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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 11 JUNE 2024

UN Security Council adopts US resolution backing Gaza ceasefire; Israel ‘unswayed’ by Gantz’s exit

UN Security Council adopts US resolution backing Gaza ceasefire; Israel ‘unswayed’ by Gantz’s exit
Ambassadors of the Security Council vote in favour of the draft resolution on a ceasefire in Gaza during a meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on 10 June 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sarah Yenesel)

The United Nations Security Council adopted a US-crafted resolution endorsing its ceasefire plan for the Israel-Hamas war, a push that’s part of Washington’s wide campaign to keep up momentum for a proposal to which neither side has fully committed.

Benny Gantz’s resignation from Israel’s war Cabinet appears dramatic from afar, but is unlikely to alter the course of the conflict in Gaza or influence other key policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The latest draft of the House Armed Services Committee’s $895-billion defence spending Bill would require the US to conduct joint exercises with Israel aimed at improving the countries’ ability to fight militants and smugglers in underground tunnels, part of a push to counter a key advantage of Hamas and other groups.

UN Security Council adopts US resolution backing Gaza ceasefire

The United Nations Security Council adopted a US-crafted resolution endorsing its ceasefire plan for the Israel-Hamas war, a push that’s part of Washington’s wide campaign to keep up momentum for a proposal to which neither side has fully committed.

The resolution passed 14-0 on Monday with Russia abstaining. It welcomed the US-backed truce proposal announced by President Joe Biden on 31 May and urged Hamas to accept it. It also called on all UN members to support its implementation.

“The fighting could stop today,” the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said. “Hamas can now see that the international community is united.”

While Hamas, which is labelled a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, is seeking a permanent ceasefire, Israel wants a temporary pause that could see hostages freed but allow the country to follow through on its goal of wiping out the militant group.

The Security Council has mostly taken the back seat since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October, as deep divisions at the world body have kept it from taking more decisive action on the war. The US blocked multiple ceasefire calls until it finally let one slide almost six months after the conflict began — which has so far not translated into action on the ground.

The US resolution also reiterated the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment” to a two-state solution to the conflict and rejected any attempt by Israel to reduce the Palestinian territory.

Israel’s pursuit of Hamas in Gaza ‘unswayed’ by Gantz’s exit

Benny Gantz’s resignation from Israel’s war Cabinet appears dramatic from afar but is unlikely to alter the course of the conflict in Gaza or influence other key policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz, a leader of the opposition and former military chief of staff, joined the emergency forum eight months ago after the deadly invasion by Hamas militants on 7 October, which triggered the ongoing conflict. As part of a three-person Cabinet — alongside Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — he had a seat at the table that would dictate the course of the response.

But his influence has appeared to diminish in recent times, and his departure reflects his frustration over that. He had said he would resign if Netanyahu didn’t agree to a list of demands he issued last month, none of which were met.

Read more: Gantz quits Israel government after PM fails to meet demands

“On the big decisions — normalisation with Saudi Arabia, day-after options in Gaza, negotiations around hostages — Netanyahu is calling the shots and you won’t see a change,” said Yohanan Plesner, a former parliamentarian who’s president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a centre-left think tank.

In the early weeks of the war, the trio made a show of unity, dressing alike in black and holding news conferences together. That hasn’t happened in a long time, a reflection of their rivalries and differences.

No decision has yet been made about what will replace the war Cabinet, aides to Netanyahu say. The likelihood is that some informal version of it will remain, with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri playing prominent roles.

Gantz reiterated a call for new elections upon his departure, but he can’t force them to take place. Only if Netanyahu loses his majority — his coalition controls 64 out of 120 seats in parliament — will a vote occur before its scheduled occurrence in 2026.

For the past year, Gantz (65), has polled ahead of Netanyahu as the favourite for the next prime minister partly because the 7 October attack was such a security failure. Many in Israel are tired of Netanyahu (74), the country’s longest-serving premier who’s under indictment for bribery and fraud.

But Gantz’s lead has been slipping and some polls show Netanyahu ahead, with some Israelis angry at Gantz appearing to play politics at a time of war.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel retaliated against the Hamas attacks, according to authorities in Hamas-run Gaza, who don’t distinguish between fighters and civilians.

US defence spending Bill proposes joint tunnel exercises with Israel 

The latest draft of the House Armed Services Committee’s $895-billion defence spending Bill would require the US to conduct joint exercises with Israel aimed at improving the countries’ ability to fight militants and smugglers in underground tunnels, part of a push to counter a key advantage of Hamas and other groups.

Section 1233 of the proposed legislation would “require military exercises in the USCentral Command area of responsibility to conduct an annual counter-tunnelling exercise with Israel.” It would authorise an additional $30-million for research and technology in an ongoing “United States-Israel Anti-Tunnel Cooperation” project.

That’s on top of $323-million Congress has provided since 2016 when the effort started, according to the Congressional Research Service.

According to the pending legislation, US-funded technology initiatives developed by a little-known Pentagon “Irregular Warfare Technical Support Directorate” have enabled the Israeli Defense Forces to discover “over 1,500 new tunnel shafts built under community structures including hospitals, schools, and homes in Gaza including 350 to 450 miles of tunnels,” since the war with Hamas that started on 7 October.

Iran set for hardliner-dominated election to replace Raisi

Iran’s snap presidential election will be dominated by establishment hardliners, with only one reformist among the six candidates approved to compete in a vote to succeed the country’s late president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Candidates include parliament’s Speaker and former IRGC officer Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ex-nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Tehran Mayor Tehran Alireza Zakani, surgeon and former legislator Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, former minister of justice and interior minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, and reformist legislator Masoud Pezeshkian, according to a statement broadcast on Iranian state TV.

The Guardian Council, a powerful authority that oversees elections, approved the six-man list from 80 individuals who had registered to run in the June 28 election, which was triggered by Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash last month.

The US will be closely watching the outcome of the vote as hostilities with Tehran simmer over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and Iran’s contested nuclear programme.

The candidates have until 27 June to campaign and are expected to take part in five live debates on national television, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

US imposes fresh sanctions targeting Houthi oil shipments

The US unveiled sanctions on 10 people, ships and companies in a fresh bid to choke off commodity revenue for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have disrupted trade flows through the Red Sea with repeated attacks on commercial shippers.

The action targeted the network of Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal, who has already been subjected to repeated sanctions, the US Treasury Department said. Also among the targets was Hong Kong-based Lainey Shipping, the owner of a Panama-flagged ship called Janet that has carried sanctioned cargo.

“The Houthis continue to leverage an expansive support network to facilitate their illicit activities, including hiding the origin of cargo, forging shipping documents, and providing services to sanctioned vessels,” Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson said.

The US and its allies have launched repeated military strikes and imposed numerous sanctions on the Houthis in the months since the group began attacking ships passing through the Red Sea in response to Israel’s strikes on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So far though, those attacks have done little to deter the Houthis and global tanker flows remain severely disrupted.

Blinken returns to Middle East as US presses stalled ceasefire plan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Egypt on Monday and was expected to meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the US attempts to push a last-ditch ceasefire proposal publicly endorsed by Biden but brushed off so far by both Israel and Hamas.

Blinken was first set to meet senior officials in Egypt, which along with Qatar has been helping mediate between Israel and Hamas. Blinken then travels to Israel where he is expected to meet Netanyahu, whose government is under renewed pressure after retired general Benny Gantz resigned from the emergency war Cabinet.

The visit marks Blinken’s eighth trip to the Middle East since the war broke out in October.

The trip, part of the ongoing “shuttle diplomacy” by the Biden administration’s top envoy, comes after Israel freed four hostages held for roughly eight months in a large-scale operation that has again put the region on edge. While Israel said its forces killed around 100, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said the death toll exceeded 270.

Blinken’s trip, which also includes stops in Jordan and Qatar, is part of a full-court press by Biden administration officials to secure participation from both Israel and Hamas in a three-phase, ceasefire deal that would see a temporary halt to the fighting and the release of some Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

That would be followed by what Biden conceded would be tough talks to reach phase two, where a permanent end to the fighting would result in the release of all remaining hostages – including captured soldiers – and a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the coastal enclave. The third phase would see the reconstruction of Gaza, large parts of which have been reduced to rubble by Israeli air strikes, shelling and other military operations.

Since Biden announced this potential deal on 31 May, calling it an Israeli proposal and urging Hamas officials to sign on, both sides to the conflict have distanced themselves from the arrangement.

One fundamental disagreement — which has dogged talks since the beginning — is that Hamas has generally insisted on a permanent ceasefire. Israel’s leadership wants a temporary pause that could see hostages freed but allow the country to follow through on its goal of totally destroying Hamas.

Blinken and other senior US officials have said the Israeli deal is a good one — with Biden calling it a “decisive moment” — and have urged Hamas to agree, saying the militant group is standing in the way of an end to the deadly fighting. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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