World Review: Israel, cyber-attacks, Ethiopian elections and Trump trumping his book

In today’s briefing from our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms look at congestion, vaccination and schooling in Israel. The NATO summit allowed Joe Biden to stress that the Trump Era was over and “America is back”. And Biden is prepared to retaliate for any cyber attacks from Russia. Elections are due in Ethiopia on Monday – they are “worthless”. Finally, Tom talks of Donald Trump’s new book. Move over the Bible and the Koran, this will be “the greatest book ever.” Should this “great” book be called “Trump Through the Looking Glass”? Suggestions on a title are welcome.

Israel’s new anti-Netanyahu razor-thin government has a slim chance of staying in power for its full four-year term. But it does have a chance. This is because as his 12-year rule progressed, Bibi fell victim to hubris and the lure of strutting his stuff on the world stage. In doing so, he failed to pay sufficient attention to bread and butter domestic politics. That is not to say that the Israeli economy is doing badly. It isn’t. Its per capita income is tied with Britain at $43,680. Israel is among the world leaders in high-tech, chemicals, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and defence industries. But at the same time, it has three times the congestion on its roads with nearly half the number of cars as an equivalent European country. One reason Netanyahu was eager to vaccinate early and fast was that Israeli hospitals have the worst congestion problems of any OECD country. Productivity rates in Israel are the third worst in the OECD. A recognised key to sorting Israel’s problem is education reform. Israel has one of the longest school days in the world, but according to the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research quantity is pursued at the expense of quality. It argues for more emphasis on science, maths and English to feed the growing high-tech sector which is being forced to recruit increasing numbers from overseas. It also wants more research universities. Israel’s seven institutions are world class, but no new ones have been built since the 1970s. Reaching a coalition consensus on infrastructure projects—social and physical—will be easier than pursuing coalition agreement on West Bank settlements or talks with Palestinians. Netanyahu has done the donkey work in the contentious areas for the new hardliner Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The new man can concentrate on the less contentious issues while Israel enjoys a period of consolidation. That is if Netanyahu and Hamas will let him.

Sandwiched between the past week’s brouhaha of the G7 summit in Cornwall and the Biden-Putin face to face in Geneva was a barely recognised and poorly reported meeting of NATO heads of government in Brussels. This was a pity, because it was very important on several counts. First of all, it allowed Joe Biden to stress that the Trump Era was over and “America is back” to the people who matter—America’s longest standing allies to whom it is tied by a legally binding treaty.   Next it made vitally important policy pronouncements on China and cyber security. On the latter, it equated a cyber-attack with a military assault, and drew attention to the three musketeers all-for-one, one-for-all clause which commits NATO members to mutual defence. It added that NATO is willing “to employ the full range of capabilities at all time to actively deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats.” Of course, in true diplomatic fashion, the members inserted a get out clause—“in certain circumstances”– to allow wriggle room in an uncomfortable showdown. Nevertheless, Biden was cleared to reinforce the threat at Geneva; which he did when he intimated that the West might counter another attack from Moscow by closing down the Russian oil industry. Next is China. The Alliance did not say it was extending its military operations to East Asia, although Britain, France and Germany have all recently despatched naval missions to the region. No, the statement on China was a vote of support for America’s growing Sino phobia and the shift in American military resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This, of course, will put increasing pressure on the European members of NATO to up their spending as their joint capability lags far behind Europe’s primary threat—Russia.

It is Election Day in Ethiopia on Monday. It is worthless. Only selected parts of the electorate will be allowed to cast their ballot. Voting is banned in large parts of the country, including embattled Tigray Province, home to 4.3 million Ethiopians before tens of thousands started flooding out of Tigray to seek refuge in neighbouring Sudan. The election will only fuel Ethiopia’s growing instability and that of the wider strategic region. Turn the clock back two years and it is a completely different picture. Ethiopia’s young and dynamic Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to Ethiopia’s 20-year war with Eritrea. Abiy talked of widening his country’s base and democratising. This, however, did not go down with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) who effectively put him in office. Then coronavirus struck. Abiy Ahmed decided elections scheduled last year should be postponed. The TPLF branded the postponement a political ploy and held their own elections. Abiy sent in the army “to restore law and order.” This was soon followed by an alliance with former enemy Eritrea who despatched their own military to Tigray. Exact details of the subsequent fighting are unknown. Diplomats, journalists and aid workers were banned from Tigray. The internet and telecoms links were cut. The only news that the world had comes second hand from the thousands filling refugee camps in Sudan. They report that the Eritreans—who come from a brutal dictatorship—are taking vengeance against Tigrayans who led the fighting during the war. There is talk of ethnic cleansing and mass graves of hundreds of victims. There is also now fear of famine throughout Ethiopia caused by a combination of the pandemic, a double plague of locusts and the fighting in Tigray. In two short years Abiy Ahmed has gone from hero to zero.

Surprise, surprise, Donald Trump is writing a book. And true to his penchant for hyperbole, the former president has announced that his literary effort “will be the greatest book ever.” Of course, in saying so, Trump has managed to offend evangelical Christians, Muslims, Hindus and any other religious group that believes that their primary religious work is cloaked in infallibility and thus worthy of the “greatest ever” book title. But then Trump is used to offending. More important is the name of the publisher. Word is that the industry’s big (and small) boys are pulling out the barge poles to push the ex-president away from their doors. They are concerned that the pages of his memoirs will be littered with libellous—and thus expensive– statements such as his claim about winning the 2020 elections. They are also worried about losing angry staff and authors.  Of course, Donald could always go the self-publishing route. It is all the rage these days, although a traditional publisher would give him the credibility he sorely lacks. Whichever way Donald goes he faces the problem of the all-important title. Here are a few suggestions canvassed from friends and relatives: “Delusions of Grandeur,” “Master of Delusion,” “Trump Through the Looking Glass,” “Unquiet Flows the Don,” “Towering Ego” and “The Greatest Man Alive.” If you have any suggestions post them on Twitter or Facebook. Donald Trump needs your help.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.

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