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Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!
Will Humanity Ever Learn, “You Reap What You Sow?”
The Hague, 10 November 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.
The site of an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.Credit...Yousef Masoud for The New York Times
By Carolien Roelants
NRC The Netherlands
8 November 2023
The extreme outburst of violence by Hamas against Israel and the ongoing Israeli pulverization of the Gaza Strip obscures all other crises in the Middle East and beyond.
But they still exist!
Ukraine still receives some attention, although President Zelensky complains that, after all, it is a European conflict, and so does Lebanon because the violence there is part of the Gaza crisis.
But that terrible war in Sudan between rival generals?
All gone. Yet “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history,” said UN Chief for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Response Martin Griffith in mid-October – when the nightmare in Gaza was already underway. Nine thousand dead since this war started in April, roughly on par with Gaza, and millions of people on the run: 4.5 million within Sudan and another 1.2 million to neighboring countries. “Terrible reports of rape and sexual violence continue to come in.”
Or the Turkish bombings in northeastern Syria in the years-long war against what President Erdogan calls Kurdish terrorists. It just flared up again last month. Another order of bloody, not thousands but dozens of dead civilians, but also significant damage to civilian infrastructure due to the Turkish bombings. Power plants and a hospital are those kinds of goals. Why do hospitals always have to be attacked?
In Syria today, it seems like there is war everywhere again, a "free-for-all space in which different players can fight their conflicts with each other with impunity," said the UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen. Israel has been bombarding Iranian-backed fighting groups and arms transports for years, but now it is happening almost every day. Those pro-Iranian militias shoot at American troops, and the Americans bomb back.
President Assad and his Russian friends stepped up their attack last month in opposition areas in the northwest, as is to be expected from them with the use of prohibited weapons cluster munitions this time. According to the UN, seventy people have now died, and more than 120,000 have been displaced among the millions already displaced.
The war in Yemen! It continues to struggle, and there is far too little money to tackle the resulting humanitarian crisis. Misery is frozen, I read. There is not enough money anywhere for humanitarian aid - according to Griffith, only a third of the money needed for Sudan has been received. Gaza and the West Bank alone will require $1.2 billion, the UN estimated this week—too much crisis.
Iran is also on my list of conflicts that have been pushed out of the news. There is less protest against the regime, and this has to do with the new, stringent law on chastity and hijab (headscarf), which imposes ten years in prison and hefty fines for "nudity," i.e., a bare head. Moreover, after a cooling-off period, the vice police are back on the streets, arresting anyone seen as potential opposition.
The toughest guys within the regime have the upper hand (even more brutal than the similarly moderate rest). I think this is the reason why there was hardly any protest last week following the death of 16-year-old Armita Gerawand, who had been in a coma for a month after a confrontation with the vice police. The regime, of course, says it simply collapsed, as it claimed after the death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked last year's significant protests.
Europe is watching. It is divided and powerless – see also its attitude towards the Israel-Gaza nightmare – and, worse, fundamentally disinterested.
As long as no refugees come.
Carolien Roelants is a Middle East expert. She writes a column for NRC The Netherlands every other week.
What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.
Thousands of Palestinians escape Israeli reprisals by fleeing as fast as they can on foot
A woman holds a white flag aloft as she flees Gaza City. Foto Mohammed Dahman/AP
Only 100,000 of the 1.1 million Palestinians remain in northern Gaza. On Wednesday, an Israeli government spokesperson reported this to the British channel Sky News. According to news agencies, 15,000 Gazans fled south on Tuesday alone, affirmed by the United Nations. On Monday, 5,000 ran, and on Sunday, 2,000—a large number on foot.
Israeli troops have now surrounded Gaza City, the strip's largest city. Palestinians can leave the city every day for four hours via a corridor through the Israeli lines, according to the AP news agency.
Previously, Israel has not hesitated to target Palestinians fleeing from the north to the south.
As the Israeli military pushes further into Gaza, Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said today that the enclave should be unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority after the war.
Israeli military vehicles near the border with Gaza last week. Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times
When and if that could happen remains unclear, so we asked Patrick Kingsley, The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, what he expects.
Here’s what Patrick said: If Israel continues as planned with its invasion, the next few weeks could be the bloodiest of the war so far. Already, roughly 1,400 Israelis and over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza.
That death toll could rise once Israel starts fighting in earnest within the urban warren that is Gaza City, which is Hamas’s stronghold and the primary target of Israel’s invasion. Once Israeli forces enter Gaza City en masse, we will see very intense urban warfare, in part because this is Hamas’s home turf. It’s where they have built and dug hundreds of miles of tunnels from which they can emerge and launch ambushes that will stymie the Israeli army’s progress.
The biggest question is what Israel’s army will do once they reach the hospitals in central Gaza City, which they claim are the headquarters of Hamas’s military command.
Hamas denies that claim, but Israel is adamant that is where Hamas’s leadership is hiding.
While Israel hasn’t clearly said this, the implication is that it is going to have to take over these hospitals to complete its goal of removing Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Doing so would involve fierce fighting in a location that is supposed to be off-limits during a war.
For more, here are Patrick Kingsley's full comments on what might lie ahead, published in the New York Times by Jonathan Wolfe on 8 November 2023
The impact of the Israel-Hamas war will reverberate around the world, with consequences for the Middle East, Europe, China, and the United States. While the specific challenges vary, none is interested in drawing out or widening the conflict.
By MARK LEONARD
Project Syndicate, A George Soros Publication
3 November 2023
WASHINGTON, DC | War has returned to the Middle East. Nearly a month after Hamas militants carried out their brutal rampage, Israel’s military retaliation continues with an intensifying ground offensive in Hamas-controlled Gaza. For people living or with family in Israel – including me – this is a deeply personal crisis. At the same time, many people around the world identify with the thousands of Palestinians whom Israeli airstrikes have killed, but personal connections aside, this is also a geopolitical crisis, possibly even more profound and far-reaching in its global impact than the Ukraine war.
The most immediate consequences will be felt in the Middle East. For years, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu operated under illusions that have now been shattered. The biggest was the expectation that Israel could normalize ties with the Arab world without addressing the Palestinian question, which he believed would simply go away.
Now, that question has become impossible to ignore. Regardless of the outcome of its offensive in Gaza, Israel will have to do some serious soul-searching, possibly rethinking its strategy toward the moribund Middle East peace process entirely. Saudi Arabia, which was on the verge of normalizing relations with Israel, will now probably demand some concessions for the Palestinians before moving forward, lest it incurs the ire of its population and the wider Muslim world.
Israel has an indisputable right to self-defense. But there is a risk that Netanyahu will draw out the war or encourage a regional escalation in his desperation to regain control of the narrative and preserve his political position. With his nominal allies in the Gulf on the fence, Netanyahu may be hoping to restore his preferred geopolitical constellation: Israel and the Sunni Arab states face off against Iran’s “axis of resistance,” with the Palestinians once again reduced to a sideshow in a much broader confrontation.
The conflict will also have grave consequences beyond the Middle East, with one of the biggest losers being Ukraine. The violence and suffering the country’s people are enduring do not appear nearly as exceptional as they once did. The images being broadcast from Gaza are as heartrending as anything that has come out of Kharkiv or Mariupol. Moreover, for many, the war in Gaza makes Ukraine look like a “local” European conflict.
Given that Ukraine’s survival depends on the international community’s continued support, anything distracting from its struggle is terrible news. Moreover, if the Israel-Hamas war escalates, with Iran entering the fray, the impact on oil prices could make it more expensive for the West to maintain its sanctions on Russian energy.
In Europe, more broadly, the crisis in Gaza raises several challenges. It has exposed deep fault lines within France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. France, for one, has recorded more antisemitic incidents in the last three weeks than it had over the previous year. At the same time, the Israel-Hamas war has fueled fragmentation among other European Union member states.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, European countries showed tremendous unity. But EU leaders are now splitting their focus among Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh (which Azerbaijan recently reclaimed after a 24-hour military offensive), and Gaza. In last week’s vote on a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, EU member states voted three ways.
The EU’s shambolic response to the Israel-Hamas war has made China’s forceful reaction all the more notable. Unlike its effort to remain neutral after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia invades support for the Palestinians. China’s response has become part of its outreach to the Global South. And Chinese diplomats are undoubtedly chomping at the bit to highlight Western double standards – Israel versus Russia, the Palestinians versus the Ukrainians – over the coming weeks and months.
However, choosing sides could cause complications for China. Most obviously, a broader regional confrontation could disrupt the fragile peace China managed to broker between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
As for the United States, it has become a cliché to describe its experience in the Middle East with a line from The Godfather Part III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” This is particularly apt today since US President Joe Biden’s administration has shown far more discipline and determination in advancing a foreign-policy pivot from the Middle East to Asia than his predecessors, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. But now, the region is again at the top of US policymakers’ agenda.
So far, Biden has done well to balance support for Israel with calls for the Israelis to exercise more restraint in their response to the Hamas attack. His decision to combine assistance for Ukraine with support for Israel in a single national security package offers a chance of overcoming resistance by Republican lawmakers to support Ukraine.
Nonetheless, Biden is walking a tightrope. Ukraine already represented an unwelcome distraction from America’s top priority: the strategic competition with China. In this sense, greater engagement in the Middle East is the last thing the US needs.
Nobody – with the possible exceptions of Hamas and Netanyahu – has an interest in drawing out or widening the conflict now underway in Gaza. One hopes (against hope, perhaps) that relevant actors recognize their shared interests and work together to advance them. That means, most urgently, ending the conflict as quickly as possible without further escalation. And, once Hamas’s military wing has been dismantled and its Israeli hostages freed, it means pushing for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no other way to guarantee Israel’s long-term security.
TIMOFEY BORDACHEV | THE GLOBAL MAJORITY IS SHOCKED BY THE HYPOCRISY OF THE WEST IN THE ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT
Current leaders in North America and Western Europe are destroying the system that underpinned their prosperity
People protesting in the street © Getty Images / Getty Images
Timofey Bordachev is the Director of the Valdai Club
1 November 2023
We in Russia are very fond of appealing to such a concept as the “global majority” – these are countries of the world that link their development to the main trends of globalization but are capable of expounding their views on fair forms of international order. Up to now, this notion has been expressed rather discreetly, which is explained by our shared participation in a system of relations in which Western countries not only played a leading role but were also able, until a certain point, to come up with relatively optimal solutions for everyone. Recent events, however – especially the crisis in the Middle East – may open a new chapter in the perception of US and Western European policies by most of the world's countries and create new conditions that will make a return to the previous world order impossible.
Israel's aggressive policy does not directly threaten Russia, the US, or China – the great powers of the modern world – and they will not be crossing swords over the future of the Middle East region after the events of this autumn. But it would be short-sighted to underestimate the damaging impact of certain features of the West's chosen position on the credibility of the US and its allies in the eyes of the global community. This means that the conditions under which the future international order will emerge are becoming more complex. Let us summarize how the countries of the global majority, especially the Islamic part, might assess the actions of our American adversaries, their allies in Europe, and, most importantly, the consequences of all this for international politics.
As a result of recent discussions with colleagues from most countries, it can be said that the most succinct characterization of US behavior is a simple statement: The West is destroying its previous achievements. The arguments for this assessment go something like this: In recent days, a wave of demonstrations in support of the Palestinians besieged in Gaza has swept the world. While Western leaders have repeated, like a mantra, boilerplate statements of full support and willingness to go to any length for Israel, their citizens, not to mention the populations of Muslim countries, have protested against a unilateral violent solution to the conflict. These peaceful and so far few actions can reasonably be seen as harbingers of more complex processes emerging in the face of the short-sighted policies of the White House and its supporters in Europe.
The most important thing that worries our colleagues in the majority countries of the world is that several narratives that had virtually disappeared in previous years are back on the agenda: The US and the Christian countries of the Old World are primarily responsible for the suffering of Muslims and their destruction in wars and conflicts; they also provoke confrontations that lead to economic crises, hunger, and unemployment in developing countries.
The emergence of such a perception of the West is a complete reversal of the enormous diplomatic efforts made in recent years to strengthen its moral authority. Never mind comments from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about “gardens” and “jungles.”
No one denies that the US and Western Europe have done much to develop the global market economy. But now, as we can see from the assessments we have heard, they are ruining their achievements. A large part of the world's population has become convinced of the boundless cynicism and duplicity of the political elites that the vaunted liberal democratic system has placed at the pinnacle of power. Concerned about the current electoral situation and how it will affect their career ambitions, the present masters of fate don’t hesitate to throw away the enormous achievements of the past years in building trust in international relations and balancing interests at the global level.
Few people now remember how much work has been invested by American and Western European diplomats, governments, and public organizations in supporting various social development programs in Muslim countries, establishing inter-religious tolerance, protecting human rights, and promoting other values of the civilized world. The result of the uncomplicated political maneuvering of recent weeks has been, at the very least, an increase in terrorist threats, as confirmed by the numerous warnings issued by the authorities of the United States and other countries to their citizens. A state of extreme polarization and sustained radicalization of citizens' views on religious grounds promises to become the order of the day.
In the future, there is also the possibility of direct Western involvement in a military conflict in the Middle East, which risks becoming very bloody for all participants. I should note that we in Russia are much less aware of the dangers of a possible new division than those colleagues who live and work in Islamic countries, which are particularly sensitive to the challenges of religious radicalism and extremism.
Therefore, the policy of strong support for Israel by the US, and subsequently, the EU, is not only a threat to peace in the Middle East but also a potential source of tension in a large number of states.
Another concern of the global majority is that the current tense situation will no longer allow anyone to project military force with the same impunity as in the recent past when world powers recognized each other's “red lines” and respected their opponents. The development of the conflict in Ukraine, accompanied by the unrestrained and open pumping of arms, has ended one of the most successful chapters in human history in terms of building peaceful coexistence between former adversaries. The achievements of dozens of years of development of mechanisms for non-proliferation of arms and implementation of standard controls and confidence-building measures have not only been lost but are irrecoverable. Most countries associated realizing their primary development goals with the international reality that emerged after the Cold War. It now seems utopian. And it is with this realization that this lost experience will be assessed in the training of new generations of diplomats and military officers.
It is with great bewilderment that leading Western media outlets worldwide are reporting in a self-censoring manner, with content tightly controlled on social media sites. Countries that have been subjected to severe hardship and external criticism over freedom of expression sometimes find it hard to find decent words to speak about the standards in reporting the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel. The West's collective international policy increasingly undermines its soft power's once phenomenal successes. The world of Western fashion and the film industry, which aggressively promotes non-traditional values, is now attracting less and less interest in most countries. The American Dream and Hollywood, instead of inspiring enthusiasm, now often provoke rejection and misunderstanding. The “mainstream” in Western Europe, driven by Washington, is also losing ground.
The world is seeing that, in the West itself, more and more ordinary citizens are asking how much officials across the ocean and in their own countries care about their well-being. The rise of right-wing and left-wing forces and the utter failure of centrist parties speak volumes about the growing dissent against the current state of affairs.
The success of the 20th century, gained through enormous sacrifices, exhausting competition, and long-term planning, was forgotten in the two decades of the early 21st century.
Such a wasteful dissipation of its achievements in international politics led to the rapid bankruptcy of the West, which quickly received the most advantages from the previous system.
Such a squandering of stability and its benefits is certainly unaffordable and not to the liking of the countries of the global majority. It is also unlikely that a situation – in which the West is simultaneously facing the threat of terrorism, involvement in a hot conflict in the Middle East, and geopolitical and geo-economic confrontation with a group of influential world powers – will excite the masses in Western countries.
It is high time to think about the direction in which the construction of a new world order is moving. This concerns most of the world's countries, which don’t seek to destroy existing rules and norms but want them respected as the basis of international stability. And we in Russia must consider these approaches even more than our opponents in the West.
The Valdai Discussion Club first published this article.
Escalating regional tensions may lead to global implications
FILE PHOTO. An oil worker walks by an oil pump during a sandstorm that blew in in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain. © AP Photo/Hasan Jamali
Russian Market is a project by an anonymous financial blogger, Swiss journalist, and political commentator based in Zurich. Follow him on X @runews
24 October 2023
The Israel-Hamas conflict, characterized as a 'black swan event*' in the oil market, holds the potential to propel oil prices to $150 per barrel. This possibility is rooted in the specter of regional entanglement, particularly involving Iran. Apprehensions surround Iran's potential support for Hamas through advanced weaponry, further escalating the conflict. Moreover, Iran's influence on Hezbollah may open a second front against Israel, possibly prompting Israeli strikes on Iran. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital global oil passage, in response. Such an act would disrupt oil supplies, leading to price surges and contributing to inflation via increased energy costs.
The world of commodity trading stirred uneasily as the Israel-Hamas conflict unfurled unexpectedly, leaving market observers with no choice but to acknowledge its reverberations. While some may argue that this tumultuous event has had a limited impact on global oil prices and the broader economy, a closer inspection reveals a more complex reality.
In the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel, oil prices initially surged, only to retreat by day's end. However, as the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving. In its unpredictability, this Israel-Hamas conflict resembles a black swan event in commodity markets, a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe highly improbable and unforeseen events that profoundly impact markets and society.
It caught traders and central banks, particularly the Federal Reserve, off-guard as they grappled with spiking US Treasury yields and inflation, euphemistically labeling it "transitory." In stark contrast, this Israel-Hamas conflict appears far from transitory, already spilling over its borders. If this situation escalates regionally, the disruption to energy supplies could push oil prices to the ominous $150 per barrel mark, prompting concerns about inflation and a potential economic downturn.
Through the annals of history, we've borne witness to geopolitical turbulence sending shockwaves through the oil markets. The Yom Kippur War of 1973, a tumultuous chapter in the history of Middle Eastern conflicts, is one such example.
As the Arab states initiated an oil embargo in response to the Yom Kippur War, the price of oil embarked on a meteoric ascent. In bustling trading hubs like New York, this surge was staggering - prices quadrupled, soaring approximately 300% to 400%, depending on the type of crude and the timeframe considered. This seismic shift rippled globally, affecting economies well beyond American shores.
On October 19, 1973, following President Nixon's request for Congress to make $2.2 billion in emergency aid available to Israel for the Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) instituted an oil embargo on the United States. The ban ended US oil imports from participating OAPEC nations, initiating a series of production cuts that significantly altered the global oil price. These cuts nearly quadrupled the price, from $2.90 per barrel before the embargo to $11.65 in January 1974. It was officially lifted in March 1974 amid disagreements within OAPEC on how long to continue the embargo. However, the higher oil prices persisted. (Source)
Amid this energy tempest, a crucial question emerged - how would the United States respond to this oil crisis, especially if it actively engaged in the ongoing conflict? The mere contemplation of US involvement would likely trigger a robust reaction from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and possibly some of its member states. This reaction might manifest as an oil embargo, targeting not only the United States but potentially extending across the Atlantic to impact Europe.
The Strait of Hormuz, a maritime crossroads of immense importance, holds a pivotal position in the global oil market. Approximately one-sixth of the world's oil supply and a third of its liquefied natural gas traverse this narrow geopolitical strait. Iran controls seven islands, maintaining a military presence on each. This strategic positioning empowers Iran to potentially disrupt the smooth passage of oil, a prospect with profound implications for global energy security.
A prevailing sense arises: the shutdown or substantial disruption of the Strait of Hormuz, coupled with Russia's oil and gas embargo, points to oil and liquefied natural gas prices reaching unprecedented heights. The situation becomes even more precarious as we witness the closing of critical pipelines delivering Russian gas to Europe. This confluence of factors signals an unstable equation in which the Israel-Hamas conflict poses a significant threat to energy security in Europe, particularly as Russia's gas supplies face impediments.
Weren't those strategic petroleum reserves initially set up for scenarios like wars and crises? However, despite their intended purpose, the Biden administration has consistently depleted the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) with seemingly no intention of replenishing this essential safeguard. It begs the question: could this be a calculated strategy to undermine Russia? This inquiry lingers, reminding us that even the most seasoned traders when swayed by emotions or animosity, can make questionable decisions. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) was created in response to the 1973 energy crisis.
And then, the Israel-Hamas war takes center stage. What could go wrong? Consider, for a moment, the impending tremor in oil prices when the Biden administration ultimately decides to refill the strategic petroleum reserves. The stage is set for a compelling drama with geopolitical intricacies and economic repercussions.
As the United States depletes its strategic reserves, China aggressively builds its stockpiles through acquisitions, possibly benefiting from anticipated discounts from Russia. Simultaneously, OPEC+ and Saudi Arabia implement production cuts, creating a harmonious symphony of supply-side orchestration. This coordinated dance aligns seamlessly with the backdrop of surplus liquidity, cementing my unwavering optimism in the prospects of the crude oil market.
Nonetheless, an ever-present concern is causing unease for both supporters of Bidenomics and the vigilant Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell. The haunting prospect of resurgent inflation is potentially leading to sustained high-interest rates. It's crucial to remember that history tells a melancholy tale:
Surging energy prices have often been a significant factor in tipping the US economy into a recession, especially as early indicators of demand strain start to surface.
From my perspective, when we contemplate the possibility of the US 10-year Treasury yield climbing to 6 percent, it's worth mentioning that China has been notably shedding US treasuries in substantial volumes.
Moreover, China's awakened behemoth is poised to shape the oil landscape significantly. China's economic might and insatiable appetite for oil are expected to exert the most potent influence on oil prices in the year ahead. Even if OPEC+ manages to exert upward pressure on prices, the prospects of China's demand surpassing expectations portend a seismic shift in the global oil market as prices flirt with the elusive $150 mark.
In this oil odyssey, where geopolitics, the lack of sufficient investment, and the rise of burgeoning superpowers converge, the path to $150 is not a matter of "if" but rather "when."
The stage is set, the players are in position, and the world eagerly anticipates the next act in this captivating drama, with the potential for a black swan event to spread its wings.
*Black Swan Event: The black swan event is a high-impact event that is difficult to predict under normal circumstances but that, in retrospect, appears to have been inevitable. A black swan event is unexpected and, therefore, difficult to prepare for but is often rationalized with the benefit of hindsight as having been unavoidable.
Inside the secret talks between Hamas leaders and Israel
Smoke and flames billow after Israeli forces struck a high-rise tower in Gaza City on 7 October 2023—photo by Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages.
By Seymour Hersh
6 November 2023
The Israeli military and political leadership are beginning to see the results of a carefully planned end game that will be murderous—there is no other word for it—to the members of the Hamas military now being hunted down in the tunnels and rubble of Gaza City. The orders are to shoot to kill on sight. The collapse of the military wing of Hamas has given the group’s political leadership, who claim to have not been directly involved in the planning for the October 7 massacre, a chance to demonstrate their goodwill and save their own lives by arranging for Israeli hostages to be transferred to a basement in the besieged al-Shifa hospital, long a stronghold of Hamas. Some Israeli officials fear that time is running out because it’s not known how long the air in the tunnels will be breathable.
A possible breakthrough, if that is the right word, concerning the hostages emerged in secret talks between Israel and Yahya Sinwar, a one-time prisoner of Israel who now directs the political wing of Hamas. Sinwar publicly announced on October 28 that Hamas was ready for what he said would be an “immediate” prisoner swap with Israel in return for the release of all Palestinian prisoners now in Israeli custody.
The Hamas leader and his colleagues have been told that survival is possible if they release the Israeli hostages and agree to begin holding immediate war-crime tribunals. The Israelis want the death penalty for those Hamas combat leaders who encouraged and then did nothing to stop the war crimes of their fighters.
“The Hamas political leadership was not involved in the massacre,” an American official told me, “and the thought was that if they agree to try their people and order them executed, they will be given their lives while also exonerating Israel for the war. We’re holding out clemency for the Hamas political leadership—giving them a chance to surrender the hostages and cling to life by moving them to the hospital.” One key member of the Hamas political leadership, Sinwar’s predecessor Ismail Haniyeh, left Gaza with his family before the October attack took place.
A significant factor in the talks, the American official said, has been the Hamas horrors that involved the raping, mutilation, and murder of Israeli civilians, including the very young and very old, who were left unprotected by the Israeli military during the ten or so hours of rampage on October 7. Graphic evidence of the unimaginable brutality was recorded by iPhones and GoPro head cameras and relayed in real-time by the Hamas fighters to family and friends in Gaza and the West Bank, and is now gradually being released by the Israeli government as worldwide condemnation mounts of Israel’s retaliatory bombing of Gaza. Those unopposed attacks, at last count, had led to more than ten thousand deaths and worldwide rage and demonstrations protesting the Israeli decision to target the civilians of Gaza—an assault seen as a war crime by many. Hundreds of thousands marched Saturday in Washington, Berlin, Santiago, Rome, and London, calling for an immediate cease-fire.
The concept of an Israeli-instigated war crimes tribunal amid a bombing campaign that has flattened much of Gaza may seem out of a bad novel. Still, an Israeli expert on the region, who knows the seriousness of current hostage talks, surprised me by depicting Sinwar as someone “who could be open to a deal.
“He is a fanatic and an ascetic,” the expert said of Sinwar, who served twenty-two years in an Israeli prison for murder. “Dedicated to the cause. He had no family and was very religious, but he got very friendly with Shin Bet [Israeli internal security] guys while in prison and was seen as not irrational. He will want a chance to give service to the cause. He will be open to a door.” Sinwar also became fluent in Hebrew while in prison. The expert predicted that Sinwar, along with some of the Hamas officials now in Qatar, “would want any deal to include a commitment that Israel would not come after them if a deal is made.”
Evidence of Sinwar’s publicly promised prisoner deal—his initial offer called the release of the Israeli hostages to be traded for thousands of Palestinian prisoners now in Israeli jails—is the hoped-for flow of the current Israeli hostages to their much safer, drier, and healthier quarters below ground in Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital. I was told that water and food would be available.
At the time of writing, the Israeli infantry, aided by the bombing, is in the process of either blowing up Hamas tunnels or sending in combat units, accompanied by dogs trained to sniff out human beings, with the mission to kill Hamas soldiers on site or to force others to the surface where they are being shot on sight. The two hundred Hamas soldiers who were captured during or in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks “were not interrogated nicely,” I was told by an Israeli combat veteran. They have provided higher numbers—an estimated 35,000 fighters, total—of the Hamas fighting force than were known to Israeli intelligence, adding to the many questions left unanswered by the attack.
The requests by President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who recently visited Tel Aviv, for a bombing “pause” were rejected out of hand by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli military leadership. One knowledgeable American official told me that the Israeli leadership sees a cease-fire and a pause as the same thing: a halt in the bombing. I was further informed that one general in the Israeli command headquarters in Tel Aviv noted any bombing pause at this point would only be “to reload.”
As the Israeli bombing and ground attack continues—Gaza City is now under siege from the North, East, South, and the Mediterranean Sea—Sinwar and his political wing colleagues also have been told that their chances of survival will improve if they continue to ensure that the Israeli hostages, now believed to total 248, are moved to relative safety in the hospital.
“Thirty-one of the hostages are seventy years and older—one is said to be a Holocaust survivor, and two are infants, aged four months and eight months, with no mother or father, and twenty-three under eighteen years of age.” The Israeli who relayed those numbers to me said that the International Committee of the Red Cross “has not been pressuring Hamas to grant them access to the hostages, although it did seek almost immediate access to the two hundred Hamas prisoners in Israeli custody.”
Meanwhile, the Hamas soldiers still alive in the tunnels underneath Gaza will be suffocating soon from a lack of fresh air, as there is little fuel left to run the generators necessary for a constant flow of oxygen. Food will be getting rancid, and water supplies may be running low. The more than two hundred miles of tunnels will inevitably become a death trap, making life below ground as tricky as above.
“Hamas must begin to release the hostages,” the American official said.
Editorial | You Reap What You Sow!
The people of Israel-Palestine are shooting themselves in both feet. Soon, there won’t be any feet left.
They are facing threats from a set of enemies who combine medieval theocratic – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – worldviews with 21st-century weaponry. On all sides, religious minorities hijack and tyrannize the majority. The Israeli Defense Force, a Goliath, pits itself against foes with modern armies – brigades, battalions, cyber-capabilities, long-range rockets, drones, and technical support. Israeli Jews feel isolated from the EU-US-led Western Alliance.
Israel might conquer its regional enemies, the Iranian-backed Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. However, Israel has lost favor with the World Court of Public Opinion. The majority worldwide condemns and resents the atrocities perpetrated at lightning speed by Hamas and, at the same time, rebukes, reviles, and scorns the Israeli 1000-eyes for one-eye reprisals on the defenseless people in Gaza. Their hopes and dreams are hijacked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and executed by a small percentage of extremists on both sides.
Though the majority crave peace, the minority extremists want to collapse the confidence of the other to drive each other out. Israel has the firepower and the will to dismantle Hamas’ military faction in Gaza. Neither Israel nor Hamas has the unwavering support of their respective allies to decimate the other. The Israel-Palestine Conflict must end. Who needs a World War III? No one wants a nuclear crater in their backyard.
To quote New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman: “Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza entails urban, house-to-house fighting that creates thousands of civilian casualties —innocent men, women, and children” — among whom Hamas presumably embedded itself –to force Israel to slaughter the innocent bystanders to shoot at sight the Hamas leadership and uproot its miles of attack tunnels.
Can the leadership in the Region overcome their fears and prejudices to hammer out a road toward peace?
Thomas Friedman: “Biden cannot help Israel build a coalition of US, European, and moderate Arab partners to defeat Hamas if Netanyahu’s message to the world remains, in effect: ‘Help us defeat Hamas in Gaza while we work to expand settlements, annex the West Bank and build a Jewish supremacist state there.’”
Israel exists in a new world in which the EU-US Western Alliance is no longer the only sheriff in town. Though still formidable, BRICS +* makes the Western alliance less invincible, the tectonic change in the balance of power. Israel must surrender its ghetto mentality to become a member of the world community in good standing, not a lone state, nor a self-anointed democracy or theocracy for Jews only.
*BRICS+ = The socio-economic and geopolitical alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Palestinian reports could be undercounting the dead, a State Department diplomat has said
File photo: A Palestinian sits on the rubble of a destroyed home in the Gaza Strip, 15 October 2023. © MOHAMMED ABED / AFP
10 November 2023
The number of Gaza Palestinians killed in Israel’s war on Hamas is probably higher than the 10,000 reported by the local health ministry, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf has told Congress.
“In this period of conflict and conditions of war, it is complicated for any of us to assess what the rate of casualties is,” Leaf told the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a hearing on Wednesday, according to The Hill.
“We think they’re very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited.”
“We take in sourcing from various folks on the ground,” Leaf added. “I can’t stipulate to one figure or another. They may be even higher than is being reported.”
As of Wednesday, the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported the overall death toll from Israeli attacks at 10,569 – including 4,324 children – with 26,475 people wounded and at least 2,550 missing.
Leaf’s comments seemed at odds with last month’s statement by US President Joe Biden, who said he had “no confidence” in the Palestinian numbers. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Gaza Health Ministry is “just a front for Hamas.”
“We can’t take anything coming out of Hamas, including the so-called ‘Ministry of Health,’ at face value,” Kirby said at the White House press briefing on October 26.
The US has reportedly asked Israel to avoid killing civilians. Still, a New York Times article last week revealed that Israeli officials “believed mass civilian casualties were an acceptable price in the military campaign,” comparing the operations in Gaza with the firebombings of Germany and Japan in WWII.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the October 7 incursion by the Palestinian militant group, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,400 Israeli citizens, while more than 200 were taken hostage.
Speaking to the House panel on Wednesday, Leaf described the civilian suffering in Gaza as “emotionally wrenching” but said that stopping the Israeli military operation would be wrong.
“To call a cease-fire right now that might or might not be honored by Hamas would be to leave Hamas in control of some 240 hostages, including babies and children, and would also leave fairly well intact, much of the military infrastructure and warfighting capacity and terrorism capacity of Hamas intact,” she said.
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