Weekly Roundup (28 November-2 December)

The Hornet’s Sting (30 November)

Canberra. In an investigation into a botched Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) mission over Syria (September 2016) in which two F/A-18 Hornet fighters accidentally mistook a Syrian Army unit for Islamic State fighters around Deir al-Zor was, according to investigators, caused by “unintentional human errors”.

Some 80 Syrian Army personnel were killed in this attack. This incident clearly shows that war is a messy business in spite of strict rules of engagement and the use of high-tech military platforms to mitigate against civilian casualties and misidentifying targets.

In complex foreign military interventions such as we have witnessed in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria, accidents can never be ruled out of the equation, especially when over-worked professionals are stretched to their limits.

More Sanctions for North Korea (30 November)

Pyongyang. More sanctions were imposed on ‘Hermit Kingdom’ North Korea as a consequence of Pyongyang’s decision to test a nuclear weapon last September.

The country is currently burdened by a number of overlapping international sanctions in the hope that these embargoes will influence the behavior of North Korea, especially leader Kim Jong Un.

So far, the real victims of North Korea’s sanctions are the country’s citizens. The sanctions have failed to stop North Korea’s evolution of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

However, the parlous state of the North Korean economy does prevent the country from anything more than highly staged displays of defiance against the international community. More ambitious acts of defiance would quite likely lead to the quick end of the Kim regime.

Islamic State Taking a Toll on Iraqi Forces – Mosul (1 December)

New York. A recent United Nations body count has shown the ferocity of fighting for the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Captured by Islamic State forces in 2014, Iraq’s third largest city, has become a symbol of the power and extent of IS in the Middle East. Its capture by Iraqi security forces would signify the end of IS in Iraq and stand as a major victory for Baghdad.

The battle for Mosul began in October and is expected to take many months to complete. Fighting has been slow because Iraqi security forces are expected (by the international community) to show restraint in recapturing the city, thus limiting damage to the city’s infrastructure and its captive civilian population.

Iraqi security personnel have already lost 1,000 in the fighting. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have lost 1,600, with some 10,000 wounded.

Mattis to be US Defense Secretary (2 December)

Washington D.C. US Marine Corps (USMC) General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was named by President-elect Donald J. Trump as America’s new Defense Secretary.

The most significant aspect of this appointment is the General’s recognition of Iran is the single most destabilizing factor in today’s Middle East. This is a view shared by the President-elect, who has himself questioned President Obama’s rapprochement with Iran through the P5+1 nuclear deal, a deal Trump has threatened to scrap.

It is also a view shared by close American ally Israel, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Between 2006-08 there was a lot of talk and speculation about Israel; a possible unilateral strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and the rolling back of Iranian strategic power from the Levant.

What stopped Israel from acting was a combination of sensible voices in the Israeli intelligence and security services, as well as American opposition to any such action. Should an ‘anti-Iran alignment’ emerge between Washington and Tel Aviv, considering Tehran’s bellicosity to maintain its growing strategic footprint, the likelihood of old plans being dusted off are very real.

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