August 24, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL

Progress and Gridlock

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan recently reaffirmed his country’s diplomatic stance of not recognizing Israel.

King Salman and his son, the desert kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a ruthless leader according to this BBC profile, prefer the Arab Peace Initiative. That plan calls for a Palestinian state with borders that predate the 1967 war, with a capital in East Jerusalem with refugees returning to their homes in that section of the ancient city that is now Israel’s capital.

“Once that is achieved, all things are possible,” Prince Faisal said, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.

The prince’s pronouncements were important because they signified that at least one regional power would not follow the path of the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE, a Gulf nation that recently recognized the Jewish state in a deal that will undoubtedly go down as a historic foreign policy achievement for UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump.

A conservative Washington Post columnist used the term “Nobel.”

As the Council on Foreign Relations explained, under the US-brokered deal, Israel and the UAE are slated to establish normal relations, including expanding ties in tourism, business and other aspects of their economies.

Israel has promised to stop allowing the construction of Jewish settlements on land in West Bank occupied territories claimed by Palestinians. Israel will receive access to the financial hub of Abu Dhabi and other perks, Bloomberg wrote. The deal also unites two foes of Iran. Israel has long been at odds with the mullahs in Tehran. But the UAE is a Sunni Gulf state that stands against Shiite Muslim Iran, too.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip protested in response to the agreement, burning Israeli and American flags and carrying signs that said “normalization is betrayal to Jerusalem and Palestine,” Al Jazeera reported. In Jerusalem, protesters also burned UAE flags.

Writing for National Public Radio, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Fellow Aaron David Miller acknowledged that the deal was significant. But he urged observers of the Middle East not to overplay its impact. Israel has long had behind-the-scenes ties with the UAE, he wrote. The deal simply makes them public.

Already the deal is showing strains under international developments, however. News that the US might sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE led the Daily Beast to ask whether this so-called diplomatic accomplishment was simply the pretext for an arms deal. Normally the US agrees not to sell advanced weaponry to Arab countries that might match or surpass Israeli capabilities.

Friendship involves risk.

WANT TO KNOW

PAKISTAN

Under Pressure

Pakistan issued orders imposing financial sanctions against Afghanistan’s Taliban over the weekend, in a move that comes as the armed group is in the midst of United States-brokered peace talks with the Afghan government, the Associated Press reported.

Officials said that the sanctions are not new but rather determined in a 2015 United Nations resolution that froze assets and imposed travel restrictions on the militant group.

The sanctions would target dozens of high-profile individuals, including Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar and some members of the infamous Haqqani family.

The orders are considered to be a move to pressure the Islamist group to speed up the intra-Afghan talks with the Afghan government, following a peace deal signed between the Taliban and the US in late February.

The sanctions also come at a time when Pakistan is trying to avoid being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, which monitors money laundering and tracks terrorist groups’ activities.

The nation is currently on a grey list of countries with a high risk for money laundering and terrorism financing.

Pakistan has vehemently denied providing safe haven to Taliban members following their ouster in 2001 by the US-led coalition.

Many Taliban leaders, however, have lived in Pakistan since the 1980s when they were part of the Afghan mujahedeen that was allied with the US and fought against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.

LIBYA

Ready at Last?

Libya’s UN-backed government announced a ceasefire over the weekend and called for the demilitarization of the contested strategic city of Sirte, raising hopes for peace despite the failures of previous truces, Al Jazeera reported.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) also called for elections in March, as well as an end to the oil blockade imposed last year by forces loyal to eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar.

The move was welcomed internationally. Haftar’s forces also expressed support for the ceasefire, arguing that it will prevent foreign military intervention in Libya.

The oil-rich nation has been plunged into chaos since the ouster and death of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi during a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. Supported by Turkey, GNA controls the west, while Haftar’s forces control the east with the backing of Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Last year, Haftar’s troops tried to reclaim Tripoli, but GNA forces stymied the campaign in June with Turkish support.

Analysts argued that the latest announcement has raised prospects of peace in Libya following a slew of failed ceasefires, as the two militaries are now closer to a true stalemate.

ARGENTINA

Balancing Act

Argentina extended a price freeze for TV, internet and mobile services until the end of the year, in a move that could further complicate a deal with the International Monetary Fund, Bloomberg reported.

The freeze establishes that the items are “essential public services” and bars providers from raising prices without government approval.

The new measures come after the South American country reached an agreement with investors earlier this month to renegotiate $65 billion in debt following its ninth default.

Argentina is trying to win back confidence in the global markets, as its economy is facing its deepest contraction ever caused by nationwide lockdowns to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the decision marks the government’s latest measure to contain prices: President Alberto Fernandez’s administration has also banned layoffs, doubled severance pay and frozen prices on 2,000 consumer goods it deems essential.

His populist stance, however, contrasts with the recent comments by Economy Minister Martin Guzman, who hinted that the country may remove strict capital controls and would try to renegotiate its payments to the IMF.

DISCOVERIES

Genuine Tears

Crocodile tears have a lot in common with human tears.

Scientists discovered that the tears of birds and reptiles aren’t so different from our own on a molecular level, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Previous research studied the tears of mammals such as dogs and monkeys, but a new paper focused on the tears of less relatable creatures: This included barn owls, roadside hawks, broad-snouted caimans and green sea turtles.

Researchers collected tears – as humanely as possible – from these animals and compared them with the waterworks of ten human subjects.

While the animals didn’t bawl out like people, the team noted that non-human tears were similar to those of human species: They contained mucus, water, oil, as well as salty electrolytes, urea – which is found in urine – and proteins.

The authors noted, however, that birds and reptiles had higher concentrations of electrolytes like sodium, which helps them protect their eyes from inflammation caused by moving water or air.

Caimans, meanwhile, had long-lasting tears, which researchers suggest is due to the extra proteins in the tears that allow the big reptile to go without blinking for up to two hours.

The team hopes that their findings can help scientists develop better treatments for chronically dry eyes.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 5,703,586 (+0.62%)
  2. Brazil: 3,605,783 (+0.65%)
  3. India: 3,106,348 (+2.02%)
  4. Russia: 954,328 (+0.51%)
  5. South Africa: 609,773 (+0.45%)
  6. Peru: 594,326 (+3.17%)
  7. Mexico: 560,164 (+0.71%)
  8. Colombia: 541,139 (+3.64%)
  9. Chile: 397,665 (+0.49%)
  10. Spain: 386,054 (0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

** Numbers have been adjusted by affected country