The New York Times 2024-07-03 21:09:49


Middle East Crisis: Top U.S. Official to Hold Talks in Paris on Defusing Israel-Hezbollah Conflict

Amos Hochstein, a top White House official, has become President Biden’s de facto envoy in the quest to resolve the border conflict.

A senior White House official plans to meet with French officials in Paris on Wednesday to discuss ways to defuse the escalating border fire between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, a conflict that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said this week had caused Israel to lose sovereignty in its north.

The trip by the official, Amos Hochstein, the special presidential coordinator for global energy and infrastructure, was confirmed by a person close to the talks, who spoke on the condition on anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.

Mr. Hochstein has become President Biden’s de facto envoy in the quest to resolve the border conflict. He will meet with Jean-Yves Le Drian, President Emmanuel Macron’s special envoy to Lebanon, and Anne-Claire Legendre, a senior adviser to Mr. Macron, according to another person close to the talks.

Lebanon was a French protectorate after World War I; France still has some influence there and has offered proposals to halt the fighting. The White House had no immediate comment about Mr. Hochstein’s visit.

U.S. officials have worked for months to prevent a war between Israel and Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and has launched rocket attacks on northern Israel in solidarity with Hamas, the armed group that governed Gaza and started the current war when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Fears of a full-scale open war between Israel and Hezbollah have grown in recent weeks as exchanges of cross-border fire have intensified. Israeli officials have spoken publicly of shifting their military focus from Hamas to Hezbollah, a far more advanced and potent military threat.

Firas Maksad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, wrote on social media that there was still time for the key players to find a diplomatic solution. “The window for diplomacy is closing but not closed,” he said.

Mr. Blinken, speaking on Monday at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, said that Israel “has effectively lost sovereignty” near the border with Lebanon because Hezbollah attacks launched from across the border had driven much of the population from their homes. Some 60,000 Israelis have fled the area, many of whom have been living in Tel Aviv hotels for nine months. The fighting has also displaced tens of thousands of people from southern Lebanon.

Mr. Blinken said that he did not believe the key actors in the border conflict — Israel, Hezbollah and Iran — actually wanted to go to war, but he noted that that’s where the “momentum” of the clashes could lead. U.S. officials fear that such a conflict could force the United States to come to Israel’s defense.

“No one actually wants a war,” Mr. Blinken said. He said that Iran, a determined foe of Israel, “wants to make sure that Hezbollah’s not destroyed and that it can hold onto Hezbollah as a card if it needs it, if it ever gets into a direct conflict with Israel.”

“Absent doing something about the insecurity, people won’t have the confidence to go back,” Mr. Blinken said. Resolving the issue, he added, will require an agreement to pull back forces from the border.

Mr. Blinken noted that Hezbollah has said that if a cease-fire were reached in Gaza, it would stop firing into Israel. That “underscores why a cease-fire in Gaza is so critical,” he said. But the latest round of negotiations between Israel and Hamas appear deadlocked.

Mr. Hochstein has met in recent weeks with Israeli officials and also with Lebanese officials, who can pass messages to and from Hezbollah, in an effort to negotiate a Hezbollah pullback to a position far enough from the border to satisfy Israel. In return, Israel might withdraw from some disputed border areas, and the U.S. could provide economic assistance for southern Lebanon, analysts say.

Euan Ward contributed reporting.

key developments

Israel makes largest West Bank land seizure in decades, a monitor says, and other news.

  • Israel last week approved the largest seizure of land in the occupied West Bank in three decades, according to Peace Now, a group that monitors settler activity in the territory. The Israeli authorities declared the appropriation of around five square miles of land in the Jordan Valley, in what the group said was the largest seizure since the Oslo Accords in 1993. That brings the total land seized this year to roughly nine square miles, in what the group said was by far the peak year for appropriations. The designations could allow Israel to build or expand Israeli settlements in those places, a key aim of far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Bezalel Smotrich, a longtime settler activist and influential government minister, announced Wednesday that around 5,000 housing units in Israeli settlements would be advanced in the West Bank in coming days.

  • Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians in a drone strike in the West Bank late Tuesday, according to the Israeli military and the Palestinian Health Ministry. The Israeli military said in a statement that the dead were militants who were planting an explosive device in the Nur Shams refugee camp, a densely populated residential area. Drone strikes were once rare in the West Bank, but Israel has been increasingly using them. Most recently, a strike on Sunday killed a local Islamic Jihad commander identified as Saeed Jaber, whom Israel blamed for attacks on troops and civilians.

  • About 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the war began, a United Nations official said Tuesday, a figure that represents about 80 percent of the prewar population of the territory. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag, told the Security Council that she was deeply concerned about new Israeli calls for evacuations in parts of Khan Younis and Rafah. She said the volume of aid entering Gaza had “dropped significantly” since the start of the Israeli ground operation in Rafah in early May, which closed the border crossing with Egypt.

  • Israel has set up an electricity line to power a desalination plant in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, allowing it to provide up to 20,000 cubic meters (five million gallons) of drinking water per day, the Israeli military said on Tuesday. Elad Goren, a senior Israeli military official, said that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority would pay for the electricity and that UNICEF, a United Nations agency, would manage the plant. Pressure has been mounting on Israel to improve the desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, where Israel’s nearly nine-month military offensive has left people struggling to find enough food and clean water.

An Israeli air base is a source of GPS ‘spoofing’ attacks, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have identified an Israeli air base as a key source of GPS attacks that have disrupted civilian airline navigation in the Middle East.

The attacks, known as spoofing, send out manipulated GPS signals that make airplane instruments misread their location.

The researchers, Todd Humphreys and Zach Clements, said they are “highly confident” that the spoofing attacks originated from Ein Shemer Airfield in northern Israel. The Israeli military declined to comment on Tuesday.

The researchers used data that was emitted by the spoofer and picked up by satellites in low-Earth orbit to determine its location. They then confirmed their calculations using data they collected on the ground in Israel.

Spoofing, along with GPS jamming, has sharply risen over the last three years, particularly near war zones in Ukraine and Gaza, where militaries interfere with navigation signals to thwart missile and drone attacks.

The Middle East has emerged as a spoofing hot spot. The University of Texas researchers did not say how many spoofing attacks they had linked to the military base, but a separate analysis estimated that more than 50,000 flights have been spoofed in the region this year.

The attacks have made pilots think that they were above airports in Beirut or Cairo when they were not, according to researchers at SkAI Data Services and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, who analyzed data from the OpenSky Network.

Swiss International Air Lines say their flights are spoofed almost every day over the Middle East.

Separately, Estonia and other Baltic nations have blamed Russia for disrupting signals in their airspaces. In April, Finnair temporarily suspended flights to an Estonian airport after turning back two flights because of severe GPS jamming.

The attacks now cover large swaths of the globe far from any battlefield.

In addition to causing navigation confusion, spoofing can trigger false alerts that airplanes are too close to the ground. But the attacks have not yet made flying dangerous because pilots can use alternative navigation methods.

“Losing GPS is not going to cause airplanes to fall out of the sky,” said Jeremy Benington, vice president of Spirent Communications, which provides testing for global navigation systems. “But I also don’t want to deny the fact that we are removing layers of safety.”

How Britain Changed Over 14 Years of Conservative Rule


Since Britain’s Conservative Party took power 14 years ago, most things have not gone the way it planned.

The Conservative Party has dramatically reshaped Britain since 2010, orchestrating its exit from the European Union, slashing spending on public services and cutting welfare spending. Time and again, British voters have returned the party to power.

But Britons say their country is worse off now than when the Conservatives took office. Their dissatisfaction emerges on almost every issue they are asked about, from the economy to education to the National Health Service.

With the Conservatives facing the possibility of a crushing defeat in Thursday’s election, we took a look at how Britain has changed since they came to power. To do so, we chose the metrics that voters — and the party itself — say matter the most.

No single measure can capture the Britain of 2024, of course, but taken together, these metrics offer a snapshot of decline.

The Economy Has Stagnated

Britain’s economy has been stagnant ever since the 2008 financial crash, and the pandemic also hit it hard. Many of its peers, including Germany and the United States, managed to recapture pre-crisis levels of economic growth, but Britain never regained its momentum.

Productivity, a measure of economic output for every hour worked, was growing at about 2 percent per year in the decade before the financial crash. Since the Conservatives’ took power, it has grown by only about 0.5 percent per year.

One consequence of stagnant productivity is stagnant wages: The average British worker earns just £20 more per week than 14 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.

Austerity budgets explain a lot of the stagnation.

The new Conservative government, intent on reducing the deficit, cut deep and broad, slashing spending not just on party bugbears like welfare but also on public budgets for investment.

Following the vote to leave the European Union, private investment also ground to a halt amid economic uncertainty. The U.K. has the lowest rates of investment among G7 countries, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank based in London.

The Conservatives took power bemoaning the “debt crisis” and saying deep cuts were necessary to reduce the public debt. But even after a decade of austerity, it continued to rise, and then jumped sharply because of the pandemic.

The Conservatives also positioned themselves as a party of low taxation, pledging to reduce taxes in every election manifesto since 2010. The opposite happened.

More people have been dragged into higher tax brackets, and those at all income levels were hit when the nationwide sales tax was raised to 20 percent from 17.5 percent.

The Conservatives argue that the taxation is needed to reduce debt and cover the cost of measures introduced to counter economic shocks like the pandemic and the energy price crisis tied to the war in Ukraine.

The party did fulfill one of its pledges.

Unemployment has roughly halved since 2010, when the U.K. was just emerging from recession. Conservative policy makers argue that their welfare changes, aimed at making benefits less attractive and employment more rewarding, motivated people to return to the workforce. Some researchers found that the changes did modestly encourage people to work.

Public Services Are Struggling

The picture the Conservatives painted of Britain in 2010 was of a country living beyond its means. They detailed £6.2 billion, or about $9 billion, of spending cuts within their first two weeks in office, and severe cuts continued for the next decade.

Fourteen years later, despite record debt and the highest tax burden in 70 years, many of Britain’s public services are greatly diminished.

Local councils, which run services like social care, libraries, waste management, and local infrastructure, bore some of the deepest cuts, with their spending power dropping almost 30 percent by 2019.

Even the National Health Service, which was ring-fenced from cuts, has been under intense pressure. Its budgets have not risen in line with the increasing demands of Britain’s aging population, and cuts to the social care sector forced more vulnerable people into hospitals.

Britons rank health care as the second-most-pressing issue facing the country. Going into the election, four times as many voters believe Labour is better placed to manage the National Health Service than the Conservatives.

Outside the N.H.S., almost no department was spared from cuts. Troop numbers in the armed forces were reduced by more than 40,000.

Policing was also cut significantly, but during the 2019 election Boris Johnson pledged to stand for the “law abiding majority” and restore the 20,000 police officers that had been lost — a promise he fulfilled.

Record Levels of Immigration, Despite Conservative Pledges

The Conservative party long promised to reduce immigration, and the pledge to “take back control” of Britain’s borders was one of the top reasons many Britons voted to leave the European Union.

But legal immigration has soared in recent years. Net migration — the number of people who moved to Britain minus those who left — reached 764,000 in 2022, almost three times as high as when votes were cast for Brexit.

The migration spike in 2022 was largely driven by specific events, and it has already shown signs of subsiding. Some of the increase was likely migration delayed by the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, Hong Kongers and Afghans all fled to Britain on humanitarian visa programs.

Much of the debate around migration is being driven by record numbers of small-boat crossings across the channel, even though they only account for about 2 percent of migration to the U.K.

A huge backlog of unresolved asylum claims has grown under the conservatives. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda for resettlement, but those flights have been delayed by court challenges.

Two-thirds of Britons think immigration is too high, and the disconnect between the Conservatives’ tough talk on immigration and the record levels of migration has opened the party up to attacks from the hard right.

Increases in homelessness, hunger and student debt

The Conservatives tightened up significant parts of Britain’s welfare system, introducing a two-child limit to child welfare payments, stricter limits for disability benefits and a freeze on working-age benefits for four years.

At the same time, food bank use has skyrocketed. A third of the food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust last year went to children.

Housing prices have risen dramatically, and an annual survey also found increasing numbers of people sleeping on the streets. Although the number dipped during the pandemic, when the government moved many homeless people into hotels and temporary accommodation, it is now steadily rising toward record levels again.

The problem is stark in many cities now, where the combination of little affordable housing and reduced support services have left many without a safety net.

The cuts have reshaped all aspects of British life, but especially for young people. The Conservatives’ legacy for many of them will be defined by their rising student debt.

The government cut funding for universities and tripled tuition fees to plug the funding gap, meaning the average student now graduates with about £45,000 of student loan debt.

The overall crime rate peaked in the mid-90s, driven by increases in violence, vehicle crime and burglary, but it has declined ever since. From 2010 to 2023 it dropped by a further 54 percent.

Mr. Sunak’s recent moves to roll back the reduction of carbon emissions, the country his party leaves behind is greener than the one it inherited: Britain is generating 60 percent less electricity from fossil fuels now than it was in 2010.

Two Kings Battle for a Millennium-Old Throne in Nigeria

One king has been barricaded in the palace, protected from potential usurpers by hundreds of subjects armed with sticks and machetes.

Another king, evicted from the same palace in May, is living in an annex down the road, dispatching lawyers to courthouses in an attempt to regain the throne.

The battle unfolding for the emirate of Kano — one of West Africa’s oldest and most revered kingdoms — is not just a struggle for an ancient throne, but also part of a wider contest for control over the most populous state in Africa’s most populous country.

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