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May 12, 2021, 6:16 AM
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Israel bombs Gaza as Hamas launches rockets into Israel, U.S. fuel pipeline decision expected today, and Iran’s presidential campaign begins.
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Israel and Hamas Creep Closer to All-Out War
Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas rocket attacks on Israel continued into Wednesday as another deadly conflict between Israelis and Palestinians shows no sign of slowing down.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters launched barrages of rockets on Tuesday, targeting cities and towns across Israel, including the major population centers of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At least six people in Israel have been killed so far in the Hamas bombardment. The Israeli military said up to 90 percent of the roughly 1,500 rockets had been intercepted.
The Israeli military, whose capabilities far outmatch those of Hamas, has pounded Gaza with airstrikes in some of the most intensive bombing campaigns in recent years, hitting over 500 targets and leveling one 13-story apartment building on Tuesday. At least 43 Palestinians, including 13 children, were among those killed by Israeli bombs, the Palestinian health ministry has reported. A further 233 people have been reported injured.
A good crisis? Renewed hostilities between the Israeli government and Hamas come at opportune times for both. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can play the role of wartime leader at a time when his rivals are attempting to form a government that can finally remove him from power. That anti-Netanyahu coalition, already tenuous to begin with, will be further frayed as both hard right members and Arab-Israeli elements revert to their traditional sides.
For Hamas, the rocket fire is a chance to underline its legitimacy as a defender of Palestinians, especially since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah party, postponed long-delayed elections. In a speech on Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel for the latest round of fighting and said the group had “defended Jerusalem.” Haniyeh added that Qatar, Egypt, and the United Nations were at work on brokering a cease-fire.
The new rules. Taking a long term view, the recent conflict is an extension of the “one-state reality” that Israeli policies have created and that Hamas now aims to exploit, Ian Lustick, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the recent book Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, told Foreign Policy. “What I see going on right now of real importance is this attempt by Hamas to play a larger political game,” Lustick said. “It’s seeing the opportunity to play a bigger political role … by allying itself with masses of Arabs in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and even inside of Israel.”
Biden’s options. The response from the Biden administration has so far yet to deviate from standard diplomatic rhetoric. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Biden’s support for “Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, is fundamental and will never waver.” She added that U.S. officials had spoken with their Israeli counterparts about how moves to evict Palestinians in East Jerusalem “work against our common interests in achieving a solution to the conflict.”
Ilan Goldenberg, a senior State Department official in the Obama administration took part in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians led by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, spoke with Foreign Policy’s Dan Ephron about concrete actions Biden could take to exert influence on the ground.
What We’re Following Today
U.S. fuel shortages. Colonial Pipeline, the operator of a private fuel pipeline crucial to powering the U.S. east coast, will know by the end of today whether it can restart fuel shipments after a ransomware attack halted operations last week. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm warned on Tuesday that even after the pipeline is back online that it will take “a few days to ramp up operations.” Concern over a potential fuel shortage has become a self-fulfilling prophecy due to panic buying in some states: 12.3 percent of gas stations in North Carolina and 8.6 percent in Virginia have already been pumped dry.
U.N. discusses Xinjiang. Today, the United Nations is holding a virtual event planned by Britain, Germany, and the United States, on how to support the human rights of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, China. The ambassadors of Britain, Germany, and the United States to the U.N. are expected to speak, as well as Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard, and U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes.
Beijing has condemned the event, which it called “politically-motivated,” and urged U.N. members not to attend. “The U.S. has banded up with several countries, abused the United Nations’ resources and platform, and smeared and attacked China to serve its own interests,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Kazan shooting. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for even stricter gun controls after a 19-year-old opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan, killing nine people, including seven children; 21 others were injured in the incident. Putin has ordered the Russian National Guard, the agency in charge of gun ownership to come up with new regulations. The order demands a “swift working out of new positions about the types of weapons that can be in civilian circulation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ahmadinejad again? Iran’s presidential election campaign began on Tuesday as the interior ministry allowed candidates to register for the June 18 election. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threw his hat into the ring on Wednesday, pledging “fundamental reform.” Two prominent military candidates have already put their names forward: Hossein Dehghan, a former defense minister under President Hassan Rouhani, and Saeed Mohammad, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who has run the IRGC’s engineering conglomerate. Other prospective candidates have until Saturday to register for the election.
Kenya and Somalia’s wobbling relationship. Kenya has suspended flights to Somalia for three months, its aviation regulator said on Tuesday, without giving a reason for the move. The decision comes days after Somalia announced it was normalizing diplomatic ties with Kenya. The head of Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) told AFP that the suspension was “a decision by the government.” Medical evacuation flights and United Nations humanitarian missions will still be flown during the suspension.
China is taking its COVID-19 restrictions to new heights in a bid to crack down on the spread of the virus from neighboring Nepal. Xinhua News Agency has reported that China will draw a “separation line” on the peak of Mount Everest, and will prohibit climbers from the Chinese side (Everest’s north) from crossing. Although China has largely quashed its epidemic, cases in Nepal have skyrocketed recently, matching surges in India.
China’s moves are likely overzealous, as the threat of the virus at Everest’s peak is minimal: Climbers are outdoors, wear face protection, and spend little time at the peak—if they reach it at all. “The idea that anyone with coronavirus could even reach the summit is impossible because climbers with any respiratory difficulties will just not be able to reach the altitude,” Ang Tshering Sherpa, a mountaineering expert, told the Associated Press.