Israel-Hamas war: Erdogan cuts ties with Netanyahu as Israeli PM rejects call for humanitarian pause

The latest developments from the Israel Hamas war.

Blinken reaffirms US support for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Gaza


Antony Blinken has reiterated that the United States supports “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“The United States believes that all of these efforts will be made easier by these humanitarian pauses,” Blinken said at a news conference in Amman of efforts to spare Palestinian civilians and speed up the delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip.

His comments came as the US Secretary of State tries to build support among Arab nations countries for planning a postwar future for Gaza

Blinken has been seeking to make plans for a postwar future for Gaza as he met with wary Arab leaders during his latest urgent mission to the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas conflict began.

His talks in Jordan’s capital with the officials, angry and deeply suspicious of Israel as it intensifies military operations, came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu snubbed Blinken’s blunt warning that Israel risks losing any hope of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians unless it eases the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Blinken’s first meeting was with Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, whose economically and politically ravaged country is home to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed force that is hostile to Israel. The United States has grave concerns that Hezbollah, which has stepped up rocket and cross-border attacks on northern Israel, will take a more active role in the Israel-Hamas war.

Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, gave his first major speech on Friday since the Hamas attacks on 7 October, but did not forecast his group’s greater involvement.

Blinken thanked Mikati for his leadership “in preventing Lebanon from being pulled into a war that the Lebanese people do not want.”

Blinken also discussed US efforts to secure humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza.

Neither Blinken nor Mikati addressed reporters at the start of their meeting. Blinken did not speak publicly as he posed for pictures with Qatar’s foreign minister, whose country has emerged as the most influential interlocutor with Hamas. Qatar has been key to negotiating the limited release of hostages held by Hamas as well as persuading Hamas to allow foreign citizens to leave Gaza and cross into Egypt.

Blinken also met with the head of the UN agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees, thanking Phillipe Lazzarini for his group’s “extraordinary work every single day as a lifeline to Palestinians in Gaza and a great, great cost.” The agency has seen about 70 staffers killed in the war so far and is running critically low on necessary supplies such as food, medicine and fuel.

Later, Blinken went into joint talks with the foreign ministers of Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the chair of the PLO executive committee. All have denounced Israel’s tactics against Hamas, which they say constitutes unlawful collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

Blinken to visit Turkey after visit to Israel and Jordan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Turkey on Sunday and Monday as part of a tour of the Middle East amid the intensifying conflict between Israel and Hamas, the US State Department has announced.

Blinken has been visiting Jordan on Saturday for discussions with the United States’ Arab partners, after having left Israel the day before.

He is trying to call for the sparing of Palestinian civilians trapped in the conflict between Israel and Hamas and to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip, as well as longer-term prospects.

The State Department did not confirm in its press release a meeting between Blinken and the Turkish president, although one is expected.

Turkey announces recall of its ambassador to Israel

Turkey has announced the recall of its ambassador to Israel for consultations, due to Israel’s refusal to accept a ceasefire in Gaza.

Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar was recalled in view of “the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza caused by Israel’s continued attacks on civilians and Israel’s refusal (to accept) a ceasefire,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.


Turkey: for Erdogan, Netanyahu is ‘no longer someone we can talk to’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he was cutting off all contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.

“Netanyahu is no longer someone we can talk to. We have given up on him,” said Erdogan, according to comments reported by Turkish media.

On 25 October, the Turkish president, who met Benjamin Netanyahu most recently in September in New York, announced that he was abandoning all his plans to travel to Israel, claiming to have been “abused” by the Israeli Prime Minister.

“You will not find any other state whose army behaves with such inhumanity,” he said regarding the reprisals carried out by Israel in Gaza.


The Palestinian Hamas Health Ministry announced on Saturday that 9,488 people, including 3,900 children, had been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war with Israel, which is carrying out incessant air raids there.

Israel announced on 29 October to withdraw all of its diplomats from Turkey.

Erdogan clarified on Saturday that Turkey was not breaking diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Completely severing ties is not possible, especially in international diplomacy,” Mr Erdogan said.

He explained that the head of the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), Ibrahim Kalin, was spearheading Turkey’s efforts to try to end the war, through mediation.


Erdogan added, though, that he believes Netanyahu is mainly responsible for the violence and has “lost the support of his own citizens”.

“What he needs to do is step back and put an end to this situation,” Erdogan said.

Gaza: Hamas Health Ministry announces 15 dead in UN school after Israeli bombardment

The Hamas government’s Health Ministry has announced that 15 people were killed in an Israeli bombing that hit a school sheltering displaced people in a refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

“The massacre at the al-Fakhoura school perpetrated by the Israeli occupiers this morning left 15 martyrs and 70 injured,” ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidreh said at a press conference.

The ministry initially published a report of 12 dead and 54 injured.


No comment could immediately be obtained from the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which manages the affected school.

On Friday evening, a strike on a school – transformed into a makeshift shelter for displaced people in the northern Gaza Strip – left 20 dead and dozens injured, according to the Hamas government.

On 2 November, UNRWA announced that four of its schools in the territory housing war-displaced people had been hit by bombings which left 23 dead.

UN deplores ‘sharp increase in hatred’ across the globe since 7 October

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk deplored on Saturday “a sharp increase in hatred” in the world since the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Türk strongly deplored, in a press release, the increase in cases of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other hate speech.


“The impact of this crisis… has reverberated everywhere, dehumanising both Palestinians and Jews. We are seeing a significant increase in hate speech, violence and discrimination, a deepening social fractures and polarisation, as well as the denial of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” he said.

“I have heard Jews and Muslims say they do not feel safe, and that saddens me,” Türk added.

The High Commissioner also denounced the “inflammatory, toxic and hateful rhetoric” used by political leaders. “The torrent of hate speech used, including on social media, is abhorrent,” he said.

“International law is clear on this matter. Any appeal to national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is prohibited,” he said.

Türk also expressed concern about the limits imposed on freedom of expression in the context of the conflict, noting that some countries had decided on significant restrictions on the right to demonstrate, citing risks linked to national security or glorification of terrorism.


“States must guarantee a safe space conducive to participation and debate,” he said. “They cannot unduly restrict participation and debate or critical commentary on the conflict, or expressions of solidarity with Israelis or Palestinians.”

“In some cases, we have seen blanket or disproportionate restrictions on gatherings, primarily in the context of pro-Palestinian protests,” he added.

UN chief ‘horrified’ by Israeli attack on ambulance

UN chief Antonio Guterres has said he is “horrified” by an Israeli army strike on an ambulance in Gaza on Friday, adding that the conflict between Israel and Hamas “must stop”.

“I am horrified by the reported attack in Gaza on an ambulance convoy outside al-Chifa hospital. The images of bodies strewn in the street outside the hospital are heartbreaking,” the Secretary General expressed in a press release.

Netanyahu rejects United States’ appeal for a humanitarian pause in Gaza

Israel and the US appear to be taking divergent approaches to securing the release of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.


A senior Biden administration official said on Friday the US believes the fighting will need to take a “fairly significant pause” to allow for their release – modelled on a smaller-scale letup last month that allowed two American hostages to be freed.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under White House rules, said the release was a “testing pilot” for how a broader deal could be struck and that negotiations on a “larger package” of hostages are ongoing. The official emphasised it would require a significant halt in fighting to ensure their safety.

Israel has insisted hostage releases must precede any pause, as it seeks to up the pressure on Hamas and force the militant group’s hand.

After a meeting on Friday with Antony Blinken, the American Secretary of State, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea of ​​”a temporary truce” without releasing the hostages.

While the United States is against a ceasefire, it has called for pauses in fighting to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid that has begun entering the Gaza Strip via Egypt, but in insufficient quantity according to the UN.


The Gaza Strip, a small territory of 362 square kilometres populated by 2.4 million inhabitants, has been placed under “complete siege” since 9 October by Israel, which has cut off supplies of water, electricity and food.

The territory was already subject to an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since Hamas took power there in 2007.

UN condemns Israeli strike on ambulance in Gaza

The UN has condemned the bombing of an ambulance which killed fifteen people on Friday in Gaza, a strike confirmed by the Israeli army.

They claimed their attack was intended to target members of Hamas – something the military group has denied.

“I am horrified,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, adding: “The images of the bodies strewn in the street outside the hospital are heartbreaking.”


Israeli aircraft “struck an ambulance that was identified by the forces as being used by a Hamas terrorist cell near their position in the combat zone,” the Israeli army said in a statement.

Israel’s claims “about the presence of fighters inside the targeted ambulances are false, and they are new lies added to the constant lies… used to justify its crimes”, Hamas said in a statement published on Telegram.

According to the Hamas Ministry of Health, the strike left 15 dead and 60 injured.

Spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidreh said the ambulance was part of a convoy which transported “several injured people on their way to be hospitalised in Egypt”.

The toll was confirmed by the Red Crescent, which added that a doctor had been slightly injured by shrapnel in one leg.


They added that “the deliberate targeting of medical teams constitutes a serious violation of the Geneva Convention”.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted on Twitter – formerly X – saying he was “utterly shocked” and reiterating that: “patients, health workers, facilities, and ambulances must be protected at all times. Always”, while calling once again for a ceasefire.

Israeli strikes ‘terrorist cells’ on Hezbollah positions – army

The Israeli army announced on Saturday that it had struck “two terrorist cells” and a Hezbollah “observation post” in response to attempted firing from Lebanon towards Israeli territory.

“In response to two terrorist cells attempting to fire from Lebanon towards Israeli territory, the Israeli army struck the cells and a Hezbollah observation post,” the army said in a statement.

They also indicated that they had responded to mortar fire coming from Lebanon towards Israeli localities “in the north of Israel”, specifying that they had not caused any injuries.


Since 7 October 7, the Lebanese-Israeli border has been the scene of frequent exchanges of fire between the Israeli army on one side and the powerful Lebanese movement Hezbollah and its allies on the other, who support Hamas.

In his first speech since the start of the conflict, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday accused the United States of being “entirely responsible” for the war between Israel and Hamas.

He also warned Israel against the “stupidity” that an attack on Lebanon would represent, adding that stopping the “aggression against Gaza” would prevent a regional conflict.

The rise in tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border has raised fears of a regional extension of the war between Israel and Hamas.

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Ukrainian counteroffensive: What is President Zelenskyy waiting for?

The Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses, says President Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian troops’ counteroffensive is delayed indefinitely as, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “more time is needed.”

The president stressed members of new brigades were fully ready, with some units having received training abroad. But the Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses.

What is Kyiv waiting for?

Since the end of last year, there has been talk of a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive. For security reasons, Kyiv stopped short of announcing specific dates, but experts in the West have previously suggested the start of the operation could take place any time from the end of April to the first two weeks of June.

“I think the reason why he announced it now is that expectations for this counteroffensive have quite clearly got out of hand in many circles,” says Simon Schlegel, a senior Ukraine Analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Anticipation has been very, very high. And the reason for that is probably because there is a narrative going around, especially in Russia, that Ukraine only has ‘one punch one try’ at this very complicated counteroffensive. And therefore, it’s probably a good thing right now that from the very top, that Zelenskyy himself, tries to also tone down expectations a bit.”

The Ukrainian president says his armed forces need more equipment. On 9th May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv already had everything it needed for the operation, including equipment and soldiers trained in the West, and stressed it was up to the armed forces command to draw up a plan for success.

Some experts believe the delay is because Kyiv wants to be as sure as possible of the success of any counteroffensive.

“In this situation, you cannot have enough. Simply put, it’s always better to have more especially ammunition,” says Schlegel. And both sides have been running quite low. It’s become not just a military supply issue, but an industrial issue, a production issue. And it’s possible that ammunition is currently the bottleneck that Zelenskyy wants to widen before actually risking the lives of his soldiers.”

Max Bergmann, Director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies agrees.

“We know the Ukrainians have obtained a number of tanks and they’ve obtained a number of other armoured personnel carriers and transport vehicles,” he explains. “But I’m sure they’re still waiting for more deliveries. So the question for Ukraine is, do you wait and wait for more deliveries to arrive but potentially give Russia more time to prepare for the potential counteroffensive?”

However, some Western observers believe the Ukrainian president’s statement is calculated to dupe Moscow into believing the counteroffensive has been delayed – when in fact it has already begun.

Dr Neil Melvin, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says it’s important to understand what the word ‘counteroffensive’ actually means:

“I think often the images are kind of a shock and awe moment where all of the tanks roll forward. But actually, the counteroffensive itself is a long term process,” he says. “And I would argue that, in fact, the counteroffensive by Ukraine has already started. What they’re trying to do is shape the battlefield at the moment and they’re pulling the Russian forces in different directions. They’re trying to find gaps by probing and they’re moving their forces around.”

What kind of weapons does Ukraine need?

According to Bloomberg, since December (i.e. in preparation for a perceived counteroffensive) Ukraine has received the equivalent of $30bn of Western equipment and supplies – more than the annual military budget of any NATO country (except the US). For the entire period, the amount of aid has exceeded $67bn.

Kyiv is now talking about the need for long-range weapons, aviation and air defence systems.

On 11 May, London announced it was sending Storm Shadow tactical missiles with an estimated range of 560 km to Kiev (however, the export versions are limited to 250 km). According to experts, this is not simply just another weapons delivery, but one that could play an important role in the upcoming operation.

Melvin explains why these weapons are a potential game changer.

“Actually what they do is strike at Russia’s ability to coordinate its own defence, so what we saw earlier in the war where the United States provided Ukraine with HIMARS artillery, that was very damaging to the Russians because with this artillery the Ukrainians could destroy logistical hubs at headquarters,” he explains. “The Russians have adapted. They’ve pushed those facilities out of range of HIMARS. With these new missiles, suddenly they’re back in range.”

What some believe the success or failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive boils down to is the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to coordinate as accurately and quickly as possible between different units and government agencies.

“What Ukraine has to do is what’s called combined arms warfare which means linking the air force, the ground forces, the intelligence community, the political leadership and keeping in contact with this very complicated set of actors as the armed forces move forward,” Melvin continues. “So it’s not just about breaking through the Russian lines, but actually sustaining that.”

Air warfare

But there are difficulties ahead. Storm Shadow missiles are airborne and can be launched from a range of European-made aircraft – Tornado, Typhoon, Mirage 2000 and Rafale.

According to available information, Ukraine does not yet have these planes. In February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the transfer of Typhoons to Kyiv was not impossible, and it was even reported that training of Ukrainian pilots had begun.

The Ukrainian air force already has experience of using Western missiles from Soviet aircraft. Many of these machines, adapted to NATO standards, were supplied to Ukraine by the former Warsaw Pact countries.

However, Kyiv is demanding modern Western-made fighter jets – first and foremost, the American F-16s.

According to experts, these planes simply will not make it before the spring-summer campaign and it will take too much time to train Ukrainian pilots and adapt the country’s airfield and technical infrastructure.

Secondly, it’s unlikely they would play a significant offensive role in the war, as Bergmann outlines: 

“We have to realise that Russia’s advanced fighter jets and other aircraft are not operating to the same degree as expected in this war because of Ukraine’s air defences. Russia also has substantial air defence capabilities, which would pose a threat to any Western fighters that Ukraine obtains.

“I think it’s essential that Ukraine receives fighter jets. It’s an additional form of air defence which can be used to protect Ukrainian skies, both from missiles, drones and Russian fighter jets. But here, it appears  they will play more of a defensive rather than offensive role.”

Before the full-scale invasion, the West believed that Kyiv would hold out for days or at best weeks because of the superiority of the Russian air force. But as early as 5 March, after just 10 days of war, Moscow reported that Ukraine’s air force and air defences had been suppressed and destroyed.

This was not the case. Ukraine’s air and air defence forces not only retained combat effectiveness but ultimately prevented Russia from gaining air superiority.

However, any Ukrainian counteroffensive will also face a number of other serious obstacles.

According to experts, for the first time in modern history, countries of an equal technical level have faced each other on the battlefield. Moreover, both Russia and Ukraine built their air defence system on Soviet principles. During the Cold War, the USSR created a large number of very different, ground-based air defence systems. Together they were supposed to create a theoretically impenetrable multi-levelled barrier at all altitudes and speeds. This means the Soviet pilot training school focused more on operating against a “Western” system than its own.

As a result, air defence activity at high altitudes has forced aircraft on both sides to switch to operations at ultra-low altitudes, literally just a few metres above the ground. But there, for a variety of reasons, it has proved more effective to use drones.

Will the counteroffensive prove decisive?

Many Western political analysts have not ruled out the possibility that the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive could lead to a reduction in Western assistance – simply because it has almost exhausted its ability to supply equipment and gear without compromising its own security. This would put pressure on Kyiv to reach a ceasefire on the terms of the status quo. 

“I think there are other aspects beyond military success that will influence how supportive Western audiences and Western governments will be in the next phase. How well Ukraine manages to reintegrate the territories they liberate. Will this create a refugee crisis, for example, in Crimea? How they treat prisoners of war, and how well they manage the dangers of escalation. I think these factors are almost as important as a pure military success that is measured in liberated territory,” Schlegel adds.

But now, alongside the readiness of Ukraine’s armed forces for a counter-offensive, there are increasing calls for long-term, strategic support for the country. Even if the armed forces fail to achieve the goals of the spring and summer campaign, the West is being called on not abandon its support for Kyiv.

Back in March, EU leaders began to seriously consider increasing the production of weapons and ammunition – especially for Ukraine.

“While it’s right to focus on the counteroffensive and making sure Ukraine has everything, I think there also needs to be a political message,” says Melvin. “In most scenarios, the counteroffensive will not end the war by the summer. So the Western community needs now to factor in that this war is going to be a long war and that Ukraine is going to need resources to continue to fight to bring it to an end. But even beyond that, even if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, Russia is likely to remain a major threat to Ukraine, but also to the wider Europe.”

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The anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive: When, where and how?

The Ukrainian military has been talking since late last year about plans for a major counter-offensive.

The Pentagon documents, if they are to be believed, indicated that the offensive was planned to start on 30 April.

In late March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were not yet ready for large-scale operations. And Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated in mid-April that a counteroffensive could be expected in the summer.

When will the operation start?

Western experts are more inclined to the prime minister’s position: late autumn, or even early summer.

“They want good weather conditions so that they can conduct offensive manoeuvre operations,” said Robert Cullum, Lecturer in Defence Studies, King’s College London.

“They’ll be trying to generate and sustain their own forces, but they’ll also be trying to get ahead of Russian attempts to dig in and fortify their own position. So they’ll be trying to balance those three things off. And I think the kind of window of opportunity is within the next one to two months. So April, May, into early June.”

But even before that, there is no doubt that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will conduct battlefield reconnaissance and limited-scale operations to identify weaknesses in the Russian defence.

Possible plans by Kyiv

Ukrainian politicians and military officials say the ultimate goal should be the liberation of all Ukrainian territory, including the annexed Crimea and the territory of the separatist republics in the east of the country. But this is unlikely to be done in a single operation in the near future.


The most obvious target of a Ukrainian offensive, according to experts, could be a strike in the direction of the Sea of Azov, in the Zaporizhzhia region, around Melitopol. This could split the occupied territories in two, cut the land routes to Crimea and the Kherson region, and allow artillery to bombard the Crimean peninsula, the naval base in Sevastopol and the Crimean bridge. This is the scenario most often discussed by politicians, the military and experts alike.

But the problem here for Kyiv is that this strike direction is also obvious for Moscow. It has been repeatedly reported that Russian troops are seriously reinforcing their positions in the region.

“The problem then is the availability of forces because they have then two open flanks, one in the west towards Crimea, one in the east towards the Donbas, and they have to cover these two open flanks against Russian counter-attacks against both sides,” said Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations.

“So the deeper they go, the more forces they will need to just cover the flanks and push the offensive forward that might slow them down and that might also sort of swallow a considerable amount of forces.”

Experts consider a more realistic objective for Kyiv would be to advance 30 kilometres into the Melitopol area, so that Russian supply routes are in the range of Ukrainian artillery.

Flanks: Kherson and Luhansk

Vladimir Putin’s visit to the occupied regions of Kherson and Luhansk, which was announced on 18 April, is also linked by many experts to the preparation of defence in these directions, the flanks of the Russian grouping.

In the event of an offensive in these directions, Kyiv will have to worry less about securing its flanks, but in each case there are disadvantages.

In the Luhansk region, Kremenna, Svatove, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk could be the focus of Ukrainian strikes. Fighting in this area has been going on with varying success for a long time. However, the terrain there is wooded and rugged. Heavy Western equipment would be difficult to use in these conditions.

An offensive in the Kherson region could be the shortest route to Crimea for Ukrainian troops. But in order to do so they would have to cross the Dnieper River. The most difficult aspect, according to experts, will not be the formation operation itself, but the need to preserve and hold the crossings and bridges – which will undoubtedly become the most important target for Russian aviation and tactical missiles. Russian strikes against them could cut off and isolate the advancing Ukrainian grouping.

Air and artillery superiority

In theory, one important factor in a successful offensive should be air superiority. The advancing group, and its supply lines, must be protected during the operation.

Kyiv has repeatedly spoken of a shortage of both combat and air defence aircraft. If the same Pentagon documents that have surfaced online are to be believed, Ukraine will run out of missiles for “Soviet” long- and medium-range air defence systems by May, that is if used at the current rate, even without taking into account a possible offensive.

But this is about protection against Russian strikes on cities. For the front, according to experts, it is not such a serious problem.

“Yes, they don’t have air superiority, which is, of course, not ideal. But on the other hand, most of their reconnaissance is not done by aircraft,” said Gustav Gressel. “And also most of their strike missions are not done by aircraft like it’s done in NATO. It’s done by artillery, just like in the Russian army.”

“It’s been a very artillery intensive war,” said Robert Cullum. “Both sides have used artillery and artillery ammunition in enormous quantities, both on the attack and the defence. So another problem they have to overcome is the supply of artillery ammunition, which is a key enabler of military success in this war.”

Still, the lack of “frontline” air defence assets could significantly reduce the chances of the AFU if the Russian army makes extensive use of aircraft to counter the Ukrainian offensive, and here the West will not be able to provide significant support.

On the intelligence side, Kyiv has the advantage of access to U.S. and NATO information, as well as information from guerrillas in the occupied territories.

Pentagon leaks

However, the leaks of secret Pentagon documents could be a disadvantage for Kyiv.

“The American point of view is that the Russians now know how deep and with what means the American intelligence services can look into the Russian planning and Russian command and control structure, and they might adjust, for example, their codes or the encryption to prevent that,” said Gustav Gressel.

“ If that happens, and if Western intelligence at a time of the counter-offensive is less precise than it used to be, that would be a bad thing for Ukrainians.”

How can Russia counter the Ukrainian counter-offensive?

According to Western intelligence, Russia is fortifying almost the entire front line on Ukrainian territory, some 800 km long. These strips, according to media reports, consist of several lines of anti-tank trenches, trenches, barbed wire, obstacles and all sorts of fortified firing points.

The quality of these barriers has been questioned by Western experts; nevertheless, even in this form they will be a serious obstacle for the attackers if they do not have sufficient artillery and engineering support.

As stated above, Kyiv will need many forces to support its flanks to develop deep breaks; these forces will inevitably be redeployed from other directions, which the Russian army can take advantage of to launch counterstrikes in weakened areas.

Nuclear defence

The Kremlin has increasingly resorted to nuclear rhetoric in recent months, and at the end of March a decision was taken to deploy Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Experts doubt Russia would resort to a nuclear strike if the Ukrainian push proved successful.

Will the Kremlin decide to use nuclear weapons if the Ukrainian offensive is successful?

“Putin will definitely think twice or three times,” said Gustave Gressel. “To be honest, I don’t believe that he will do it for any region, maybe except for Crimea, because the price is very high and the recipe for success is dubious.”

Will the counter-offensive bring a decisive result?

Ukrainian politicians periodically claim that a decisive counter-offensive in the spring and summer could bring the war to an end before the end of the year. Western experts are very cautious about this, while paying tribute to the high morale of Ukrainians.

“If they’ve achieved significant success, and I think there will be, they’ll be in a position to force the Russians to the table and perhaps extract some kind of concessions, particularly if Crimea is threatened,” said Robert Cullum.

“Putin really won’t want to lose Crimea because it’s such a symbol of his regime’s success. If the Ukrainians haven’t achieved much success, then I think they’ll be facing a lot more pressure from their allies who are really at the limit of what they’re willing to give in terms of assistance and equipment. And so Ukraine will probably face a lot more pressure to find some kind of status quo ceasefire.”

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20 years since the invasion of Iraq: What lessons have been learned?

“The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder,” announced then-US President George W. Bush from the White House Oval Office on 20 March 2003, as US-led coalition forces began their ground offensive in Iraq.

Their objectives were to destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and bring down the dictatorial rule of Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein.

It took just nine months for US forces to capture Hussein. He was executed three years later for “crimes against humanity.”

But the question of Iraq’s alleged possession of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons became increasingly contentious. The failure of inspectors to locate the alleged WMDs led to mounting scepticism over the legitimacy of claims made by the Bush administration in October 2002.

By the time the last US troops left Iraq in December 2011 – more than nine years after the invasion began – 4,490 American troops, 179 British service personnel, and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed. No evidence of WMDs with nuclear delivery capabilities was ever found.

In the UK in 2016, Sir John Chilcot released a damning inquiry on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to commit troops to Iraq, in which he concluded that opportunities for peace were missed, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein had been exaggerated, and that intelligence on Iraq’s alleged possession of WMDs was “flawed.”

Twenty years on, what lessons have been learned? Two Iraq War veterans gave us their take on the invasion and its aftermath.

Memories of the invasion

Following a series of airstrikes against “selected targets of military importance”, US-led forces began their ground offensive in Iraq, which President Bush described as the start of “a broad and concerted campaign.” 

“The crucial thing is that it all happened way ahead of our expectation,” former British Army Officer, Colonel Tim Collins, told Euronews. 

“It was supposed to happen on about the 24th (March). And so we thought we had some days in hand. […] So it kind of caught us off guard. But it was a good way to start because there wasn’t much time to think about it. […] We quickly were given instructions to get ready to leave our bases and head to dispersal positions. And within 24 hours of that, we were crossing the border.”

“There wasn’t a great deal of fighting to start with. […] And so it was very much a question of taking over the large number of prisoners of war who were coming in and surrendering to us, finding some water, some food for them, and at the same time our job was to secure the gas oil separation plants on the Iraqi southern oil fields.”

“We were under incoming fire on an almost daily basis on some of the deployments I was on […] I learned a lot about myself and a lot about other people,” explained British Army veteran David Hornsby, who served five tours of Iraq as an emergency nurse.

“And I learned a lot about looking after both my troops and the casualties I was assigned to. So I think both professionally and personally, I grew a lot from my experiences.”

What were forces told about why they were in Iraq?

At the time of the invasion, the White House had repeatedly stated that the decision to go to war was based upon Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession and development of WMDs and his ties to the militant Islamist group, al-Qaeda.

“[What we were told] was very consistent with the information that the general public was being told, and that was very much based around weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence that the Americans and the British both announced prior to the invasion,” said David Hornsby.

“There was a great deal of confusion […] and it was very much centred around the snippets to do with weapons of mass destruction,” revealed Colonel Tim Collins. 

“But it became clear, although it was never tacitly stated, that regime change was the aim. So, there was no real clarity about what the aim was, but there was a continuing threat of weapons of mass destruction,” Collins added.

Doubt over WMD claims

In the months and years leading up to the invasion, UN inspectors had been unable to locate Iraqi WMDs.

By 2004, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that the US-led war in Iraq was illegal, in violation of the UN’s founding charter and had not been sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

“The simple fact is that they were undoubtedly in possession of chemical weapons and nerve agents because they’d used them against the Kurds already. So, we knew that it was a fact,” Collins told Euronews.

“And the question mark hanging over whether they had a nuclear capability and, if they had a nuclear capability, did they have a nuclear-delivery capability, of course, that didn’t become evident until six months to a year after the invasion. So, at the time, it really wasn’t an issue. When we crossed the border initially, we were carrying chemical and biological warfare equipment and wearing protective suits, and then we had respirators with us.”

Problems with the campaign in Iraq

Two months into the invasion, General Tommy R. Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, announced the decision to disband the Iraqi army, and abolish Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. Tim Collins told Euronews that this decision proved extremely counterproductive, and revealed shortcomings in the coalition governments. 

“By sacking all the members of the Ba’ath Party, it didn’t occur to them that you couldn’t be a schoolteacher, a policeman, an electricity worker, a water worker or anybody to do with infrastructure or maintenance if you weren’t in the Ba’ath Party,” explained Colonel Tim Collins. 

“So, they pretty much sacked everybody who was able to make Iraq function. At the same time, by disbanding the army, they turned what was a relatively effective, well-disciplined army into an extremely effective insurgency.”

“At the time we were simply doing our jobs and I made the fatal error of supposing that if I got on, did my job as a soldier on the ground, someone in government either in the UK or the US, had some form of plan for what would happen once we had secured Iraq,” the former British army officer admitted.

“Now, previous to that,  my job before taking command of my battalion, was working in headquarters, Special Forces, and we were certainly conducting information operations against the Iraqi regime. And the main thrust of those operations was to try and secure the support of the Iraqi military for them to remove Saddam Hussein. And the recognition that if his regime fell, […] it would come to the Iraqi military to provide the security and structure for long enough for civilian elections to be held for a legitimate new Iraqi government to come along. And that was my understanding. So, we all assumed that someone had a plan. We didn’t realise there was no plan.”

Lessons learned from the Iraq war

Two decades later, war rages on the European continent, leading many to reflect on what lessons, if any, can be taken from the conflict in Iraq.

According to David Hornsby, the treatment of wounded soldiers in Iraq helped bring about important medical discoveries that will help treat service personnel in future conflicts.

“The conflict in Iraq led to some amazing medical advances in terms of care for traumatic injuries […] So I think there’s this scope and I’m sure there are already ongoing discussions between health bodies such as the NHS and Ukraine in order to share lessons learned,” Hornsby explained.

Colonel Tim Collins told Euronews that, as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned, the Iraq conflict revealed the importance of dialogue with people who understand the country you’re invading. 

“My full expectation is that the Russian losses and the reverses they’re suffering may well lead to a collapse in the regime in Moscow. If that is the case, then I think we in the West need to be ready to work closely with the remnants of the Russian military to maintain peace and stability within that country until such time as […] elections can be organised and run, and a democratically-elected government can be put in place,” he explained. 

“At the same time, we must be ready immediately to provide the wherewithal and the financial support to get normal life going as quickly as possible, which is something we didn’t do in Iraq. It’s something we didn’t do when the Soviet Union collapsed. And I think we need to learn these lessons and be ready to be very generous, very quickly, so that normality can […] fill the vacuum left behind by the previous regime.”

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