What We’re Watching: Armored combat vehicles for Ukraine, Biden’s border move, Bibi’s team vs. High Court, Assad’s new friends
New foreign weapons head to the Ukrainian battlefield
Both Russia and Ukraine have been using weapons supplied by allies to real effect. Iranian-made drones have allowed Russia to inflict significant damage on Ukrainian cities, infrastructure, and civilians, and Tehran may also soon help Russia with missiles. North Korea may be providing weapons as well. On the other side, Ukraine has made effective use of US-supplied, highly mobile, precision-guided HIMARS rocket systems to hit long-range Russian targets with remarkable accuracy. This weapon made news again this week with an attack on a barracks that killed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Russian soldiers with a single strike. The Biden administration also said last month that it would supply a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pressed Germany and France to provide battlefield weapons that his generals say they need. This week, France announced it will supply Ukraine with several dozen "light battle tanks" (the term tank being debatable) and the US and Germany followed suit, confirming on Thursday that they will send armored combat vehicles to Ukraine and that Berlin will dispatch an additional Patriot. The new Western support — a big shift in policy — signals to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine’s friends remain committed to its defense and unintimidated by Russian efforts to raise the stakes.
Biden’s immigration play
In a speech at the White House on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced new measures aimed at stemming the influx of migrants arriving at the US southern border. The plan is directed at migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – all plagued by political and economic crises – that make up the bulk of border arrivals. Crucially, it requires them to apply for asylum from outside the US using an app and to travel to America only after they have secured sponsorship, undergone a security screening, and can pay for their own plane ticket. The administration also plans to implement punitive measures for those already on the move, stating that those “who fail to seek protection in a country through which they traveled on their way to the United States” will be banned from entering the US for five years. Biden, who will make his first presidential visit to the southwest border Sunday, also announced that the US will accept up to 30,000 migrants from the four countries each month, but that pales in comparison to the roughly 9,000 people who try to cross the southwestern border each day. Republicans will no doubt continue to hammer the White House about the immigration problem, but we’re watching to see how progressive Dems respond to the measures that some immigration advocates say violate the universal right to seek asylum.
Will Netanyahu's new government gut the judiciary?
It’s been a rough first week back on the job for Israel’s PM Benjamin “Bibi”' Netanyahu, who is being reminded – yet again – that cobbling together a discordant coalition is one thing, but governing as a bloc is quite another. The latest turmoil came after Israel’s new justice minister, who hails from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, unveiled a host of contentious judicial reforms this week aimed at diluting the power of the High Court of Justice, including diminishing its capacity to strike down laws. He also proposed giving the government of the day more power to appoint judges. Netanyahu, who is facing his own corruption charges, has long rallied against the judiciary, calling for its overhaul. So, what’s the problem? Well, the timing. While Netanyahu likely supports most of these proposals, another senior member of his coalition – Aryeh Deri, who heads an ultra-Orthodox party – does not. That’s because Deri, who in Jan. 2022 received a suspended sentence for tax fraud, is facing his own separate hearing in the High Court to decide whether he can serve as a cabinet minister given his recent conviction. Deri, who was also found guilty of bribery in the 1990s, claims that the High Court could hit back at the government for trying to dilute its power just as they are set to decide his case. These judicial reforms will likely be put to a vote in the Knesset by the end of the month, and it's unclear whether Netanyahu, facing mounting international criticism over the state of Israeli democracy, will back them all. What’s more, if Deri’s ministerial position is taken away, he could threaten to topple the government.
Assad comes in from the cold
In a major turnaround, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday he is prepared to meet with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, to discuss a peace settlement in Syria’s civil war. For context, Turkey has for more than a decade backed forces fighting against Assad. But in recent years, Assad’s forces — with backing from Moscow and Tehran — have reclaimed vast amounts of the territory once controlled by opposition forces that were backed not only by Turkey but by the US, Europe, and the Gulf Arab monarchies as well. Those “facts on the ground” being what they are, it seems some of Assad’s opponents are ready to explore peace and move on. Turkey and Syria, in particular, share a keen interest in limiting the autonomy of Syrian Kurds. Erdogan’s signal comes just a day after Assad had a visit from the foreign minister of the UAE, another country that has backed opponents of his regime. As Assad’s isolation melts away, he joins a growing list of ruthless strongmen — Venezuela’s Maduro, Belarus’ Lukashenko — who in recent years have survived what once looked like mortal threats to their power.