🌍 Israel presses in on Rafah

Plus: Mongolia's former leader responds to Putin with a map

Hi Intriguer. One of my most memorable trips while serving as a diplomat in the Middle East was a visit to a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) base on the Sinai Peninsula between Israel and Egypt.

The MFO was established back in 1981 to monitor the fragile peace treaty between the two neighbours. And it’s coming back into the spotlight as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to destabilise the region - our lead story for today.

- Helen Zhang Co-Founder

Was this forwarded to you? We're a team of ex-diplomats producing a concise and engaging geopolitical briefing for 85k+ leaders each day. It’s free to subscribe.

TODAY’S NEWS

France proposes Hezbollah-Israel truce. Reuters is reporting that the French foreign minister has proposed a three-step plan to halt hostilities on the Lebanon-Israel border, where Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged fire several times since October. The proposal involves the withdrawal of all Lebanon-based armed groups 10km north of the border, a halt to Israeli overflights into Lebanese airspace, and a promise to resume negotiations to demarcate the border.

Russia declares Estonian PM ‘wanted’. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas - a staunch Ukrainian ally - is ‘wanted’ by Moscow for hostile actions against Russia, reportedly including the destruction of monuments to Soviet soldiers.

US Senate set to formally pass Ukraine, Israel bill. After clearing a final procedural hurdle, the Senate looks ready to formally pass a bill delivering funding to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. Once it clears the Senate, the bill will land in the House, where its future is still uncertain.

Indian farmers march on New Delhi. Police have fired tear gas to disperse thousands of farmers who were heading to the Indian capital to demand higher minimum crop prices. A similar protest in 2021 lasted nearly a year and only ended after the government agreed to repeal controversial agriculture laws.

The EU gears up for more sanctions. Brussels is preparing to impose sanctions on three Chinese companies and one Indian firm, in an attempt to weaken Russia’s war machine. If approved by member states, they’ll be the first EU sanctions on Indian and Chinese businesses since the start of the Russo-Ukraine war.

Trump asks Supreme Court to rule on immunity. Former US president Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to temporarily halt a ruling from a lower court, which had rejected his claims of presidential immunity from prosecution in connection with alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. No trial date has been set at this stage.

TOP STORY

Israel extends offensive into crowded Rafah city

Two satellite images of Rafah, from December (L) and February (R). Credits: CNN.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a raid on the Gazan city of Rafah in the early hours of yesterday (Monday) morning, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed there were four Hamas battalions in the city.

The local Red Crescent Society has reported over 100 people killed in the Israeli strikes, which were launched from land, air, and sea. 

For its part, Israel says it conducted a “wave of attacks” to provide cover for its special forces, who freed two hostages held by Hamas. IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari put it like this: “we have a moral obligation to bring all our hostages home, an obligation that we will continue doing everything in our power to fulfill.” 

But the operation took place in the southern city of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge after several IDF warnings to evacuate the north.

And the prospect of a broader Rafah ground operation has now spread panic in the city, which lies on the border with Egypt (without further evacuation routes).

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk is warning the idea of such a full-scale operation “is terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured.”

And similar sentiments have now been echoed around the world

  • In the US - Israel’s closest ally - the White House reports that President Joe Biden has warned Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu not to conduct a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and executable” plan to protect civilians

  • The EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has called on nations, particularly the US, to stop sending arms to Israel

  • Egypt is reportedly threatening to suspend its 1978 Camp David peace treaty with Israel if the IDF pushes ahead in Rafah (the Camp David accords have been key to a half century of Israeli-Egyptian peace)

  • Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong says an offensive would have “devastating consequences” for civilians sheltered in Rafah, and

  • Saudi Arabia, which had been moving to normalise ties with Israel before October’s Hamas attacks, is stressing the “extremely dangerous repercussions” of a Rafah offensive, while renewing calls for a ceasefire

So what does this mean for the mediation efforts due to resume in Cairo today? A senior Hamas representative has told journalists that “any attack by the occupation army on the city of Rafah would torpedo the exchange negotiations”.

But Netanyahu, determined to defeat Hamas and rescue the hostages, seems convinced the path to that goal now runs through Rafah. 

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

What’s the end-game here? It depends on who you ask:

  • Hamas wants a ceasefire that preserves its control of the strip

  • That’s a non-starter for Netanyahu, who wants the total defeat of Hamas and the release of the ~135 hostages it still holds

  • But hostage families want Netanyahu to prioritise negotiating the release of the captives over the military operation against Hamas

  • And yet Netanyahu’s hardline coalition partners say they’ll topple his government if he does any “reckless” deal with Hamas

  • In parallel, President Biden’s patience is reportedly wearing thin over Netanyahu’s “over the top” response in Gaza, and

  • Palestinian civilians are left with a strip in ruins, pushing them “to the brink of starvation”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others are still engaged in shuttle diplomacy to try and find some kind of common ground in amongst all this. But whatever common ground there is still looks small, shifting, and fraught.

Also worth noting:

  • Gaza’s death toll reportedly passed 28,000 this week. 

  • The two rescued hostages were dual Israeli-Argentine nationals. It’s the second known rescue via Israeli military action since October.

  • A Dutch appeals court has halted the sale of F-35 jet parts to Israel, citing a risk of violations of international humanitarian law.

SUPPORTED BY ORA ORGANICS

It’s time to transform

Transform the health of your community with the Earth’s most powerful plants! Ora Organics create supplements from the earth's most powerful plants to transform your health. From protein to vitamins to probiotics, Ora Organics do it all!

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇲🇳 Mongolia: Former president Tsakhia Elbegdorj has taken to social media to repudiate Vladimir Putin’s historical arguments for his invasion of Ukraine. His tweet features a map of the old Mongol Empire, encompassing much of neighbouring modern-day Russia.

  2. 🇭🇺 Hungary: The president (a ceremonial role) and justice minister resigned over the weekend, after it emerged they had pardoned a man convicted of helping cover up child abuse. It’s become a scandal for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, though his party still leads in the polls.

  3. 🇸🇬 Singapore: A new report lists the city’s Changi Airport as the Asia-Pacific region’s busiest hub last year, ahead of Seoul, Bangkok, and Hong Kong. Singapore’s 59.9 million passengers for the year still fell short of the 68 million the city processed in 2019, before the pandemic.

  4. 🇨🇴 Colombia: Bogota has secured $1.2B in loans from development banks based in Frankfurt and Washington. Part of the funding will go towards economic and social projects associated with Colombia’s guerrilla peace plans.

  5. 🇲🇷 Mauritania: EU leaders have unveiled plans for a $226M partnership with Mauritania as part of an effort to curb people-smuggling from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands. The plan also includes investment in energy, infrastructure, and security.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

Here’s what people around the world are tweeting about 

  • The ‘Super Bowl’ was trending in 🇦🇱 Albania as NFL fans live-tweeted the sports final, won by the Kansas City Chiefs. 

  • Folks in 🇧🇼 Botswana were using the hashtag #AFCONFinal to follow the African Cup football league, in which Ivory Coast beat Nigeria to take home the cup.

  • And #HCAsummit4action was trending in 🇪🇹 Ethiopia as an education summit led by non-profit Human Capital Africa (‘HCA’) kicked off.

CHART OF THE DAY

Credits: Nikkei Asia.

Former general Prabowo Subianto is projected to win over 50% in Indonesia’s presidential election tomorrow (Wednesday), a result that would eliminate the need for a run-off in June.

Prabowo, a controversial military figure who’s managed to cultivate a more grandfatherly image, is promising to continue outgoing President Joko Widodo’s focus on economic development (but you already know all this if you’ve read our Indonesia Election Special Edition!).

Yesterday’s poll: Do you think Tucker Carlson was right to interview Putin?

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🎤 Yes, like him or not, it's important we hear from Putin (30%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🤫 No, it just gave Putin a platform (66%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (4%)

Your two cents:

  • 🎤 L.K: “More primary information is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

  • 🤫 L.L: ““Carlson was hopelessly uneducated on all matters involving Ukraine. He also posed questions from a position where he assumed ridiculous propaganda points to be true. His behaviour was as on-brand as it was despicable.”

  • ✍️ S: ““I do want to hear what Putin has on his mind but Tucker Carlson isn't the right interviewer. I want to see someone creditable to do the interview.”

  • ✍️ J.F: “The interview was a goldmine for understanding Putin’s attempt to define Russia and recreate strategic culture.”

Join the conversation

or to participate.