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Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

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This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs

Israel and the Ill-fated Flotilla
9 people were killed and scores wounded when the Israeli Navy stormed the "Freedom Flotilla" led by the pro Palestinian Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish NGO Insani Yardim Vakfi. Hundreds of protesters were arrested as well, but then quickly released. International indignation ensued with the UN Human Rights Council calling for an official inquiry into the incident. Israel contends that it was rightly defending a legal blockade and that it only responded with force once its soldiers were attacked with sticks and knives. Israel also says that it was deeply concerned that the flotilla carried not only humanitarian supplies but arms for Hamas. The protesters say the Israelis attacked as soon as they boarded the ship, the Mavi Marmara. Both sides have released videos to justify their claims. Thought leaders generally agree that Israel poorly handled what was essentially a PR initiative by the Turkish NGO to pressure Israel by responding with force and essentially causing itself further international isolation. What is worse is that the incident has deepened the rift with necessary Israeli ally Turkey. Many argue that Israel actually played right into the hands of the protesters and Hamas, who maintains an iron grip on Gaza. The result being that Israel will have to amend its blockade of Gaza, which represents a very real security risk, as a starting step to amend its flailing international reputation, to reengage with Turkey and to have a chance to possibly resume the flegling proximity talks with Fatah, brokered by the US. Indeed, Israel has already conceded that it is "exploring new ways" to allow non-lethal goods into Gaza.

Iran and its Nuclear Fuel
Iran's delay tactics may have allowed it to acquire enough nuclear fuel for two nuclear weapons, according to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog. Furthermore, the report goes into great detail how Iran has misguided, evaded and denied international inspectors access to key sites. This news will certainly give more momentum to the Obama Administration's push for a fourth round of sanctions in the UN Security Council against Iran (and take the wind out of sails of a side deal Iran made with Turkey and Brazil to export a portion of its fuel).

War Reports:

Iraq's Supreme Court validated the election results from March thus the giving secular Iraqiyya alliance headed by former premier Iyad Allawi a slim lead. Wrangling between parties to lead the formation of a coalition government did not seem to abate despite the news. The two Shia coalitions, PM Maliki's State of Law and the the United Iraqi Alliance, have yet to agree to terms that would allow it to form a ruling coalition (a lot of the debate seems to stem from whether Maliki will remain PM). Meanwhile the Kurds say they will back Allawi if the stalemate continues. How all major factions will finally manage to form a government eludes even the keenest analysts at present. With violence on the rise and the risk of sectarian violence increasing (though still relatively low), the US is urging Iraq to form a legitimate and widely accepted government ahead of its combat force withdrawal at August's end.

Rocket attacks for which the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility disrupted a major peace Jirga aimed at finding means for reconciliation between Afghanistan's rivaling factions (including the Afghan Taliban!). Afghan Police with US air support successfully pushed back a Pakistani Taliban attempt to move into Nuristan Province. But the victory was short lived when another similar attack, again along the border that abuts Pakistan, was reported in Paktia Province. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on two mosques in Lahore targeting the Ahmadis, a long persecuted minority sect of Islam. Much reviled and debated drone attacks in Pakistan continued to yield fruit when American intelligence operatives claimed that a top financial chief for Al Qaeda Mustafa Abu al-Yazid had been killed in the attacks.

Analysis in Brief:

Burma's Nuclear Ambitions
US Senator Jim Webb canceled an upcoming trip to Myanmar after he received intelligence suggesting that the military Junta is attempting to develop a nuclear weapons program.

South Korea Leadership Crisis
As the US assists Seoul in developing a compelling Naval Defense Plan, hopes were dashed for a strong unified international response when China refused to hold Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan warship last month. It seemed that support was waning for South Korea's strong response to the incident not only internationally but domestically as well when voters rebuked in regional elections the hardline and anti-engagement policies of President Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party.

Japanese Leadership Crisis
After less than nine months, Japan PM Yukio Hatoyama resigned following his inability to convince the US to relocate a key air force base off the island of Okinawa. Naoto Kan will replace him.

India and the Naxalites In the latest of a string of recent violent activity, Maoist rebels derailed a train in West Bengal killing at least 70 people and injuring over 140. Over the past year, India has stepped up its response to the growing presence of the Naxalites across many states launching a multistate police and paramilitary campaign known as Operation Green Hunt. Analysts are now trying to evaluate whether recent attacks indicate that the campaign is working to circumscribe the Naxalites area of influence or merely exacerbating the situation.
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