A Palestinian gunman opened fire near a synagogue in east Jerusalem on Friday night, killing seven Israelis, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three. The assailant was shot dead by police. The attack, one of the deadliest within Israel in recent years, punctuated a week of rising violence and came just a day after seven Palestinian gunmen and two civilians were killed during an Israeli Defense Forces raid in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, which targeted suspected terrorists. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad vowed revenge, and subsequent rocket launches from the Gaza Strip were followed by limited Israeli strikes.
After Jenin raid, Palestinian militants vow “revenge”
At least nine Palestinians were killed Thursday in Jenin in one of the deadliest West Bank operations in recent years carried out by the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s military said it stormed the Jenin refugee camp to arrest members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad suspected of carrying out and planning “multiple major terror attacks.” Authorities confirmed that at least seven gunmen and two civilians were killed in the operation that also injured 20 Palestinians. While members of Israel’s new right-wing government have been criticized for wanting to relax the military’s rules of engagement, this raid was part of a long-running effort to root out terror groups in the northern West Bank, which began last year after a series of attacks that killed 31 Israelis – retaliatory missions notably led to more than 100 Palestinian deaths. Israel is now on high alert, fearing a slate of missile strikes from the Gaza Strip as well as unrest in the West Bank and Jerusalem after Palestinian terror outfits – including Hamas and PIJ – vowed “revenge.” Friday saw a limited exchange of Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes.
Czech runoff held after nasty campaign
Czechs vote on Friday and Saturday in a presidential runoff that pits former PM Andrej Babiš against former General Petr Pavel. Babiš, a Euroskeptic populist billionaire who leads the opposition in Parliament, says Pavel will drag the country into a war with Russia. Pavel, a Europhile who once headed NATO’s military council, says his opponent is a scaremongering liar. Each candidate has, for good measure, accused the other of collaboration with the pre-1989 Communist regime. Babiš made headlines abroad this week by saying he wouldn’t send Czech soldiers to defend NATO allies, though he later walked it back. Pavel, whose campaign slogan is “Let’s bring back order and calm,” leads the polls by double digits, but his outsized support among urban and younger voters may be better reflected in surveys than Babiš’s older, more rural base. Czech presidents are mostly ceremonial, but they can influence government formation and policy, and they represent the country abroad. Over the past decade, outgoing president Miloš Zeman – a Babiš ally – repeatedly stoked controversy, in part because of his overt sympathies for Russia.
Thaksin's return spooks army ahead of Thai electionThe political temperature in Thailand is getting hotter in the run-up to the May election. This week, PM Prayuth Chan-ocha abruptly ended a press conference when he was asked if deposed former PM Thaksin Shinawatra might return to the country from his Dubai exile — perhaps if his daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, becomes premier. "Don't talk about that man. I don't like it," the ex-army chief snapped before walking off stage. This gives us a sense of what the powerful Thai military might do if the family gets even close to winning back power. It's an open secret that the men in uniform hate the family, which has dominated Thai politics for a generation. (Prayuth himself helped oust first Thaksin and later his sister, Yingluck, in military coups before turning civilian PM.) Still, a Thaksin-backed party has won every single Thai election since 2001, and Paetongtarn is slaying Prayuth in the polls. Buckle up for a lot of political trouble this year in the Land of Smiles, where politics are deeply personal and the army is fond of taking over when it loses at the ballot box.
Hard Numbers: Iran’s uranium supplies, ex-cops charged in Memphis, US recession fears, the rise of traveling eggs
70: Iran now has enough enriched uranium to build nukes, according to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi. While the Islamic Republic insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, it reportedly has 70 kilograms (155 pounds) of uranium enriched at 60% – enough to build several nuclear weapons.
Watch on GZERO World — Grossi explains how close Iran is to getting the bomb.
2.1 & 2.9: The US economy grew by 2.1% in 2022 and 2.9% year-on-year in the last quarter. But don't uncork those champagne bottles just yet — the Fed is going to keep raising interest rates to clamp down on inflation, and the housing market, the manufacturing sector, and consumer spending are all slowing down.
5: Five former Memphis police officers have been indicted following the death of Tyre Nichols, who died in hospital on Jan. 10 after a “confrontation” during a traffic stop. The five ex-cops face charges including assault, second-degree murder, and kidnapping. A video of the encounter is expected to be released on Friday.2,002: Since early November, US-Mexico border agents have increasingly been seizing a new kind of contraband: eggs. (Yep, from chickens). Rising US egg prices, driven partly by an avian flu outbreak, have led to a reported 2,002 instances of egg smuggling in recent months.
There’s a story that people sometimes still tell about the Polish military. It’s the one where the cavalry makes a suicidal charge against Nazi tanks in September of 1939 and gets cut to pieces.
Although that version of the Battle of Krojanty isn’t quite true – in reality the Poles did better than it sounds – the romantic version of it, fueled by an overzealous Italian journalist’s account, has stuck for decades. Some see it as a tale of heroism, others as a proverb of recklessness, but in either telling, Poland’s basic problem is the same: They didn’t have enough weapons to fend off the Nazi onslaught.
Eighty years later, Poland is on a mission to ensure that myths of this kind are never created again. The country is in the middle of an “unprecedented” military build-up that, if successful, would make it the largest land army in the European Union, and an Eastern flank superpower in its own right.
The numbers are impressive. Over the next 12 years, Poland aims to double the size of its army to more than 300,000 troops. By comparison, France currently has the biggest EU army, with about 200,000 people on active duty.
This year’s defense budget is already the largest in Poland’s history, part of a broader plan to increase military spending to more than 3% of GDP, up from 2.4% last year. Within NATO, only Greece and the US spend more than that.
All told, between now and 2035, Warsaw wants to spend more than $100 billion on the military, and the binge has already begun: Over the past year alone, the government has shelled out more than $10 billion on arms purchases from the US and South Korea, ordering hundreds of tanks, howitzers, and advanced rocket systems.
Why is Poland doing this? First, to replenish all the kit that it’s sent to Ukraine over the past year. You’ve read about the dozen or so German-made Leopard tanks that Warsaw wants to gift to Kyiv, but the Poles have already transferred hundreds of Soviet-era tanks, rockets, and other arms.
According to Marek Świerczyński, a defense analyst at Polytika Insight in Warsaw, Poland has already given away as much as a third of its tanks, and needs to replace them -- fast.
But there’s a bigger aim too. Poland, a country with a long history of dismemberment and subjugation by its neighbors, has been steadily modernizing its military ever since joining NATO in 1999. But last winter’s border spat with Belarus over migrants – followed by arch-foe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – pushed Warsaw into overdrive.
“It's the return of history to this part of the world, the return of Russian imperialism today,” says Świerczyński. “And Poland now feels like it actually has the money to spend on preventing a repetition of that history.”
History aside, Poland’s modernization drive might affect the present too. Warsaw’s enthusiasm could light a fire under other NATO members that still haven’t reached the military expenditure of 2% of GDP that the alliance requires, says Max Bergmann, Europe director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Poland can say, ‘look, if we can invest in defense, you can invest in defense, because you are wealthier than we are – so what are you doing?’”
Still, it’s not clear Warsaw can really pull this all off. One limitation: cold cash. Poland wants to spend more than $115 billion by 2035. Fresh off a few years of massive pandemic spending, Warsaw isn’t exactly rolling in złoty these days. In fact, to help finance the modernization drive, the government has set up a special fund that operates outside of normal budget processes, earning a rebuke from the IMF earlier this month.
The other limitation: warm bodies. Massively expanding the size of the armed forces requires … people, not only for the service itself, but for the support and defense industries around it.
Świerczyński says that might be hard to find, given that Poland is in a long-term demographic downturn. “In general,” he says, “our economy is probably not ready to share all of this workforce with the armed services and defense industry.”
Poland’s ambitions alone are enough to shake things up. However far Warsaw makes it, Bergmann of CSIS says, “Poland going forward is going to be setting the tone militarily on the continent, especially in the East.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky finally got what he’s spent months asking for — at least some of it. The US and Germany have agreed to send state-of-the-art battle tanks to Kyiv, and Berlin has greenlit other NATO members to send German-made armor to Ukraine as well.
But this policy U-turn by the US and Germany — both of which have long been reluctant to send such heavy kit — raises two big questions about the near-term trajectory of the war.
First, what does this say about how far Ukraine’s Western partners are willing to go? Military analysts expect the tanks to help the Ukrainians punch through Russian positions in the months to come. Some have even wondered whether they can do more than just push Russia back to the Feb. 24, 2022, lines.
With Western leaders having recently hinted at possible support for Kyiv’s bid to retake Crimea, the peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014, the tank shipments could herald a new phase of the war entirely. But the main focus is clearly to give Ukraine a hand on the battlefield ahead of a spring offensive.
To allay concerns about escalation, NATO leaders are playing down the offensive nature of the tanks as weapons to attack Russian territory. This is about "helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia, there is no offensive threat to Russia," President Joe Biden said Wednesday as he announced that the US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv.
Still, it’s not clear how much these tanks will really change the face of the war — or how fast. Explicit pledges from Germany, the US, the UK, and Poland amount to 70+ units, but Ukraine is asking for more still. France is thinking it over, and other NATO members have kept things vague.
Even the tanks that have been pledged — especially the US-made Abrams — will take weeks, if not months, to arrive – and longer than that for the Ukrainians to learn to operate.
Second, how might Russia react? TV pundit Vladimir Solovyov, Moscow’s most colorful propagandist-in-chief, blasted the Germans as “European Pharisees! Nazi scumbags!” but so far the official response has been muted. Too quiet maybe? Perhaps, but there are two big things Russia might do.
The Russians could push forward their widely expected spring offensive in order to get in some good blows before the Ukrainians are ready to deploy those tanks. Russia is, after all, on a mini-roll again after its recent Wagner Group-led conquest of Soledar, a salt-mining city in eastern Ukraine, and the next target is probably Bakhmut, key to controlling the entire Donbas region.
Moscow could also move to target the shipments of tanks and their supply lines directly once they enter Ukrainian territory. Personnel from NATO countries assigned to train and service the tanks could be killed, putting the alliance in a tricky spot.
Wars are full of miscalculations and errors — any mistake in which a Russian missile strays across a NATO border would require cooler heads to prevail fast.
What We’re Watching: Lebanon’s lackluster port probe resumes, Kanye’s troubles Down Under, Rwanda-DRC tensions
Will Lebanese port blast victims ever get justice?
The long-stalled investigation into the July 2020 Beirut port blast that killed at least 218 people got very messy this week. After a 13-month hiatus, the investigation resumed with Judge Tarek Bitar charging three high-ranking officials – including former PM Hassan Diab – with homicide with probable intent. (The charges related to the unsafe storage at a port warehouse of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that ultimately exploded, decimating large parts of the city.) But then, the chief prosecutor (yes, the prosecutor!) announced on Wednesday that he was charging the judge for reopening the case. It’s unclear what the exact charges against him are, but Bitar, the second judge to oversee this investigation, has been subject to intimidation for pursuing the case. Meanwhile, the prosecutor also ordered 17 suspects in pre-trial custody to be released. Indeed, this is the latest sign that a culture of impunity plagues Lebanon. Meanwhile, as the elite continue to line their pockets, Lebanon’s economic situation remains catastrophic. Just this week, the US said it was rerouting aid funds to help cash-strapped Lebanon pay security personnel’s wages over fears that the security situation could spiral.
Will Ye get to “Meet the Parents”?
Kanye “Ye” West isn’t getting much love Down Under these days with a host of politicians and academics calling for the rapper to be denied entry into Australia after his recent antisemitic tirades. (Unless you live in a cave, you’ll remember that several leading brands ditched their partnerships with Ye after he said that he “like[s] Hitler” and repeated classic antisemitic tropes about rich Jews owning the media.) Ye, formerly married to Kimmy K, is hoping to visit Melbourne to meet the parents of his new wife, Bianca Censori, an Aussie designer at Yeezy, his LA-based fashion house. Australian politicians across the political aisle have called on Ye to be banned from the country, and at least one senior minister confirmed that denying the famous American a visa wasn’t out of the question. To ban or not to ban? That’s the question. Let us know what you think the Aussies should do.