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CWA # 165, 21 September 2019

The World this Week
Elections in Israel, Violence in Afghanistan, Drone Attacks in Saudi Arabia, and the Climate Change Protests

  GP Team

This edition looks at the following four global developments: Elections to the Knesset in Israel, continuing violence in Afghanistan, drone attacks in Saudi Arabia and the climate change protests

Sourina Bej, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Sukanya Bali, Lakshman 
 

Israel: No clear winners in the elections

What happened? 

The second election in six months ended in a political deadlock. According to the official vote count released on 18 September, no party has garnered a clear majority to lead the coalition government in the Knesset.

On 19 September Netanyahu acknowledged the results and called to form a Unity government with the second most voted party leader Gantz. Gantz has declined since his party - the Blue and White received the highest vote count, and named himself as the prime minister in a unity government.

The party position for the 120 strong Knesset as on 19 September includes the following:

Blue and White: 33

Likud: 31

Joint List: 13

Shas: 9

Others: 34

What is the background? 

As the pre-election polls had predicted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party along with other right-wing nationalist and religious parties had fallen short of securing the 61 seats required for a majority. But so, did his principal opponent Benny Gantz. 

It remains to be seen which of the two leaders do President Reuven Rivlin asks to lead the coalition. 

What does it mean? 

Israel is now heading for coalition negotiations with all options on the table, including a third election. 

The scenarios include the following: first, the likelihood of Netanyahu retaining his power would be difficult. A national crisis could help Netanyahu with his former defence minister-turned-opponent, Avigdor Lieberman, join his coalition. But the lower votes for Likud compared to the election results in April have put a question on Netanyahu’s popular mandate as a leader. He might still face a legal quagmire on corruption charges like his predecessor Ehud Olmert. 

Second, with the White and Blue party declining to form the Unity government, it now remains to see whether the other right-wing parties like Yisrael Beiteinu breaks the deadlock. The chances of a third election may arise, but the possibility wears thin given the economic cost of yet another political tussle. 

The election reveals a lateral expansion of the Israeli right, including the extreme, the centrist and the religious right-wing parties. Even though the populist mandate of Netanyahu may have lost, the ideological right continues to expand with the White and Blue party as well. Gantz has remained a strong proponent of a nationalist policy with little tilt for the Palestinian cause or the left Zionist parties. There is less or no disagreement on maintaining the occupation and military annexation of the Palestinian territories. The divide between the parties is more on civic issues like marriage and exemptions from military service for the Orthodox Jews. 

Will Benny Gantz get his first chance?.

 

Afghanistan: Taliban’s deadly strikes 

What happened?

Afghanistan witnessed deadly attacks by the Taliban on 17 and 19 September 2019. Two suicide attacks killed at least 48 people and injured dozens of others. One was in the Parwan province which is north of the capital Kabul; an election rally where President Ashraf Ghani was to speak was attacked, killing 26. The second attack was near the US embassy in central Kabul, which killed 22 people. Another attack took place outside a hospital in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban militants detonated a truck packed with explosives. Most of the victims in the attack were doctors and patients. 

Officials also stated that 16, many of whom were civilians, had been killed in a US airstrike aimed at Islamic State militants in the east. The Afghan defence ministry stated that the attack took place on Wednesday night in Khogyani district in Nangarhar province.

What is the background?

The Afghan conflict continues to be one of the deadliest in the world. The 18-year conflict would have come to an end with the Taliban, and the US almost reached a peace deal in early September. However, with US President Donald Trump pulling out of the agreement after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed a US soldier and 11 others on 6 September 2019 there has again been a turn of events. 

The Taliban have continued to carry out deadly attacks almost every day since then. The national elections scheduled for the end of this month has also been a reason for the increase in attacks by the Taliban. 

What does it mean?

The situation in Afghanistan continues to become more complex as time goes by. Attacks such as these only push Afghanistan further away from reaching any settlement. These kinds of situations increase tension and interrupt the peace process.

Without a deal, Afghanistan is not going to see any change. The struggle for power will only continue to cause more damage. For which the Taliban and the Afghanistan Government along with the US need to come to a consensus which would cater to the agenda of everyone. 

There needs to be an immediate measure to look at two things: first, to see that both Taliban and NATO-backed Afghan forces that are on the offensive now are cooled down. And second, to ensure that the elections that have been delayed twice already will take place this month. More fighting means more civilian casualties who have to continue to bear the brunt of the long and bloody conflict.

 

Saudi Arabia: Attacks on Oil Facilities further destabilizes the Middle East

What happened?

On 14 September 2019, a drone attacked Saudi Aramco Oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, in eastern Saudi Arabia. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attack. Over the week, the recovered debris of the missile was displayed at a conference, on 18 September which appeared similar to Iran's Quds-1 missile. 

What is the background?

Saudi Aramco is the world's biggest oil company. The attack on key facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais reduced the global crude production by 5 per cent and has also raised tensions in the neighbourhood. In a press briefing, the Saudis said, the attack was perpetrated from the north or north-west border. The attack was carried out with 18 drones and seven cruise missiles. Four cruise missiles struck in Khurais oilfield and three fell in Abqaiq. The attack impacted 17 points at two sites.

Saudi Aramco is installed with state-of-the-art missile defence system; however, it could not prevent the attack. The Patriot, US-designed surface-to-air missiles to shoot high-flying targets, and the German Skyguard, could not track the drones, as the latter flew at a low altitude. 

The Houthi rebels have been fighting with Saudi Arabia since March 2015. Houthis receive support from Iran, had also carried out attacks on Saudi from Yemen with drones and missiles, earlier.

The Houthis may not be responsibile. Fingers are pointed at Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two big powers in the Middle East, are geopolitical rivals and both aim to dominate the region. The US-Iran relations have deteriorated during Trump's presidency and have reached the lowest point since the American hostage crisis. Trump administration believes Iran is directly involved in the attack. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State called the attack an “act of war”.

What does it mean?

The drone attack on Aramco, the heart of Saudi Arabia's economy, impacted oil prices and global markets. It drew the world’s attention and responses from all the big powers. It has raised concerns as to how the United States will react on it.

These kinds of attacks are far different from conventional war tactics, which may further increase the spending on defence to protect a country's resources and strategic installations. The attack proved that installations in Saudi Arabia with all its sophisticated defence mechanism are not perennially safe. 

Trump urged that the US has "many options" in response. In the latest interview, Trump said he has ordered to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. This makes any meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York unlikely. 

The attack is likely to make the politics of the Middle East more aggressive and violent, with the US and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other.

 

Climate Change protests ahead of the UN Summit

What happened?

On Friday, thousands of school-going children around the world organized protests for governments’ action against climate change. The young people are joined by scientists, doctors, and workers in the technology sector in various countries. The protests are one of the largest gathering of young people for climate action in each of the countries, and collectively, on a global scale spanning from developing to developed nations, across various continents. 

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, is spearheading the protests from New York.

What is the background?

The protests are inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg; she has become an influential figurehead for the current youth movement demanding climate action. She received the Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award the last week in the United States, after crossing the Northern Atlantic in an emissions-free yacht. She also addressed the US Congress on Wednesday, last week, and advocated paying heed to the scientists for facts about climate change. Her presence in the United States comes right before the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, scheduled on Monday, 23 September. This summit is to nudge the UN members to take tougher measures on redefining climate targets in accordance to the 2 degrees global target, who were given the leeway of setting their targets following the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.    

What does it mean?

The enhanced awareness compared to their parents’ generation, fuelled by effective connectivity over the internet, enabled the youth to organize movements of this nature and scale. Despite producing demands which are similar to the older-generation environmentalists, the young activists leading the movement effectively portrayed themselves as the victims-to-be of the inaction by the present-day power elite.

The impact of the protests will be put to test at the upcoming UN summit on Monday. Individual countries have already failed in meeting their own needs set at previous global summits, such as the Paris Climate Agreement. Given that backdrop, it remains a challenge whether the large scale of the protest can produce concentrated political pressure in individual countries, post the Monday’s summit.

Historically, young activists took to streets right from the war in Vietnam, through the protests for nuclear weapon ban, till the recent gun control protests. Despite the spectacle, it is highly unsure whether the momentum generated by this ‘wake-up call’ suggestion would trigger a much-required snowball effect in climate policymaking. Such an effect would need the whole spectrum of stakeholders in the process of authoring the climate action plan to alter their strategy, and not just to convince a few climate-denying politicians, say, to consider the Green New Deal in the Congress. At least, if this trigger can stimulate the world leaders to ease the labyrinthine process of drafting options for climate policy, that would be a step towards success that is worth the effort of our young citizens expending themselves in streets rather than in schools. 

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