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Israel negotiates a fragile truce with Palestine and the CIA switches from the Middle East to the Far East

8-8-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

The Guardian: Gaza - what's happening between Israel and Palestine right now

A truce between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad has taken effect in the Gaza Strip after three days of cross-border fighting triggered by surprise Israeli airstrikes.

US president Joe Biden welcomed the agreement on Sunday, and called on all parties to “fully implement the ceasefire, and to ensure fuel and humanitarian supplies are flowing into Gaza as the fighting subsides”.

The president also lamented the injury and death of civilians in Gaza, but did not specify who was responsible. “The reports of civilian casualties in Gaza are a tragedy, whether by Israeli strikes against Islamic Jihad positions or the dozens of Islamic Jihad rockets that reportedly fell inside Gaza,” Biden said.

The US, he said, had worked with both sides and regional partners “to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict”.

Israeli strikes and militant rockets continued in the minutes leading up to the beginning of the truce, which Egyptian mediators said started at 11.30pm (9.30pm BST) on Sunday.

Israel confirmed the ceasefire was set to take hold, but said it would respond if it was violated. Islamic Jihad also confirmed the agreement. “We appreciate the Egyptian efforts that had been exerted to end the Israeli aggression against our people,” spokesperson Tareq Selmi said.

The UN security council has scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday on the violence. UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said in a statement:

“We underscore our commitment to do all we can towards ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following up on the Palestinian prisoners file.”

The deal should at least temporarily halt the bloodshed that erupted in the blockaded territory on Friday with Israel’s “pre-emptive” Operation Breaking Dawn, which it said thwarted alleged planned rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

A total of 44 Palestinians, among them 15 children, as well as members of Islamic Jihad, have now been killed in the bombing campaign and more than 300 people have been injured, while 13 Israelis have been treated in hospital for minor injuries as hundreds of retaliatory rockets were fired across the Gaza frontier towards the south of the country.

Israel said a stray rocket fired by Islamic Jihad had killed several children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday. Islamic Jihad has not commented on the claim, while the aligned group Hamas, which rules the strip, blamed the attack on Israel.

The flare-up is the worst outbreak of violence between Israeli and Palestinian militants since an 11-day-war last May.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had signalled that the campaign was supposed to last about a week; Israel has inflicted significant losses on Islamic Jihad in the last three days, including the targeted killings of two senior commanders.

Whether the latest confrontation could yet escalate into full-scale conflict largely depends on whether Hamas, the larger Islamist movement in control of the strip, decides to intervene. While the two groups are allied, Hamas has not fully replenished its arsenal or tunnel network since last May’s war, and has resisted being drawn into the fighting. All sides are aware, however, that every passing hour increases the risk of miscalculation or escalation.

Unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad is not responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the impoverished territory. As a result it is viewed as a more militant resistance faction, often acting independently and sometimes even undermining Hamas’s authority.

A joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade in Gaza imposed after Hamas seized control in 2007 has turned electricity and clean water into scare commodities and trapped a population struggling with about 50% unemployment and crumbling medical infrastructure.

The contested area is holy to Muslims and Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. Informally, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the site. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of Jewish visitors, sometimes praying or with police escorts, have exacerbated longstanding Palestinian fears that Israel plans to annex the compound.

The Israeli offensive followed a week of tension prompted by the arrest of Bassem al-Saadi, Islamic Jihad’s top commander in the occupied West Bank, last Monday. While Islamic Jihad did not launch rockets after Saadi’s arrest, Israel has insisted that the group is seeking revenge.

Reuters: The threat of world hunger has been replaced by the nuclear threat

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Monday for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the shelling of Europe's largest atomic plant at the weekend.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
Photo: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images

"Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing," Guterres told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world's first atomic bombing.

Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex in southeastern Ukraine in early March, shortly after Moscow's invasion of its neighbour, but it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.

Ukraine accused Russia of responsibility for renewed shelling on Saturday that had damaged three radiation sensors and injured a worker at the plant in what was the second hit in consecutive days on the site.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a televised address on Sunday, said Russia was waging "nuclear terror" that warranted more international sanctions, this time on Moscow's nuclear sector.

The region's Russian-installed authority said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and an area near a storage facility.

The Russian Embassy in Washington also itemised the damage, saying artillery fire from "Ukrainian nationalists" damaged two high-voltage power lines and a water pipeline, but critical infrastructure was not affected.

Reuters could not verify either side's version of what happened.

Events at the Zaporizhzhia site - where Kyiv alleged that Russia hit a power line on Friday - have alarmed the world.

Guterres said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needed access to the plant. "We fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to creat(ing) the conditions for stabilisation of the plant," he said.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned on Saturday that the latest attack "underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster".

Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine's food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as two grain ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, raising the total to 12 since the first vessel left a week ago. read more

Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey's defence ministry said, and would be inspected on Tuesday, while the first vessel to sail since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion docked.

The two latest outgoing ships were carrying almost 59,000 tonnes of corn and soybeans and were bound for Italy and southeastern Turkey following inspections. The four that left on Sunday bore almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food.

The July 22 grain export pact brokered by Turkey and the United Nations represents a rare diplomatic triumph as fighting churns on in Ukraine and aims to help ease soaring global food prices arising from the war.

Before Moscow's invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports. The disruption since then has raised the spectre of famine in parts of the world.

Russia says it is waging a "special military operation" in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia's actions as an unprovoked imperial-style war to reassert control over a pro-Western neighbour lost when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.

It has evolved into a war of attrition concentrated in the east and southeast of Ukraine.

AP: CIA switches from terrorists to China and Russia

In a recent closed-door meeting with leaders of the agency’s counterterrorism center, the CIA’s No. 2 official made clear that fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups would remain a priority — but that the agency’s money and resources would be increasingly shifted to focusing on China.

The CIA drone attack that killed al-Qaida’s leader showed that fighting terrorism is hardly an afterthought. But it didn’t change the message the agency’s deputy director, David Cohen, delivered at that meeting weeks earlier:

While the U.S. will continue to go after terrorists, the top priority is trying to better understand and counter Beijing.

The deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Cohen
Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

One year after ending the war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden and top national security officials speak less about counterterrorism and more about the political, economic and military threats posed by China as well as Russia. There’s been a quiet pivot within intelligence agencies, which are moving hundreds of officers to China-focused positions, including some who were previously working on terrorism.

The last week makes clear that the U.S. has to deal with both at the same time. Days after Ayman al-Zawahri was killed in Kabul, China staged large-scale military exercises and threatened to cut off contacts with the U.S. over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The U.S. has long been alarmed by China’s growing political and economic ambitions.

China has tried to influence foreign elections, mounted campaigns of cyber and corporate espionage, and detained millions of minority Uyghurs in camps. Some experts also think Beijing will in coming years try to seize the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan by force.

Intelligence officials have said they need more insights on China, including after being unable to definitively pinpoint the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beijing has been accused of withholding information about the origins of the virus.

And the war in Ukraine has underscored Russia’s importance as a target. The U.S. used declassified information to expose Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans before the invasion and rally diplomatic support for Kyiv.

Supporters of the Biden administration approach note that the U.S. was able to track and kill al-Zawahri is evidence of its capabilities to target threats in Afghanistan from abroad. Critics say the fact that al-Zawahri was living in Kabul, under the apparent protection of the Taliban, suggests there’s a resurgence of extremist groups that America is ill-equipped to counter.

The shift in priorities is supported by many former intelligence officers and lawmakers from both parties who say it’s overdue. That includes people who served in Afghanistan and other missions against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he believed the U.S. had been overly focused on counterterrorism over the last several years.

“A far greater existential threat is Russia and China,” said Crow, a Colorado Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Terrorist groups, he said, “will not destroy the American way of life ... the way China can.”

CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp noted that terrorism “remains a very real challenge.”

“Even as crises such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strategic challenges such as that posed by the People’s Republic of China demand our attention, CIA will continue to aggressively track terrorist threats globally and work with partners to counter them,” Thorp said.

Congress has pushed the CIA and other intelligence agencies to make China a top priority, according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. Pushing resources toward China has required cuts elsewhere, including in counterterrorism. Specific figures were unavailable because intelligence budgets are classified.

In particular, lawmakers want more information about China’s development in advanced technologies.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has committed trillions of dollars in investment on quantum science, artificial intelligence and other technologies that are likely to disrupt how future wars are fought and economies are structured.

Re-orienting the agencies toward more of a focus on China and Russia will ultimately take years and require both patience and recognition that the agency’s culture will take time to change, said Douglas Wise, a former CIA senior officer who was deputy chief of operations at the counterterrorism center.

“For decades, we have been doing counterterrorism,” Wise said. “We’ve got to have a rational plan to make this adaptation, which doesn’t take so long that our enemies can exploit a glacial process.”

Politico: Why Europe needs Taiwan

With tensions flaring in East Asia, China’s sanctions against Taiwan are a stark reminder to the European Union how dependent it is on the island, and in particular the tiny computer chips it makes.

China banned some trade with Taiwan in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei on Wednesday and staged "live fire" military exercises in the sea surrounding the disputed territory.

The military moves forced air and marine traffic to avoid the area, effectively blockading Taiwan — a democratic island of 23 million that Beijing claims is part of China.

For now, China has restricted its longer-term retaliation to banning exports of sand to the island, along with the import of citrus fruits, chilled white scallops and frozen mackerel from Taiwan to the mainland.

But the risk for Taipei — and Western companies that depend on Taiwanese chip manufacturing — is that Beijing's future measures will be far tougher, such as a complete blockade or even a Chinese invasion.

Machinery and appliances made up almost 60 percent of EU imports from Taiwan last year. The biggest worry for European businesses would be the sudden cut to supplies of electronic chips, produced by the world’s biggest semiconductor company: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC).

The company captures more than half of the outsourced semiconductor market and is rumored to have clients like Apple and Qualcomm.

In a sign of the importance the U.S. attaches to TSMC, Pelosi met with the company's chairman Mark Liu during her visit.

The problem for Europe is that it has built up its dependency on Taiwanese chips over many years, but a Chinese attack could instantly wreck a vital supply line, with little or no warning.

The unique nature of the chips that TSMC can supply makes them an exclusive product. The company is not only key for electronics that are currently ubiquitously present in smartphones or laptops, but is already making more cutting-edge chips, like those of five nanometers or smaller, which will be key for autonomous driving.

“There are actually just two factories in the world now that can produce sub-five nanometer chips. That’s TSMC and Samsung,” Hermann Hauser, venture capitalist and founder of Acorn Computers, told POLITICO in a recent interview. “TSMC is totally dominant, we’re completely dependent on them.”

Now, tensions between mainland China and Taiwan raise the question of how both Beijing and Brussels will go forward.

TSMC’s crucial role hasn’t gone unnoticed in mainland China. In an eyebrow-raising speech in June, a top Chinese economist openly called on Beijing to “seize” the company.

Some Western observers, however, are skeptical that this threat will materialize — saying it simply isn’t in China’s interest to do so because TSMC relies on other companies for providing equipment, like Dutch company ASML.

That’s also what TSMC chief Liu said in a rare interview with CNN, warning that his company would be inoperable if China invaded Taiwan.

But thinking about the unthinkable scenario — a full cut-off of Taiwanese chips — will without a doubt motivate European lawmakers and businesses to accelerate their existing plans to reshore some chips manufacturing, and double Europe’s market share in the global semiconductor value chain.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva