Weekly Roundup (20 February-24 February)

Turnbull looks to welcome Israeli PM

21 February 2017, Canberra, Australia – news.com.au – In a move that will surely complicate Australia’s relations with both the United States and some Arab states, Prime Minister Turnbull prepared for the 22 February visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Australia has very good relations with Israel, the Trump administration has flagged the end of its support for a ‘two-state’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Should Trump officially overturn support for the two-state solution, it is likely that the Australian government will follow suit.

Such a move may well jeopardise Australia’s long-standing ‘neutrality’ in the Middle East and increase the country’s vulnerability to homegrown and foreign terrorist cells.

Is Iran preparing for war in the Middle East? Russia to send $1B in weapons to Tehran

21 February 2017, Washington D.C., United States – IBT.com – Russia’s relations with Iran are growing and America is seeing this as a major threat.

Since the 1979 Revolution, the Iranians endured international economic and arms sanctions, forcing the isolated state to devote more of its national resources to sustain a war footing against regional and extra-regional powers.

The Iranian theocracy has survived sanctions which were recently overturned by the Obama administration, as a reward for rolling back its nascent nuclear weapons program. The country has a capable ballistic missile program, a military infrastructure highly skilled in asymmetric warfare and is therefore still considered a threshold nuclear weapons state in spite of forgoing some capability in order to have international sanctions lifted – a point Israel is extremely sensitive to.

Putin’s Russia, however, sees Iran as the perfect foil and a welcome strategic partner in its fight against Saudi-inspired Wahhabist fundamentalism and Israeli and American influence. Moscow also knows that a power the size and capability of Iran is very difficult to intimidate – short of war; a situation made all the more difficult by an infusion of modern Russian weaponry and training.

Iraqi forces ‘fully in control of Mosul airport’

24 February 2017, Baghdad, Iraq – ABC news – In another tactical victory for Iraqi forces in their slow-moving battle to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State rule, Iraqi state television announced the successful capture of Mosul airport.

This is significant. Having captured the city’s airport, Iraqi forces can now fly closer to the battle space to prosecute their war.

Currently there are around 100,000 Iraqi security forces fighting an estimated 4,000 Islamic State fighters.

The slow nature of the campaign is partly due to avert unnecessary killing of civilians (approx. 750,000) still holed up in the city, and partly due to the disjointed nature of the Iraqi offensive that includes Iraqi government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.

Under current conditions, the battle, while far from being won by Baghdad, is more than likely to be an Iraqi victory. The liberation of Mosul will consolidate the rule of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and may form the reconstitution of the Iraqi state, albeit under Shiite control and Iranian influence. Such a zero-sum outcome is likely to continue the disenfranchisement of Iraq’s Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities.

‘Doomsday Vault’ gets deposit of 50,000 seeds for humanity’s survival

24 February 2017, Svalbard, Norway – ABC news – The Global Seed Vault, otherwise known as the ‘Doomsday Vault’, located on a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Circle, received a new deposit of seeds to be kept in cold storage.

Like a modern-day version of Noah’s ark, the idea behind the Global Seed Vault is to preserve as much of the world’s flora as possible in case of a man-made or natural catastrophe.

In many ways knowledge of the existence of this facility plays to fears that we are living at the end of times rather than act as any form of reassurance.

With climate change altering the world’s temperatures and potentially changing global sea levels coinciding with the anaemic economic recovery post-2008 and the rise of nationalism and public discontent, one can only hope that cooler, rational heads prevail over the remnants of the international order. The outlook at this stage is not encouraging.

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