The World Today for August 09, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

SYRIA

The Ties That Bind

Disagreements between Russia and Iran over the role of Hezbollah in Syria are providing glimpses of potential future conflicts when the country’s bloody civil war finally ends.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to fight on behalf their fellow Shiite Muslim, President Bashar al-Assad.

But the unpredictable and often-ruthless allies have exchanged gunfire when Hezbollah has refused to accept ceasefires brokered by Assad, the rebels and third parties like Russia and the United States. Other militants have similarly refused to stop fighting in other regions in the past.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladmir Putin is frowning on Hezbollah’s relationships with Damascus and is putting pressure on Assad to sever his ties to the terrorist group and political party, arguing that it’s a proxy for Iranian interests in Lebanon and western Syria.

The US has long designated Hezbollah a terror group. The militants, in turn, have long rejected that label. Interestingly, it’s possible in the near future that US special forces will fight alongside Hezbollah to battle Islamic State near on the Lebanese border, Haaretz reported Tuesday.

Last month, Hezbollah fighters even took the Washington Post and others on a tour of the territory they gained from a rebel faction known as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front when it was affiliated with Al Qaeda, to show how they were a different kind of militant group.

Russia, meanwhile, wants Assad to unite his country’s various militias into a single standard army that might look like those at home marching in Red Square. Russian troops marched in Syria for the first time recently to show the locals how it was done, noted the Independent.

Iran, of course, is balking at kicking Hezbollah back into Lebanon. Tehran has been used to succeeding when it comes to extending influence in Iraq, Syria and other Shiite countries in the region.

The rebels would have likely defeated Assad a long time ago without Moscow’s help.

But Assad’s father and predecessor in the presidential office, Hafez, allowed Iran to ship weapons to Hezbollah, helping both to harass Israel over the decades. Now the same shadowy forces are helping Assad push back the rebels in the backyard that he inherited from his father.

It’s not clear if Bashar can break those ties so easily.

[siteshare]The Ties That Bind[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

KENYA

Being Heard

Braving fears of violence along with long lines, Kenyans turned out in large numbers on Tuesday to vote in the too-close-to-call election between main contenders President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the Associated Press reported.

As of Wednesday morning, peace reigned.

The final week of campaigning set the country’s nerves on edge after the murder of the top election official in charge of the electronic voting system and growing fears of similar post-election violence that marked elections 10 years ago in which more than 1,100 died.

Moreover, Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabab, which has staged persistent attacks on the country’s eastern border, promised to disrupt the vote with further violence.

But residents of Lamu County, hard hit by the extremists, voted in large numbers, too. The military provided escorts for some from their homes to the polling stations, AP reported.

In the lead-up to the vote, the candidates avoided inflammatory speeches to keep the country calm. Now all eyes are on how the loser reacts to the outcome. Kenyatta, who has shown an early lead, said he would accept the result and urged rivals to do the same, Reuters wrote.

Final results are not expected before late Wednesday, but it could take three days for a winner to emerge, the news agency said.

[siteshare]Being Heard[/siteshare]

PHILIPPINES

Drones on Standby

The US military is readying a plan to conduct drone airstrikes against Islamic State forces in the Philippines, according to a report by NBC News, but top defense officials in the island nation denied it Tuesday.

NBC attributed its report to two unnamed US defense officials. If approved, the airstrikes would target the Islamic State wherever it is “a threat to the region,” including the southern islands, where the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has been locked in a struggle to root out Islamic State militants for more than two months.

But top Philippine defense officials told the Philippine Star that there were no such discussions with the US on airstrikes.

Currently the US provides the Philippines with intelligence help and the use of a small number of drones and light aircraft, NBC said.

An analyst told the Philippine newspaper that the success of the Islamic State’s operations in Marawi City, located on the mostly Muslim southern island of Mindanao, raises the risks of attacks in other Philippine cities.

[siteshare]Drones on Standby[/siteshare]

POLAND

Then and Now

An issue that comes up every few years is back on the table: War reparations from Germany.

“Historic bills have not been settled,” Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday, adding to the growing momentum within Poland to demand compensation from Germany for damages caused during World War II.

The statement, reported by Bloomberg News, comes as the EU is weighing potential sanctions against Poland for flouting democratic principles and the rule of law.

Poland’s ruling party last week asked parliament to look into whether Poland has grounds to seek damages from Germany, its biggest economic partner. Other countries formed after the 1989 fall of communism have declared the issue of war reparations from Germany closed, based on various treaties, the news agency wrote.

Polish estimates of the damage the country suffered in World War II are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

But one analyst said Poland has no real intention of negotiating compensation, calling the issue “an anti-German card” with domestic political aims, Bloomberg wrote. Feeling pressured by EU criticism for democratic backsliding, politicians are looking to gain ground at home by covering up other issues and showing that “Poland isn’t scared of anyone, even Germany,” she said.

[siteshare]Then and Now[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Two Degrees of Separation

Scientists, environmentalists and world leaders have worked hard to reach a consensus about seeking to restrain global warming to less than two degrees in order to avoid storms, droughts and other extreme weather associated with climate change.

A bevy of studies now confirms that those folks have been overly hopeful.

University of Washington researchers recently published a study in the journal Nature Climate Change arguing that there’s only a five percent chance that Earth will warm two degrees or less by the end of this century. The researchers projected a one percent chance that warming could held to 1.5 degrees, the 2016 Paris Agreement target.

“The more optimistic scenarios that have been used in targets seem quite unlikely to occur,” University of Washington statistician Adrian Raftery told the Washington Post.

For those who enjoy the glass-is-half-empty arguments, the Post listed a number of other recent studies that suggested people have already emitted sufficient greenhouse gases to alter the planet’s temperatures by more than two degrees.

But researchers said their findings shouldn’t disappoint. Instead, they said it’s proof that humankind needs to tread a more sustainable path sooner rather than later.

[siteshare]Two Degrees of Separation[/siteshare]

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