UNRWA does provide valuable health, education and welfare services to Palestinians who are often in genuine need. But it does so at the cost of a series of problematic behaviours which have become a significant obstacle to any two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace.
If I were compiling a foreign policy wish list for 2018, high on the list would be ending the fiction that Lebanon is an independent country rather than an Iranian satrapy governed by Iran's foreign legion, Hezbollah.
On January 25, members of the UK Parliament supported a non-binding resolution in the House of Commons to proscribe all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation under UK terrorism legislation. Currently, in the UK only the military wing is defined as a terrorist organisation.
Aoun has long been a controversial figure in Lebanon. Once the country's most anti-Syrian political figure, since 2005 he has been aligned with the Assad regime and its principal ally in Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Hezbollah... While many welcome the potential end of political stagnation produced by the presidential vacuum, the key question is whether the agreement to elect Aoun also implies increased Iranian control.
Last week saw the death in an explosion of Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hezbollah's most senior military commander and terrorist organiser, in unclear circumstances, near Damascus. Badreddine was the successor to Imad Mughniyeh, killed near Damascus in 2008, and is believed to have orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005. This Update deals with the implications of Badreddine's death - but also includes a comment on the growing normalcy of the use of chemical weapons during Syria's civil war.
During an interview with Radio National's Fran Kelly on April 10, former Foreign Finister Bob Carr raised a previously unreported story involving a vote in the UN General Assembly involving Israel. Carr used the story in an attempt to bolster his claim that then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been influenced by Australia's pro-Israel lobbyists to stymie any criticism of Israel.
A fairer interpretation of the evidence and facts of the case, however, creates a different picture - one of a rogue foreign minister being reined in for attempting to unilaterally downgrade Australia's relationship with Israel, without any policy consultation, justification or coordination with his prime minister.
One is left with the impression, by the close of Levitt's book, that the counter-terrorism struggle against Hezbollah is being won. He writes, "All told, more than twenty terror attacks by Hezbollah or Qods Force operatives were thwarted over the fifteen month period between May 2011 and July 2012; by another count, nine plots were uncovered over the first nine months of 2012." But the evidence in the book should lead us to two conclusions: that it has taken a concerted, large-scale and largely undercover international effort to thwart all these attacks and that Hezbollah remains as committed as ever to its violent jihadist agenda.
This Update deals with the aftermath of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's very public announcement last week that Hezbollah was essentially completely dedicated to fighting "all out" on the side of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, following widespread reports that large numbers of Hezbollah fighters have been involved in the extended battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusayr - plus what this means for Syria, Lebanon and the region.
With Israeli military intelligence concluding that Syria has been using chemical weapons against rebels - joining more equivocal claims by Britain and France - and now US intelligence sources largely agreeing, there are growing calls for the US to rethink its low-key policy on Syria - given that US President Obama last year said such use would be a "red line" which would change the American "calculus." This update contains discussion of the possibility and its implications.