Tracking the global economy. The International Monetary Fund released the first 2019 update to its World Economic Outlook, lowering its forecast for global gross domestic product growth 0.2 percentage points to 3.5 percent. According to the IMF, slowing industrial production and trade growth, combined with the fallout from the U.S.-China trade dispute, is responsible for the downgrade. China, meanwhile, released its latest GDP data, which put growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 at 6.4 percent and growth for the year at 6.5 percent. Leaving aside the inherent unreliability of Chinese data – many projections suggest Chinese GDP growth was much lower than Beijing reported – China’s growth rate for 2018 is the lowest observed since 1990, while the fourth-quarter figure is in line with that of the first quarter of 2009, right when the country was struggling to cope with the financial crisis. 

Israel hits Iran – and wants the world to know it. The Israel Defense Forces said they struck multiple Iranian targets in Syria, including munitions depots, Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, a training camp and Iranian warehouses at Damascus International Airport. (Syrian news agency SANA reported that Israel attacked Syrian air defense systems first.) The IDF strikes came after an Iranian missile was fired at the Golan Heights on Sunday. Israel’s transportation and intelligence minister added the IDF would continue to attack Iranian targets in Syria to prevent “Iranian entrenchment there.” So much for Israel’s policy of strategic ambiguity in Syria. And so much for Russian S-300s limiting Israel’s ability to operate there – though Russia’s response to the latest strikes has been fairly muted. Meanwhile, Iran’s air force commander said Iran was preparing to “wipe the Zionist regime off the face of the earth.” Some things never change.

Pushing for regime change in Venezuela? There’s a growing U.S. media chorus promoting the idea that the Venezuelan military should remove President Nicolas Maduro from office. Last week, Venezuelan soldiers in Peru released a video in which they said they recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaido as interim Venezuelan president and called for the armed forces to participate in mass protests against the Maduro government on Jan. 23. The Miami Herald reported the news with a flashy headline: “Venezuela’s Military Could Turn on Nicolas Maduro, According to Officials in Exile.” While we wait to see who shows up for the anti-Maduro protests, the steady drumbeat in the media might say something about what the U.S. is pushing for in Venezuela.

Russia and the U.S. play cat and mouse at sea. Russia’s National Defense Management Center told reporters that Russian corvettes were “escorting” two U.S. guided-missile destroyers through the southern Baltic Sea. Meanwhile, on Saturday, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer entered the Black Sea – the second time this year the U.S. has undertaken a de facto freedom of navigation operation there since the Kerch Strait incident last November. According to a U.S. statement, the destroyer was there “to conduct maritime security operations in support of regional allies and partners.” Russia reportedly dispatched a frigate to monitor those maritime security operations.

Keep an eye on the DRC. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court decided Saturday to uphold Felix Tshisekedi’s presidential victory. Another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, released a statement in which he decried the ruling and declared himself “the sole legitimate President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.” The African Union, which had asked the DRC to delay announcing the election results, said it was postponing a visit to the country, but a number of African heads of state sent congratulations to Tshisekedi on his victory even as they urged him to maintain peace and order. Easier said than done.

Honorable Mentions

  • Tens of thousands of people in Athens protested a name change deal with Macedonia over the weekend. A vote in the Greek parliament on the deal is expected as soon as this week.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland arrested five men tied to a bombing in Londonderry over the weekend, saying that the main focus of the investigation was the New Irish Republican Army.
  • According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, the Chinese researcher who claimed to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies is under investigation and “will be handled seriously according to the law.”
  • Japan is pursuing logistical support agreements with the French and Canadian militaries.
  • Sri Lanka is negotiating with both India and China for help meeting its foreign debt obligations.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lamented his country’s lack of free media in remarks that were broadcast live on the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network.