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Israel: A Week of Turmoil

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On Monday, Gaza witnessed the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war. Tens of thousands protested and clashes erupted along the Gaza border against the US transfer of its embassy to Jerusalem. The “March of Return,” as Palestinians are calling the protest campaign that began in March, has intended by its creators to publicize global awareness that about two-thirds of Gaza residents are considered Palestinian refugees.

For seven weeks, protesters have gathered on the Gaza side of the border with Israel, with scores of deaths over that period before the violence ratcheted this week as 58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2700 seriously injured.  The Israeli troops have used live ammunition on the demonstrators as Israel considers attempts by Palestinian protesters to approach the fence a threat to its sovereignty and has framed its responses to these protests as a lawful defense of the Israeli border. The Israeli authorities have dropped leaflets over Gaza warning Palestinians to not approach the fence. However, the military maintains it is only targeting those instigating violence and has sought to use nonlethal deterrents — including drones that drop tear gas — to counter the protests. Hamas has been accused of exploiting the “March of Return”, whilst Israel has said a significant number of those killed were members of various militant Islamist factions in the Gaza Strip, using the mass demonstrations as cover to infiltrate into Israel and carry out possible terrorist attacks. Israel has faced international condemnation over the deaths, from the UN, UK, France, Russia and others. “I don’t know of any army that would do anything differently if you had to protect your border against people who say, ‘We’re going to destroy you, and we’re going to flood into your country,’” Mr. Netanyahu stated. Other Israelis have said that if thousands of angry Palestinians breached the Gaza fence, the outcome would be far bloodier. Doctors without borders said that they are overwhelmed by the Gaza carnage: “In one of the hospitals where we are working, the chaotic situation is comparable to what we observed after the bombings of the 2014 war, with a huge influx of injured people in a few hours, overwhelming the medical staff.”

The Palestinians and United Nations human rights officials say Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza, making it subject to certain obligations to protect civilians under international law, because the Israelis exert effective control over most of Gaza’s land, air and sea borders. Israel has rejected that argument, asserting that it voluntarily departed Gaza 13 years ago. While Egypt could theoretically do more to ease the travails of Gaza’s population, analysts say that, “Egypt sees it as political quicksand.” Tensions between Israel and Egypt are rising, with President Sisi warning for regional instability, but there have been reports that Egypt has managed to restore calm in Gaza as protests have dropped off over the past hours, by pressurising Hamas. Hamas has rejected these reports and said that they will continue the protests increasing concerns over the stability in Israel while back in February they had stated that a likelihood of war with Israel is possible. Israel on Wednesday welcomed another embassy in Jerusalem just two days after the landmark move by the United States, even as the diplomatic fallout over Gaza bloodshed intensified with Israel and Turkey trading bitter recriminations. Leading the charge was Turkey, which on Tuesday expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul. Israel retaliated with its own expulsions of top Turkish diplomats.

Turmoil in Israel is continuing, with fears over a war likelihood between Iran and Israel growing the past few days. Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war on Thursday after the Israeli military struck the majority of Iran’s bases in Syria in response to what it said was a Iranian rocket barrage fired at the Golan Heights. Israeli carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Syria since the 1973 war, striking around 50 Iranian military bases, supply depots, and intelligence sites as well as Syrian regime air defence batteries, the Israeli military said. The wave of strikes was in response to a barrage of 20 rockets which Israel said were fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard towards the Golan, a mountainous region that Israel annexed from Syria after capturing it in 1967. Israel has said repeatedly it will not allow Iran to build up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to go to war to stop it. Nasrallah said Hezbollah and its allies Iran and Syria “will respond at the appropriate time and place and with the appropriate method” to Israel’s Syria raids, while adding, “This landmark rocket attack has launched a new phase.” He warned “the next response would be in the heart of occupied Palestine should any red lines be crossed.”

While tensions are rising in the region, the UK government issued a travel warning amid the Gaza protests and the direct attacks between Israel and Syria, advising people to avoid travelling to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and confirming that there is an increased risk of instability in the region with the likelihood of terrorist attacks very high. With the Gaza protests bound to escalate further, and amid the exchange of attacks between Israel and Iran, Israel is entering a quagmire. Analysts have said that we are now facing a new reality where Iran is attacking Israel directly and trying to harm Israel’s sovereignty and territories.

Security Advisory – Sahel Region (10 May 2018)

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Security Advisory:  Sahel Region

See on the right-hand side a social media post attributed to al-Qaeda in the Sahel region.  English translation is below:

 

English Translation:  Al Qaeda threatens to attack companies established in the Sahel region. In a communique published on May 8, the terrorist group accuses Western societies of plundering the resources of this region and announces that they have become targets of attack.

 

Security Summary

MS Risk will be evaluating the authenticity of this posting and the immediate implications (if any) in the coming days.

Potential perils include risk of ambush, kidnapping of expat or local national employees, theft of vehicles or fuel and other consumables, or vandalism.  Previous attacks have included attempts at indirect fire (a crude rocket attack made towards a mine in Jan 2017 which failed), the use of vehicle borne IEDs (car bombs) which appeared to feature in the Ouagadougou attack in March of this year and marauding gunmen attacks such as has been seen at hotels, restaurants and embassies in several countries in the last three years.  Furthermore, IED usage has increased in Mali and there are strong indications of new skill sets coming into the Sahel region.  This is indicative of skills transfer from other theatres of unrest, such as Libya and Syria.  There is a concern of growing sophistication of the IED threat in Mali and we are closely monitoring the expanding risk of this technology into the greater Sahel region.

The March 2018 terrorist incidents in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which saw two high profile targets attacked in broad daylight, demonstrates that militant groups operating in the Sahel region have the capabilities to carry out complex attacks.  This highlights the need to take stock of security and risk exposures.  It will be prudent for companies with a high profile in the Sahel region to watch for suspicious activity: surveillance, unknown persons loitering near property, signs of trespass or forced entry to premises, and odd contact in various forms and guises.  Companies should take this moment to assess their own exposures and consider procedures for night operations, road movements, journey management and security routines at residences, offices and depots.  We recommend a review of crisis management plans and escalation procedures.

MS Risk can assist corporates and NGOs as needed throughout the region.  Contact us for further assistance.

Contact Information

Contact:  info@msrisk.com

Regional Manager West Africa:  Philip Whitehead (Email: pip.whitehead@msrisk.com Mobile: +226.64.81.95.58)

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU)

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More than ten percent of the world’s population makes their living from fisheries and aquaculture and at least half of mankind’s source of protein is from fish and seafood. This proportion in Asia is even higher.

National law and rules of intergovernmental regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO) regulate fisheries. Illegal fishing means fishing without a licence, using destructive practices or fishing in prohibited areas, to name a few. Unreported fishing stands for catches not reported to national or international authorities. Unregulated fishing usually refers to vessels operating in violation of national law or RFMO’s regulations.

IUU operators try to register their vessels in countries which they do not have a genuine connection with, or which lack strict supervision, like Cambodia. Illegal fishers usually change the flag they are travelling under to another country’s, which is called flag hopping.

Another practice to avoid regulations is to transfer their catch to another ship while on the sea, not in a port. At-sea transhipments are legitimate practices and not a subject of controls when a ship is at sea. It also makes laundering illegally caught fish clean. Illegal operators also use ports of convenience known for poor inspections. Unreported fishing leads to overfishing, which affects most of the Asian countries, especially Cambodia and the Philippines. Destructive fishing also has a huge and long-term effect on our ecosystem. The use of chemicals to poison fishes or dynamites to destroy their internal organs also damages reefs and natural habitats. Bottom trawling and ghost fishing are also illegal, yet still widely used in Asia. The Spratley and Paracel Islands are highly threatened by these, not to mention issues such as reef building and the claiming sovereignty by more than one Asian nation.

One of the many reasons behind the unsuccessful fight against IUU is the lack of national capability. Some of the countries have huge territorial waters to patrol. Think about Indonesia which has less than 100 coastguard vessels, yet it has 6 million km² to monitor, which is double the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The previously mentioned lack of clearly defined maritime borders and corruption are also among the reasons IUU fishing is a serious issue. An illegal fishing vessel was detained in Indonesia in April, which turned out to be carrying a 30 km long gillnet. Every now and then there are news regarding arrests of illegal fishermen, but it is only a drop in the sea.

The Asia Foundation in cooperation with the USA, China and Thailand held an ASEAN Regional Forum in Bangkok in March 2018. The participants agreed that an inclusive and synchronised legal framework is needed to regulate fisheries policies in the region. Regional powers should share their best practices and harmonise their plans into a common regional practice. Most of the crimes committed in the fishing industry are transnational, therefore joint monitoring, surveillance and control is crucial to fight effectively against criminals. Information-sharing between agencies and authorities will further improve sustainable fisheries management. Coordinated sea-farming can lead to sustainable ecosystems. Introducing small-scale fishery practices to local communities would mean a stable and long-term livelihood. The participants agreed that exploring further options for collaboration at national and local level will contribute to identifying goals and next steps for sustainable fisheries management.

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Mission Accomplished? The Trump Administration’s Syria Conundrum 

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On 13 April, a joint U.S.-U.K.-French naval and air strike was launched against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons programme in retaliation for the deployment of chlorine and sarin nerve agents against innocent civilians in Douma, eastern Ghouta, on 7 April. The Trump administration subsequently framed the missile strike as, in part, a repudiation of the Obama administration’s response to a similar attack launched by the Syria regime in June 2013. In contrast to President Obama’s last minute decision to refrain from military action, the Trump administration positioned its action as resolute and decisive. Before the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley declared, “When our president draws a red line, our president enforces a red line.” The quote was quickly packaged into a tweet on Ms Haley’s account, retweeted by President Trump and widely disseminated from the White House podium. 

The subtext of the quote is likely that the Trump administration overcame the same obstacle that the Obama administration did not — namely, the risk of mission-creep upon entering into Syria’s quagmire. Rather than refrain from military action, the Trump administration presented itself as confronting its own red line with consistency and decisiveness. This sense of confrontation was particularly noticeable considering President Trump’s comments two weeks beforehand. On 29 March, reportedly without informing his State Department, Pentagon or national security officials, the president told a crowd in Ohio that the United States would be withdrawing from Syria, “like, very soon.” He continued, “We’ve got to get back to our country where we belong; where we want to be”, before adding, “Let other people take care of it now.” Rather than seek regime change, the Trump administration therefore undertook a pin-prick strike against minor targets related to the regime’s chemical weapons programme, all the while enforcing its red line. “Mission Accomplished”, the president would tweet the following day. 

Yet it is not entirely clear that the Trump administration has overcome the hurdle of mission-creep faced by the Obama administration in 2013. This is because a growing stake in the Syrian conflict’s trajectory not only arises from military intervention itself and its perceived consequences upon a worsening and highly uncertain conflict (as was President Obama’s concern), but from the language justifying that intervention. Here, President Trump’s condemnation of the primary stakeholders in any likely future resolution to the conflict — the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments — is particularly noticeable. President Assad is a “Gas Killing Animal”, a “Monster” and a “Butcher.” The Russian and Iranian governments, including President Putin, are “responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.” Speaking to reporters before a White House cabinet meeting, the president reiterated on 9 April that “Everybody’s going to pay a price.” Consequently, Mr Trump’s two-week old declaration that the U.S. will “Let other people take care of it now” — meaning Assad, Russia and Iran — now falls notably short of the White House’s own criteria for who should have a stake in Syria’s future. For a White House that is highly image-conscious and sensitive to accusations of weakness, these words of condemnation may incentivise a future diplomatic shift in Trump administration policy over Syria.   

Rather than overcoming President Obama’s 2013 predicament through strength of will, it is therefore possible to interpret Trump administration policy in Syria through the lens of Mr Obama’s 2013 conundrum between non-military action and potential mission-creep. The Trump administration faces the possibility of being pushed and pulled between withdrawal and greater involvement in Syria as a result of Mr Trump’s decisive remarks on both sides of this conundrum. This is not to pass comment on the legitimacy of the missile strikes on 13 April, but only to show that U.S. credibility can become attached to even pin-prick assaults. A successful, clinical strike may prove to have broader consequences further down the line for Trump administration policy in Syria. 

Finland and Sweden’s Total Defence

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Finland and Sweden have been improving and developing the defensive capabilities for the last few years. It is clear that they are worried about a Russian attack against their countries. The fear has risen in recent years after Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. While both have increased their military budget they are also focusing on creating alliances with other countries; this has been made more complicated because Finland and Sweden both pride themselves on their neutrality and are not a part of NATO. They are only two countries not in NATO in the Baltic area leaving the defence of their country against Russia in their own hands.

As one of the bordering countries with Russia, Finland is worried about invasion. There fears are not unfounded Russia and Finland have fought four wars this century. In the winter war of 1938-40 and continuation war 1941-44 led to the loss of territory for Finland. The capital Helsinki is very close to the border and with much of the natural defences gone from the territory loss Finland has long been aware of its vulnerabilities and as such has never really slowed down their combat capability like Sweden did. They have planned something called deep defence. This is an agreement with Sweden allowing Finland to use and, presumably, fight from Swedish military bases. This is a big step as they had a similar deal of cooperation before the Second World War and Sweden hesitated allowing the Russians to attack Finland with impunity; additionally if this action is taken it ensures a Russian attack on Sweden. Finland may be looking for other allies it can call on if they come under attack. As a result Finland has talked about joining NATO but there is considerable push back as people fear that it will cause Russia to invade. While this is being debated it is highly likely that the country will take more steps towards ingratiating themselves with other countries so they can call on them in the time of need.

While Sweden doesn’t share a border with Russia they are only separated by the Baltic Sea. In 2014 Sweden accused Russia of hiding a submarine in the waters of Stockholm. In the aftermath Sweden permanently stationed troops on the island of Gotland located in the Baltic Sea. In 2017 they set up the defence commission. The commission is set to release a report in 2019 about how to create a “Total Defence” that made use of all of Sweden to repel invaders. The Commission released an early report when they said that they would need reinforcements from other countries to help them. This has led to Sweden allowing NATO forces to train in the country has participated in more NATO exercises. They have also made moves towards the US with 1,000 US troops joining Swedish troops on their largest exercise in 25 years and focused on the defence of Gotland. The defence plan has led Sweden into increasing the military budget. The initial report said that 4 billion would need to be spent on defence. Sweden also reintroduced the draft for men and women in 2017. Like Finland, Sweden is looking to create partnerships to help them in the defence of their country. This will be hard to do as they pride themselves on there neutrality, which is what caused them to refuse membership to the NATO in the first place.

While military is an important part of the “Total Defence” the commission focuses on all areas of life as well. But it has also focused on other areas, during the cold war Sweden nuclear bunkers for civilian use and they have been looking at getting them usable again allowing civilians to survive and fight back. Recently Sweden released pamphlets that they issued during the cold war which described what to do in the case of a crisis and threat of war. The pamphlet has information what to do in an air-raid shelter and what belongings Swedes should pack in case of timely departures (ID, clothing and gas masks). Citizens will also be informed on what the government’s response to a national crisis will be. Finally, the pamphlet will also give advice on how to handle false information and propaganda. A newer factor is Cyber warfare something that has been well utilised by the Russians affiliated groups in recent years. With Sweden being a technologically advanced country a lot of day to day life is dependent on electricity to function. A hit against their power supply like the one Estonia suffered could be debilitating especially if done during the cold winter months. For this the commission has looked to Finland which has the one of the best cyber security in the world. This total defence is Sweden’s best answer to the possibility of Russian invasion and it seems willing to put in the money to do so.

The commission hopes Sweden will hold out for three months and a week. They assessed that the Swedish army would need a week to mobilise, it would then take three months for partners to join the war. This means that Sweden knows its survival is dependent on another country coming in and helping them. This mean that the Swedes will ask for help against Russia and many countries will have to decide whether to fight Russia or not.