Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 15 October – Sunday 22 October:

On Sunday, Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border, seemingly in preparation of a large ground offensive to destroy Hamas. With clashes ongoing against Hezbollah on the northern border with Lebanon, Israel declared the border area a closed military zone. Throughout the week, Israeli jets continued to heavily bomb the Gaza Strip as well as some targets in southern Lebanon. No ground invasion has been launched. A number of factors seem to have caused the delay, but The Jerusalem Post speculated that one factor is a growing concern that Hezbollah is waiting for Israeli forces to commit to a ground offensive in Gaza before opening a northern front in the war. There is also a growing sense in the IDF as well as at the political level, that the IDF has not conducted a major offensive like this in decades and that if they rush in unprepared in an attempt to satisfy the Israeli public’s thirst for vengeance, they could be making a large mistake. 

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha where he told the Emir: “If the attacks of the Zionist regime against civilians and the defenceless people of Gaza persist, no one can guarantee that the situation will be under control and the scope of the fighting won’t expand”. He later visited Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where he met President Bashar al-Assad after Israel bombed the airports in Aleppo and Damascus. 

On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, along with European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen, travelled to the Albanian capital of Tirana. Scholz and von Der Leyen were joined by European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron. There they attended a summit on accession to the EU with the heads of states of the Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – This is the first time such a summit has been held in the Balkans. They unveiled a growth plan for the six Western Balkans countries, offering them access to parts of the EU single market in exchange for substantial reforms, as a stepping stone to full EU membership. A European Council summit in 2003 set the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU as a priority. Twenty years later, that may finally be happening. “It is quite clear that 20 years after the accession of these countries was promised, it must also happen soon”, Scholz said. The move is an attempt to reinvigorate EU enlargement – the last country to join was Croatia in 2013. The first Western Balkan countries to launch negotiations for accession were Serbia and Montenegro a few years ago. They were followed by Albania and Macedonia last year, while Bosnia and Kosovo have only just embarked on the first step of the integration process. 

On Monday, a federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s 2020 election subversion case issued a gag order which bars the former president from making public comments targeting US prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses involved in a criminal case. “No other criminal defendant would be allowed to do so, and I’m not going to allow it in this case,” judge Tania Chutkan said as she issued the gag order. However, Chutkan said there would be no restrictions on statements criticizing the Justice Department generally or statements about Trump’s belief that the case is politically motivated. So, in other words, his repeated references to what he likes to call a “witch hunt” are not affected by the ruling. 

On Monday, two Swedish nationals were killed – and one other seriously injured – in Belgium’s capital Brussels in a terror attack carried out by a Tunisian man who was in Belgium illegally and was inspired by the Islamic State. The victims are all men in their 60s and 70s. The attack began at 19:00 local time, with video showing the suspect pull up on a scooter and start shooting passers-by. He then chased people into an apartment building where he continued shooting. Not long after the attack, he filmed himself admitting to the killings, said he was fighting for Allah and had killed Swedish people. Following an overnight manhunt, the suspect was found and shot in the chest in a café in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of Brussels. The suspect was sent to hospital but died from his wounds. 

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum in his first trip to China since launching an invasion into Ukraine. Putin, the guest of honour, was met by an honour guard at Beijing airport before travelling to the Great Hall of the People for an evening banquet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two-day event, which marked 10 years since the BRI was launched, was attended by 24 leaders – far fewer than the 37 who traveled to the previous BRI forum four years ago. On Wednesday, Putin addressed the forum, and praised the BRI, calling it an unexpected “success story.”Putin said Russia and China shared “the desire for equal, mutually beneficial cooperation in order to achieve … long-term economic progress and social well-being.” Putin added the two countries “respected the diversity of civilization and the right of each state to its own development model.” Xi called for joint efforts by China and Russia to “safeguard international fairness” and “justice” and hailed the “close and effective strategic coordination” between their two countries. The two countries shared “common threats,” which strengthened “Russian-Chinese interaction,” Putin told reporters before departing Beijing, after saying he and Xi had discussed the “situation” in both the Middle East and Ukraine “in detail.”

On Tuesday, the UK Defence Ministry said that Russian forces had launched their largest offensive since January of this year around the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka – though there are several other fronts. The offensive was likely launched to force Ukrainian forces to redirect forces from their own offensive in the south. “Russia’s attack is likely being carried out with multiple armoured battalions, which are attempting to envelope the town” according to the Ministry of Defence. Ukrainian forces so far seem to be holding back the Russian advance and have reportedly inflicted heavy equipment and personnel losses. Russian messaging was initially triumphant over its offensive, but has switched to a more muted tone of “active defence”. Ukrainian forces meanwhile said they had struck Russian airfields in the eastern cities of Luhansk and Berdiansk – Ukrainian President Zelenskyy hinted that newly-acquired ATACMS might have been used in the strike but did not confirm that – and destroyed nine Russian helicopters. The Ukrainian military said the attack on Berdiansk happened at 04:00 local time and on Luhansk at 11:00 local time. Russian officials in Berdiansk denied the attack was successful. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also on Tuesday denied that North Korea was supplying Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine after the U.S. said around 1,000 containers of North Korean materiel was sent to Russia. 

In related news on Tuesday, the European Parliament voted for a proposal for a €50 billion (roughly $53 billion) to support Ukraine’s recovery, reconstruction and modernization from 2024. It would be paid over a period of four years. The adopted draft provides for controls to prevent “any embezzlement, any waste and any corruption,” Gahler added. Ukraine is to submit a reconstruction plan for the aid package, and the European Commission is to sign off on the distribution of the funds. The MEPs also proposed using confiscated assets of Russian citizens and companies for Ukraine.

On Tuesday, results from Poland’s election showed that the three opposition parties together scored the majority of seats together, though the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party still remained the largest single party with 35.38% of the votes. The decision of who to first task with trying to form a government rests with President Andrzej Duda, who is close to PiS. The liberal Civic Coalition (KO) was in second place with 30.70%, while the centre-right Third Way took third place with 14.40% and the New Left had 8.61% of the vote. The three parties are expected to start talks on forming a coalition.

On Tuesday, it was reported that U.S. President Biden is considering a joint $100 billion supplemental military funding request for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. On Wednesday, Biden arrived in Israel to show support for the Jewish State. He departed after spending seven hours in the country. On Thursday evening, Mr Biden gave an address to the nation from the Oval Office – the second of his presidency. Biden said the emergency aid request would “pay dividends for American security for generations”. In his 15-minute address, Biden said he would send an urgent funding request – expected to be $105bn – to Congress on Friday. The funds will reportedly be split this way:

  • $60bn for Ukraine and replenishing US stockpiles
  • $14bn for Israel
  • $10bn for humanitarian efforts
  • $7bn for the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan
  • $14bn for US border security

The House of Representatives currently has no leader and cannot approve any spending bills. 

On Tuesday, Sweden said its undersea telecommunications cable with Estonia – outside its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone – was damaged at the same time as the Finnish-Estonian pipeline and cable damaged the week before. The damage occurred about 50 kilometres off the island of Hiiumaa and service was restored within days. Sweden’s Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin said it was unclear what caused the damage to the undersea cable that connects Sweden and Estonia. “It is not a total cable break. There is a partial damage on this cable,” Bohlin said. “We cannot assess what caused the damage. But what we can say is that this damage has happened at a similar time and in physical proximity … to the damage that was previously reported to a gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland, and a telecommunications cable between Estonia and Finland”. The Swedish defence minster said there would be increased vigilance in the Baltic Sea. 

On Tuesday, U.S. forces in Iraq defended against three drones near U.S. and coalition forces. Two of the drones targeted the al-Asad airbase, which resulted in minor injuries to coalition forces. In northern Iraq near Bashur airbase, US forces engaged and destroyed a drone, resulting in no injuries or damage. On Wednesday, two drones targeted the al-Tanf garrison in Syria, where U.S. and anti-ISIS coalition forces are based. One drone was engaged and destroyed, and another drone impacted the base resulting in minor injuries to coalition forces, Ryder said. That same morning, in Iraq, early warning systems indicated a possible threat approaching the al-Asad airbase where US personnel are stationed, though no attack occurred. On Thursday, Iranian proxy Shia militias fired missiles at American military bases in Iraq. The same day, the USS Carney – sailing in the Red Sea – shot down three land attack missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces in Yemen, potentially on their way towards targets in Israel. Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said “This action was a demonstration of the integrated air and missile defence architecture that we built in the Middle East and that we are prepared to utilise whenever necessary to protect our partners and our interest in this important region”. 

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his North Korean counterpart Choe Son Hui in the country’s capital Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for a possible visit by Vladimir Putin. Lavrov last visited the isolated country in 2018 and hailed the “new, strategic level” relations between Russia and North Korea. “Like our North Korean friends, we are seriously worried about the intensification of military activity of the United States, Japan and South Korea in the region and by Washington’s policies. We oppose this unconstructive and dangerous line”, Lavrov said. He also thanked the Hermit Kingdom for its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog before traveling on to other regional capitals. Alongside Sunak’s visit, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who visited Israel last week, traveled to Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to discuss the conflict and seek a peaceful resolution.

On Thursday, Canada’s foreign minister, Melanie Joly, confirmed that 41 Canadian diplomats had left India after India ordered their expulsion two weeks ago or face the removal of diplomatic immunity. Canadian officials called the threat a violation of international law, but India has denied the allegation and called them absurd. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it rejected suggestions that this was a violation of international norms. “The state of our bilateral relations, the much higher number of Canadian diplomats in India, and their continued interference in our internal affairs warrant a parity in mutual diplomatic presence in New Delhi and Ottawa,” it said.

On Sunday, Swiss voters went to the polls in the general election. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is expected to make substantial gains and win around 29 percent of the vote. The SVP has been the largest party in Switzerland for 20 years. The Social Democrats (SP) are projected to get around 18%. The Greens and the Green Liberals, who made massive gains four years ago, are expected to lose votes this time around.

On Sunday, Argentine voters also went to the polls in the country’s presidential election. Javier Milei is expected to win the election.