Tom Arms’ World Review

Gaza

 Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership share a common interest: It is to neither’s advantage at this stage to end the Gaza War. But neither is in either party’s interests to be seen as the bad guy.

In the case of the Israeli prime minister it is the fact that once the war is over he will face an overpowering clamour for a general election. It is an election which he will almost certainly lose as the Israeli electorate will hold him to account for the events that led up to the October 7th Hamas attack.

And then, once he is out of office, Netanyahu is likely to exchange the prime minister’s official residence for a prison cell via a trial on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. Fleeing the country is not an option because by then the International Criminal Court will have issued an arrest warrant for war crimes – unless he flees to America.

With Hamas the story is different. There are two wars being fought in the eastern Mediterranean. One is on the ground and in the air over a strip of land 26 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. The other is a war in the court of international public opinion. Hamas is losing the first and winning the second.

The longer the military war continues. The greater the disproportionate losses in human terms between Palestinians and Israelis and the greater the victory for Hamas. Already it has secured diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state from six EU countries—Norway, Spain, Slovenia, Cyprus, Sweden and Ireland.

Hamas has repeatedly proven that it puts political objectives before Palestinian lives. A string of historical precedents would have told them that the October 7th attack and the taking of hostages would have resulted in a highly disproportionate number of dead and injured Palestinians. It is also clear that Hamas has used hospitals, schools and Palestinian civilians, as shields.

So, where does that leave the prospects for peace and the diplomatic brokering of the US, Egypt and Qatar? At the moment US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is focused on the lack of Hamas’s enthusiasm for the latest peace proposal. Hamas say they have responded with “positivity” but Blinken says that the Hamas’s “positivity” includes “unworkable” changes.

Part of the latest problem is ownership of the plan currently on the table. It was announced by President Biden. But in his announcement he said it was an Israeli plan. However, as Hamas’ has been keen to point out, no Israeli official has publicly endorsed the plan.

In fact, official Israeli pronouncements continue to focus on continuing the war until Hamas’s “governing and military capabilities have been destroyed and the hostages returned.” There is also the political problem that Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners will withdraw from the government if the plan outlined by Biden goes ahead. This would result in an election which Netanyahu would lose.

Israeli problems and positions in turn appear to be in direct conflict with a Hamas demand that Israel commit in writing to ending the fighting before it agrees to any plan from anyone. Until this deadlock is resolved and the Americans come up with a plan that allows both sides to achieve the aims they want without fighting, then the war continues.

Ukraine

Shortly after the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the West froze $325 billion in Russian assets.

Almost immediately the call went out to hand the money over to Ukraine to finance its war against Russia. But there was a problem with this tactic which can easily be summed up with one word – hypocrisy.

Putin was being condemned for contravening international law with his naked war of aggression. But confiscating Russian assets and handing them over to Ukraine would also break international law. And respect for international law is at the root of what Ukraine and the West is fighting for. Putin wants to create a world where might is right. America and its allies want to retain a world based on respect for international law.

So, financial planners came up with the idea of using the interest on the frozen assets to help Ukraine. That is about $3 billion a year, which is more than can be found in most people’s piggybanks, but an almost insignificant amount when compared to Ukraine’s war costs.

This week at the G7 summit in Puglia, Italy, the planners came up with the solution. The G7 countries would collectively loan Ukraine $50 billion (a significant amount) via the international banking system and the interest on the frozen assets would go towards paying back the G7 countries.

This arrangement provides much needed cash for the Ukraine war effort in a way that doesn’t cost G7 taxpayers a penny. With growing concern about how to pay for rising costs in almost every financial sector, that is a major consideration for all countries.

As expected, Vladimir Putin reacted to the West’s successful out of the box thinking with Russian fury. He called it “theft” and vowed that it would “not go unpunished.”

The problem of the frozen assets was not the only help extended to Ukraine this week. Presidents Joe Biden and Volodomyr Zelensky also signed a 10-year bilateral security deal. Zelensky said that the agreement provides a bridge to eventual NATO membership. For now it involves extensive training, weaponry and help in building a domestic arms industry.  The agreement, however, does not commit any American troops to Ukraine’s defense.

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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10 Comments

  • Zachary Adam Barker 16th Jun '24 - 8:54pm

    “Russia’s aggression was reckless and ultimately indefensible. But the West’s reneging on promises to halt eastward expansion of NATO in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union played a major role in prompting Putin to act.”

    Either their behaviour is indefensible or not. There is not “but”, you can’t have it both ways.

    This “promise” what rhetorical and was not formalised into a treaty or formal security guarantee.

    Arguably, it wasn’t in the West’s gift anyway since the UN Charter clearly states that all nation-states should be free to determine their own foreign policy.

    For some reason Russia’s neighbours felt like they needed protecting. It is clearer than ever before why they did. It is funny how we reflect on this episode as a failure of Western policy, but not Russia’s.

  • Joseph Bourke 17th Jun '24 - 1:27pm

    The parallels between the actions of Putin’s Russia and Hitler’s Third Reich are uncanny. Who knows how much more carnage or what the post-WW2 world would have looked had Nazi scientists been able to develop an Atom bomb before the fall of Berlin in 1945.
    Poland, the Baltic states and much of eastern Europe suffered 50 years of oppression under first Nazi and then Soviet rule. Ukraine is facing the same prospect again.
    The Nuremburg trials at which the Soviet Union was a key participant established the principles of war crimes and the United Nations Charter the basis for International law.
    The confiscation of frozen Russian financial assets would breach International law. These frozen funds may well be crucial to settling Ukraine’s reparation claims, if the Russians ever decide to rid themselves of the United Russia cabal headed by Putin.
    War between nuclear armed powers has been an existential threat to the entire human race since the development of the hydrogen bomb. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only a sociopathic madman would ever again contemplate such a desperate course of action as launching a nuclear attack. Unfortunately, the rise of such demagogues to power is all too frequent.
    The purpose of NATO is the defense of Europe. International sanctions, anti-missile defense and nuclear deterrence are all crucial components of that defense as long as these enormously destructive nuclear weapons continue to be deployed in totalitarian regimes.

  • “But confiscating Russian assets… would also break international law.”

    Exactly so. It breaks international law because it’s theft. Hence, neither the UK nor Germany confiscated each other’s assets in WW2. But the planners’ solution of a loan repaid by the frozen assets doesn’t work either for several reasons.

    Firstly, taking only the interest and not the principle is still against international law – just for a smaller amount.

    Secondly, $50bn isn’t going to make much difference. The collective West is already supplying all the weaponry it can, to the point of dangerously depleting its own stores. So, who will sell Ukraine the weaponry it wants?

    Thirdly, talk of a building domestic arms industry in Ukraine is fantasy. It had a big arms industry, but Russia destroyed it. Any money given will mostly finish up ‘privatised’ in some tax haven.

    Fourthly, the Russians are innovating at a ferocious rate and dominate the battlefield more every day, their casualties trending down as Ukraine’s trend up. More weapons won’t help; this needs to end.

    This disastrous war was predicated on the belief that Russia was a house of cards; one push and it would collapse. Turns out that was disastrously wrong so now the US admin’s priority is to get past the Presidential election in November before the NATO house of cards collapses.

    Moreover, AFAIK it’s the European who are guaranteeing the loan and, as Tom notes, Putin has promised there will be consequences. Listen to what he says.

  • @ Gordon. I’m afraid you are very much mistaken if you believe the British government did not confiscate German assets in WW11.

  • In NATO’s on words, “NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.” (https://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/) – so it’s not specifically Europe, although most members are in Europe. @John Waller – since China is very clearly (a) seeking to threaten democratic nations in the Pacific that share NATO’s values, and (b) has made no secret of its hostility to the democratic values of most NATO countries, it’s not hard to see why NATO would want to set up a liaison office in Japan – although I see according to this report, the plans appear to have been shelved last year anyway https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/12/nato-appears-to-shelve-plans-open-japan-liaison-office-tokyo,#.

  • Chris Moore 18th Jun '24 - 7:51pm

    Gordon is back with his pro_Russian propaganda.

  • Interesting the pro-Russian propaganda / talking points do not have any sources. I suspect it is because there aren’t any reputable sources.

  • @ John Waller Re: “ “The purpose of NATO is the defense of Europe”. Yes, so why does Stoltenberg want a NATO office in Tokyo”

    A quick Google provides these seemingly balanced articles giving an assessment of this:
    https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/whats-really-behind-plans-for-a-nato-office-in-japan/

    https://thediplomat.com/2023/06/a-nato-office-in-japan-much-ado-about-not-much/

    Personally, I’m more concerned about the NATO nations taking so long to mobilise over Ukraine; those Ukraine conscripts are a sign of a nation struggling for survival whilst we look on from the seeming comfort of our armchairs. If Putin wins in Ukraine, expect him to pursue his other European reposition ambitions… and those armchairs won’t be as secure…

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