The World Today for May 22, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

Shuffling the Deck

MIDDLE EAST

Leaders meeting at the 33rd Arab Summit in Bahrain recently denounced “Israel’s obstruction of ceasefire efforts in the Gaza Strip and … the occupation forces’ persistence in expanding their aggression against the Palestinian city of Rafah, despite international warnings of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of doing so,” according to the Middle East North Africa Financial Network.

They blamed Israel for resisting efforts to agree to a ceasefire, saying a United Nations peacekeeping force should be deployed to occupied Palestinian territories – the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – to ensure the safety of civilians, while also stifling Hamas operations as negotiators arrive at a two-state solution that grants the Palestinians sovereignty, reported Al Jazeera.

Some of this is Arab anger, say analysts. But most of the rhetoric is actually designed to push Israel toward “the day after,” something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been resisting, wrote Israel Today.

The Arab League’s statement underscores how isolated Israel and its allies have become since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas staged deadly attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7. Netanyahu has been talking to Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about sending troops to Gaza to share oversight of the territory with Israel, noted the New York Times.

But the leaders have balked. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said his country, “refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip.”

Currently, more than 800,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in southern Gaza in recent weeks, added the National. Recent Israeli evacuation orders displaced at least 100,000 in northern Gaza, too, as operations reignite there. Famine has gripped the small enclave on the Mediterranean Sea, a humanitarian crisis that the Independent concluded was unnecessary given the international resources that should have been available to help the Palestinians.

Still, there is movement, an undercurrent that David Ignatius of the Washington Post describes as “the new shape of the Middle East,” a regional coalition against Iran and its proxies led by Israel and the United States that also includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan — that must for now “remain unspoken.”

This is why despite the rhetoric, not only did these Arab nations assist Israel in its response to Iran’s attack earlier this year but also that these nations have been somewhat muted in their response to the war in Gaza, compared with the past. After all, as Ignatius adds, “The de facto military alliance of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states with Israel is an open secret.”

That doesn’t mean the powerful players in the Arab world aren’t being careful, wrote the Economist. While geopolitical realities have shifted opinions in the region over the past decades, public sympathy for Palestinians is high and the leaders of Egypt and Jordan fear fallout from the war will destabilize their own brittle regimes, the magazine said. Gulf states, meanwhile, are nervous about antagonizing Iran, fearing attacks on their countries. That said, everyone in the region is aware of the dangers of a wider war.

The US, now, recognizes that it’s imperative to bring the war to an end, for everyone’s sake. That also means, analysts say, recognizing the new order in the region that will likely include a state for Palestinians.

“Israel’s long-term security depends on being integrated into the region and enjoying normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Roll Call. “We need to consider the tactical battlefield situation in Gaza in light of the bigger strategic picture. We should not miss a historic opportunity to achieve the vision of a secure Israel flanked by strong regional partners presenting a powerful front to deter aggression and uphold regional stability.”

Regional stability that includes Israel, even top Israeli security officials admit, means recognizing that it’s impossible to eliminate Hamas as the prime minister has promised to do, especially without offering Palestinians what they want, but Israel is still resisting.

The US believes that too, with US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell saying last week: “In some respects, we are struggling over what the theory of victory is.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Island Fury

TAIWAN

Thousands of Taiwanese protested outside the country’s parliament Tuesday against a new bill by opposition parties that would give the legislature extraordinary powers to question anyone, a move that would make it difficult for newly-elected President Lai Ching-te to govern, the Guardian reported.

The draft law would require the president and lawmakers to answer questions and provide a range of documents when asked by parliament. Those who don’t comply could be punished with fines and jail time under the vaguely defined “contempt of congress.”

The opposition parties the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) proposed the bill, which many critics say is being rushed through the legislature without proper review, Bloomberg noted.

Meanwhile, some demonstrators and analysts warned that the bill was potentially unconstitutional and disregarded Taiwan’s democratic process.

Last week, scuffles broke out in parliament after the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) tried to stop the opposition from pushing through the draft law.

Tuesday’s protests came a day after Lai took office: The DPP leader won 40 percent of the vote in a three-party race for the presidency in January, but his party lost its majority in parliament.

Analysts said if the bill passes, it will be difficult for Lai to govern. The new president will also have to handle a strained relationship with China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory

In his inauguration address, Lai called for China to stop its military intimidation and engage in talks on issues such as resuming tourism.

China criticized Lai’s remarks as signaling a push for independence and imposed sanctions on three US defense contractors for arms sales to Taiwan. Beijing prefers to negotiate with the KMT and has been courting key figures in the party, including hosting former President Ma Ying-jeou and current lawmakers.

Blood-Gate

UNITED KINGDOM

The British prime minister apologized after revelations emerged that the UK government covered up a scandal in which the state-run National Health Service knowingly exposed tens of thousands of people to deadly diseases including HIV through contaminated blood for decades, Al Jazeera reported this week.

Launched in 2017, the Infected Blood Inquiry released a report this week detailing a “catalogue of failures” by the UK’s Britain’s public health service: The findings showed more than 30,000 people were infected with viruses, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, after receiving contaminated blood and blood products in the UK from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

Many of the victims included patients needing blood transfusions for accidents, surgeries and those suffering blood disorders.

The 2,527-page-long document estimated that around 3,000 people died and many others were left with lifelong illnesses because of the health service’s actions, described as the NHS’s worst scandal since its creation in 1948.

The investigation discovered that authorities also attempted to cover up the scandal, such as destroying medical documents in 1993.

Following the report’s release, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described it as “a day of shame for the British state” and promised full compensation to those affected.

On Tuesday, the British government unveiled a $12.7 billion compensation package, according to the BBC.

Label Wars

PERU

Peruvian LGBTQ groups protested in the capital Lima this week after the country’s health ministry classified transgender identities as “mental health problems,” a move that advocates fear will make transgender people targets of aggression, NBC News reported.

Last week, President Dina Boluarte signed a supreme decree that updated the ministry’s insurable mental health conditions to include “transsexualism,” “gender identity disorders,” and “cross-dressing.”

This change contradicts the 2019 World Health Organization’s reclassification, which removed gender incongruence from the “mental and behavioral disorders” category.

The Peruvian Health Ministry defended the update, saying it aims to ensure comprehensive mental health care and affirmed that gender and sexual diversity are not diseases.

But the decision prompted a collective of more than 60 LGBTQ organizations to protest in front of the ministry’s headquarters over the weekend – demonstrations that coincided with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

Protesters complained that the decree perpetuates outdated views, calling it “a serious setback in terms of our rights and in the recognition of our dignity as individuals.”

Others warned the measure could legitimize harmful practices, such as conversion therapy. Both organizations called for the decree’s reconsideration and the promotion of inclusive policies.

The health ministry said, however, that gender identity is not a health disorder, adding that individuals should not be subjected to conversion therapy and similar practices.

DISCOVERIES

Planet Hell

In the Star Wars movie, “Revenge of the Sith,” the final battle pitting the two main characters, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, takes place on the hellish planet of Mustafar, mainly covered by volcanoes and magma.

Now, scientists discovered a similar planet 66 light years away from our Solar system, more explosive than anything they have ever encountered, Newsweek reported. “This is a terrestrial planet that I would describe as Io on steroids,” said astrophysicist Stephen Kane, who led the study, referring to the most volcanic body in the solar system found until now.

Volcanic celestial bodies are not uncommon: Jupiter’s moon, Io, is the most volcanically active celestial body in the Solar system, packed with hundreds of explosive volcanoes spewing plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide miles into space.

But as Kane and his team detailed the discovery of TOI-6713.01, a rocky planet around 30 percent larger than Earth with a surface temperature of more than 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit, he wrote in a new study that he was stunned.

“It’s been forced into a situation where it’s constantly exploding with volcanoes,” he said.

The team explained that the hot planet’s extreme volcanism is because of the powerful effects of gravity from its parent body – in this case, the star it is orbiting, HD 104067.

They suspect this phenomenon to be very similar to that experienced by Io, where the extreme volcanic activity results from tidal heating, caused by gravitational interactions with Jupiter and the other Galilean moons.

The gravitational forces pull Io into an elliptical orbit, creating tidal energy that stretches and squeezes the moon, thereby triggering its significant geophysical activity.

A similar tidal heating process is suspected to occur with TOI-6713.01 and the two other exoplanets orbiting HD 104067.

“This teaches us a lot about the extremes of how much energy can be pumped into a terrestrial planet, and the consequences of that,” Kane added.

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