US-mediated talks opened Oct. 14 between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon's coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean Sea where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean's Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN.
On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
Trump's Israel-Palestine "peace" plan (sic), unveiled at the White House Jan. 29 in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed by the media with the very Trumpian epithet "Deal of the Century"—although he appears not to have used that actual phrase. Trump boasted the plan, officially dubbed "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People," as a "win-win solution for both sides" and a "realistic two-state solution." With typical bluster, he said: "Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace. I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems." Netanyahu went on Fox & Friends the next day to hail the scheme as an "opportunity of a lifetime for Israel and the Palestinians and for peace."
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused her of "pure anti-Semitism" for seeking to investigate possible war crimes committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. "This is a particularly regrettable accusation that is without merit," Fatou Bensouda told The Times of Israel in a Jan. 13 interview. "I, along with my office, execute our mandate under the Rome Statute with utmost independence, objectivity, fairness and professional integrity. We will continue to meet our responsibilities as required by the Rome Statute without fear or favor."
More than a year and a half after it was launched, the Great March of Return continues to mobilize weekly on the Gaza Strip border. Friday, Oct. 25, saw the 80th such mobilization—and was met with gunfire by Israeli security forces. Hundreds of Palestinians protested at various points near the border fence, with some setting tires on fire and throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and firecrackers at the Israeli forces—who responded by launching tear-gas canisters and opening fire with both rubber bullets and live rounds. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 95 civilians—including 43 children, a woman, two paramedics and a journalist—were shot and injured by Israeli troops.
An Egyptian-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip apparently took effect with no formal announcement May 6, after two days of hostilities that saw hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza and the most extensive Israeli air-strikes on the Strip since 2014. A total of 27 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians, are reported dead in the air-strikes, which also included the first "targeted killings" of Hamas militants since 2014. Four Israeli civilians were also killed, all in the south. In the hours before the ceasefire, Israeli troops massed on the Gaza border, and a new invasion of the Strip appeared imminent. (Ma'an, Al Jazeera, Ha'aretz, YNet)
An Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions in the besieged Gaza Strip was declared March 26 following two days of Israeli air-strikes and Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of strikes across the Strip, while at least 50 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Residential and commercial buildings were struck by Israeli warplanes, with at least seven Palestinians reported injured. The escalation came after a Gaza rocket struck an house north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven Israelis. (Ma'an) With the air-strikes underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Donald Trump in Washington for the signing of a presidential proclamation officially recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory. At the joint press conference, Trump said, "We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv," adding, "We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism." Netanyahu called Trump's recognition a "diplomatic victory," adding that "Israel won the Golan Heights in a just war of defense." (Ma'an)
The UN Human Rights Council released the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on Feb. 28, finding potential crimes against humanity committed by Israel. The report focuses on the period from May 30 to December 31, 2018, when the Gaza protest campaign known as the "Great March of Return and the Breaking of the Siege" was taking place. During the seven months studied, 6,106 unarmed protesters were shot by military snipers, resulting in 189 Palestinian deaths. "[B]ullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or...hits from tear gas canisters" injured an additional 3,098 Palestinians. The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry found 35 of the fatalities were children, three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists. Four Israeli soldiers were injured at protest sites, and one soldier was killed outside of the protest sites.