Foreign Affairs

Wars: Escalation in Ukraine and Gaza, Children are the Victims. What Are the UN and NATO Doing?

July 2024
By Giampiero Gramaglia

After weeks of electoral events and diplomatic maneuvers in Apulia, Switzerland, and Brussels, the carnage of civilians on the war fronts reemphasizes the importance of peace. This happens just as the NATO Summit is convening in Washington, reaffirming support for Ukraine and the irreversibility of its process of joining the Alliance.

Scheduled on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty, the NATO Summit is preceded by the most intense Russian bombardment on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities since last winter, with a barrage of dozens of missiles hitting, in broad daylight, residential buildings and, in the capital, a pediatric hospital with children suffering from cancer: almost 40 victims, about 200 injured – says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who requests (and obtains) an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Kyiv’s pediatric hospital is an essential facility for the sickest children in all of Ukraine: every year, about 7,000 surgeries are performed there, especially to treat tumors and leukemias.

It is yet another tragedy in a war that has been going on for almost two and a half years and that, perhaps due to habituation, had fallen to the margins of media attention. Almost simultaneously, in the Gaza Strip, yet another Israeli military operation against health and/or educational facilities results in dozens of Palestinian casualties.

In both cases, those responsible for the attacks offer alternative versions. Russia claims to have targeted only military objectives and industrial infrastructure and suggests that an anti-aircraft missile or a diverted missile may have hit the pediatric hospital. Israel maintains that its operations were aimed at Hamas militant bases located in hospitals or schools.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine, Danielle Bell, considers a “direct hit” by a Russian missile on the pediatric hospital “very likely” and denounces a Russian war crime. The UN estimates that nearly 600 children have been killed by the Russian invasion.

In the Gaza Strip, the Ministry of Health, managed by Hamas, announces that the victims of nine months of conflict have exceeded 38,000, with over 87,000 injured, mostly civilians, especially women and children. The Israeli offensive responds to terrorist attacks conducted by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in Israeli territory on October 7 – about 1,200 victims, hundreds of hostages, over a hundred of whom have not yet been returned to their families.

The resurgence of Israeli military operations endangers fragile negotiations for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of the hostages, which seemed to have a glimmer of hope again after a phase of stalemate – negotiations continue between Doha and Cairo, always with an active role of the United States.

The risk of the conflict expanding to the north, on the border between Israel and Lebanon, where Iran-backed Hezbollah militias operate, remains high. However, there is a new development there that Israel may want to evaluate before launching an offensive: Iran has just elected a moderate and reformist president, Masud Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and former Minister of Health, who surprisingly defeated the conservative Said Jalili in the runoff. Pezeshkian might seek to reopen dialogue with the West on nuclear issues and sanctions and ease the veil regulations for women, which have sparked protests with worldwide echoes.

Wars: Ukraine, Frontline Stalemate, Political-Diplomatic Movements
In the Ukraine conflict, apart from the bombings, the front is practically at a standstill, while there are rather unusual political-diplomatic movements. In the Middle East, the chronicles report a resurgence of operations in the Strip, while diplomatic activity remains under the radar; the Israeli domestic political scene is, however, agitated by the awaited first ‘calls to arms’ of the ultra-Orthodox.

The Western loose cannon currently creating political-diplomatic turbulence is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban: as soon as Hungary assumes the rotating presidency of the EU Council on July 1, he starts a tour of visits to Kyiv, Moscow (where no EU head of state or government has been since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022), and Beijing, moving without any mandate from EU and NATO partners.

In Washington, his NATO colleagues receive him with coldness and frost. In Brussels, some talk of putting Hungary ‘on trial’: in the Council and Parliament, there is talk of depriving Budapest of the rotating presidency – an unprecedented decision that, however, requires an extremely unlikely unanimity of the 27.

Orban’s ‘solo peace mission,’ as his tour is defined, is interpreted as an act of disloyalty by many partners. The visibly irritated European Commission points out that Orban had “no contact before” and provided “no explanation after.” When asked if the Hungarian prime minister had a negotiating mandate and/or mediation powers, an executive spokesperson responds: “Orban has no mandate to speak on behalf of the EU… For mediation, neither side, neither Ukraine nor Russia, has asked him…”

More than in the Council, the Hungarian prime minister risks paying the price in Parliament, where he has just managed to coalesce a new far-right group around Fidesz, his party, the Patriots, which includes Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini’s parties, among others. The new group is the third largest in the Assembly but could end up banned: the majority intends to deny it committee presidencies and important positions.

Not at all disturbed by Orban’s troubles, Russian President Vladimir Putin receives Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Moscow, who says that the solution to the conflict “cannot come through war”: Putin is actively engaged in demonstrating that he is not isolated on the world stage at all – he also went to Kazakhstan for the Shanghai Initiative Summit -; and, domestically, he maintains an iron fist towards dissidents. An arrest warrant targets the widow of Alexei Navalny, Yulia, accused of being involved in extremist activities. Yulia has not lived in Russia for years.

Wars: Israel, Negotiating Conditions and Settlement Expansion
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn up a list of five conditions for an agreement with Hamas that includes a truce in exchange for the release of hostages: the agreement – the list includes – must allow Israel to resume fighting after the truce until it has achieved its objectives, namely the eradication of Hamas from the Gaza Strip; must prohibit arms trafficking between Egypt and the Strip; must exclude that Hamas militants who fled can return to the northern Strip.

The publication of the conditions, which seems almost aimed at sinking the negotiations, has been strongly criticized by the opposition: “At a crucial moment in the negotiations for the return of the hostages, what is the purpose of such provocative announcements? How do they help the process?”

Moreover, it is not the only provocative move by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who, perhaps to compensate for the call to arms of the ultra-Orthodox, would have authorized the largest land confiscation in the West Bank in over thirty years: a decision, revealed by an ‘anti-settler’ group and not yet officially announced, destined to heighten tensions with the Palestinians and opposed by the vast majority of the international community, for whom the settlements are illegal.