The World Today for April 05, 2018



The Long Game

Iran has been playing a long game behind the scenes.

Iranian operatives have built up proxies in the Middle East using the same model that created Hezbollah, a militant political party in Lebanon that the United States and others consider a terrorist group, wrote Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, in the New York Times.

Iranian-backed fighters exercise significant control in Iraq and Syria, he argued. When the civil wars and fights against the Islamic State wind down in those countries, those fighters will remain, potentially reshaping the political landscape of the Middle East.

Saudi officials told Euronews that Iranian leaders also want to keep Yemen as a failed state. Saudi Arabia is now fighting Iranian-supported Shiite militias near Yemen’s southern border. An unstable Yemen is good for Iran’s cold war against the desert kingdom.

At the same time, the US Department of Justice recently accused nine Iranians of hacking hundreds of universities, private companies and government offices on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

“The hackers targeted innovations and intellectual property from our country’s greatest minds,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.

Citing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s research on Iranian cyberespionage, former CIA officer Christopher Burgess suggested in an article in CSO that the data breach was routine business for Iranian officials who have decided that hacking is the best way to bypass sanctions that block their country from accessing Western technology.

It’s not clear if hackers helped Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif bypass his country’s official ban against Twitter so that he could have a presence on social media. But he’s using special software to do so in a sign of his interest in exerting influence online, Al-Monitor said.

The most serious covert Iranian machinations have yet to bear fruit, however.

Iran might be respecting the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached with former US President Barack Obama and other countries that stopped its research on nuclear weapons. But hardliners in Iran today are surely preparing their case to start building a nuke immediately if President Donald Trump scraps the deal, said Foreign Policy.

“The hard-liners’ skepticism of diplomacy and resistance to compromise is partly rooted in their belief that no Iranian compromise can change Washington’s hostility to Tehran,” Foreign Policy wrote.

Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor makes the scrapping even more likely, CNBC explained.

It’s debatable whether Iran’s machinations reflect its weaknesses or its strengths. Either way, those in Tehran are making chess moves.



Changing the Guard

Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio was  declared on Wednesday the winner of a runoff vote to become Sierra Leone’s next president.

The former military commander was immediately sworn in Wednesday night, the New York Times reported.

The Sierra Leone People’s Party candidate won 51.8 percent of the vote in the runoff on Saturday, compared with 48.2 percent for Samura Kamara from the governing All People’s Congress, according to the Electoral Commission. Sixteen candidates had originally contested, but no one was able to gain the 55 percent required to avoid a second round.

Following a campaign season marred by violence and accusations of irregularities, the presence of heavily armed soldiers made for a fraught atmosphere, and a dispute over how to count the votes delayed the results.

Bio, who attended graduate school in the US and Britain, was previously part of two coups, in 1992 and 1996. After the second one, he ruled the country for three months before handing over control to a democratically elected civilian government.


Sickness and Blood

Indonesia declared a state of emergency in an effort to stop a deadly oil spill spreading off the coast of the island of Borneo.

At least four fishermen in the port city of Balikpapan were killed over the weekend when the floating oil caught fire, the BBC reported, and hundreds more have experienced difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting since Saturday’s spill.

On Tuesday, Indonesian authorities said the risk of further fires is increasing as the oil continues to spread. So far, it covers some seven square miles.

State-owned company Pertamina operates a large oil refinery in Balikpapan. After four days of denials, the firm admitted Wednesday that one of its undersea pipelines was severed last week, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. A criminal prosecution may follow.

The state of emergency will allow the national government to disperse funds to local authorities working to contain and clean up the spill.


Do Not Pass Go

Brazil’s Supreme Court rejected former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s plea to avoid jail while he appeals against a 12-year sentence on corruption charges, setting the stage for the popular politician to spend the rest of the ongoing presidential election behind bars.

The court rejected by 6-5 Lula’s lawyers’ request for a preventative habeas corpus, Bloomberg reported. It’s now up to Sergio Moro, the judge who prosecuted Lula, to decide whether to jail him immediately or follow standard procedure and delay for one or two weeks.

Lula was already banned from running in the ongoing election due to the corruption conviction. But Brazil has allowed exceptions to that rule in the past, and Lula was nevertheless polling ahead of all the other candidates. Some analysts expect stocks to get a bump when the market reopens today due to the easing of fears he’d undo recent pro-market reforms.

It remains to be seen whether putting him behind bars rallies his supporters or hurts the fortunes of his Workers’ Party, which said it would continue to push for his candidacy in the October polls.


Thor’s Battle

For the first time, Iceland’s national soccer team will be competing in the final stages of the World Cup this year in Russia, prompting cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson to commemorate the event with a T-shirt of the team’s iconic Viking clap and its battle cry “Hú.”

But Dagsson’s homage to Iceland fans is being hit with the rulebook: “Hú” has already been trademarked, the Iceland Monitor reported.

Back in 2016, a variation of the battle cry, “Húh,” was trademarked by local sports trainer Gunnar Thor Andresson, who argued the print on Dagsson’s T-shirt was too close to the spelling of his trademark, according to the Iceland Review.

Iceland’s trademark office sided with Andresson and ruled that his trademark covered both variations. The authority ordered Dagsson to cease printing his T-shirts or else pay royalties.

Not pleased with this turn of events, Dagsson took the matter to Facebook, arguing that the battle cry of the Icelandic people shouldn’t be owned by a single individual.

And after all, he argued, Andresson’s trademark isn’t even grammatically correct – the Icelandic language never adds the letter “h” to the end of words.

Despite the threats, Dagsson still plans to sell the shirts and donate half the profits to the Icelandic Cancer Society.

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