What We're Watching: Chinese drills off Taiwan, Israeli-Palestinian violence, US abortion pills legal drama
China simulates Taiwan invasion
China "welcomed" Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen back from her Americas trip and meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by putting on its biggest show of military force near the self-ruled island since McCarthy's predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in Aug. 2022.
As part of three days of drills dubbed "Joint Sword" by Beijing, Chinese forces rehearsed an invasion of Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949 and China considers a renegade province. The so-called "combat readiness" exercises sent dozens of warships and fighter jets around the island, with many aircraft symbolically crossing the demarcation line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait. Chinese military planners also released an animated video of the simulated strikes with the capital, Taipei, exploding in flames.
On the one hand, the simulation is a clear message from China to Taiwan and the US: We’re not messing around so don’t test our resolve. But on the other, the scale and scope of the drills fall short of China's fiery response to Pelosi's trip, which might indicate that Beijing doesn't want to be the one to escalate.
Israel’s security situation worsens
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians reached almost boiling point on Sunday after the last few days saw an unusually high number of violent clashes that have spilled over into southern Lebanon and even Syria.
In Jerusalem, Israeli cops had a tense stand-off with Palestinian militants who had barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Israeli Jews call the Temple Mount and is administered by Jordan. The Palestinians were finally allowed to stay but separated from Jewish worshippers visiting the temple for Passover. (Last week, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested in two predawn raids at the same site, in scenes eerily similar to the tensions that sparked a brief Israel-Hamas war 2 years ago.)
Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force hit multiple targets in Syria in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Golan Heights, a chunk of Syrian territory that Israel annexed in 1981. And those air strikes came on the heels of another flurry of Israeli missiles against Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, the biggest barrage by Israel on its northern neighbor since the 2006 war. Also, two British-Israeli sisters were shot dead in the West Bank and an Italian tourist was killed in a car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv.
For his part, Israel's embattled PM Benjamin Netanyahu is not taking any chances: He's already called up army and police reservists amid a rapidly worsening security situation.
US abortion medication in legal limbo
We warned you that this was coming. The legal status of abortion pills in the US was thrown into question last Friday after two federal judges issued conflicting rulings on the drug mifepristone, used in more than half of all abortions in America.
First, a Trump-appointed pro-life judge in Texas ordered a temporary stay on FDA approval of mifepristone, which the agency greenlit way back in 2000, giving the Biden administration 7 days to appeal before mifepristone becomes illegal nationwide. But then hours later another federal judge in Spokane, Washington, ruled that the drug must remain available in 17 Democratic-run states plus DC.Whatever the outcome, the case is as legal as it is political. For one thing, it's the first time that a judge suspends longtime FDA approval of a drug, blunting the agency's regulatory teeth. Also, if the stay is confirmed, even states where abortion remains legal would be barred from prescribing the pills. Finally, you can bet the dispute will go all the way to the Supreme Court, where the same conservative majority that overturned Roe v. Wade will rule on such a third-rail issue possibly in 2024, an election year.