Palestinian Protests on the Gaza-Israel Border
A series of Hamas organised protests began on March 30 and are planned to culminate on May 15. Thousands of protesters continue to gather at the border between Gaza and Israel, demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Since the beginning of the protests, 34 Palestinians have been killed, 15 on the first day. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claim that the protests are being used as a cover to launch attacks against Israel and that 10 of the people killed were connected to Hamas’ armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades.
#Gaza: UN experts condemn killings by Israeli security forces of Palestinian protesters & urge independent/impartial investigation. Law enforcement officials shld refrain from using lethal force unless unavoidable in order to protect own or others’ lives. https://t.co/vxRES0rCPA pic.twitter.com/4r2Is7cu1f
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) April 6, 2018
IDF also warned of the possibility of intervention inside Gaza, if the protests are deemed a greater threat. Such action could reignite the levels of violence last seen during the 2014 Gaza war. On the other hand, protesters were reportedly complaining about lack of support from other Arab countries and burning images of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after he said that Israelis have a right to their own state. This could indicate that the protests are not meant to gain concessions from Israel but rather a cry for help to Hamas’s traditional, now reluctant, supporters.
Are we ready to ban killer robots?
Many experts believe, given the trends in the advancement in robotics, we could soon be facing autonomous (and lethal) robots in warfare. Earlier last year, 116 specialists from the tech industry, including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Alphabet’s Mustafa Suleyman, called the UN to ban these systems. The first meeting of a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) – or “killer robots” – took place in November last year. The second meeting took place this month, between April 9 – 13. The talks were mostly about definitions and the human element but the GGE also discussed possible military application and security challenges.
The key to stopping killer robots (lethal autonomous weapon systems) is a binding treaty requiring meaningful human control to select and engage each target. Nothing less will work. https://t.co/b4EXfFr4i5 pic.twitter.com/uHrLaCCuhd
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) April 12, 2018
If we do not want to get too technical, both the US and the UK recognised the potential threat, but they do not see the ban necessary, mainly for the potential benefits as a humanitarian tool. Somewhat shockingly, China became the first permanent member of the Security Council to call for a ban, with Austria becoming the first sizeable European country to do so. The talks will resume in August and there is an arduous journey in front of the GGE to reach an agreement.
Syria, a game-changer in the Russia-West relationship?
A chemical attack in the last Syrian rebel-held town Douma on April 7 changed the course of the seven-year civil war both from humanitarian and international perspective. This attack has broken an important peremptory international norm. The presence of chemical weapons on April 7, specifically the chlorine gas, is hard to deny. Yet, the Syrian government refused any responsibility in the bombing or in using the poison gas.
The Douma chemical attack provoked a response from many big international players led by the US, the UK and France. Their officials reacted quickly and carried out airstrikes one week later, targeting alleged chemical weapons factories and military bases in Damascus and Homs. According to western allies, the strikes have not attempted to change the regime in Syria but to punish the use of the chemical agents and to deter from such actions.
— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) April 14, 2018
This reaction has been strongly condemned by the Syrian president al-Assad, who still refuses any responsibility for the Douma chemical attack and who considers the airstrikes a big violation of the international law.
The war in Syria is another obstacle in the relationship between Russia and the West. Not only did Russia doubt the chemical attack in Douma, they also vetoed a US resolution in the UN, which was supposed to establish a new independent investigative mechanism for chemical attacks in Syria. Moreover, Putin warned Washington that further Western attacks on Syria could bring chaos to world affairs.
#Nebenzia: Western countries believe that #Russia needs to change position under the stimulating influence of the airstrikes on #Syria by the Troika and a promised new portion of sanctions by #Washington. Watch the full statement: https://t.co/10QHzur2Vl pic.twitter.com/zIs6TDY0hc
— Russian Mission UN (@RussiaUN) April 18, 2018
Belgium desperate for young recruits
Since the abolishment of the mandatory military service in 1994, Belgium has been struggling with declining numbers of active military personnel and growing average age in the armed forces. To combat these negative trends, the military wishes to attract more recruits by including more free evenings when the recruits can leave the barracks and extending free weekends. Another considered policy is to lift the boarding regime, so the recruits who live near the military school or barracks can sleep at home. This proposal aims to adapt to the “wishes and capacities” of recruits, but it might also have a negative impact on their quality. The purpose of a military training is not just to teach fighting skills, but to remodel recruits into a cohesive military unit and to prepare them for the harsh environment of the battlefield. With recruits sleeping at home, strengthening the cohesion will be much more difficult.
Belgium may have a new appeal for young recruits: Join the army and sleep at home. https://t.co/sw8s7dQjUr
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) April 16, 2018
Moreover, family reasons are not the primary cause why soldiers choose to end their contracts early. A bigger problem seems to be that the Belgian military is lacking proper equipment and infrastructure due to budget cuts. For years, Belgium has been spending only around 1% of its GDP on the military, not meeting the NATO requirement of 2%. Increasing military spending could not only allow the Belgian army to acquire proper equipment and renew the infrastructure, but also boost the prestige of the armed forces and with it its power and effectiveness.
Image: Samsung SGR-A1 | Wikimedia Commons / MarkBlackUltor (CC BY-SA 4.0)
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.