Weekly Roundup (24 April-28 April)

France elections: Le Pen steps aside as National Front leader

25 April 2017, Paris, France – BBC News – The second round of the French presidential election sees Emmanuel Macron well ahead of National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, who took the unusual step of relinquishing the leadership of her National Front party to stand above partisan considerations and rule for all of France. Her new replacement as leader of the National Front is Jean-Francois Jalkh.

As an attempt to broaden her appeal to undecided voters, this might be considered a smart move, but Le Pen has been so wedded to her anti-immigrant and anti-EU platforms, it may confuse the French electorate and make those who have supported her, feel she may be preparing to soften her hardline stances for last minute political advantage.

However, this move may have backfired.

Toward the end of the week Jean-Francois Jalkh was forced to quit his new appointment as leader of the National Front over allegations that he “expressed doubt about NAZI gas chambers”. While Jalkh is challenging this allegation in court, and the outcome of the court case may not have any significant effect on existing National Front supporters, it may well have tarnished the National Front among those who perhaps have considered voting for it for the first time, potentially crippling Le Pen’s presidential race.

US submarine arrives in South Korea as the North carries out a huge live fire drill

25 April 2017, Seoul, South Korea – euronews.com – Amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, the American guided missile submarine, the USS Michigan, arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan.

While there to conduct live fire exercises with the US and South Korean navies, the deployment also represents a significant addition of US firepower to the region at a time when North Korea has threatened the US and Australia with nuclear attack and at a more realistic level, with more ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests.

By itself, the USS Michigan is simply one submarine, but it does pack a punch. It can fire cruise missiles at land-based targets and has the capacity to covertly land US Special Forces wherever they are needed. So alarmed was Pyongyang by this deployment that it issued a threat to sink the vessel.

Israel’s F-35 may have already flown combat missions against Russian air defences in Syria

28 April 2017, Tel Aviv, Israel – Business Insider Australia – Israel has kept a relatively low profile during the Syrian Civil War, a civil war taking place right on its northern border and involving multiple groups that are hostile to the state of Israel. Nonetheless, since the outbreak of this chaotic conflict, the Jewish state has taken the opportunity to land various punches against its long-time foe; the Assad regime for one and some of the worst anti-Jewish paramilitary forces on the ground in the Syrian battle space – most notably Southern Lebanese Hezbollah.

Israel is one of the earliest customers of the newest, most technically advanced jet fighter, the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35. As yet this highly controversial aircraft, known for its exorbitant price tag and complex technical problems has not been tested in combat. However, a French newspaper made the claim that Israeli F-35s had recently struck one of the Assad regime’s prized Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft systems, and a Russian-made Pantsir S1 mobile surface to air missile (SAM) launcher, pledged to Hezbollah. If this report turns out to be verified, the many international customers for the F-35, (including Australia), who had become sceptics of the aircraft’s design and technical specifications not to mention its costs, might once again become enthusiastic supporters.

The S-300 and the Pantsir S1 are key Russian air defence systems that have proliferated throughout the Middle East. For years they were thought to be extremely difficult defensive units to attack. Considering the Assad regime stakes the defence of its critical government and military installations on essentially Russian-based air defence systems, their vulnerability to Israeli attack signals to the region their vulnerability to potential American air strikes as well. Unless these Russian systems can claim the downing of any Israeli aircraft, but particularly the F-35, it might not be a good time to be a Russian arms dealer in the Middle East.

Entire U.S. Senate to go to White House for North Korea briefing

28 April 2017, Washington D.C., United States – Reuters – The war talk surrounding North Korea got another boost from the Trump White House when it was revealed that the entire US Senate was summoned to Pennsylvania Avenue for a special briefing on North Korea. This could very well be part of the grand theatre that is being played out by the Trump administration, an administration that after 100 days in office has shown a distinct flare for theatrics, indecisiveness and haphazardness, masquerading as ‘clever’ psychological operations designed to keep America’s foes off guard.

At this briefing, US Senators were apparently given what would amount to American military options to use against North Korea.

Whether this briefing was genuinely part of a move toward war, or whether it was part of Trump’s agenda to make the North Korean Kim dynasty fearful of American unilateral military action, the fact that the rhetorical exchange between Washington and Pyongyang has been especially shrill of late, heightens the uncertainty surrounding the 64 year stand-off between North and South Korea that has been with the international community since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The more antagonistic the language between North Korea and the United States, the more ambiguous the state of play is in Korea; a miscalculation or misinterpretation from either side could launch one of the worst high-intensity conflicts in Asia and the world.

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