Israel, Palestine: Hostages to fate
Also: India, the UAE, Georgia, and bird flu.
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ISRAEL. PALESTINE. Hostages to fate
International pressure fails to stall an assault on Rafah.
Scores were killed amid the rescue of two Israeli hostages early Monday in Rafah. Joe Biden warned Israel against invading the southern Gaza city without a plan for civilian safety. A Dutch court banned the export of F-35 parts to Israel.
INTELLIGENCE. In a bloody four-month war, the taking of Rafah threatens to be the fiercest part yet. Hosting Jordan’s King and leaking details of his dislike for Benjamin Netanyahu, Joe Biden faces further backlash from his base and the diminishing of US influence in the Arab world, where allies have been strongarmed into offering unprecedented concessions to Israel, should a ceasefire be agreed. Netanyahu, on the other hand, knows he cannot back down now.
FOR BUSINESS. Most Israelis want Hamas defeated, and Netanyahu’s survival needs a clear result. He knows Israel has lost the peace, so it may as well win the war. In a polarised environment, there’s little the US can do. The UN, diminished by UNRWA accusations, seems powerless. Backroom talks continue, but a negotiated settlement looks out of reach. Saudi Arabia has warned of “serious repercussions”. Moody’s has downgraded Israel’s credit rating.
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INDIA. Religion and politics
Hindu nationalism complicates India’s multipolar vision.
At least five were killed in riots after authorities demolished a mosque in the northern town of Haldwani on Thursday. Police blocked roads to New Delhi on Monday as mostly Punjabi farmers marched to demand promised crop prices.
INTELLIGENCE. The farmers, many of whom are Sikh, have threatened a repeat of 2021’s protests, where Delhi’s Red Fort was briefly stormed. A crackdown on Sikh secessionism abroad has been popular with India’s Hindu majority but has worsened tensions in Punjab, an opposition base. Recent rulings on Muslim matrimony and mosques have likewise been popular but could now threaten ties in the Middle East (as have activities against Sikhs in the West).
FOR BUSINESS. Despite the religious tensions at home, Narendra Modi is popular with Arab leaders. His promise to visit Qatar has led to the release of eight Indians on death row. The UAE has built the region’s first stone Hindu temple, which Modi is set to inaugurate. Yet sentiment could quickly turn. Pakistan also has deep ties in the Gulf. Many Arabs feel as strongly about Kashmir as Palestine. Riyadh and Amman sent Islamabad fighter jets during the war of 1971.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. Here to help
The World Government Summit kicks off in Dubai.
The World Governments Summit opened Monday, with Turkey, Qatar and India named guests of honour and keynotes prepared from Serbia, Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan among others. Torrential rain fell in Dubai after cloud-seeding flights.
INTELLIGENCE. With commercial talent attraction, deft geopolitical hedging, a liberal interpretation on sanctions, and several world-class airlines, the UAE has established itself as a de facto diplomatic capital for the “Global South”. The Governments Summit reflects all this but is just as notable for some of its business speakers, including OpenAI’s Sam Altman (seeking to raise $7 trillion) Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, and Tucker Carlson, fresh from a visit to Russia.
FOR BUSINESS. Most Western capitals would have struggled to convene the group Dubai has gathered. Many in the US and Europe may sneer but entrepreneurial states like the UAE are taking a role once held by the Swiss, with all the attendant commercial and strategic benefits. In the process, they are setting agendas that support their other interests, from energy to norms, and earning greater leverage and optionality in how they balance external powers.
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GEORGIA. The night the lights went out
Tbilisi appoints a new pro-Russian prime minister.
Georgia's parliament approved Irakli Kobakhidze as its new prime minister, 84-10, on Thursday. Kobakhidze appointed deputies and held his first cabinet meeting Monday, promising to fight corruption and continue to seek EU accession.
INTELLIGENCE. Kobakhidze is described as “anti-Western” for opposing Georgia’s involvement in Ukraine, but the ex-UN official and German-educated lawyer has recommitted to Georgia joining NATO and the EU. More in the mould of Viktor Orban than Vladimir Putin, Kobakhidze’s appointment will nonetheless be portrayed as a victory for the Kremlin, which is close to Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire founder of Kobakhidze’s party, Georgia Dream.
FOR BUSINESS. Georgia Dream’s position on Kyiv stems in part from the role of opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili, who between his term as Georgia's president and his current stay in prison, was governor of Ukraine's Odesa Oblast. As Georgia maintains ties to Russia, Armenia is pivoting away. On Thursday, Armenia joined the International Criminal Court, which has a warrant for Putin. On Sunday, its prime minister said Armenia was "not Russia’s ally".
AVIAN FLU. Strange bird
Fears of a panzootic virus spread.
Cambodia reported the death of a nine-year-old from bird flu on Monday, with his brother also testing positive. Several US states reported avian influenza in farms last week. The UK reported a "catastrophic" decline in seabird numbers.
INTELLIGENCE. Bird flu can easily lead to panic. Last week, backyard birds in Massachusetts were reported to have had it. Last month, it infected a polar bear in Alaska and penguins in the South Atlantic. Worries are rising for the spread during Lunar New Year celebrations. But bird flu rarely infects humans, and while devastating for farms and ecologies, there are increasingly good systems for containment and information sharing (hence the media reporting).
FOR BUSINESS. A silver lining of COVID-19 is the seriousness with which most now take airborne disease. Industry has also improved practices. While reports of mass cullings are scary (and higher egg and chicken prices annoying), it’s better than letting things morph unexamined. In his speech to Monday’s World Governments Summit, the WHO’s director-general said the biggest danger to pandemic preparedness was now misinformation. Same with panzootics.