Israel’s appetite for high-tech weapons highlights a Biden policy gap

Within hours of the Hamas attack on Israel last month, a Silicon Valley drone company called Skydio began receiving emails from the Israeli military. The requests were for the company’s short-range reconnaissance drones — small flying vehicles used by the U.S. Army to navigate obstacles autonomously and produce 3D scans of complex structures like buildings.

The company said yes. In the three weeks since the attack, Skydio has sent more than 100 drones to the Israeli Defense Forces, with more to come, according to Mark Valentine, the Skydio executive in charge of government contracts.

Skydio isn’t the only American tech company fielding orders. Israel’s ferocious campaign to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip is creating new demand for cutting-edge defense technology — often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies.

Already, Israel is using self-piloting drones from Shield AI for close-quarters indoor combat and has reportedly requested 200 Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones from another U.S. company, according to DefenseScoop. Jon Gruen, CEO of Fortem Technologies, which supplied Ukrainian forces with radar and autonomous anti-drone aircraft, said he was having “early-stage conversations” with Israelis about whether the company’s AI systems could work in the dense, urban environments in Gaza.

This surge of interest echoes the one driven by the even larger conflict in Ukraine, which has been a proving ground for new AI-powered defense technology — much of it ordered by the Ukrainian government directly from U.S. tech companies.

AI ethicists have raised concerns about the Israeli military’s use of AI-driven technologies to target Palestinians, pointing to reports that the army used AI to strike more than 11,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli defense ministry did not elaborate in response to questions about its use of AI.

These sophisticated platforms also pose a new challenge for the Biden administration. On Nov. 13, the U.S. began implementing a new foreign policy to govern the responsible military use of such technologies. The policy, first unveiled in the Hague in February and endorsed by 45 other countries, is an effort to keep the military use of AI and autonomous systems within the international law of war.

But neither Israel nor Ukraine are signatories, leaving a growing hole in the young effort to keep high-tech weapons operating within agreed-upon lines.

Asked about Israel’s compliance with the U.S.-led declaration on military AI, a spokesperson for the State Department said “it is too early” to draw conclusions about why some countries have not endorsed the document, or to suggest that non-endorsing countries disagree with the declaration or will not adhere to its principles.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview that “it’s very difficult” to coordinate international agreement between nations on the military use of AI for two reasons: “One is that the technology is evolving so quickly that the description constraints you put on it today may no longer may not be relevant five years from now because the technology will be so different. The other thing is that so much of this technology is civilian, that it’s hard to restrict military development without also affecting civilian development.”

In Gaza, drones are being largely used for surveillance, scouting locations and looking for militants without risking soldiers’ lives, according to Israeli and U.S. military technology developers and observers interviewed for this story.

Israel discloses few specifics of how it uses this technology, and some worry the Israeli military is using unreliable AI recommendation systems to identify targets for lethal operations.

Ukrainian forces have used experimental AI systems to identify Russian soldiers, weapons and unit positions from social media and satellite feeds.

Observers say that Israel is a particularly fast-moving theater for new weaponry because it has a technically sophisticated military, large budget, and — crucially — close existing ties to the U.S. tech industry.

“The difference, now maybe more than ever, is the speed at which technology can move and the willingness of suppliers of that technology to deal directly with Israel,” said Arun Seraphin, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies.

Though the weapons trade is subject to scrutiny and regulation, autonomous systems also raise special challenges. Unlike traditional military hardware, buyers are able to reconfigure these smart platforms for their own needs, adding a layer of inscrutability to how these systems are used.

While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do, multiple manufacturers told POLITICO.

Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng confirmed that users are able to customize the Nova 2 drones that the IDF is using to search for barricaded shooters and civilians in buildings targeted by Hamas fighters.

Matt Mahmoudi, who authored Amnesty International’s May report documenting Israel’s use of facial recognition systems in Palestinian territories, told POLITICO that historically, U.S. technology companies contracting with Israeli defense authorities have had little insight or control over how their products are used by the Israeli government, pointing to several instances of the Israeli military running its own AI software on hardware imported from other countries to closely monitor the movement of Palestinians.

Complicating the issue are the blurred lines between military and non-military technology. In the industry, the term is “dual-use” — a system, like a drone-swarm equipped with computer-vision, that might be used for commercial purposes but could also be deployed in combat.

The Technology Policy Lab at the Center for a New American Security writes that “dual-use technologies are more difficult to regulate at both the national and international levels” and notes that in order for the U.S. to best apply export controls, it “requires complementary commitment from technology-leading allies and partners.”

Exportable military-use AI systems can run the gamut from commercial products to autonomous weapons. Even in cases where AI-enabled systems are explicitly designed as weapons, meaning U.S. authorities are required by law to monitor the transfer of these systems to another country, the State Department only recently adopted policies to monitor civilian harm caused by these weapons, in response to Congressional pressure.

But enforcement is still a question mark: Josh Paul, a former State Department official, wrote that a planned report on the policy’s implementation was canceled because the department wanted to avoid any debate on civilian harm risks in Gaza from U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.

A Skydio spokesperson said the company is currently not aware of any users breaching its code of conduct and would “take appropriate measures” to mitigate the misuse of its drones. A Shield AI spokesperson said the company is confident its products are not being used to violate humanitarian norms in Israel and “would not support” the unethical use of its products.

In response to queries about whether the U.S. government is able to closely monitor high-tech defense platforms sent by smaller companies to Israel or Ukraine, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was restricted from publicly commenting or confirming the details of commercially licensed defense trade activity.

Some observers point out that the Pentagon derives some benefit from watching new systems tested elsewhere.

“The great value for the United States is we’re getting to field test all this new stuff,” said CSIS’s Cancian — a process that takes much longer in peacetime environments and allows the Pentagon to place its bets on novel technologies with more confidence, he added.

Source link

#Israels #appetite #hightech #weapons #highlights #Biden #policy #gap

This is the West’s war too

Gideon Sa’ar is a minister in the Israeli Government, a member of the Security Cabinet and chairman of the New Hope Party.

In 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza. It uprooted every Israeli and every community. Every Israeli grave was relocated. All soldiers were withdrawn, and military bases shuttered. Israel unilaterally withdrew to the pre-1967 border.

Gaza has always been an epicenter of hate, incitement, and terrorism against Israel. Since Israel’s withdrawal, instead of choosing prosperity and peace, instead of developing Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East, Hamas and Islamic Jihad decided to use the entity as a launching pad for their armies to wage their war against Israel.

In the past decades and elsewhere in the Middle East (Lebanon, Yemen and others), Islamist terrorists have taken control and created “terror states” that operate and function completely differently from normal sovereign states.

They’re not just a “terrorist organization” acting within the territory of another country. They control every aspect of the territory they occupy and exploit resources and civilian populations for their war effort. This is the phenomenon of a terrorist state.

The barbarous attacks of Hamas on October 7 against Israeli civilians were an act of state madness, aside from the utter immorality of mass murder and rape. It is not rational to start an all-out war against a much stronger country. But their rationale is different. It is fanatical.

To grasp the antisemitic and psychotic state of mind of this movement, it is enough to read Hamas’s founding charter.

According to Hamas, the murder of Jews is a religious commandment. According to the charter, Jews, in their minds, are responsible for every war or destructive historical event, including those where Jews themselves were victims. Among the events, the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, the First and Second World Wars, the founding of the League of Nations (to control the world), and the establishment of the UN.

In their eyes the entire land of Israel is sacred to Muslims until the resurrection of the dead and therefore nobody has the authority to relinquish any part of it whatsoever.

To try and legitimize the barbaric massacre that took place on October 7 is as absurd as trying to find justification for the perverse, murderous attack by al-Qaeda against the U.S. on September 11 2001. It’s the same madness, the same extremism, the same cruel murderousness.

The reason for the attack on Israel was simple: Hamas wants to destroy the state of Israel. Hamas’ conflict with Israel is not a territorial one, it is a total ideological one.

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, radical Islam has become an ideological rival of the democratic West. Radical Islam totally rejects Western values and wants to destroy Western civilization — so much for Francis Fukuyama’s theory of “the end of history.”

Strategically, as it did on September 11, or during terror attacks inspired, encouraged and sometimes organized in European cities, radical Islam always seeks to attack people as well as nations on their own soil and in their own homes. It’s an attempt to undermine a sense of safety and security and to instil fear. Hamas’ charter states that no one will enjoy peace and security unless under the control of Islam.

There is only one way to deal with terror states. Total war that ends with the destruction of the regime and its military capabilities — like the war the United States led against ISIS or like the Second World War. Truth be told, you cannot wipe out an ideology — after all, there are still Nazis in the world. But the danger they pose today is different from the Nazi regime.

Radical ideologies are far more dangerous when they control or form a state, or a territorial caliphate. That is why the United States, along with its allies in the Middle East and Europe, decided it couldn’t allow Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State to persist. The same goes for Hamas.

During the nine-month-long battle for Mosul, the world saw ISIS use thousands of people as human shields. Thousands were kidnapped and executed who didn’t want to be human shields. ISIS terrorists shot civilians who sought to flee to safety. Hamas operates in the same way.

The Hamas terrorist, in some cases, is less than one mile from where our citizens were butchered, beheaded, and cold-heartedly slaughtered. But make no mistake, Israel is the West’s frontline in the Middle East — Israel is certainly not the end game as far as radical Islam is concerned. And Israel’s war against radical Islam is also the West’s war — even if it refuses to acknowledge that.

Israel is grateful to the United States, to its people and the administration led by President Joe Biden for unwavering friendship that is once again standing up to the test. But the loss of moral clarity and compass in some of America’s top university campuses is extremely concerning — so too are the pro-Hamas protests in American and European cities with participants baying for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel has no choice but to inflict an absolute defeat on Hamas. This war comes after six previous military rounds when Israel didn’t utilize its full might against Hamas. Since 2007, when Hamas seized control of Gaza, Israeli citizens have been subjected time and again to constant rocket, missile, and mortar fire on their homes.

The war being waged by radical Islam against the West and its values is only at its start. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Hamas are the opening chapters in a war against the West and its values. In fact, radical Islam already has a grip on many European cities.

It is imperative for the West to learn an important lesson that Israel knew in the past and unfortunately forgot in recent times: It is better to fight your enemy on their territory rather than wait for them to come to you.

Patience and tolerance towards a radical ideology that doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of your way of life is the greatest enemy of peace and coexistence. If the Western way of life is important and meaningful, then there must be a willingness to stand up and fight for it against its foes.

Israel’s war against Hamas is crucial to the safety and security of its citizens but not only to them. It is also vital to the security of the democratic West and to the United States.

Source link

#Wests #war

Germany hikes Ukraine military support, but is its defence-spending tilt tenable?

Germany, already Europe’s biggest supporter of Ukraine, has unveiled plans to double its military aid to Kyiv for 2024, while continuing to invest in its armed forces in order to become “the backbone of European defence”. It’s a strategy shift Berlin hopes to maintain over the long term, but counting on public support in a difficult economic context might make it hard to sustain.

As the Ukraine war grinds on, and with the Israel-Hamas war grabbing international attention, many Ukrainians fear that their existential struggle against Russia will be overlooked. The looming 2024 US election campaign is doing nothing to assuage their anxieties. But Kyiv can count on the support of Germany, which is set to double its military aid to Ukraine.

In an interview with German broadcaster ARD, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said the move sent a “strong signal to Ukraine that we will not leave them in the lurch”.

The Ukraine military aid hike from €4 billion to €8 billion would mean Germany’s annual budget allocation would be enough to last Ukraine the entire year, noted Pistorius. The budget boost, he told ARD, was a response to this year’s experience, “which showed that planned amounts were quickly exhausted” by Ukraine’s major military needs.

The €8 billion military aid announcement was a marked shift from Germany’s infamous “5,000 protective helmets” offering just weeks before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. It was a clear sign of a change in German policy, which was once considered a weak link in the Western response to Russian aggression due to its dependence on cheap Russian energy and its postwar commitment to pacifism.

From weak link to ‘backbone’ of European defence

Back in January 2022, when Ukraine, faced with an imminent invasion, turned to NATO for military help, the US and UK immediately agreed to provide Kyiv with defensive weapons.

When Germany, Europe’s largest economy, offered just 5,000 protective helmets, it was the subject of much scorn across Ukraine, prompting Kyiv’s mayor to publicly ask if the next delivery would be pillows.

“Military aid to Ukraine gave rise to a particularly difficult debate in Germany, for both historical and economic reasons,” noted Éric-André Martin from the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). “Not only is it the country’s policy not to supply arms to a country at war, but German officials were also very uncomfortable with the idea of opposing Russia, which supplied them with 50% of their gas.”

Read moreSchroeder’s Russia ties cast a shadow over Scholz’s trip to Moscow

A year after the helmet affair, Christine Lambrecht from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) resigned as Germany’s defence minister. Her New Year’s Eve address, when she said the Russian invasion gave her the chance for “many encounters with great and interesting people” was one gaffe too many, undermining Germany’s credibility on the international stage.

Then came the controversy surrounding the delivery of German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Just as Kyiv was putting up a valiant offensive against its giant invader, Germany not only refused to supply the much-needed tanks, it opposed re-exporting tanks purchased by its allies to Ukraine.

Finally, after Scholz visited Washington and convinced US President Joe Biden to send American Abrams tanks, the German chancellor yielded to pressure. In a January 25, 2023 speech to parliament, Scholz announced that Germany would be sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Read moreUK offers tanks in Ukraine’s hour of need, but will Germany follow suit?

“Germany was not the only European country afraid of adding fuel to the fire by delivering advanced military equipment to Ukraine to fight Russia. But it is true that for a long time it was particularly cautious,” said Gaspard Schnitzler, research director at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS).

“This difficulty in making decisions is linked to Germany’s political configuration,” said Schnitzler, noting that Scholz’s governing coalition includes three political parties “with very different perspectives, to a policy of drastic export controls, and also to the German constitution, adopted after the Second World War to avoid a concentration of power. Decisions are taken collegially, and therefore take longer to reach, which was difficult for its partners to understand. But it can also be argued that once they are made, they are more definitive.”

Almost two years after the start of the war, Germany has gradually emerged as Kyiv’s leading military supporter in Europe. According to the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine support tracker, Berlin has committed over €17.1 billion in military aid to Ukraine since January 24, 2022. This is certainly not on a par with Washington’s €42 billion, but it is more than twice the UK’s investment (7 billion) and 34 times that of France.

This investment has increased considerably over the past year, with the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks, Gepard air defence systems and shells.

“Today, Germany wants to be exemplary in its support for Ukraine, to make up for its hesitations at the start of the war, but also its policy of economic openness towards Russia. The signing of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline after the [2014] annexation of Crimea was very badly received by Ukraine, the Baltic States and Poland,” explained Schnitzler.

Bundeswehr on the rise

For Germany, this massive support for Ukraine is first and foremost a question of national security. Realising the scale of the threat to its own security posed by Russia’s conquest of Ukraine, Berlin began a radical military rearmament shift soon after the war erupted, breaking with decades of underinvestment.

After a February 2022 announcement of a special fund of €100 billion over five years to modernise the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, Berlin adopted its first-ever “National Security Strategy” in June. On November 9, Pistorius unveiled his defence policy guidelines, promising to make Germany “the backbone of deterrence and collective defence in Europe”.

“The amount announced may seem very substantial, but it’s important to understand that this is above all a catch-up investment,” stressed Martin.

“Germany was well below NATO’s commitments, which set defence spending at 2% of GDP. It was something of a freeloader in its contribution to European defence. In the name of budgetary stability, it shifted the burden to other members of the Alliance, and in particular the US, which led to sharp tensions with Donald Trump,” Martin added.

With this strategic turnaround, Berlin intends to transform its defence policy for the long term. The aim is to reassure the US, and to offer a hierarchical military framework within NATO into which European countries with fewer resources can integrate their battalions.

A change of gear in times of crisis

According to Pistorius, Germany’s status as Europe’s largest economy gives it a special “responsibility” to defend the bloc, which it now intends to assume.

However, this ambitious transformation comes at a time of economic turbulence. Germany, which had based its energy strategy on supplies of cheap Russian gas, is in the front line of the inflationary crisis that has hit the continent since the outbreak of the Ukraine war and the introduction of sanctions against Moscow.

“The country relied on Russian energy to implement its transition to renewables. Now it has to source its energy elsewhere, and at a much higher cost. Add to this the slow pace of industrial transition, as Germany has invested little in electric vehicles, and its automotive sector is losing competitiveness to the Chinese,” explained Martin.

Against this backdrop, at the beginning of October, the IMF revised its forecasts for the German economy’s contraction, now predicting a drop in GDP of -0.5% versus the previous -0.3% for 2023, by far the worst annual performance of the bloc’s economies.

“The special fund of €100 billion over five years to finance the army pales in comparison with Germany’s GDP of €4,000 billion. The same applies to the envelope dedicated to Ukraine support. But the difficulty is that for these investments to be effective, they must be sustained over time,” said Martin. “If the economic difficulties persist and have too heavy an impact on German households, the government could be forced to reassess its budgetary choices.”

“The Russian invasion has broken the taboo on the issue of national defence in Germany,” said Schnitzler. “The vast majority of Germans are in favour of supporting Ukraine, despite the cost, and are now aware of the importance of strengthening their army.”

Schnitzler nevertheless believes that, despite favourable public opinion, several questions about Berlin’s ability to maintain this policy persist.

“We’re still feeling our way around the financing of German rearmament. To be sustainable, these investments need to be gradually shifted to the defence budget, but for the time being everything is still based on the special €100 billion fund.

Finally, it’s hard to predict what will happen to this policy once the war in Ukraine is over. Once the immediate threat has been averted, it’s always harder to justify high levels of military spending to the public.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

Source link

#Germany #hikes #Ukraine #military #support #defencespending #tilt #tenable

The longer Israel thinks, the more time Washington has to calm its wrath

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

BEIRUT — “Once you break it, you are going to own it,” General Colin Powell warned former United States President George W. Bush when he was considering invading Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

And as the invasion plan came together, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blocked any serious postwar planning for how Iraq would be run once the country’s ruler Saddam Hussein had gone. As far as he was concerned, once “shock and awe” had smashed Iraq, others could pick up the pieces.

British generals fumed at this. And General Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the invasion, later described Rumsfeld’s approach as “intellectually bankrupt.”

That history is now worth recalling — and was likely on U.S. President Joe Biden’s mind when he urged the Israeli war cabinet last week not to “repeat mistakes” made by the U.S. after 9/11.

Despite Biden’s prompt, however, Israel still doesn’t appear to have a definitive plan for what to do with the Gaza Strip once it has pulverized the enclave and inflicted lasting damage on Hamas for the heinous October 7 attacks.

Setting aside just how difficult a military task Israel will face undertaking its avowed aim of ending Hamas as an organization — former U.S. General David Petraeus told POLITICO last week that a Gaza ground war could be “Mogadishu on steroids” — the lack of endgame here suggests a lack of intellectual rigor that disturbingly echoes Rumsfeld’s.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told lawmakers Friday that the country didn’t have plans to maintain control over Gaza after its war against Hamas had concluded, saying Israel would end its “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip.” Among other minor matters, this raises the issue of where the coastal enclave of 2.3 million people will get life-sustaining energy and water, as Israel supplies most utility needs.

Israeli and Western officials say the most likely option would be to hand responsibility to the West Bank-based Palestinian National Authority, which oversaw the enclave until Hamas violently grabbed control in 2007. “I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week.

But it isn’t clear whether Mahmoud Abbas — the Palestinian Authority president and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by his Fatah party — would want Gaza on those terms, or whether he has the power to do much of anything with the enclave in the first place.

Abbas is already struggling to maintain his authority over the West Bank. He’s an unpopular leader, and his government is seen to be not only appallingly venal, but is perceived by many as ceding to the demands of the Israeli authorities too easily.

Israel now controls 60 percent of the West Bank, and its encroaching settlements in the area — which are illegal under international law — haven’t helped Abbas. Nor have Israeli efforts to hold back the West Bank from developing — a process dubbed “de-developing” by critics and aimed, they say, at restricting growth and strangling Palestinian self-determination.

In West Bank refugee camps, Abbas’ security forces have now lost authority to armed groups — including disgruntled Fatah fighters. “It is unclear whether Abbas would be prepared to play such an obvious role subcontracting for Israel in Gaza. This would further erode whatever domestic standing the PA has left,” assessed Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But it isn’t only Gaza — or the West Bank — that risks breaking in the coming weeks.

Neighboring countries are watching events unfold with growing alarm, and they fear that if more thought isn’t given to Israel’s response to the savage Hamas attacks, and it isn’t developed in consultation with them, they’ll be crushed in the process. If Israel wants the support of these countries — or their help even — in calming the inevitable anger of their populations once a military campaign is launched, it needs their buy-in and agreement on the future of Gaza and Palestinians, and to stop using the language of collective punishment.

Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah — Hamas’ ally — has been intensifying its skirmishes along the border with Israel, is currently the most vulnerable. And Lebanese politicians are complaining they’re being disregarded by all key protagonists — Israel, the U.S. and Iran — in a tragedy they wish to have no part in.

Already on its knees from an economic crisis that plunged an estimated 85 percent of its population into poverty, and with a barely functioning caretaker government, the Lebanese are desperate not to become the second front in Iran’s war with Israel. Lebanon “could fall apart completely,” Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam said.

But the leaders of Egypt and Jordan share Lebanon’s frustrations, arguing that the potential repercussions for them are being overlooked. This is why Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called Saturday’s Cairo summit of regional and international leaders.

El-Sisi focused the conference on a longer-term political solution, hopefully a serious effort to make good on the 2007 Annapolis Conference’s resolution to set up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Egypt has much to lose if the war escalates — and the country’s officials are fuming at what they see as a careless attitude from Israel toward what happens to Gaza after Hamas is subjugated, potentially leaving a cash-strapped Egypt to pick up some of the pieces.

More than that, Egypt and Jordan harbor deep suspicions — as do many other Arab leaders and politicians — that as the conflict unfolds, Israel’s war aims will shift. They worry that under pressure from the country’s messianic hard-right parties, Israel will end up annexing north Gaza, or maybe all of Gaza, permanently uprooting a large proportion of its population, echoing past displacements of Palestinians — including the nakba (catastrophe), the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.

This is why both el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are resisting the “humanitarian” calls for displaced Gazans to find refuge in their countries. They suspect it won’t be temporary and will add to their own security risks, as Gazans would likely have to be accommodated in the Sinai — where Egyptian security forces are already engaged in a long-standing counterinsurgency against Islamist militant groups.

And both countries do have grounds for concern about Israel’s intentions.

Some columnists for Israel Hayom —a newspaper owned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close friend, American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson — are already calling for annexation. “My hope is that the enemy population residing there now will be expelled and that the Strip will be annexed and repopulated by Israel,” wrote Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel before emigrating.

And last week, Gideon Sa’ar, the newly appointed minister in Netanyahu’s wartime government, said that Gaza “must be smaller at the end of the war . . . Whoever starts a war against Israel must lose territory.”

Given all this, there are now signs the Biden administration is starting to take the risks of the Gaza crisis breaking things far and wide fully on board — despite widespread Arab fears that it still isn’t. By not being fast enough to express sympathy for ordinary Gazans’ suffering as Israel pummels the enclave, Biden’s aides initially fumbled. And while that can easily be blamed on Hamas, it needs to be expressed by American officials loudly and often.

In the meantime, the unexplained delay of Israel’s ground attack is being seen by some analysts as a sign that Washington is playing for time, hoping to persuade the country to rethink how it will go about attacking Hamas, prodding Israel to define a realistic endgame that can secure buy-in from Arab leaders and help combat the propaganda of Jew-hatred.

Meanwhile, hostage negotiations now appear to be progressing via Qatar, after two American captives were freed Friday. There have also been reports of top Biden aides back-channeling Iran via Oman.

So, despite Arab condemnation, the Biden administration’s approach may be more subtle than many realize — at least according to Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center. He said it was always inevitable that Washington would publicly back Israel but that a primary aim has been to “contain Israel’s reaction” to the Hamas attacks, while seemingly deferring to the country.

And time will help. The longer Israel thinks, the more opportunity Washington has to reason, to calm, and to explain the trail of cascading wreckage Israel risks leaving behind if it is unrestrained and fails to answer — as Biden put it — “very hard questions.”

But that might not be sufficient to prevent everything spinning out of control. Israel morally and legally has the right to defend itself from barbaric attacks that were more a pogrom, and it must ensure the safety of its citizens. There are also others — notably Iran — that want the destruction of the Jewish state, and even a scaled down response from Israel may trigger the escalation most in the region fear.

Source link

#longer #Israel #thinks #time #Washington #calm #wrath

The dogs of war are howling in the Middle East

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

BEIRUT — Against a dawning day, just hours after the fatal Gaza hospital explosion that killed hundreds, Israel’s border with Lebanon crackled with shelling and fighter jet strikes as Israeli warplanes responded to an uptick in shelling from Hezbollah.

Regardless of who struck the al-Ahli Arab Hospital, the needle is now rapidly shifting in a dangerous direction. And hopes are being pinned on United States President Joe Biden and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is set to host an emergency summit in Cairo on Saturday. But the chances of a wider war engulfing Lebanon and the entire region being hurled into violent chaos once more are growing by the hour.

As Hezbollah announced “a day of rage” against Israel, protests have targeted U.S. missions in the region, more embassies in Beirut have started sending off non-essentials staff, and security teams are being flown in to protect diplomatic missions and European NGOs, preparing contingency plans for staff evacuation. An ever-growing sense of dread and foreboding is now gripping the Levant.

Currently, Israel insists the hospital explosion was caused by an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad — and the White House agrees. But the Palestinian militant group, which is aligned with Hamas, says this is a “lie and fabrication,” insisting Israel was responsible. Regardless of where the responsibility lies, however, the blast at the hospital — where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were sheltering from days of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave of Gaza — is sending shock waves far and wide.

It has already blown Biden’s trip to the region off course, as his planned Wednesday meeting with Arab leaders in Jordan had to be axed. The meeting was meant to take place after his visit to Israel, where Biden had the tricky task of showing solidarity, while also pressing the country’s reluctant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

A statement from the White House said the the decision to cancel the meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egypt’s El-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been jointly made in light of the hospital strike.

But Arab leaders have made clear they had no hope the meeting would be productive. Abbas pulled out first, before Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi suggested a meeting would be pointless. “There is no use in talking now about anything except stopping the war,” he said, referencing Israel’s near-constant bombardment of Gaza.

Scrapping the Jordan stop lost the U.S. leader a major face-to-face opportunity to navigate the crisis, leaving American efforts to stave off a wider conflict in disarray.

The U.S. was already facing tough criticism in the region for being too far in Israel’s corner and failing to condemn the country for civilian deaths in Gaza. Meanwhile, Arab leaders have shrugged off U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to get them to denounce Hamas — they refuse to label the organization as a terror group, seeing the October 7 attacks as the inevitable consequence of the failure to deliver a two-state solution for Palestinians and lift Israel’s 17-year blockade on Gaza.

Whether anyone can now stop a bigger war is highly uncertain. But there was one word that stood out in Biden’s immediate remarks after the Hamas attacks, and that was “don’t.” “To any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation, I have one word,” he said. “Don’t.”

However, this is now being drowned out by furious cries for revenge. Wrath has its grip on all parties in the region, as old hatreds and grievances play out and the tit-for-tat blows accelerate. Much like Mark Antony’s exhortation in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” is now the sentiment being heard here, obscuring reason and leaving diplomacy struggling in its wake.

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s slaughter, righteous fury had understandably gripped Israelis. Netanyahu channeled that rage, vowing “mighty vengeance” against Hamas for the surprise attacks, pledging to destroy the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group. “Every Hamas terrorist is a dead man,” he said days later.

However, Israel hasn’t officially announced it will launch a ground mission — something it has refrained from doing in recent years due to the risk of losing a high number of soldiers. But it has massed troops and armor along the border, drafted 300,000 reservists — the biggest call-up in decades — and two days after the Hamas attacks, Netanyahu reportedly told Biden that Israel had no choice but to launch a ground operation. Publicly, he warned Israelis the country faced a “long and difficult war.”

The one hope that havoc won’t be unleashed in the region now rests partly — but largely — upon Israel reducing its military goals and deciding not to launch a ground offensive on Gaza, which would be the most likely trigger for Hezbollah and its allies to commence a full-scale attack, either across the southern border or on the Golan Heights.

That was certainly the message from Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, Hamas’ chief representative in Lebanon. He told POLITICO that an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza would be one of the key triggers that could bring Hezbollah fully into the conflict, and that Hamas and Hezbollah are now closely coordinating their responses.

“Hezbollah will pay no attention to threats from anyone against it entering the war; it will ignore warnings to stay out of it. The timing of when Hezbollah wants to enter the war or not will relate to Israeli escalation and incidents on the ground, and especially if Israel tries to enter Gaza on the ground,” he said.

Lebanese politicians are now pinning their hopes on Israel not opting to mount a ground offensive on the densely populated enclave — an operation that would almost certainly lead to a high number of civilian casualties and spark further Arab outrage, in addition to a likely Hezbollah intervention. They see some possibility in Biden’s warning that any move by Israel to reoccupy Gaza would be a “big mistake” — a belated sign that Washington is now trying to impose a limit on Israel’s actions in retaliation for the Hamas attacks.

And how that dovetails with Netanyahu’s stated aim to “demolish Hamas”and “defeat the bloodthirsty monsters who have risen against us to destroy us” is another one of the major uncertainties that will determine if the dogs of war will be fully unleashed.

At the moment, however, an apparent pause in Israeli ground operations is giving some a reason to hope. While assembled units are on standby and awaiting orders, on Tuesday an Israel military spokesman suggested a full-scale ground assault might not be what’s being prepared.

Michael Young, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, suspects a “rethink” is underway, likely prompted by Israeli military chiefs’ realization that a ground offensive wouldn’t just be bloody, it wouldn’t rid Gaza of Hamas either. “When the PLO was forced out of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, it still was able to maintain a presence in the country and Yasser Arafat was back within a year in Lebanon,” he said.

Likewise, lawmaker Ashraf Rifi — a former director of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces — told POLITICO he thinks Israeli generals are likely just as behind the apparent hold as their Western allies. “Military commanders are always less enthusiastic about going to war than politicians, and Israeli military commanders are always cautious,” he said.

“Let’s hope so, otherwise we will all be thrown into hell.”

Source link

#dogs #war #howling #Middle #East

Furore over Australian soccer team’s match in war-torn Myanmar during AFC Cup

An Australian A-League team has been criticised for playing a football match in war-torn Myanmar against the government’s official travel advice, with some observers calling the move dangerous.

The Macarthur Bulls, a team from south-western Sydney, defeated Myanmar team Shan United 3-0 during an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup match held at the almost-empty Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon in late September.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns about Shan United’s ownership and links to businesses controlled by the Myanmar military junta, including one sanctioned by Australia.

There are now calls for the Shan United players to be denied visas to Australia ahead of an upcoming match on November 30.

The Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) continues to advise that Australians “do not travel” to Myanmar “due to ongoing civil unrest, armed conflict and the volatile security environment” in the wake of the 2021 military coup.

“Violence, including explosions and attacks, can occur anywhere and anytime, including in Yangon,” the Smartraveller advice reads, adding that attacks may be planned against locations that foreigners frequent, and that Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention.

“We encourage all Australians to heed this advice,” DFAT told the ABC.

The ABC understands DFAT officials spoke to Macarthur Football Club’s management and Football Australia to reiterate the government’s official travel advice.

Myanmar has not been barred from international competitions, and its women’s team recently played against Vietnam in the South-East Asian Games.(Reuters: Chalinee Thirasupa)

In a statement, Macarthur said it is a member of Football Australia, the Asian Football Confederation and hence FIFA.

“As such, we operate within the rule and regulation framework adopted and implemented through the governance of these organisations,” the club said.

Macarthur FC players on a soccer field with empty seats in the background.

Football Australia requested the match be relocated to a neutral venue, but this was denied.(Macarthur Bulls)

Football Australia told the ABC that if Macarthur did not play the match in Yangon, the club would have been forced to withdraw from the competition.

“Both Macarthur FC and Football Australia formally requested the match be shifted to neutral territory considering the DFAT travel advice. The club also offered to meet the costs of this shift, where the request was denied,” a Football Australia spokesperson said.

“Having exhausted these alternatives, the club made the decision to play this match as drawn and scheduled.

“Football Australia arranged security in line with other past football events played abroad and no incidents occurred, where the team was in Yangon for a short period of time.”

The ABC understands fines can also be imposed — three A-League teams played in the AFC Asian Champions League in Qatar in 2020 despite COVID-19 concerns because they faced a $300,000 fine and two-year suspension from the tournament if they withdrew.

‘What were the football managers thinking?’

Sean Turnell, an Australian economist who was arbitrarily detained by Myanmar’s military junta for more than 650 days, told the ABC the decision to play soccer in the country where he was incarcerated was a questionable one.

“I think it incredibly unwise for an Australian soccer team to go to Myanmar,” he said.

“Unwise politically – the visit can be used by the regime to suggest international acceptance – but unwise for reasons of safety too.”

Caucasian man and Asian woman in an embrace looking at the camera.

Sean Turnell and his wife Ha Vu were reunited last year after he was detained in Myanmar.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Chris Sidoti, a member of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, said it was surprising given the “absolutely appalling” security situation in the country.

“This Australian football team went into Yangon – a place where there are killings and bombings on a daily basis – against the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” he said.

“Really, what were the football managers thinking? It placed their team at very high risk.”

Source link

#Furore #Australian #soccer #teams #match #wartorn #Myanmar #AFC #Cup

Kosovo attack: Who benefits?

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

The European Union and the United States have been trying to persuade Serbia and Kosovo to end their enmity and normalize relations for more than a decade.

There were finally signs of promise in April, when Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti finally gave tacit, if begrudging, approval to an EU-brokered plan that would see the two finally sprinkle some soil over the hatchet.

But despite all the cajoling and coaxing, it wasn’t to be.

U.S. and European officials have insinuated that Kurti was more to blame here, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell drawing attention to the failure to establish an association of municipalities in northern Kosovo, which would have allowed Kosovo’s Serbs some autonomy in an enclave where they’re a majority.

Behind the scenes, U.S. and European officials have also quietly praised Vučić for a slow and halting tilt toward the West, secretly supplying some arms to Ukraine and moving to reduce Serbia’s dependency on Russian energy supplies.

This is why last week’s astonishing clash between armed Serbs and police in the village of Banjska, in northern Kosovo’s Zvečan municipality, is especially perplexing — and it’s worth asking whose interests it serves.

Kosovo’s leaders quickly blamed Vučić for the attack, which also involved a siege of an Orthodox monastery. A Kosovan policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed in the clash. And Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said Friday that “the (armed) group simply exercised the intentions and the motives of Serbia as a country and Vučić as the leader.”

Osmani maintains Belgrade was trying to copy Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which began with so-called little green men infiltrating the Ukrainian peninsula. “They are trying to carry out a Crimea model in the Republic of Kosovo, but we will absolutely not let that happen,” she added.

Kurti has called for sanctions to be imposed on Serbia for what he describes as a state-sponsored terrorist attack, warning that if the crime goes unpunished, Belgrade will repeat it. Vučić planned and ordered an attack in northern Kosovo “to destabilize” the country with the goal of starting a war, he said.

In response, Vučić has angrily denied these allegations but has noticeably hardened his rhetoric, possibly as a sop to Serbian ultra-nationalists. More alarmingly, however, Serbia has been building up its forces near the border with Kosovo since the deadly clashes, which the White House has described as “unprecedented.” And according to U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, on a phone call with Vučić, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, however, it would appear to pull against the caution Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hedging his bets between the West and Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally. Vučić didn’t join in on Western sanctions against Russia but has condemned the invasion, and says he’s keen to pursue Serbia’s bid for EU membership.

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, it would appear to pull against the caution Aleksandar Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine | Andrej Cukic/EFE via EPA

Marko Đurić, the Serbian ambassador to the U.S., echoes Vučić’s argument that planning or approving an attack in Kosovo at this juncture would make no sense and potentially ruin Belgrade’s improving relations with the West. “We have a lot to lose by any kind of escalation in Kosovo,” he told POLITICO — including harming the country commercially.

Đurić also said the attack has complicated the country’s domestic politics, noting that “the far right in Serbia is going to try and exploit this to the greatest extent possible.”

But Kosovo’s leaders have a case against Belgrade that needs answering.

To support the allegation that Vučić endorsed the attack, they highlight the role of Milan Radoičić, the deputy leader of the Serb List — a party that dominates Serb politics in northern Kosovo and has close links with Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party.

Nicknamed the “boss of the north,” Radoičić admitted to organizing and leading the attack in a statement issued by his lawyer, saying he was solely responsible. “I didn’t inform anyone from the government structures of the Republic of Serbia about this, nor from the local political structures from the north of Kosovo and Metohija, nor did I get any help from them, because we already had had different views on the previous methods of resisting Kurti’s terror,” he said.

But Kurti dismisses the idea that Radoičić would have gone ahead without Vučić’s approval. “I have no doubt that Radiočić was only the executor. The one who planned and ordered this terrorist, criminal attack on our state, in order to violate our territorial integrity, national safety and state security, is none other than President Vučić,” he told reporters.

Other officials in Pristina also say it would be stretching credulity to think Aleksandar Vulin, the head of Serbia’s BIA intelligence agency, would have been unaware of a planned attack.

Bojan Pajtić, a Serbian law professor and former president of the autonomous province of Vojvodina within Serbia, agrees the Banjska provocation wouldn’t have gone ahead without the security agency’s knowledge, saying it is improbable that the BIA would have failed to notice an operation being prepared by a heavily armed formation consisting of dozens of people in such a small area. “The BIA normally knows who drank coffee with whom yesterday in Zvečan,” he said.

“When an incident occurs that is not accidental, but the result of someone’s efforts, you always wonder whose interests it is in,” Paltić said. “In this case, it is certainly not in the interest of Aleksandar Vučić, because after the last attempt at dialogue in Brussels, in the eyes of the West, in relation to Kurti, he still looked like a constructive partner.”

Pajtić isn’t alone in querying who’s interest the attack was in, and so far, both Washington and Brussels have been extremely cautious in their comments. European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said the EU will wait for the completion of the investigation before coming to any conclusions on what he described as a terrorist attack. Washington, careful to keep its language neutral, hasn’t been specific about who it blames either.

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to Moscow, which predictably grandstanded as Serbia’s traditional protector, accusing Pristina of ethnic cleansing in northern Kosovo — the very same lie used to try to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“This incident, the most serious example of violence in Kosovo for years, turned the tables on Vučić,” said Dimitar Bechev, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. And he, too, questioned whether the attack was a rogue operation by Serbian ultra-nationalists and Kosovo’s Serb leaders.

“Should the story of Radoičić freelancing be corroborated, it would appear that Vučić has lost control over his erstwhile proxies,” he said.

Source link

#Kosovo #attack #benefits

Armenians find themselves pushed aside yet again

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “inching ever closer to a great fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations.”

That may be so, but not when it comes to Azerbaijan.

A country a third of the size of Britain and with a population of about 10 million, Azerbaijan has faced few problems in bridging geopolitical divisions. And recently, Baku has been offering a masterclass in how to exploit geography and geology to considerable advantage.

From Washington to Brussels, Moscow to Beijing, seemingly no one wants to fall out with Azerbaijan; everyone wants to be a friend. Even now, as Armenia has turned to the world for help, accusing Baku of attempted ethnic cleansing in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh — the land-locked and long-contested Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Warning signs had been mounting in recent weeks that Baku might be planning a major offensive, which it dubbed an “anti-terrorist operation,” and Armenia had been sending up distress flares. But not only were these largely overlooked, Baku has since faced muted criticism for its assault as well.

Western reaction could change, though, if Azerbaijan were to now engage in mass ethnic cleansing — but Baku is canny enough to know that.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Azerbaijan has been courted by all sides, becoming one of the war’s beneficiaries.

On a visit to Baku last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had only warm words for the country’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev, saying she saw him as a reliable and trustworthy energy partner for the European Union.

Then, just a few weeks later, Alexander Lukashenko — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s satrap in Belarus — had no hesitation in describing Aliyev as “absolutely our man.”

Is there any other national leader who can be a pal of von der Leyen and Lukashenko at the same time?

Aliyev is also a friend of Turkey; Baku and Beijing count each other as strategic partners, with Azerbaijan participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and the country has been working on expanding military cooperation with Israel as well. In 2020 — during the last big flare-up in this intractable conflict — Israel had supplied Azerbaijan with drones, alongside Turkey.

That’s an impressive list of mutually exclusive friends and suitors — and location and energy explain much.

Upon her arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital last year, von der Leyen wasn’t shy about highlighting Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” for its energy needs, announcing a deal with Baku to increase supplies from the southern gas corridor — the 3,500-kilometer pipeline bringing gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

She also noted that Azerbaijan “has a tremendous potential in renewable energy” in offshore wind and green hydrogen, enthusing that “gradually, Azerbaijan will evolve from being a fossil fuel supplier to becoming a very reliable and prominent renewable energy partner to the European Union.”

There was no mention of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, rampant corruption or any call for the scores of political prisoners to be released.

Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on fundamental rights issues,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch complained at the time. “The EU should not say a country is reliable when it is restricting the activities of civil society groups and crushing political dissent,” he added.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, warned: “Ukraine serves as a reminder that repressive and unaccountable regimes are rarely reliable partners and that privileging short-term objectives at the expense of human rights is a recipe for disaster.”

But von der Leyen isn’t the first top EU official to speak of Azerbaijan as such a partner. In 2019, then EU Council President Donald Tusk also praised Azerbaijan for its reliability.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the EU’s courting has become even more determined — and, of course, the bloc isn’t alone. Rich in oil and gas and located between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a strategic prize, sitting “on the crossroads of former major empires, civilizations and regional and global powerhouses,” according to Fariz Ismailzade of ADA University in Baku.

And Azerbaijan’s growing importance in the latest great game in Central Asia is reflected in the increase in foreign diplomatic missions located in its capital — in 2005 there were just two dozen, now there are 85.

For Ankara, and Beijing — eager to expand their influence across Central Asia — Azerbaijan is a key player in regional energy projects, as well as the development of new regional railways and planned infrastructure and connectivity projects.

Thanks to strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s main regional ally since it gained independence. But Baku has been adept at making sure it keeps in with all its suitors. It realizes they all offer opportunities but could also be dangerous, should relations take a dive.

And this holds for all the key players in the region, whether it be the EU, Turkey, China or Russia. The reason Baku can get on with a highly diverse set of nations — and why there likely won’t be many serious repercussions for Baku with this latest military foray — is that no one wants to give geopolitical rivals an edge and upset the fragile equilibrium in Central Asia. That includes its traditional foe Iran – Baku and Tehran have in recent months been trying to build a détente after years of hostility.

For the Armenians, so often finding themselves wronged by history, this is highly unfortunate. They might have been better advised to follow Azerbaijan’s example and try to be everyone’s friend, instead of initially depending on Russia, then pivoting West — a pirouette that’s lost them any sympathy in Moscow.

But then again, Armenia hasn’t been blessed with proven reserves of oil or natural gas like its neighbor.

Source link

#Armenians #find #pushed

Questions swirl around Xi’s motives after a second top minister disappears in China

Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for more than two weeks. The disappearance of this top official close to President Xi Jinping comes two months after that of now-former foreign affairs minister Qin Gang, and follows the dismissal of a pair of influential military generals. For some observers, Li’s vanishing is likely linked to corruption, while others see it as a sign of intense political battles hidden from outside eyes.

Where is Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu? The top military official has not been heard from in more than two weeks, as noted by the Financial Times in an article published on Friday.

The general last appeared in public at the third China-Africa Peace and Security Forum in Beijing on August 29. Li had not left China since a trip to Moscow and Minsk earlier that month.

Beijing is keeping quiet about the disappearance. The only official clue emerged when Vietnamese authorities said that Li’s ministry last week cancelled his trip to Hanoi for “health reasons”.

But sources in Washington offered a different explanation. Speaking to the Financial Times on condition of anonymity, several US officials said that Li could be the target of a corruption investigation, which could have prompted Chinese authorities to discreetly remove the defence minister from his post just six months after his appointment by President Xi.

Reuters reported on Friday that Li is under investigation by Chinese authorities, citing 10 people described as being familiar with the matter.

Beijing seems to have undertaken a summer clean-up in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“There are signs that a vast anti-corruption campaign is ongoing targeting the PLA,” said Carlotta Rinaudo, a China specialist at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.

In July, Xi himself announced the dismissal of two officials from the PLA’s Rocket Force, a military branch responsible for the development of highly strategic ballistic missiles.

In early September, the president of the army’s military court was sacked. Beijing did not give an official reason for this “unexpected shakeup”.

However, when it comes to China’s armed forces, corruption is still the chief suspect.

“PLA corruption has been a problem since China opened to the world, economically, in the 1980s”, said sinologist Marc Lanteigne of the Arctic University of Norway. “Going back 20 years, there has been scandal about generals getting rich by selling access and influence.”

‘No one is safe’

Since he came to power in 2012, Xi has made the fight against corruption in the military’s ranks an absolute priority. “He is obsessed with fighting corruption in the PLA,”, said Rinaudo.

“When Xi Jinping’s father was rehabilitated, it helped him land a job as a mishu. It’s a Chinese term that means literally a ‘book of secrets’ and [designates a] personal assistant who has access” to a military general’s “secrets”, she explained, referencing the purging and later return to favour of Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun.

“It was a perfect spot to see the extent of the corruption in the PLA.”

The recent clean-up – including the defence minister’s disappearance – could be the latest manifestation of Xi’s anti-corruption crusade.

The fact that the president did not hesitate to let go of a minister he had appointed in March who “certainly is seen as a Xi loyalist”, as Lanteigne said, would appear to demonstrate the president’s determination.

“No one is safe,” said Rinaudo.

She said that Li’s profile also fits in well with a major corruption case in the military.

“Around 2017-2018, he worked for the equipment development department, which … is considered one of the most corrupt because of the huge amount of money they have access to,” she said.

However, Li’s disappearance doesn’t fit neatly within the narrative of a major anti-corruption effort – China’s president has never been discreet in his fight against corruption in the military. “It’s an accomplishment he is very proud of,” said Lanteigne.

It is possible that Xi has opted for silence because he doesn’t want to draw too much media attention to a matter that tarnishes a man who is supposed to be close to him.

“It really calls into question the control Xi Jinping has on his inner circle and his ability to pick the right person,” said Lanteigne.

But Li’s disappearance also recalls another recent episode at the highest level of the state. In July, former foreign minister Qin Gang also disappeared – for more a month. Qin was officially sacked at the end of that month without any reason being given. The ex-minister has not reappeared since.

After the wave of disappearances of billionaires and business leaders in recent years, it could be the turn of senior political officials. The recent silent sackings reflect major “infighting between administrations or even factions” in China’s government, said Lanteigne. The behind-the-scenes cacophony conflicts with the image of control that Xi exercises on his government.

Anxiety, not strength

But the political situation in China has been tense since the end of Beijing’s “zero Covid” policy, which was preceded by demonstrations “that took the government by surprise because of how strong they were”, said Lanteigne. The dismissals are “maybe a reaction to the impression of a loss of control by Xi over the situation”, he said.

“In a way, getting rid of a loyalist is a demonstration of strength from Xi,” said Rinaudo.

Internationally, the disappearances create an impression of anxiety rather than strength, according to both experts interviewed by FRANCE 24. US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel even poked fun at the situation, comparing it to mystery writer Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None”, in which one character after another disappears.

“Both of these ministers are responsible for projecting power outside of the country,” said Lanteigne. “The impression that there is some internal turmoil behind this is not helping the government to demonstrate China is in a position to play an active role on the world stage.”

From a diplomatic point of view, “it’s creating some doubt about who is in charge for foreign diplomacy”, said Rinaudo.

However, the likely isolation of the defence minister could ultimately benefit Beijing. Since 2018, Li has been on the list of people targeted by US sanctions for having sold military equipment to Russian entities that were sanctioned by the US.

“Having a defence minister on a Washington sanction list was a bad thing for [China-US] relations,” said Rinaudo. “Now that he is gone, it could ease the tensions.”

What’s more, Li “is a hawk who was very aggressive … about China’s territorial dispute and relations with the West”, said Lanteigne. For the Arctic University professor, the appointment of his successor will be a very good indicator of Xi’s state of mind. If the new defence minister is a moderate, it could be a sign that Beijing wants to improve its relations with Washington.

This article is a translation of the original in French.

Source link

#Questions #swirl #Xis #motives #top #minister #disappears #China

Poland said its army will soon be the strongest in Europe. Can it?

Through a series of major arms deals, Poland is set to establish military supremacy in continental Europe – though the high cost of this expansion is a source of concern for some experts.

If everything goes according to plan, Europe will soon have a new military superpower: Poland.


The leaders of the country’s ruling party Law & Justice (PiS) have recently announced that the country is set to have the strongest army in Europe within the next two years, thanks to the major modernisation of its existing equipment and a massive reinforcement of its troops.

The military has been one of the most important topics of discussion in Poland since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, as the country prepares for the risk of the conflict at its border spilling into its territory.

“The Polish army must be so powerful that it does not have to fight due to its strength alone,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in November last year, as the country celebrated independence from the Soviet Union.

He promised that the country would have “the most powerful land forces in Europe.”

“We want peace, and if we want that we must prepare for war – in connection with that, we are strengthening the Polish Army in contrast to those who governed until 2015,” said Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.

But is this major rearmament programme an objectively realistic goal – or simply a costly promise meant to boost support for PiS ahead of the country’s election later this year?

Poland’s plan for Europe’s strongest army explained

According to the Global Firepower’s 2023 Military Strength Ranking, the strongest militaries in Europe – after Russia – are currently the UK, France, and Italy. The UK’s position is mostly due to its manpower and airpower, while France can count on a strong helicopter fleet and several destroyer warships. Italy had 404 helicopters and two aircraft carriers as of January 2023. Poland was fifth in the ranking.

Poland has already set in motion the plan that will lead it to obtain Europe’s strongest army.

“Poland is in a state of transition, it made orders for hundreds of American, German, and South Korean vehicles, and it has expanded its defence spending to more than 3% of its GDP,” Frank Ledwidge, a barrister and former military officer who has served in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan, told Euronews.

Last year, the president of Poland – a country that has been a full member of NATO since 1999 – signed into law a bill that allowed the government to spend 3% of its GDP on defence from 2023 on – a full percentage point above what is expected of the alliance’s members.

By comparison, Germany has recently pledged to increase its defence spending to reach at least the 2% threshold set by NATO for its members. In 2021, according to the latest data made available by Eurostat, the EU countries that spent most of their GDP on defence were Greece (2.8%), Latvia (2.3%), Estonia (2.0%), Romania (1.9%), France, Cyprus, and Lithuania (1.8%).


Newly NATO member Finland, which has one of the strongest armies in Europe, plans to spend €6 billion, or 2.3% of its GDP in defence, in 2024 – which is actually €116 million less than it expected to spend this year.

If Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński gets his way, military spending in Poland could be increased to 5% of the country’s GDP in the next decade, as he has suggested.

Poland has also announced a major purchase of modern equipment and a massive recruitment operation that will likely take place in the coming years.

The country wants to recruit about 150,000 troops in the next decade, which will bring its army from the current 128,000 active personnel and 36,000 territorial defence troops to 300,000 soldiers by 2035. With the new troops, the country will create six armoured divisions – whereas France and Germany only have two, and the UK has one alone.

It has also purchased over a thousand new tanks and 600 artillery pieces, mainly from South Korea and the US. These will bring the country’s firepower to be more than that of the UK, France, Germany, and Italy combined.


In July, Poland received 33 new M1 Abrams tanks as part of a €4.5 billion ($4.9 billion) order of 250. The country is also waiting for most of the nearly 1,000 K2 Black Panther main battle tanks it has bought from South Korea, of which it has received the first 10. Some 180 K2 will be delivered to Poland by 2025 for €3.16 billion, while up to 820 of the tanks will be produced in Poland under the licence obtained by South Korea for the next 10 years.

In terms of artillery, Poland has spent €9.2 billion ($10 billion) to purchase 468 HIMARS rocket launchers of the same kind that helped Ukraine’s forces with its successes against the Russians last year.

Can Poland really achieve its ambitious goal?

With these orders in line, “there’s no doubt” that Poland can become Europe’s strongest army, said Ledwidge.

“Is it an electoral promise? Maybe, but they’re going to be left with an awful lot of egg on their face if they don’t go through with these orders, and I suspect massive contractual issues as well,” he said.

However, some concerns remain among experts and observers, especially over the costs of this military expansion.


The expansion of the training of new troops and the recruitment pipeline will be a “challenge”, Ledwidge said, that will have a logistical and financial burden on the country. “But we should remember that Poland is getting richer, unlike countries like the UK, so they can probably afford the expenses.”

The issue of the gargantuan cost of this expansion of the Polish army has been raised by Polish military expert Robert Czulda, a Resident Fellow at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, who in a recent article said that the country will have to face a “gun or butter” dilemma as it tries to secure long-term financing.

“It seems highly likely that such a large scale of planned orders is largely driven by a political populism, aimed at gaining popularity here and now, rather than to be a real, comprehensive, and well-thought-out plan for harmoniously strengthening the armed forces,” he wrote.

“Poland should ensure that these procurement programmes are sustainable and affordable in the long term. The country should avoid a risk of overspending, which now seems very high.”

Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and a senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, warned that the impressive arm deals made by the Polish government “were made without government tenders, from a weak bargaining position, and without offset obligations from contractors.”

How is this going to change the political equilibrium in Europe?

As the strongest army in Europe, Poland “will be more than capable of defending themselves and the Baltic states with what they’re going to get, assuming that the investment comes through,” Ledwidge said.

“The incentives to go through with this are both political and strategic. Poland needs to have a very strong army because it has become the bulwark of NATO,” he added.

This would likely put the country in a new position within Europe and NATO.

“It’s very probable that Poland then will become either the primary or secondary continental European power after France,” said Ledwidge.

“And that will mean that the UK will lose in due course its role as second commander of NATO, which would be a big blow for the country, but it’s deserved.”

The new position of Poland within NATO and Europe will push countries like the UK or France “to ask whether it’s worth even having their ground forces as a priority,” Ledwidge said, “or whether they should instead reverse to their natural speciality, which for the UK is being a naval power – something that’s being lost as we try to do all at once.”

Source link

#Poland #army #strongest #Europe