The latest round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza have concluded. The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire has taken effect and it appears this latest spasm of Israel-Hamas violence is destined to follow a familiar pattern: Tensions rose and fighting between Israel and Gaza militants broke out. Escalation followed with Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes taking place around the clock. After an obligatory period of silence, Palestinian government officials quietly approached UN and Egyptian diplomats and inquired about the chances of a third-party ceasefire. After a period of backchannel diplomacy, a deal was formed and presented to both parties. Israel agreed without preconditions since its military goals had already been met. Palestinian authorities took their cues from Hamas and readily agreed to the ceasefire. Now the fighting is over and the post-crisis cycle begins once again. Residents of Gaza will clear the rubble, Hamas will begin funneling in weapons, Israel will warily monitor its neighbor and the rest of the world will soon lose interest. Oh, and of course Hamas will claim victory.
We’ve been down this road enough times before and in all likelihood will be traveling it again sooner than expected.
Tensions will remain high for some time, and this ceasefire is no less fragile than those of the past. It will not take much for the fighting to resume. The underlying causes of the conflict remain unchanged: land rights in West Bank, religious tensions in Jerusalem and no prospects for a Mid-East peace process aimed at resolving the conflict in an acceptable way for all parties.
Last but not least is President Joe Biden’s attempt to take some credit for the ceasefire when the truth is that his efforts, undertaken relatively late in the game, came at a point when a ceasefire was already a foregone conclusion. Sources I’ve spoken with in the past 4 hours have confirmed that Biden’s discussions with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came after Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire were already underway.
Calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are becoming louder as the hostilities between Israel and Gaza enter their second week. The international pressure has spiked especially in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes and heavy militant rocket attacks on Israeli towns. At a meeting of the UN Security Council earlier today, the United States made it clear it is prepared to offer its support “should the parties seek a ceasefire.”
Despite international pressure for a ceasefire rising, the Israeli government does not appear eager to begin negotiations with the Gaza government and Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Israeli campaign in Gaza will continue on. “We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens. It will take time,” Netanyahu said in a televised address following a meeting of his security cabinet on Sunday. Hours later, as midnight approached, militants launched rockets at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. Not long after the initial launches, the Israeli Air Force launched a significant number of sorties against military targets in Gaza.
Palestinian sources claim 197 citizens of Gaza have been killed, including 58 children and 34 women. The high amount of non-combatant casualties cited by the sources (government mostly) bring their accuracy into question. In all probability, the numbers are being fudged, to put it lightly, by sources sympathetic to Hamas and Hezbollah.
The crisis continuing to develop in and around Ukraine is a multilayered creature.
The past week has seen tensions escalating in eastern Ukraine, as well as a resumption of low intensity fighting there. Ukrainian forces and Russian-supported separatists have been involved in a series of engagements in violation of the ceasefire. Meanwhile, on the other side of the border a sizeable buildup of Russian land forces continues. Another buildup of forces is also going on in Crimea, which could very well become the centerpiece of the emerging crisis. The Ukrainian government has sounded the alarm over the buildup and some NATO nations have started to take notice of the situation around the border and respond.
NATO has insisted that Russia is engaged in efforts to undermine efforts to reduce the tension in eastern Ukraine. US European Command has raised the alert level of US forces in Europe in response to developments in the east. On Friday, US President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and affirmed the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Apparently, a new buildup of forces is now going on along Ukraine’s northern borders with Russia, and according to certain sources, Belarus as well. If these reports are accurate it all but confirms that Russia is moving to apply overwhelming physical pressure on the Ukrainian government, at the very least. It is obvious what the worst-case scenario would be in this instance.
Finally, there is Crimea. The peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 is in the throes of a water crisis at present. For months now, cities and towns in Crimea have been rationing water. Despite being surrounded on three sides by water, Crimea has always had to rely on outside sources for clean water. The Northern Crimea Canal was completed in 1971 and diverted water to Crimea from a reservoir in southern Ukraine. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian officials wasted little time in blocking the canal, which was providing 85% of the peninsula’s drinking water at the time. The lack of water has been affected by the large numbers of Russian citizens relocating to Crimea since 2014. At present, the water situation is becoming critical and could play a role in Russia’s strategic planning and political plans in the coming weeks ahead.
Russia’s motivation behind its brokering of a Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal was, simply put, to prevent Turkey from establishing a stronger presence in an area Russia has long considered to be its vulnerable southern flank. The six week-long conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia brought Turkish and Russian material, and diplomatic support to their respective allies. Turkey backed Azerbaijan’s military offensive and was active in undermining mediation efforts throughout the conflict. Russia supported Armenia with similar determination. It even sponsored two of the three temporary ceasefires that had been agreed upon during the conflict, only to be broken and disregarded hours later.
The deal went into effect Monday at 1600 hours Eastern Standard Time. Under the terms of the deal, Azerbaijan will hold onto the areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it captured during the conflict. Armenia will vacate these areas, as well as adjacent ones over the next 2-3 weeks. 1,900 Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the new boundaries, and to patrol the Lachin Corridor, which connects the Karabakh capital city of Stepanakert to Armenia. Turkey will also take part in the peacekeeping process, but in a limited role that will not include combat soldiers being deployed on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh. The terms of the agreement will also include an exchange of war prisoners, and the resumption of economic and transportation ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The peace deal is a clear victory for Azerbaijan, and a defeat for Armenia. In Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, there is a mood of celebration and relief. The signing of the deal marks a successful conclusion to a decades-long fight. In Armenia, the mood was quite different. Unrest has broken out in Yerveran, the Armenian capital. Throngs of protesters stormed government offices, and the parliament building on Monday night. But on Tuesday morning, the frustration and anger seemed to have passed. The streets were quiet and calm. The crowds that took part in the unrest believed the fighting should’ve continued on in spite of the circumstances. Armenian leaders believed otherwise.
For better or worse, the fighting has ended and peace has returned to Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Russia-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh hasn’t collapsed. However, it is certainly in danger of falling apart. Clashes between Azeri and Armenian forces have continued on despite both sides having agreed to the temporary truce. Russia is calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire as more reports of violations, and some very graphic video of recent fighting reaches the media and governments around the world.
Ethnic Armenia officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have reported 45 more troops have been killed in fighting with Azeri forces, bringing the total number of troops killed in the conflict to roughly 525. Civilian casualty numbers are anticipated to hover somewhere in the same area according to third-party sources in humanitarian organizations.
Heavy fighting was reported Monday around the town of Hadrut in the south of Nagorno-Karabakh. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused the other of conducting heavy artillery and mortar barrages.
*Author’s Note: Short update this evening owing to the holiday here in the States. Back tomorrow with a more in-depth post on the Western Pacific most likely. But that could change. 😊 Have a great night-Mike*