Interfor International‘s Weekly Security Digest - May 14, 2024

Interfor International‘s Weekly Security Digest – May 14, 2024

Interfor’s Weekly Digest | Global Security and Policy Insights – May 14, 2024 

Global Security Matters

Advisory for Wednesday May 15 – Nakba Day Unrest: Organizations and individuals in metropolitan areas should prepare themselves for the expected increase of demonstrations and other actions by activist groups marking “Nakba Day.” Nakba is an Arabic term meaning “catastrophe,” which commemorates for the movement the formation of the State of Israel. Historically, the day often leads to demonstrations, acts meant to draw publicity, and potentially unrest. This year, Nakba Day can reasonably be expected to draw significant actions by protest groups.

Israel – Hamas

  • The UN General Assembly on Friday called on the Security Council to reconsider Palestine’s request for UN membership. The US and Israel were among the nine UNGA votes against the resolution. Following the vote, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said the US supports Palestinian statehood but only alongside negotiations that guarantee Israel remains a secure, Jewish democracy. Because UN membership is obtained via unanimous Security Council vote, the US has the ability to withhold international recognition until its terms are met. The UNGA vote did, however, give Palestine certain “rights and privileges” which allow it to propose agenda items and participate in debates but does not allow it any sort of vote. The substantial international support for a Palestinian state comes after Israel’s limited military operation in Rafah, though, for now, a successful push for Palestinian statehood is unlikely absent comprehensive negotiations with Israel. 
  • The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revised the estimates of child and women fatalities in Gaza, lowering both by approximately half, but maintains that the overall death toll in Gaza remains unchanged. Initially interpreted by some as an overall decrease in the total death toll, UN officials have clarified that only the proportion of women and children killed has been revised. Farhan Haq, UN spokesperson, said the change was based on identified bodies, and the numbers may again change as the dead in Gaza are accounted for. Some analysts in the US, particularly those who lean to the right, have interpreted the significant change in numbers as further evidence to support their allegations that the UN has not sufficiently scrutinized the credibility of data from the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health since the start of the war. 
    • The reality is likely somewhere in between. As the only true leadership body within Gaza, Hamas does have the best ability to measure fatalities on the ground and historically has produced relatively accurate overall counts. However, the UN has been widely criticized for months for failing to couch these numbers with the caveat that the Gaza Ministry of Health’s numbers may be influenced by Hamas political aims and cannot at present be independently confirmed on the ground.

International Affairs

  • An advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed Iran would alter its nuclear doctrine should Israel threaten its existence. Iran has repeatedly declared that its official policy is to not develop nuclear weapons due to it being haram, or against Islamic law. These recent statements from regime officials comes after the last several weeks of speculation over further Iranian-Israeli escalation. In April, Iran and Israel exchanged direct attacks, culminating in a suspected Israeli strike targeting an Iranian air defense installation in Isfahan, near a major nuclear site.
    • Iranian statements like this are meant to reestablish specific rules of deterrence following April’s unprecedented direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. Effectively, this statement implies that any attempt to weaken the nuclear program would instead strengthen Iranian political will to develop nuclear weapons(interestingly, we often hear narratives like this in the US from commentators who oppose military action against Iran). All things considered, this is a fairly measured statement compared to the usual threats of intense retaliation. However, it also reflects that Iran“got the message” from Israel’s suspected Isfahan strike: that Israel is capable of damaging Iran’s nuclear program should things escalate. 
  • RSF, the paramilitary force which executed a coup in Sudan, is battling Sudan’s military in El Fashir, the last city in the North Darfur region outside of RSF control. The RSF is launching airstrikes and missiles, as well as firing machine guns, at civilian neighborhoods in an all-out assault. As of Sunday, at least 38 civilians were killed and 189 injured in the attack. The RSF currently controls the surrounding towns, preventing civilians from safely fleeing to safety. The group also recently seized the main road for transporting fuel, water, and food to El Fashir — unfortunately, one of many reminders of the threat of famine affecting up to 4.9 million Sudanese. International NGOs have pleaded with the RSF not to target El Fashir due to its 20-year role as a displacement hub for internally displaced ethnic minorities. It is not yet known if the RSF (or its allied militias such as the Mahameed tribe) will carry out a larger attack on the city and attempt to seize control.
  • Russia launched an intense offensive in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Sunday. For several weeks, Russia has been preparing for a military offensive, launching air strikes at Ukrainian energy infrastructure while building up their forces. The attack, while anticipated, has been difficult for Ukraine to push back. Military and government officials have spoken out about the insufficient Ukrainian defensive. Ukrainian military officials recently criticized the quality of fortifications in Kharkiv as leaving too many weak points; following the passage of the US military aid bill to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, Kharkiv’s governor warned that the delay in delivering US weapons gave Russia a tactical advantage. Amid these concerns, Ukraine will need continued support from its western allies as Russia potentially makes further territorial gains and weakens Ukrainian morale. The battle for Kharkiv is likely to extend for weeks, if not, months.
  • The UK government expelled the serving Russian defense attaché on suspicion of espionage. London officials claim to have uncovered a series of “malign” activities by suspected-Russian operatives on UK soil, often associated with undermining support for Ukraine. In addition to expelling Russia’s attaché, the UK also removed diplomatic protection from a series of Russian buildings in the UK and imposed time restrictions on Russian diplomatic visas. Following the announcement, senior UK officials, including Secretary of State for the Home Department James Cleverly, have expressed strong support for dismantling Russian intelligence and influence operations in the UK and continued support for Ukraine. Since its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, hundreds of suspected Russian intelligence operatives have been expelled from countries across Europe, where most were operating under diplomatic cover