The World Today for December 04, 2023

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And the Winner Is …


On Sunday, the warship USS Carney, based in the Red Sea, shot down two drones fired at it and the merchant ship it was assisting, CNN reported. Yemen-based Houthi rebels, who have been battling Saudi Arabian forces and others for years, claimed they had attacked “two Israeli” ships in the area. In October, a similar assault saw drones attack a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea, reported the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Houthis recently hijacked the Galaxy Leader, an Israeli-owned cargo ship, the Irish Times wrote. A Houthi spokesman said the seizure was in retaliation for Israel’s attacks on their “Palestinian brothers” in the Gaza Strip.

The incidents are signs of the potentially wider war in danger of breaking out from the conflict between Israel and Gaza, say analysts. They’re especially telling because they highlight a worsening standoff in the region between the US, a staunch ally of Israel, and proxies of Iran, Israel’s staunch adversary.

Since Hamas and its affiliates attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Iranian-backed militias have fired more than 70 rockets and drones at American soldiers in Iraq and Syria, according to the New York Times. The US has conducted four airstrikes in those countries, killing about 15 people. Each tit-for-tat military operation stands the chance of inflaming a war that might engulf the Middle East.

American officials have decided that they must walk a fine line between responding to threats and stirring up crises, reported the Associated Press. In the meantime, they have dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups, a marine unit, and 1,200 additional troops to the Middle East, noted Counterpunch.

Those moves haven’t put Iran’s leaders at ease.

“We understand the US does not want the war to spread, but we think the US wants the war to intensify,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, told the New York Times in an interview. “If the US continues its military, political and financial support of Israel and helps manage Israel’s military attacks on Palestinian civilians, then it must face its consequences.”

In a broader war, Iran could activate hosts of militias throughout the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel and militia fighters have been skirmishing in recent days, added National Public Radio.

This shift would obviously put enormous pressure on Israeli forces that are now focused on Gaza. Iranian-backed groups could also sow discord in Iraq and Syria, two war-torn countries that otherwise have been fairly quiet recently. Many people would suffer. A war with Israel, for example, would be absolutely devastating for neighboring Lebanon, explained Reuters. The country is bankrupt and public services have collapsed.

And as Aaron Pilkington of the University of Denver wrote in the Conversation, he believes neither Israel nor Hamas will truly win this latest outbreak of conflict between them. Iran will.


Ballots, Claims and Oil


Venezuelans voted Sunday in a referendum that will decide whether a large swath of territory of neighboring Guyana should become part of Venezuela, a vote that has raised fears of annexation among Guyanese and a regional conflict in Latin America, the Associated Press reported.

The referendum is centered over the disputed territory of Essequibo, a 61,600-square-mile area – about two-thirds of Guyana – that Venezuela alleges was stolen when a north-south border was drawn more than a century ago.

Voters will be asked to decide whether they support establishing a state in the disputed territory, granting citizenship to current and future area residents, and rejecting the jurisdiction of the United Nations’ top court in settling the disagreement between the two South American countries.

Caracas claims Essequibo as its own due to its historical inclusion in its boundaries during the Spanish colonial period. The border dispute originates from the 1899 arbitration, involving the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States – with the latter representing Venezuela due to broken diplomatic ties with Britain.

Venezuelan officials have accused the US and Europe of conspiring to unjustly take the land, and asserted that a 1966 agreement effectively annulled the original arbitration.

But Guyana supports the initial agreement’s legality and binding nature. In 2018, it appealed to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a ruling on this matter, although the decision is expected to take several years.

The Venezuelan government promoted participation in the plebiscite as a patriotic duty and held a mock referendum last month, although it did not release the participation figures or results.

On Friday, the ICJ ordered Venezuela to refrain from altering Guyana’s control over Essequibo. However, the world court did not specifically ban Caracas from carrying out Sunday’s referendum.

Meanwhile, Brazil – which borders both countries – announced earlier this week it has “intensified its defense actions” and boosted its military presence in the region as a result of the dispute.

Observers noted that the legal and practical implications of the referendum are still to be determined.

Essequibo is a resource-rich region and has under its aegis areas in the Atlantic Ocean where oil in commercial quantities was discovered in 2015.

The Repeat Cycle


Guinea-Bissau’s security forces foiled a coup, the latest attempted takeover in the West African region, where multiple nations have experienced a series of coups in recent years, the BBC reported.

Violent clashes took place in the capital Bissau on Thursday and Friday between members of the National Guard and special forces of the presidential guard, leaving at least two people dead, according to Agence France-Presse.

President Umaro Sissoco Embaló confirmed there was an attempted coup and promised “serious consequences” for the perpetrators.

Military officials said the fighting began when a group of National Guard soldiers stormed a police station to free detained Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi, and Treasury Secretary Antonio Monteiro.

Prosecutors ordered the detention of the two government officials for questioning regarding the alleged, irregular withdrawal of $10 million from state accounts.

The regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (known as ECOWAS), strongly condemned the attempted takeover – the second one in less than two years.

In February 2022, Embaló– who was elected in 2019 – survived a coup attempt that saw 11 people dead. The president, however, did not provide much by way of detail, saying that the violence was related to drug trafficking in the country.

Guinea-Bissau has suffered a series of coups and attempted coups since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974.

The coup attempts come as military leaders have seized power in a number of West African countries in recent years, including Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Over the weekend, Burkina Faso and Niger withdrew from the G5 Sahel anti-jihadi force, adding to the challenges facing regional efforts against insurgents, AFP wrote separately.

The G5 Sahel, formed in 2014, has experienced limited success, with Mali becoming the first country to leave last year.

Burkina Faso and Niger cited the organization’s failure to meet objectives and criticized what they saw as France’s outsized role in the group. They expressed sovereignty concerns and claimed incompatibility with the current G5 Sahel format.

Look Who’s Talking


Nicaraguan authorities charged the owner of the local Miss Universe franchise with treason and organized crime as part of a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the government of President Daniel Ortega, weeks after the country’s first victory in the global pageant, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Police accused local organizer Karen Celeberrti, her husband and son of rigging the beauty contest so that anti-government winners would emerge at the pageants.

Two weeks ago, Miss Nicaragua, Sheynnis Palacios, won the Miss Universe contest for the first time in history, sparking waves of celebration and joy in the Central American nation.

But it later emerged that Palacios, a 23-year-old mental-health activist and audiovisual producer, had posted photos of herself on social media participating in mass protests against Ortega five years ago.

In 2018, anti-government demonstrations – spearheaded by university students – shook the regime, prompting authorities to launch a violent crackdown that killed more than 300 people.

Palacios, who is currently in the United States, has not been charged with any crime.

Even so, the charges against Celeberrti underscore the latest efforts by Ortega to maintain his hold on power – the leftist president has ruled the country since 2007.

In 2021, he won the country’s presidential election unopposed, which many Western countries condemned as fraudulent. Since then, Ortega has closed thousands of civic groups in Nicaragua, shut down most media and forced nearly all of his political opponents into exile.


Full Steam Ahead

The world’s largest iceberg is on the loose after being grounded for more than 30 years in Antarctica’s frozen waters, the Guardian reported.

Scientists surveying the frozen continent said recent satellite images showed the gargantuan-sized iceberg, named A23a, moving beyond Antarctica’s Wedell Sea. The iceberg had split from the Filchner Ice Shelf in 1986 but since then got stuck to the ocean floor.

A23a is truly massive: Weighing more than a trillion tons, it’s around three times the size of New York City, measuring about 1,500 square miles.

Researchers explained that it is rare for such a massive ice body to move, adding that strong winds and currents are causing the iceberg to drift past the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

They added that it will eventually reach the Southern Ocean on a path known as “iceberg alley” where others of its kind are also floating.

There are a lot of theories and speculations about why A23a decided to make a run for it now, but some researchers suggested “the time had just come.”

In the meantime, glaciologists are closely monitoring the journey and potential fate of this city-sized icy body.

If it becomes grounded on South Georgia island, it could impact the millions of animals – including seals and penguins – that breed and forage on and around there.

Glaciologist Oliver Marsh also cautioned that A23a’s size would allow it to survive the warmer waters of the Southern Ocean and potentially “make its way farther north up toward South Africa where it can disrupt shipping.”

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