What We're Watching: White House backs Gaza ceasefire, Southeast Asia's COVID spike, Iran's heavyweight contenders weigh in

An Israeli soldier walks next to a military vehicle at a mobile artillery unit location on the Israeli side by the Israel border with Gaza May 16, 2021.

Will there be a ceasefire in Gaza? Fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip has now entered its second week. Over the weekend, Israel intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip, which included targeting a building that houses Al-Jazeera and AP, two foreign media outlets, causing their reporters to hastily flee the premises (Israel has so far not substantiated its claim that Hamas intelligence operatives were working in the building.) At least 42 Gazans were killed in a single Israeli strike Sunday, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 200. Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets at southern and central Israel, resulting in several casualties. On Monday, for the first time since the violent outbreak, US President Joe Biden voiced support for a ceasefire driven by the Egyptians and others. However, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, has said that the operation will "take time," and a truce is off the table until Hamas' military capabilities are significantly degraded. Civilians on both sides continue to suffer.


Southeast Asia braces for pandemic surge: COVID-19 has hardly finished with India, which is still grappling with the world's largest outbreak, but now many of the country's neighbors in Southeast Asia are bracing for their own wave of infections. Thailand on Monday reported nearly 10,000 new cases, up from about 300 at the beginning of April. The outbreak there is being driven in part by rapid spread in the country's famously cramped prisons. In Malaysia, meanwhile, new daily cases have tripled over the last month, rising to more than 4,500 last week, owing in part to Ramadan and Eid celebrations in the predominantly Muslim country. Vietnam, lauded for acting early to quash the spread last year, is now seeing a sharp increase as well, though the numbers are still small — new cases leapt from 14 daily at the beginning of May to nearly 300 over the weekend. The two big question marks (paywall) are Indonesia, where (reported) cases have so far stayed low, but could rise in the wake of the Islamic religious holidays, and the Philippines which managed to quash a surge in March but is still seeing high positivity rates. Across the region, vaccination rates are low, health care systems are creaky, and vast swathes of the population are not able to simply "work from home." The example of India's recent COVID apocalypse looms large.

Iran's presidential frontrunners: One month from Tuesday, Iranians will head to the polls to choose their next president, the person who oversees their country's economy and domestic policies while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei attends to foreign policy and negotiations over the country's nuclear program. Nearly 600 candidates have announced their intention to run, but over the next couple of weeks, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics and jurists, will nullify all but a handful of hopefuls. For now, it appears that judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani are probably the frontrunners. Raisi is a so-called hardliner, a religious conservative who vows to fight corruption and who opposes better relations with the West. Larijani, meanwhile, played a significant negotiating role in both the 2015 Iran nuclear deal with the US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia, as well as in a "strategic cooperation" deal with China signed earlier this year. No matter who wins the fate of negotiations over a revitalized nuclear agreement will continue to depend on the Supreme Leader, but the vote will tell us something about how Iran's people see the issue.

What responsibility do wealthy nations have to ensure the least developed countries aren't left behind? Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak? Today at 11am ET/8am PT, join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live Global Stage discussion: Unfinished Business: Is the world really building back better?

The New Yorker's Susan Glasser will moderate a discussion with Brad Smith, President and Vice Chair, Microsoft; David Malpass, President, World Bank Group; Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media; and Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme. Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Watch LIVE today, Wednesday 9/22 at 11am ET/ 8am PT/ 5pm CEST at gzeromedia.com/globalstage.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

How will the QUAD leaders address the microchip supply chain issue during their meeting this week?

Well, the idea for leaders of the US, Japan, India, and Australia, is to collaborate more intensively on building secure supply chains for semiconductors, and that is in response to China's growing assertiveness. I think it's remarkable to see that values are becoming much more clearly articulated by world leaders when they're talking about governing advanced technologies. The current draft statement ahead of the QUAD meeting says that collaboration should be based on the rule of respecting human rights.

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On the one hand, UN Secretary-General António Guterres believes COVID has fractured trust between mainly rich and poor countries, especially on vaccines, as the pandemic "demonstrated our enormous fragility." On the other hand, it generated more trust in science, especially on climate — practically the only area, Guterres says, where the US and China can find some common ground these days. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Well, we're in the thick of "high-level week" for the United Nations General Assembly, known as UNGA. As always, the busiest few days in global diplomacy are about more than just speeches and hellish midtown traffic in Manhattan. Here are a few things we are keeping an eye on as UNGA reaches peak intensity over in Turtle Bay.

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Ahead of the 76th UN General Assembly, the US and the EU both agreed to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by the end of the decade to reduce global warming. Will they convince other top emitters like China, Russia and India to do the same before the COP26 climate summit in November? This would be a big deal, because methane emissions, one-quarter of which come from agriculture, are the biggest contributors to climate change after carbon dioxide — and 80 times more potent in warming the planet. We take a look at the world's top methane emitters, compared with their respective carbon dioxide emissions.

Most of the hard-hitting conversations at the UN General Assembly take place behind closed doors. Still, during High-Level Week, when leaders get up to speak at the podium, it's their one big shot to send a message to representatives from the entire world. Here's some of what went down today:

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Imagine you're China. How would you feel if the some of the world's richest and most powerful countries, the US and its allies, were constantly joining forces against you, yet officially pretending not to?

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6.4 million: More than 6.4 million viewers tuned in live to watch K-pop band BTS give a speech at the UN General Assembly on Monday, where they called for young people to get vaccinated and become involved in fighting climate change. It's the most-watched clip ever on the UN's YouTube channel, shattering the previous record set by Emma Watson in 2014. By contrast, only a few thousand viewers checked out US President Biden's speech live the next day.

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Ganging up on China

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