Israel’s government collapse. In a historic first, the Israeli parliament was dissolved Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition. Snap elections will be held Sept. 17. On the surface, the failure to build a coalition stemmed from a dispute between ultra-Orthodox parties and the secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is demanding legislation setting draft quotas for ultra-Orthodox seminary students currently exempt from mandatory military service. Extended political paralysis can cripple any country’s ability to act decisively in regional affairs, and Israel, like many countries in the Middle East, is perpetually struggling to find the right balance between its religious and national identities. But since the majority of Israelis identify with Netanyahu or with parties ideologically similar to his, the Israeli government will continue to defend its interests in the region and beyond – and a Jewish state above all else.
Pipeline disputes. The CEO of Austrian energy company OMV said in an interview with the Financial Times that he wanted to know whether the European Union was prepared to defend European firms against potential U.S. sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said last week that sanctions on companies involved in the project between Russia and Germany would be coming soon. Critics in Washington and Eastern European capitals have warned that the pipeline would make Europe more dependent on Russian gas supplies. They’ve also said the creation of more alternative supply routes gives Moscow more power to cut off shipments through Ukraine, which counts on transit fees for billions of dollars in revenue each year. Nord Stream 2 likely came up during German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ meeting with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday. Officially, Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, were in Kiev to express their support for Ukraine in its domestic reforms and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Russian warnings. Russia is concerned about the prospect of an armed confrontation between the United States and Iran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta. On May 29, Ryabkov visited Tehran to discuss the Iran nuclear deal with his Iranian counterpart, Abbas Araghchi. According to Ryabkov, Iran’s move toward exiting the nuclear deal could lead to the deal’s collapse and a potential military confrontation. Ryabkov criticized U.S. steps to increase its military presence in the Gulf region but warned Iran against withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which he said would be another step toward destabilization.
More on Japan’s slow, steady expansion into the Indo-Pacific. It takes so long for a country to appreciably expand its naval presence that even the more mundane developments are worth checking in on. Such is the case for Japan. The U.S. Naval Institute has noted the Japanese navy’s plans to retrofit their Izumo-class helicopter carriers to be able to fly the F-35B and its completed delivery of 10 (of 14) Soryu-class diesel-electric submarines. Developments like this increase Japan’s forward denial capability. The institute also noted that improvement is needed in intracommand communication, budget and personnel distribution. The Defense Post mentioned Japan’s efforts to expand its security footprint in the Horn of Africa with the expansion of its Djibouti operations, though by how much remains unclear. Last week, the Izumo conducted a joint drill with an Indian frigate, while two Japanese destroyers joined warships from Australia, South Korea and the U.S. in another landmark naval drill. Earlier this week, meanwhile, Manila said it expects greater security assistance from Japan. On the civilian side, the Japanese government announced $1.2 billion in loans to Bangladesh for infrastructure projects, including a port and high-speed railway. Japan’s compulsion to expand its Indo-Pacific presence stems from its reliance on oil imports from the Middle East and the need to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Security in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia will host a summit for Gulf Cooperation Council and Arab League countries on Thursday. Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani is expected to attend; he will be the highest-ranking Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar in 2017. The summit will cover regional security issues and the rising tensions with Iran. Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is currently on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he reiterated his belief that Iran was almost certainly behind the recent attacks on UAE and Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf.
- The Pentagon said it’s requesting new federal funds to bolster domestic production of rare earth minerals to reduce dependence on Chinese supplies after Beijing’s latest threat to ban rare earth exports to the U.S.
- The overall leverage ratio of China’s real economy jumped to 248.83 percent at the end of March, the highest level since the metric began being tracked in 1993, according to a joint report by two state-backed think tanks.
- The U.K.’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that as a result of Brexit uncertainty, automobile production fell in April by 44.5 percent year on year, the steepest drop since 2009.
- China has reportedly suspended purchases of U.S. soybeans again.
- China and Singapore agreed to hold joint naval exercises and deepen defense ties.
- China is seeking greater security guarantees from Pakistan after a spate of attacks on Belt and Road projects in the South Asian country.
- Iran’s crude exports fell to 400,000 barrels per day in May, a more than 50 percent decline from the approximately 1 million bpd exported in April, before the expiration of most U.S. waivers in early May.
- A defense agreement signed between the U.S. and UAE earlier this year came into effect on Wednesday.
- The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump won’t decide whether to extend the New START nuclear treaty with Russia until next year.
- The Scottish government presented a bill Wednesday on the rules for a new independence referendum, which the ruling pro-independence Scottish National Party hopes to hold in the second half of 2020. A party official said the vote could be moved up in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
- Hungary’s government unexpectedly abandoned plans for a new administrative court system that had rankled Brussels. The courts would have handled cases related to government business, and the EU worried they were a threat to judicial independence.
- The working-age population (people aged 15-64) in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia will shrink by 12 percent by 2040 due to emigration and low birth rates, according to a report by Moody’s rating agency.
- The Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group in Ethiopia, has declared an end to its rebellion.
- Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said Mexico has failed to develop plans to boost economies in Central America and that Guatemala prefers the U.S. plans that focus more on security.
- The African Continental Free Trade Agreement comes into effect today.