Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 8 October – Sunday 15 October:

On Sunday, the German states of Bavaria and Hesse held regional elections. The three-party governing coalition in Germany led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats recorded the worst election results since World War II. The right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged in both states – in Bavaria they won 14.6% of the vote while in Hesse they came in at 18.4% – becoming the third and second strongest parties respectively in those states. The AfD was able to attract non-voters and also supporters from all other political parties. Among young voters, it has become the second most popular party. 

On Sunday, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel in the event of a wider regional war – and to provide a credible threat to Iran to prevent it from becoming involved. The USS Gerald R. Ford is the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier and the lead ship in her class, carries at least 75 aircraft and is accompanied by four destroyers and a cruiser – and likely a nuclear submarine. The carrier strike group was last week conducting naval exercises with the Italian Navy in the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece. 

The conflict that ignited between Israel and Hamas on October 7 has dominated the headlines as Israeli jets have bombarded the Gaza Strip relentlessly. New information has come to light as to how Hamas was able to breach the Israeli border. Hamas used drones to destroy Israeli cellular communication towers which shut off the alarm systems in the Israeli border wall and delayed an Israeli response. Hamas snipers then fired coordinated shots at the IDF troops stationed in the observation points along the border, keeping their heads down while the wall was breached. Control rooms behind the wall were unable to see bulldozers breaching the wall. On Sunday, Israel announced it was mobilising 300,000 reservists in preparation for war. Israeli Prime Minister said in a televised address to his nation that “what we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations”. Israeli media updated their casualty figures – the Israeli death toll from the attack on October 7 is at least 1,300, while around 150 Israelis were taken captive. On Monday, Israel announced a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, Israel’s new emergency unity “war government” was sworn in for the duration of the conflict by a 66-4 vote in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. With the complete blockade of Gaza announced by Israel, the enclave’s only power plant was forced to shut down on Wednesday after it ran out of fuel. On Thursday, Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said in a social media statement: “Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be lifted, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home”. On the same day, the Israeli military said it had dropped 6,000 bombs (4,000 tonnes of bombs) on Gaza in the six days after the attack. On Saturday, the NY Times reported that Israel was planning to invade the Gaza Strip over the weekend, but cloudy and rainy weather delayed the invasion over worries that Israeli pilots and drone operators would have limited visibility. A ground invasion can likely be expected in the next few days, perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday when the weather improves. Any ground invasion will encounter brutal urban combat – there are hundreds of kilometres of tunnels under Gaza City, which Hamas forces will use to attack Israeli soldiers from behind. On Sunday, Israeli jets struck Hezbollah military infrastructure in Lebanon. 

On Monday, a U.S. delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The delegation was comprised of three democrats and three republicans and is the first Senate junket since 2019. Want Yo said “I hope this visit will help the U.S. view China in a more accurate and objective way and bring China-US relations back to the track of sound development”. The delegation then met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for 80 minutes, though they were only scheduled to meet for an hour. “How China and the United States get along with each other in the face of a world of change and turmoil will determine the future and destiny of mankind” said the Chinese host. Xi called China-U.S. relations the “most important bilateral relationship in the world” and said “how China and the United States get along with each other in the face of a world of change and turmoil will determine the future and destiny of mankind.” Xi also said “I have said many times, including to several presidents, that we have 1,000 reasons to improve China-US relations, but not one reason to ruin them”. Senate Leader Chuck Schumer agreed with Xi, saying: “Our countries, together, will shape this century. That is why we must manage our relationship responsibly and respectfully”. It is possible that President Biden and President Xi will meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, California, in November – but this has not been confirmed. So far only Foreign Minister Wang is scheduled to travel to Washington before the summit. 

On Tuesday, Finnish and Estonian officials said the 77km-long Balticconnector gas pipeline which runs across the Gulf of Finland from the Finnish city of Inkoo to the Estonian port of Paldiski was damaged by “external activity” after they recorded an unusual drop in pressure on Sunday, which led to the shutdown of the pipeline. “According to a preliminary assessment, the observed damage could not have occurred as a result of normal use of the pipe or pressure fluctuations. It is likely that the damage is the result of external activity”, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said. The 300 million euro pipeline began commercial operations at the beginning of 2020. A telecommunications cable was also damaged. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that both Estonia and Finland had informed their allies in NATO and the European Union regarding the incidents and she was in contact with the Finnish leader on the “next steps” to be taken. “Both Estonia and Finland are taking these incidents very seriously and are doing everything possible to determine the circumstances,” Kallas said in a statement. The damaged cable and pipeline “are in very different locations, although the timing [of the incidents] is quite close”, Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told a press briefing. Pevkur said that Estonian authorities received photos confirming that the damage to the Balticconnector was “mechanical” and “human-made”. “This damage must have been caused by some force that was not created by … a diver or a small underwater robot; the damage is more massive,” Pevkur said, adding that seismologists have previously stated there was no explosion at the incident site. Nato has promised a “determined” response if damage to an undersea gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia proves deliberate, as investigators said traces of an “external, mechanical force” had been found on the seabed. Amid widespread media speculation about the likelihood of Russian sabotage, Risto Lohi of the Finnish national bureau of investigation told a press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday: “There is reason to suspect an external force … caused the damage.” The force, he added, “appears to have been mechanical, not an explosion”. Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Wednesday that if the damage to the Balticconnector was “proven to be an attack on NATO critical infrastructure … it will be met by a united and determined response from Nato”. President Vladimir Putin has denied that Russia damaged the pipeline, calling it rubbish. 

On Wednesday, a second earthquake struck Afghanistan. The new 6.3 magnitude quake struck at around 05:10 local time (00:40 GMT) on Wednesday, 28km (17 miles) north of Herat, killing at least one person.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel in the start to a diplomatic blitz in the Middle East to prevent a wider regional war as well as sending a message of support for Israel to the region. On Friday, he was in Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain before travelling to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. On Saturday, Blinken began his day in Saudi Arabia, where he met with the Saudi foreign minister and spoke of protecting civilians and stopping the conflict, before travelling to the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi. On Sunday he travelled to Egypt before returning to the U.S.

Also on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian arrived in Lebanon’s capital Beirut during the night. He was greeted by representatives of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and by Lebanese officials. Speaking to journalists upon his arrival, he said that “In light of the continued aggression, war crimes and siege on Gaza, opening other fronts is a real possibility”. By that he is presumed to mean that the war could expand to Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Amir-Abdollahian visited Iraq and is also expected to hold talks in Syria later this week as part of a regional tour.

On Thursday, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany will provide NATO with 35,000 troops by 2025 with 4,000 of those troops being permanently stationed in the Baltic country of Lithuania. Germany will also make around 200 aircraft available for rapid NATO deploymentNATO has announced plans for as many as 300,000 NATO troops to be assigned for quick deployment to a specific territory from their home countries. 

On Saturday, NASA launched the Psyche spacecraft on a six year, 3.6 billion kilometre mission to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission will take NASA to an asteroid called 16 Psyche – so-named because it was the 16th asteroid to be discovered, in 1852. Telescopic observations suggest the asteroid is made from up to 60 percent iron and nickel. Scientists think it may be the remnant core of a planet-like object that had its outer rocky layers stripped off. Of the estimated million and a half asteroids in the Solar System, only nine discovered so far seem to share something of Psyche’s properties – of those, the 16 Psyche is by far the biggest, at about 280km at its widest point. A SpaceX Falcon-Heavy rocket left Cape Canaveral in Florida at 10:19 local time carrying the 2.7 tonne Psyche spacecraft with its 4 instruments. Nasa will be testing two new technologies on the mission that it hopes to make greater use of in the future. One is electric propulsion – the spacecraft will use solar power to excite and accelerate a stream of xenon gas to provide persistent thrust. The other involves the use of laser beams to increase the rate at which data can be transmitted. NASA’s total project investment is approximately $1.2 billion and the mission will conclude in November 2031. 

In the week ahead:

There will be a summit in Washington between the European Union and the United States on Friday, 20 October.