The Israeli Election

Tomorrow, the people of Israel will vote for their next government.  The most significant election to happen in the region since President Morsi was elected in Egypt last June, the way the vote goes will have a profound effect on relations within the Middle East.  Israel is arguably the most democratic country in the Middle East (unless you live in Palestine) and also has the most powerful military, currently being the only country to possess nuclear weapons.

The election will be held in the context of, as ever, a country which sees itself under siege.  There is the old problem of Palestine, which will particularly be in the public mind after the occurance of what Israel terms ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, though according to reports this is having a surprisingly small impact on the election.  Most parties appear committed to Israel’s current covert strategy of slowly absorbing the territories and denying them of sovereignty; even the opposition, Labor, has been silent on the issue.  Which is surprising, really, considering recent clashes, Palestine’s recent admission as a non-member observer state in the United Nations, and the government’s decision to build more settlements.

More significantly, the old foe Iran is perceived to be the greatest threat to Israeli security.    Expected to soon reach nuclear weapon capabilities – though this is a highly contested statement – the debate in Israel is not if action should be taken in the event of Iran coming close to acquiring nuclear weapons, but the severity of that action.  It’s no secret that Prime Minister Netanyahu, seeking re-election, would love to launch military strikes against Iran, but it’s less clear if he would do so without US support.

With things calmer on the northern border with Lebanon, Israel’s main secondary threat is now a consequence of the Arab Uprisings.  It faces an Islamist-dominated government to the south in Egypt, which although seems dedicated to peace now may not always be.  Egyptian instability has also resulted in the advancement of insurgents in the Sinai region, leading to another wall.  To the east, Israel’s traditional foe from whom it still occupies territory, Syria, is wracked in a deadly civil war.  On this issue Israel is torn; Syria is an ally of Iran so it may seem in their interests to support the rebellion, but this risks bringing radical Islamic extremists to power, who would be all but certain to oppose Israel’s very existence – at least they know where they stand with Assad.  So it’s no surprise that Israel has stayed quiet, fearful of either outcome.

The debate within the election does seem to be mostly on the issue of defence and security, rather than the typical discussions on economic policies we’re seeing in Western countries at the moment.  This election quiz by Al Jazeera, despite providing confusing results, gives an indication of which issues are being discussed in the current climate.  It’s quite terrifying.

So how will the election go?  The latest opinion poll has predicted 32% will go to Netanyahu’s coalition party Likud Beiteinu, which would make it the largest party in the Knesset despite having a combined 10% fewer votes than in 2009.  Labor is polled at 17% – 4% more than in 2009.  The ultra-nationalist, and frankly extremely dangerous ‘Jewish Home Party’ is polled at 12%.  The remaining 39% is scattered among a variety of populist, Zionist and liberal parties.  It is clear that Israel is a very divided society and no party will achieve a majority, meaning more extreme parties will play a ‘kingmaker’ role in forming coalitions.  Although I am a supporter of proportional representation, I believe there is a strong argument to introduce a plurality system in Israel, considering the current political climate.

I expect Israel to continue down its current path after this election, with few changes in the near future.

France Intervenes In Malian Conflict

This is a highly significant development in a story which most people probably won’t know much about – a true fringe story, so to speak, although it shouldn’t be.

In April last year Tuareg rebels, equipped with weapons and experience from mercenaries returning from the 2011 Libyan Civil War, managed to take control of the north of Mali after a military coup left the country unstable.  It is generally accepted that the Tuareg people, native nomadic inhabitants of the central Sahara region, do have legitimate grievances, although the international community has condemned the insurgency.  On the 6th April the Independent State of Azawad was declared, and has to date not been recognised by a single country.

As 2012 progressed the insurgency took, from a Western perspective, a sinister turn as Islamist groups, the largest of which is called Ansar Dine, became more influential.  In June the Islamist-Tuareg alliance collapsed and conflict broke out between parties and militias of the two alignments.  This conflict resulted in a victory for the Islamists, pushing the Tuareg forces out of their own self-declared homeland.  As can be imagined, these events have made many a Western leader uneasy.  Talks have been made of sending an international, United Nations mandated force to retake the north of the country, headed by the The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS).  France, the previous colonial power of Mali until 1960, had said it would not be directly involved in such military operations.

Life in Islamist, extreme Sharia-following Mali, or ‘Azawad’, has not been pleasant.  Unverified but brutal reports have been filtering out of the region in the last year including stories of public executions, the destruction of historical mausoleums in Timbuktu and even the banning of music.  Human rights groups have decried gross violations of international law, but the negotiations and inaction goes on.

Then the Islamists began to march southward.  On the 10th January 2013 Islamist forces captured the strategic town of Konna in central Mali, threatening the entire country.  This appears to have been a ‘red line’ for France.  While one would like to think France is concerned about the human rights of the millions of Malians who could be subject to a Sharia-based totalitarian rule, their main motivations are probably more to do with an economic interest in Mali and fear of creating a hive for terrorism within Africa.  The official reason is to protect the 6,000 French citizens residing in the country.
Whatever the motivations, President Hollande of France yesterday ordered the French military to intervene.

In remarkably fast-moving events, the French military appears to have helped the Malian army push back the Islamist advances.  These skirmishes alone may have caused more than 100 casualties.    In another move, the French military launched an operation to rescue Denis Allex, held by similar Islamist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia, due to fears of reprisals for the intervention.  Tragically the operation was a failure and is thought to have led to the death of Allex and two French soldiers.  France has also made moves to increase security at home over fears of potential terrorist attacks on French soil in retaliation for the intervention.

The future of this crisis could now go many ways.  The French air-force has begun launching airstrikes against militants in the north which I fear will only lead to more innocent deaths, though may be necessary to ensure a swift victory.  It is not clear whether there is yet either the will or the capability to retake the north, though this will certainly be soon a priority.  Content that the situation has stabilised, France may wait for the United Nations to respond.

Relevant links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17481114
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20991719
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20991723
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20996963
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/01/2013112133154249167.html

UN General Assembly Resolution 76/19

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/UN_Resolution_of_Palestine_as_Observer_State.svg

A few days ago the UN overwhelmingly voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer status. This map shows how isolated the Israel-USA position on the issue is, with reds voting against the resolution, greens voting for, and yellow abstaining (blue countries were not present).

Palestine is the issue which always seems to break the typical ‘West/Rest of World’ divide, with the USA seeming to abandon its support for freedom and self determination in attempts to placate Israel. You can tell it’s a complex issue when North Korea and Japan all vote the same, for instance.

It is difficult to say what effect this resolution will have, but it’s certainly a significant step towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Though it appears to have also inflamed Israeli opinion over the issue.

News Through the Fringe 20/11/12

A lot of news probably will slip under the radar for most people, so unless it’s really boring then News Through the Fringe may become a regular feature!  There are two interesting bits I’ve found today:

  • The UK has recognised the newly formed National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the Syrian peoples’ sole legitimate representative, making us the 9th country to do so (and the 2nd Western country, after France).  This may have an effect ‘on the ground’ – William Hague announced that we’ll be sending £1m worth of communications equipment – but if not it’s still a massive political gain for the opposition.  I think everyone will be waiting to see if the US follows.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20406562
  • There’s another rebellion going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which I will admit I don’t know much about, but they appear to be ‘the bad guys’ by most media outlets.  There are UN forces fighting them right now, and Rwanda has been criticised for funding them.  Anyhow, they’ve taken Goma, a major city in the East of the country, which is quite worrying.
    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/11/20121120102140544513.html