The biggest story of the week has to be the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Since last week, when we discussed the termination of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the two sides have increased cross-border attacks. Civilians on both sides of the border are preparing for an increase in violence, as Hamas threatens a dramatic increase in rocket attacks against Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip in response to the dramatic increase in Israeli air strikes over the weekend. So far, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to launch an all-out ground attack, but many are speculating that Israel is preparing to follow the massive air strikes with some kind of ground assault. The United States has given tacit approval to the Israeli strikes, calling on Hamas to cease its activities. The Europeans are calling for a stop in the violence, and Libya has called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the crisis. However, any solution to the crisis must also involve Egypt, which has so far failed to develop an initiative both sides can accept.
In other news from the last week:
1. On Friday, Pakistan began shifting large portions of its military forces from its northern border with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India. Pakistani military officials are downplaying the move, which so far has involved an estimated 20,000 soldiers. But the Pakistani government has raised concerns that India may launch a strike in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. The United States and the European Union are urging restraint on both sides, noting that Pakistan’s move undermines the ability of coalition forces to wage the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan have long been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Both are also nuclear powers.
2. Somalia’s President, Abdullahi Yusuf, may be close to resigning. Earlier this month, a political crisis emerged when Yusuf attempted to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein. Hussein had been appointed as part of a power-sharing agreement supported by the West and by neighboring governments. Since the attempt, Kenya has announced its intentions to move forward with sanctions against Somalia. The resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf may increase instability in the embattled country, already home to a number of pirates and warlords. Alternatively, it may result in greater stability if the Islamic insurgency with close ties to al Qaeda is able to establish control over the country.
3. The Russian government is bracing for an increase in unrest as the ruble fell to a four-year low against the euro and the dollar on Friday. In early December, the Russian government put down protests in Vladivostok as it increased duties on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic auto manufactures. The opposition has criticized the government, and the liberal People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov, has argued that the implicit social contract, under which the Russian people exchanged political freedoms for economic prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down. The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, with industrial output falling and unemployment increasing at the same time the price of the country’s most important product, oil, has collapsed.
4. The December 23 death of Lansana Conté, left a power vacuum in Guinea which was filled on Friday by a military junta. Conté had ruled the West African nation for 24 years, after seizing power in a coup in 1984. The military group which seized power on Friday is led by Moussa Camara, a captain who served in a logistics unit. The junta has appealed to the international community for recognition and assistance. But so far, the international community has been slow to recognize the new government, as the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and France have all condemned the coup. Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a precoursor in the production of aluminum, and the coup has raised concerns about the stability of world alumunum markets. It also has a key role to play in ensuring the stability of its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which experienced a long civil war in the 1990s fueled by trade in illicit diamonds.
5. The budget of the United Nations was passed on Tuesday. The new budget increases spending by $700 million (from $4.17 billion to $4.87 billion), excluding the cost of peacekeeping operations. Passing the budget of the United Nations has become an increasingly politicized affair, as developing countries push for an expansion of the international institution’s role while the developed countries attempt to limit it. This year, compromise was reached when the developed countries agreed to fund an additional 92 positions in exchange for increasing UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.