inspections were completed.
NGOs and UN officials also heard appeals from the monarch to accelerate delivery of aid in Gaza’s north, where the United Nations says access remains limited and most water production plants remain shut due to lack of fuel.


Egypt’s FM expresses confidence in UAE leadership in promoting climate action agenda

Updated 30 November 2023
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Egypt’s FM expresses confidence in UAE leadership in promoting climate action agenda

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has expressed confidence in the leadership of Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber, president of the UN Climate Change Conference, in promoting the climate action agenda and achieving common goals.

He added that last year’s COP27 Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh opened the way for a new era of implementation in the fight against climate change.

Shoukry made his comments at COP28’s opening session in Dubai on Thursday.

He delivered his speech as COP27 president as he handed over Egypt’s conference presidency to the UAE.

Shoukry expressed his gratitude to the state parties, observers, and civil society for their support during his term as the president of COP27.

He acknowledged their assistance during the preparatory stages, the Sharm El-Sheikh conference, and in the following year.

Despite the challenging international context due to COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine, Shoukry said that COP27 had succeeded in building on previous conferences and achieving progress on the global climate agenda.

He said that the summit had paved the way for a new era in the fight against climate change, and spoke of the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund.

Shoukry emphasized the importance of honest assessment of the current situation, given worrying indicators.

He added that developed countries’ climate financing decreased while the developing countries’ financing needed to increase due to high financing costs.

It was noted there had been an increase in the exploration and production of fossil fuels, particularly coal, in countries that had previously pledged to reduce or eliminate use of coal.

The minister warned that these indicators could have significant negative consequences on achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.


How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts

Updated 01 December 2023
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How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts

  • Several worrying trends noted by a report that uses dozens of metrics to determine how peaceful a country is
  • Current year has witnessed a surge in violence and wars in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to the report

ATHENS: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Spanish-American philosopher’s George Santayana’s poignant quote is still relevant nearly a century after he wrote it as the list of full-blown and low-intensity conflicts worldwide grows longer every year.

The unprecedented violence seen in the continuing war between Israel and Hamas has claimed the lives of more than 15,000 civilians, destroyed nearly the entirety of Gaza’s north, and displaced 1.7 million Palestinians inside Gaza as well as half a million Israelis, mainly along the border with Lebanon.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child solemnly marked World Children’s Day on Nov. 20, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and reiterating that “thousands of children are dying in armed conflict in many parts of the world, including in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, Haiti, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.”

With new wars starting, older ones entering their 10th year or longer, and still others intensifying, the bloodshed in Gaza may be indicative of what some analysts and observers view as a period of increasing violence worldwide.

Soldiers of Tigray Defence Force (TDF) prepare to leave for another field at Tigray Martyr's Memorial Monument Center  in Mekele. (AFP)

The 2023 Global Peace Index report, compiled by the think tank Institute for Economics and Peace, stated that “over the last 15 years the world has become less peaceful,” recording “deteriorations in peace” in 95 of the 163 countries covered.

The report, which uses dozens of metrics to determine how peaceful a country is, identified several worrying trends. The GPI recorded an uptick in violence in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in Mali, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Ukraine, with conflicts characterized by the increasing use of drone attacks and delivery of weapons to armed groups by large- and mid-size powers.


Sudan, the Sahel and beyond

The conflict in Sudan has been the bloodiest African conflict on record this year, with fighting beginning in April when clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces culminated in an all-out war. The UN estimates that about 4.3 million people were internally displaced and more than 1.1 million have fled the country into neighboring Chad, Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan since the fighting began.

In October, Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary-general, said that the violence had claimed 9,000 lives, with reports of sexual violence on the rise.

Fighting in Sudan may be the spark for the regional powder keg of instability, with Robert Wood, the US alternate representative for special political affairs, telling the UN Security Council in May that military forces and police from both Sudan and South Sudan have been deployed in the border region of Abyei, which is claimed by both sides.

Last week, gunmen attacked villages in the disputed region, killing at least 32 people. While regional officials told the Associated Press news agency that the clashes eventually ceased, simmering ethnic tensions in regional countries may also rear their heads.

In mid-November, the UN also stated that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. (Shutterstock)

In February of this year, yet another African conflict led to deaths and waves of refugees when the Somaliland National Army and forces of the autonomous Khatumo State clashed in the Las Anod region. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the killing of hundreds and the displacement of between 154,000 and 203,000 people, about 100,000 of whom fled into neighboring Ethiopia.

Ethiopia itself is already plagued by a litany of conflicts and unrest, including intense violence between the country’s many ethnic groups, which has led to an uncountable number of deaths and the internal displacement of about 4.38 million people, according to the International Organization for Migration.


Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled over into 2023, with the UN reporting that more than 6.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the conflict, which began in February 2022. In mid-November, the UN also stated that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed in the conflict, and a month earlier published a statement adding that civilians in areas lost by Ukraine “face torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, and arbitrary detention.”

The year saw Ukrainian forces begin a counteroffensive against Russian troops, primarily in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. At the same time Israeli bombs pummeled Gaza, dozens of media reports from both Russian and Ukrainian outlets documented the use of cluster munitions as well as the killing of several civilians, including children, with missile strikes.


South Caucasus

The conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has waxed and waned since the late-1980s, intensified to an unprecedented level in late September. Azerbaijan claims Nagorno-Karabakh, an area located inside its territorial boundaries. The region was governed and inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians who created a breakaway state known as the Republic of Artsakh in 1991.

Armenian military soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh firing a conventional artillery piece towards Azeri positions. (AFP)

An offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh was launched on Sept. 19, and after only one day, the self-proclaimed republic dissolved itself. The decision led to a mass exodus from the region, with UN observers reporting in October that about 100,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh had been displaced.

This followed UN reports from August that a blockade of the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper, had led to acute shortages in food, medicine and other critical items, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region.

FASTFACTS

• World has become less peaceful during past 15 years.

• “Deteriorations in peace” in at least 95 countries.

• Uptick in violence in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Source: 2023 Global Peace Index report


Syria

In Syria, while conflict in the country has been raging for more than a decade, the past four years have seen repeated attacks against the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration, the anti-Daesh Global Coalition-backed entity that governs the country’s north and east.

Just two days before the current war between Israel and Hamas erupted in Gaza, more than 43 aerial strikes targeted the north, according to the local war monitor Rojava Information Center.

This latest attack on civilian infrastructure is just the most recent tragedy in a series of invasions of the Syrian north, in Afrin in 2018 and Ras Al-Ain in 2019, with a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party cited as the target of the onslaught.

The former operation displaced between 200,000 and 300,000 people — many of whom had already fled to the relative safety of Afrin at the start of the Syrian crisis — while the 2019 invasion displaced 160,000 more.

The UN estimates that about 4.3 million people were internally displaced in Sudan and more than 1.1 million have fled the country. (AFP)

The latest strikes, which claimed a total of 48 lives, targeted water, gas, oil and electricity facilities across the country’s north, leaving millions in the region without power, fuel or water for over a week, compounding crises caused by the region’s already-weakened infrastructure and a practical embargo from all sides.

The US has had some 900 troops stationed in the northeast alongside an unknown number of security contractors ever since the defeat of Daesh in 2019.


Myanmar

In Myanmar, a lesser-known conflict has been raging since 2021, when the country’s military carried out a coup d’etat and established a military junta. Last year, Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said that the military crackdown on protests had killed 2,000 and displaced more than 700,000.

The UN reported in November of this year that fighting between armed groups and Myanmar’s armed forces had spread into the country’s east and west, with urban fighting and aerial strikes growing in frequency and intensity.

Though media outlets have reported that both sides are willing to extend the truce in Gaza. (AP)

Intensified conflict has led to a new wave of displacement, with more than 200,000 forced to flee their homes between Oct. 27 and Nov. 17. The UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September, citing incidences of indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes, executions of prisoners of war and civilians alike, and the burning of civilian villages.


Gaza’s future

In Gaza, a ceasefire came into effect on Nov. 24, marking the entry of the first aid convoys into the war-ravaged enclave from Egypt. Israel began releasing Palestinian prisoners while Hamas started to release hostages, which included Israelis as well as foreign workers.

Though media outlets have reported that both sides are willing to extend the truce, there is concern that the humanitarian pause may indeed be just a pause.

On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, declared that Israel’s war against Hamas would resume once the release of Israeli hostages was secured, leaving the looming threat of more destruction hanging over the heads of millions in Gaza.

 

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