Violence on the Israel-Gaza border. Hamas attacked a group of Israeli soldiers who were conducting an operation in the Gaza Strip. When the dust settled, one Israeli soldier and seven Palestinians, including a commander of Hamas’ military arm, were dead. Hamas accused Israel of assassinating the commander; a former Israeli general said more likely he died in a firefight after a botched intelligence gathering operation. Whatever the case, the incident cut short a visit to Paris by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been criticized at home for allowing Qatar to pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants, per the terms of an Egypt-brokered truce. Israel Defense Forces have pledged to deploy more soldiers and additional Iron Dome missile batteries to the Gaza border. The situation is stable for now, so it’s unclear whether it was a momentary flare-up or the beginning of the end of the most recent truce.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban is pressing its advantage. Over the weekend, fighting escalated in Ghazi district, some 150 miles (250 kilometers) from Kabul. As many as 25 Afghan commandos were killed. The head of the Afghan army confirmed that the government would deploy additional soldiers, backed by U.S. air support, and that the Taliban had been pushed back despite Afghan casualties. Meanwhile, Taliban officials attended a summit in Moscow that ended yesterday. According to a Russian official, the Taliban said they would negotiate with Afghanistan’s government only after a deal was reached with the U.S. on a timetable for withdrawal. A U.S. official attended the conference as an “observer,” while the Afghan government distanced itself from the conference before it started. The positions of both continue to weaken – and Russia is reaping the benefits.
Elections in eastern Ukraine. The Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, currently under the control of separatist rebels, held elections yesterday. They were described by the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine as a “mockery.” Local officials said turnout in Donetsk was over 80 percent and approaching 77 percent in Luhansk. Ukraine’s president strongly criticized the elections. Germany and France issued a joint statement denouncing the “so-called elections” and said they viewed it as an attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia said the elections comport with the Minsk agreements and that they would stabilize the rebel-held regions. All the while, low-level fighting continues in the Donbass. Not much here has changed. Despite the rhetoric from all parties, they remain firmly entrenched in their current positions.
A ceiling on the price of oil. Oil prices have declined roughly 10 percent in the past month – Brent crude has gone from $80 to $70 per barrel. In response, Saudi Arabia said yesterday it would unilaterally cut production next month after a meeting of OPEC members and Russia in the United Arab Emirates failed to yield a consensus. (Russia, for its part, said it was open to production cuts if the larger group agreed.) The return of sanctions on Iran, expected to tighten the oil market, has had the opposite effect, perhaps because the long lead-up to sanctions and U.S. exemptions from the measures dented their impact. The larger point is one we have repeatedly made: The oil market is oversupplied, and every time prices inch upward, production surges – especially in the United States. Speculation that the U.S. sanctions on Iran, or Venezuela’s continued decline, would constrict supply enough to drive up the price of oil is simply a rationalization for markets, which don’t always behave rationally. There’s a limit to how high oil prices can go right now, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia are trying to figure out just where it is.
So nice the U.S. leased it twice. The U.S. has signed a $22 million agreement with the Northern Mariana Islands to lease the island of Tinian, home of its largest air base during World War II, as a divert airfield. The lease agreement is separate from prior deals between the two parties and reportedly will give the U.S. Air Force an alternative base in the Pacific Ocean should the nearby Anderson Air Base at Guam become inaccessible because of war or natural disaster. The deal has been in the works for years, but that the U.S. has been pursuing strategic depth in the Pacific for a while now doesn’t make the move any less ominous.
- Turkey-backed Syrian rebels said they were ready for “the battle in the eastern Euphrates” against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds.
- China’s air force announced a road map for building a “world-class force” by the “mid-21st century.”
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies has published a report, replete with satellite imagery, showing that North Korea has made improvements at missile launch sites and other bases.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the U.S. would hold those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.