The World Today for June 25, 2024

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Sleepwalking Into War

ISRAEL/ LEBANON

The leader of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed political party and militant group based in Lebanon, recently dared Israeli politicians to start a war to their north as they fight Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the south.

“Everything you see we can see and everything we can strike we are not sparing in this battlefront,” said Hassan Nasrallah, according to National Public Radio, in a televised speech from an undisclosed location. “And it won’t be random bombardment. Every drone will have a target. Every missile will have a target.”

The speech came a day after Israeli forces killed a senior Hezbollah commander, Taleb Abdullah, and Israeli leaders warned Hezbollah about an “all-out war” after an uptick in cross-border skirmishes along Israel’s border with Lebanon, reported CNBC. Writing on social media, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned that “Hezbollah will be destroyed and Lebanon will be severely hit” in the conflict.

But Katz might have spoken too quickly.

Hezbollah is better equipped, better armed and better trained than in previous conflicts. The group can now strike at Israeli operations centers that it could not hit before. The American military, furthermore, is worried that Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system cannot protect the country from the deluge of missiles that Hezbollah might fire, CNN wrote.

Iran might also become more directly involved if Israel squares off against Hezbollah, added Politico. In the past, Iran has always used proxies to attack Israel. In April, however, Iran directly attacked Israel from its territory, a potential sign of trouble to come.

Signs that the conflict could spread throughout the region in these circumstances are already appearing. Hezbollah leaders recently threatened Cyprus with violence if they helped Israeli leaders attack Lebanon, including letting Israeli jets fly through their air space, reported Al Jazeera. The United Kingdom has two military bases in Cyprus, another potential complication in the mix.

Writing in the Conversation, Australian National University scholar Ian Parmeter, who specializes in Arab and Islamic Studies, lamented how Israel and its enemies appear to be sleepwalking into war. Israel’s military is formidable, but, Parmeter asked, can it wage a two-front war in the face of American and European pressure to deescalate the fighting in Gaza?

It might have to: On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the latest ceasefire proposal, saying he won’t agree to a deal that ends the war. Hamas has already said it won’t agree to a proposal that doesn’t.

An op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz argued that these developments are the very reason, however, for Netanyahu to find a path to peace in Gaza that in turn could lessen tensions in the north.

The newspaper added, for Israel now, “there’s no room for error.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Changing the Subject

RUSSIA/ DAGESTAN

Unknown gunmen attacked places of worship and a police station in Russia’s restive Dagestan region this week, killing 19 people in an assault that underscored the country’s security vulnerabilities as it continues its war in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Russian authorities said the coordinated attacks took place Sunday in Dagestan’s capital of Makhachkala and the city of Derbent, with attackers targeting two Orthodox churches, one synagogue and a police station. Fifteen police officers and four civilians were killed, including one Orthodox priest.

Video footage shared on social media depicted a police vehicle on fire and smoke rising from the synagogue in Derbent. Fire services managed to extinguish the flames by late Sunday evening, but the synagogue suffered severe damage.

Dagestan Governor Sergei Melikov reported that six attackers were killed after a manhunt. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Russian authorities suggested that the gunmen were followers of an international terrorist organization.

Following Sunday’s attacks, Dagestan has declared three days of mourning and provided financial assistance to the victims’ families.

Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim region with a history of separatist and militant violence, and has seen several bombings and attacks over the years – often attributed to militant Islamist fighters, CNN wrote.

Although many extremists left the country in the mid-2010s to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, terrorist activities have risen in recent years in Russia, particularly from ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K – the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan.

In March, ISIS-K fighters carried out a deadly attack at a Moscow concert hall, killing more than 140 people.

Observers noted that the incidents have also raised concerns about the region’s stability, exacerbated by Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, which has seen a disproportionate mobilization of ethnic minorities.

Sunday’s assaults follow a recent trend of rising violence in Russia, with critics blaming the government for focusing on political dissent rather than homegrown terrorist threats.

Even so, senior Russian officials have accused Ukraine and the West of trying to foment instability inside the country. Others have also outright suggested that Ukraine and NATO might be behind the attacks, although no evidence has been provided to support these claims.

A Smoke Break

AUSTRALIA

The Australian government agreed Monday to water down a bill that would make the country the first in the world to ban the sale of e-cigarettes outside of pharmacies, as authorities seek to curb the rising number of youths vaping, Reuters reported.

The governing center-left Labor Party announced it would amend some provisions of the draft law following opposition from the Green party.

The legislation – expected to take effect next week – will ban vapes from retail shelves and only allow them to be purchased in pharmacies “behind the counter.” The original draft would have only provided them with a doctor’s prescription.

But under the amended bill, that requirement will be “down-scheduled” from October – meaning that adults will be able to purchase them without a doctor’s prescription. Individuals under 18 will need a prescription to purchase vapes.

Money has also been earmarked to help support young people trying to quit, while e-cigarettes will be subject to plain packaging and limited flavors, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The amendments came after the Greens expressed opposition to blanket prohibitions, warning about the costs Australians would incur from visiting a doctor for a prescription.

The Labor government does not hold a majority in parliament and needs to cooperate with other parties and independent lawmakers to pass legislation.

Australia has some of the strongest anti-smoking laws in the world: Earlier this year, it banned most vapes and restricted the number of flavors sold.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the government’s “world-leading laws” would return vapes to their original purpose “as therapeutic products to help hardened smokers kick the habit.”

The bill comes as authorities have raised concerns about a new generation of nicotine addicts. Government data has shown that fewer than 10 percent of people between the ages of 14 to 17 in Australia had ever used vapes in 2019. However, that figure increased nearly three-fold to 28 percent by 2023, the Conversation added.

Person of Interest

EUROPEAN UNION

European Union prosecutors on Monday launched an investigation against a former president of the European Investment Bank (EIB) over allegations of corruption, a case observers described as the most high-profile by the bloc’s prosecutor’s office, the Financial Times reported.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) announced it was probing two individuals, including former EIB President Werner Hoyer for suspected corruption, abuse of influence and misappropriation of EU funds.

In recent months, police from Germany and Luxembourg have collected material related to the investigation and raided Hoyer’s home, Politico noted.

Hoyer and his lawyer denied the allegations as “downright absurd and unfounded.” They said the case is related to the compensation paid to a departing EIB employee.

The former bank president did not participate in the negotiations, but signed off on the exit package in accordance with the institution’s rules, his lawyer added.

The second individual has not commented on the probe.

Hoyer served as the EIB’s president from January 2012 to December 2023 and played an integral role in recasting the institution’s operations toward a more green agenda, such as vowing to phase out lending to fossil fuel projects and directly funding climate action.

He managed the bank during the Eurozone debt crisis, protecting its top credit rating, though was hesitant to fully utilize the EIB’s financial resources in response to crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Luxembourg-based EIB, founded in 1958, acts as the EU’s lending arm and is instrumental in development and integration across the bloc by providing loans, guarantees, and investments in both the public and private sectors.

DISCOVERIES

Tied to the Gods

The ancient Maya city of Chichén Itzá was a dominant political and cultural center on what is now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula that peaked between 800 and 1000 CE.

Recently, archaeologists recently uncovered chilling evidence of ritual child sacrifice at the Maya metropolis, where genetic analysis points to a disturbing trend: Young boys, often twins, were the chosen victims to appease the gods.

“The new information … has given us a glimpse into the cultural lives of the ancient Maya,” said Johannes Krause, the senior author of a new study, in a statement.

The accumulation and sifting of the evidence goes back decades.

In 1967, archaeological teams discovered an underground chamber – originally a cistern repurposed for these macabre rituals – dating from around 500 to 900 CE.

The chamber contained the remains of more than 100 individuals, with a recent DNA analysis showing they were predominately male children.

The team wrote in their study in Nature that the 64 children were between the ages of three to six and were closely related, including two sets of identical twins. Chemical analyses of their bones showed that these boys had similar diets, implying they came from the same households, according to the Guardian.

The researchers believe that the sacrifices were connected to agricultural cycles, with the children offered to ensure the growth of maize crops or to invoke the favor of the rain god Chaac during droughts.

But it’s the presence of identical twins that piqued the interests of the research team, who explained that the sacrifices could be tied to Maya myth.

Twin sacrifices are featured prominently in Maya mythology, particularly the ancient text of Popol Vuh, the sacred text of the indigenous Kʼicheʼ, one of the Maya peoples.

According to legend, the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque avenged the death of their father and uncle – also twins – by going through “repeated cycles of sacrifice and resurrection to outwit the gods of the underworld,” the authors wrote.

“This is the first evidence of Maya sacrifices involving twins, which were important for Maya (beliefs about the universe),” archaeogenetics and lead author Rodrigo Barquera told Science News.

Meanwhile, the new findings also align with practices seen at other Mesoamerican sites. For instance, the Aztecs sacrificed young boys to Tlaloc, their rain god. In Belize, preliminary genetic studies revealed young females were sacrificed, reflecting a gendered approach to these rituals.

Despite centuries of Spanish colonization and cultural destruction, the authors found that the genetic legacy of the ancient Maya persists in today’s Indigenous populations. Modern Maya populations exhibit immune system adaptations that developed in response to diseases introduced during European colonization.

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