Foreign Affairs

Wars: from the Lebanon alarm in the Middle East to Ukraine high tension’s between Russia and the US

June 2024
By Giampiero Gramaglia

Wars, point – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expresses grave concern that “Lebanon will become another Gaza”: “The region and the world cannot afford it. The risk of the conflict in the Middle East spreading is real and must be avoided”, he says speaking to journalists at the Glass Palace in New York, while distressing and alarming, but also contradictory, political, military and humanitarian information continues to arrive from Israel and the Gaza Strip on the wars that could continue to ensue.

On the Ukrainian front, the routine of fighting and bombing had an abrupt upsurge yesterday with the Ukrainian attack on Crimea, which resulted in a massacre of civilians on a beach in Sevastopol, and the Russian ones on Kharkiv; and the terrorist actions of still uncertain origin in Dagestan directed against two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police station – dozens of victims, at least 15 agents and numerous civilians, in addition to the neutralised terrorists -.

Wars: Middle East, the risks of contagion

The warning to Hezbollah that all-out war is possible comes from Israel, after the pro-Iranian militia released a 9′ video, probably taken with drones, showing Israeli military and civilian installations in several cities. The video, which sounds an implicit threat, follows almost nine months of mutual skirmishes on the Israeli-Lebanese border, with rocket attacks on Israel and raids on Hezbollah positions, a constant counterpoint to the war in the Strip.

The US and its allies have consistently called on Hezbollah not to escalate. Hezbollah has always replied that it will cease its often lethal pinpricks against Israel when the conflict in Gaza ends. So far, the militiamen have never given the impression that they want to go to open confrontation, which the Israelis do not rule out in their strategic calculations – just remember the attack on an Iranian diplomatic representation in Beirut and the ensuing tensions -.

When it comes to wars, multilateral diplomacy almost abstains, perhaps conscious of not getting anything out of it. It leaves it to the US, Egypt and Qatar to play it quietly. The level of relations between Israel and the USA continues to deteriorate: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounces the inadequacy of American military aid, forcing the Biden Administration into slippery replies on the electoral level (“We have never failed to help Israel’s security”). Netanyahu is “at war with virtually everyone,” writes Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post, inside and outside his country.

Wars: Middle East, friction in Israel between politicians and military developments on the ground

The PM dissolved the war cabinet after an opposition leader, Benny Gantz, resigned from it: thus, Netanyahu ‘dribbles’ the request of far-right members of his majority to join it. Almost at the same time, the military announces ‘tactical breaks’ of 11 hours a day of war activity along a road south of the Gaza Strip, to allow the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid.

Political reactions to the military announcements hint at a certain cacophony: the move seems to take the government by surprise and irritate it. The generals point out that this does not mean the end of the Rafah offensive, which is nevertheless nearing its conclusion, having achieved its objectives: the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure and the cutting off of arms and ammunition supplies coming from Egypt through the tunnels.

The conflict would therefore be evolving towards a less intense and bloody phase of bombing and fighting. The transition to more targeted military operations would give respite to the civilians, who for almost nine months have been forced to live in the line of fire and in ‘unspeakable’ conditions, according to UN agencies and humanitarian organisations.

But the chronicles still record mourning and horrors: in the last 48 hours, attacks against refugee camps and a Red Cross convoy have been discussed. The Israeli armed forces had already denied that they had struck a safe area in the south of the Strip, in Al-Maeasiu, where more than half a million Palestinians are crowded, driven by the Israelis themselves to concentrate in humanitarian areas that should be exempt from attacks. Also in the south of the Strip, Israel had lost eight soldiers in a single operation: it was the deadliest attack in months by Hamas militiamen.

The news had rekindled calls in Israel for a cease-fire and protests over the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service. The war, triggered off by the terrorist raids by Hamas and other acronyms on Israeli territory on 7 October – 1,200 were killed -, has claimed over 37,500 victims in Gaza (mainly women and children) and provokes bloody hotbeds of tension in Cis-Jordan and – as mentioned – on the border between Lebanon and Israel. The knot remains of the hostages held in Gaza, it is not clear by whom and where: there are supposedly still 120, but it is unknown how many of them are still alive.

Negotiations for a lasting truce in exchange for the release of all the hostages continue under track, after Hamas placed some conditions to the yes to the Israeli proposals. The United States continues its diplomatic presence in the region, but without tangible results.

Wars, Ukraine: Russia-North Korea alliance, West waiting for France and Britain

The Ukrainian attack in Crimea – five missiles, four intercepted, one ‘diverted’ with lethal fallout – is attributed by Moscow to long-range systems supplied by Washington to Kiev and fuels Russian-American tensions, at a time when Western diplomacy is pounding in the mortar of trite and sterile formulas, while at the front nothing is happening, apart from the usual trickle of deaths (including civilians) killed in the fighting on the front line and under bombardment in the rear.

The United States and European countries seem to be waiting to analyse the situation of the ongoing wars at the NATO summit in July in Washington, after the political votes in France and Great Britain. In the meantime, the last (Hungarian and Romanian) reservations about who will succeed Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg as secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance have been lifted: it will be the turn of Dutch Liberal Mark Rutte, his country’s outgoing prime minister. The appointment, formalised by the NATO leaders in Washington, will be effective from 2 October.

In the meantime, Russia consolidates its ties with alternative countries to the Western side and obtains, at least in part, what it needs – especially munitions -, despite a further flurry of US and EU sanctions (the 14th European package affects, for the first time, Russian gas imports).

Russian President Vladimir Putin goes to North Korea and returns the visit made to him last year by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un: the goal is increased cooperation, almost an alliance, to counter the effect of the sanctions that affect both countries in the intensified confrontation with the US and the West. And Moscow’s navy shows the flag in the Caribbean with a visit to Cuba that evokes the missile crisis of October 1962, which brought the US and USSR to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

At the end of the visit, Kim expressed ‘full support’ for Putin and the two signed a wide-ranging agreement, providing for immediate mutual military assistance in the event of war. The visit to Pyongyang is the first for Putin since he has been in power and also the first by a foreign leader to North Korea since the outbreak of the pandemic. If the Western complaint that Putin and Kim violate each other’s sanctions imposed on their countries is almost pathetic, the concern in the region is real, especially from South Korea.

A sign that US-Russian relations are not improving is the news that WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on charges of being a CIA spy and detained for over a year, will stand trial. Gershkovich, who denies all charges, will go on trial in Yekaterinburg, the Russian esclave on the Baltic between Poland and Lithuania. In the past there had been speculation about a possible exchange, which could have involved Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who later died in prison, or Vadim Krasikov, a Russian spy convicted and imprisoned in Germany for murder.

Kiev is also complaining to Washington: the restrictions placed on the use of US weapons on Russian territory prevent – say the Ukrainian generals – the targeting of Russian bases from which attacks against Ukraine start; and the Russians are taking advantage of this to speed up progress on the ground, continuing to occupy portions of territory.