Israel's feeling the heat on multiple fronts

Israel's feeling the heat on multiple fronts

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 220 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least 19 Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:


The Gaza Strip — Israel's assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, the Gaza-based commander of the Iranian-backed PIJ, was not a surprise. For months, he had an Israeli target on his back for directing rocket barrages against Israeli cities and coordinating a spate of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. But it wasn't just Israel that saw Abu al-Ata as an agitator; the political and militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has grown increasingly frustrated with the PIJ. Things have been improving a bit since Gaza's border crossing with Egypt was opened in 2017, the first time in a decade. That's helped Hamas' image among Gazans. As talks of a potential parliamentary election in the coastal enclave loom, the last thing Hamas wants is to be dragged by the PIJ into a fresh war with Israel.

Now Hamas faces a serious dilemma — If it does nothing to stop PIJ from following through on its threats to escalate against Israel, it could be dragged into a military operation anyway. But if it tries to rein in Islamic Jihad violence, it risks being seen as pandering to Israel — not a good look in Gaza. At least for now, Hamas is allowing PIJ militants to continue to run wild with rockets as it weighs up the potential benefits and costs from a new round of conflict with Israel.

The eastern border — The Gaza tensions come right as Israel is already facing a diplomatic crisis with one of its firmest regional allies: Jordan. A months-long spat over Israel's detention of two Jordanian nationals escalated this month when Jordan took the unusual step of recalling its ambassador in Tel Aviv over the issue. Israel released the prisoners, but this week tensions rose again as Jordan refused to renew a provision of their 1994 peace treaty which gave Israeli farmers access to lands just inside the Jordanian border. Israel has long deemed ties with the kingdom as "a cornerstone of regional stability," in a neighbourhood of few friends. But recent events cast doubt on whether it can rely on an increasingly tenuous "cold" peace treaty, now in its 25th year.

The domestic front – And then there's Israel's dizzying national politics. Two months after the general election, Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel's opposition party, has just days left to form a coalition after his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to consolidate a government last month. Gantz's prospects aren't good. But a prolonged military operation in Gaza could strengthen public support for a unity government, forcing the two rivals to serve together for the sake of the country. Remarkably, Gantz could end up accepting a deal playing second fiddle to Netanyahu in managing a military crisis, or even a war.

A lot depends on whether Hamas decides to rein in a group that likes to go rogue on its watch, or instead decides to join in. But as always, a miscalculation by either side could trigger a full-blown war.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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