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22 Apr 22. Iran parades new air-defence system, UAVs. The Iranian military displayed a previously unseen air-defence system and at least two new types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during its Army Day parade in Tehran on 19 April. The towed air-defence system had a launcher for three surface-to-air missiles and a phased-array radar mounted on a rotating platform. The launcher tilts backwards so the radar can fold forward to search and track targets when deployed. The missile canisters were the same as the ones used with the 15 Khordad air-defence system and the radar appeared to be similar, which would make it a standalone version of a system that has separate radar and command post vehicles, as well as multiple launchers. Tasnim News Agency identified the system as the Tactical Hunter/Sayyad, an apparent reference to the Sayyad family of surface-to-air missiles that are used with several Iranian air-defence systems, including the 15 Khordad. The previously unseen UAVs displayed in the parade included one labelled as the Ababil-5 and two other seemingly identical examples of the same type. (Source: Janes)
21 Apr 22. Democratic Republic of Congo: Agreement to form regional force will bolster security efforts to fight rebel groups. On 21 April, the leaders from the East African Community (EAC) agreed to form a regional force to combat armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with planning launched for an urgent deployment. The Congolese army is currently in conflict with multiple rebel groups in the east of the country, including the M23 group which has remained active despite its recently declared unilateral ceasefire and the Islamic State aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), both active in North Kivu. With DRC having recently joined the EAC, and groups such as the ADF presenting a regional threat due to bombing attacks within Uganda, the body is focusing on resolving security barriers to greater integration and regional trade. Increased multilateral engagement will likely bolster local security capabilities, as well pushing the Congolese military to increase oversight of its members and crackdown on abuses. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Apr 22. Afghanistan: Multiple Bombings. Democratic Republic of Congo: Agreement to form regional force will bolster security efforts to fight rebel groups. On 21 April, the leaders from the East African Community (EAC) agreed to form a regional force to combat armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with planning launched for an urgent deployment. The Congolese army is currently in conflict with multiple rebel groups in the east of the country, including the M23 group which has remained active despite its recently declared unilateral ceasefire and the Islamic State aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), both active in North Kivu. With DRC having recently joined the EAC, and groups such as the ADF presenting a regional threat due to bombing attacks within Uganda, the body is focusing on resolving security barriers to greater integration and regional trade. Increased multilateral engagement will likely bolster local security capabilities, as well pushing the Congolese military to increase oversight of its members and crackdown on abuses.
On 21 April, four explosions occurred across Afghanistan, in the cities of Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh province, Kunduz in Kunduz province, and Khogyani district in Nangarhar province. Thus far, the Islamic State of Khorasan province (ISIS-K) has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz.
- The string of attacks points to a deteriorating security environment in Afghanistan. The blast at the She Dokan mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif inflicted the greatest number of casualties with at least 12 people killed and 58 wounded. The attack occurred when people gathered for prayers during the month of Ramadan at a mosque popular with Hazara Shias – a community that remains a primary target for ISIS-K. A police spokesperson confirmed that the second explosion in Kunduz city occurred in the Sardawar area that targeted a van carrying mechanics contracted by the Taliban government which resulted in the death of four and injured 18 bystanders. The third bombing took place in Khogyani district in eastern Nangahar and killed four Taliban security personnel. A fourth blast was the result of a mine planted in the Niaz Beyk area of Kabul which wounded two childre.
- The bombings highlight the growing capabilities of ISIS-K to conduct deadly attacks both inside and outside of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the latest incidents follow two explosions on 19 April in educational institutions located in the Shia-dominated and frequently targeted area of Dasht-e-Barchi in West Kabul. Moreover, ISIS-K claimed responsibility for a cross-border attack on a military base in the border town of Termez in Uzbekistan on 18 April, an attack that Uzbek authorities have however denied (See Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 19 April 2022). The terrorist group also claimed responsibility for an attack at another Shia mosque in Peshawar in Pakistan on 4 March that killed 56 people and injured over 100 (See Sibylline Alert – Pakistan – 4 March 2022).
The threat of further attacks targeting public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and mosques of the Shia community as well as Taliban security personnel remain high. However, in light of these attacks, the Taliban will likely bolster security operations against ISIS-K, thereby heightening the risks of clashes and physical security threats to bystanders. The increase in ISIS-K activity signals the end of the quiet period during the winter. The ongoing month of Ramada, which lasts until the beginning of May, consists of frequent religious activities and large public gatherings for prayers, which will provide additional opportunities for attacks by militant groups. An uptick in ISIS-K attacks in other countries also indicates that the group is showcasing its growing capability of becoming a regional operator. The location of the attacks in border areas and the growing threat of ISIS-K will raise security concerns beyond Afghanistan, particularly for neighbouring countries such as Pakistan. This may lead to authorities tightening border security measures, including additional security checks and personnel deployment. Cross-border economic activity and logistics may face delays or disruption as a result. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Apr 22. Indian government clashes with foreign defense sector over offset demands. About half of India’s offset obligations, which are worth $13.52bn across a set of 57 contracts, have resulted in either penalties or the threat of them, Defence Ministry officials told Defense News.
The government has imposed penalties on several original equipment manufacturers from 2013 to 2021 for defaulting on their offset obligations, potentially deterring foreign defense companies from seeking business in the country. Those penalized OEMs include:
- Lockheed Martin (a U.S.-based company) during work related to C-130J Hercules aircraft.
- Textron (U.S.) for a Sensor Fuzed Weapon contract.
- Safran (France) during a Mirage aircraft upgrade project and the acquisition of Rafael aircraft.
- Dassault Aviation (France) during a Mirage upgrade project.
- Thales (France) during a Mirage upgrade project and rocket-related efforts with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
- European consortium MBDA for an effort involving MICA missiles for the Mirage-2000H and during the Rafael acquisition.
- Rosoboronexport (Russia) for contracts related to Kamov Ka-28 helicopter upgrades, MiG-29 fighter jet upgrades and Mi-17 helicopters.
- Fincantieri (Italy) for work on a fleet tanker.
- Pilatus Aircraft (Switzerland) during efforts related to the PC-7 MkII basic trainer aircraft.
- Israel Aerospace Industries for contracts involving Harop and Heron drones.
Indian Defence Ministry officials and analysts said at least a dozen more offset contracts could be penalized in the near future.
Offsets are compensation a buyer seeks from a seller for the purchase of goods or services. These can range from co-production agreements to investments in local partners to technology transfer.
In India, offsets are supervised by the ministry’s Defence Offset Management Wing, DOMW, which monitors the implementation of deals between original equipment manufacturers and domestic enterprises, the latter of which serve as local partners. However, the country is in the process of eliminating offsets.
“Without going into the merits of individual cases, it appears that several defense contractors have failed to fulfill their legally binding offset obligations, resulting in a levy of penalties,” Vivek Rae, a former chief of acquisitions for the MoD, told Defense News.
The government’s offset policy, he added, has been difficult to implement. But ministry officials told Defense News original equipment manufacturers failed to meet offset requirements due to their own lack of performance. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the government’s process is flexible and allows changes to be made to local partnerships and offset products.
MoD officials noted OEMs are now permitted to submit their respective offset plans a year before discharge. Previously, a complete offset plan had to be submitted when the primary and offset contracts were signed.
Defense News contacted several OEMs who were penalized for defaulting on offset terms, but they refused to be identified for this story over concerns it would upset their prime customer — the Defence Ministry. However, some OEMs blamed the government for delays in offset implementation, citing excessive and inflexible regulations as well as a lack of expertise and accountability within the DOMW.
Any offset policy where one of every two contracts is penalized and forbids contracts signed since 2007 to close will harm a country’s ability to conduct business, warned Mayank Patel, the managing director of Tri Polus, a London-based consultancy specializing in offsets.
In the last five years, there were 21 contracts where offset obligations were unfulfilled on time. The minister of state for defense, Ajay Bhatt, told lawmakers April 4 the MoD has so far imposed a total of $43.5 m in penalties from 16 of those contracts.
Deepak Sangha, a former executive with MBDA’s British arm, said India’s approach to offsets does not economically benefit the nation and its defense industry in the long run. Sangha said OEMs face a lack of government flexibility when seeking minor deviations from stated or perceived guidelines. Moreover, penalties harm their reputations and could negatively impact opportunities elsewhere, he added.
Industry war games
Insighteon Consulting, a Delhi-based analytics firm, conducted a war game Feb. 23-24 on penalization cases related to India’s offset contracts. It found that in a majority of cases, an unfulfilled offset deal that led to a penalty was due to either overambitious offset programs or ambiguity in policies.
The firm also determined a trust-based relationship and flexibility in offset guidelines would have largely reduced penalties.
Rajiv Chib, a partner at Insighteon, said war game experts recommended that in legacy situations, where offsets contracts have long expired, the suppliers (or OEMs) should be given a second chance to fulfill their offset obligations.
Insighteon Consulting conducted a war game that found in a majority of cases, an unfulfilled offset deal that led to a penalty was due to either overambitious offset programs or ambiguity in policies. Chib also recommended the ministry create an empowered dispute-resolution body, led by a senior bureaucrat or senior industry professional, to facilitate that second chance.
The body’s objective would be to close all expired offset contracts — largely from before 2012 — and achieve the best possible outcome, as DOMW may find it difficult to play the role of both facilitator and arbitrator. An OEM’s second chance would come under a new broad policy framework, where the company is allowed to fulfill its offset obligations according to provisions from any Defence Procurement Procedure or Defence Acquisition Procedure governmental documents.
According to the MoD’s offset guidelines, if a vendor fails to fulfill its offset obligation in a particular year in accordance with the annual discharge plan, a penalty equivalent to 5% of the unfulfilled offset obligation will be levied on the vendor. The unfulfilled offset value will then be readjusted over the remaining period of the contract.
The offset policy says the penalty may either be paid by the vendor, recovered from the bank guarantee of the main procurement contract, deducted from the amount payable under the main procurement contract or recovered from the performance bond of the offset contract.
The policy also says any vendor failing to implement offset obligations could be banned from participating in future defense contracts for up to five years.
The MoD changed the offset threshold — the minimum contract value before offsets deals are considered — from $46m to $305m in 2016 under defense procurement rules; from 2020 onward, offsets were excluded from government-to-government deals.
This will eventually eliminate offsets related to Indian military procurement. However, implementation of present contracts will continue up to 2033.
India introduced its offset policy in 2005. In the initial years, small companies executed defense exports through offsets; the majority of those businesses specialized in information technology or engineering.
Later on, several manufacturing companies got a chance to export components and subassembly parts, particularly in the aerospace sector. The policy focused on compelling equipment suppliers to include local companies in their global supply chains.
Today, 220 domestic companies are listed with the MoD as Indian offset partners. (Source: Defense News)
19 Apr 22. Sri Lanks: Protests Over Fuel Price Hike. On 19 April, thousands of Sri Lankans across the country protested against fuel price hikes. In the Rambukkana area of Sabaragamuwa Province, the situation turned violent as the police reportedly fired at protesters, killing one and injuring ten others.
- As a result of the depreciating Sri Lankan rupee and the global spike in oil prices, a fuel price hike of nearly 65 percent was announced at midnight on 18 April. On 19 April, thousands of protesters across the country blocked several roads, including a major highway connecting Colombo with the tourist and industrial town of Kandy, namely the A1 or Kandy Road at multiple points (see map below for areas where protests broke out). Burning tires and parked buses were used to block roads, leading to severe transport disruptions. A railway line at Rambukkana, Sabaragamuwa Province was also blocked by protesters. In Rambukkana, police claim they fired live rounds in retaliation after protesters pelted them with stones, with the military reportedly deployed and curfew imposed to restore order.
- Last week, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) announced the rationing of fuel purchases in effect from 15 April. Owners of two-wheeler vehicles may only buy fuel worth up to Rs 1,000 (USD 3.03 dollars) and private four-wheeler vehicles up to Rs. 5,000 (USD 15.15) per visit to a filling station. While no restrictions have been placed on commercial vehicles, locals highlighted how public-run buses that used to operate at a frequency of 10-15 minutes are now delayed by over an hour and some services would also terminate halfway on their designated route due to fuel shortages. Indeed, a planned 35 percent increase in bus fares to be announced in the coming days will further augment public anger.
- The fuel price hike is the result of an ongoing economic crisis that has led to protests in Colombo for 11 consecutive days, calling for the resignation of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government. The centre of protests remains the Galle Face Green promenade where tents and other structures have been erected in what is now termed as the “Gota go village” as part of the “Occupy Galle Face” movement (See Sibylline Alert – 14 April 2022). While the overarching objective is to remove the Rajapaksa government, multiple protests by various social groups continue simultaneously. For example, close to 1,000 teachers from universities across the country marched from the University of Colombo to Galle Face on 19 April while the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party organised a three-day cross-province march that entered Colombo on 19 April and was participated by various groups such as lawyers and artists. Similarly, doctors and hotel associations have also been holding anti-government protests.
Today’s use of lethal force by the police marks an escalation in violence as the fatality was the first police killing recorded during the current anti-government protest movement. This incident will likely instigate public anger raising the likelihood of violent clashes in future protests, which in turn elevates security threats to bystanders. Furthermore, despite the Rajapaksa government removing several family members from the newly appointed cabinet and promising to reduce the concentration of power bestowed upon the president, protests will likely now only accept a complete removal of all Rajapaksa members from the government.
The opposition will likely raise today’s incident in the ongoing parliamentary session that ends on 22 April. Despite several adjournments, the opposition will be determined to expedite the process of launching a no-confidence motion against the government. However, such a process will require several rounds of voting, approval from the Supreme Court, and substantial lobbying on part of the opposition to convince independent legislators. Today’s shooting will nonetheless go some way to convincing independent lawmakers to join the opposition, heightening government instability as a result.
While anti-government protests will continue, price hikes in essentials such as fuel and transport fares will remain flashpoints for domestic unrest. As Sri Lanka continues to negotiate for an IMF relief package, with help from India that has also agreed to provide additional financial assistance, additional hikes in food commodities such as bread as well as sustained power outages are likely to trigger more street protests. Unrest associated with Sri Lanka’s perilous socio-economic conditions will sustain major logistical and supply chain disruptions in the upcoming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Mexico: Congress defeat of electricity reform reduces investor uncertainty yet significant policy risks for energy sector persist. On 17 April, Mexico’s Congress voted against a reform bill promoted by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the ruling Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) party that sought to ensure that state-owned electricity firm CFE remained the dominant market player by limiting private participation. The bill’s rejection has eased investor uncertainty, as critics warned it breached international agreements and would thwart investment. However, significant risks remain for businesses operating in Mexico as López Obrador continues to try to impose state control over the energy sector. On 18 April, the Morena-controlled Chamber of Deputies approved a bill nationalising the exploitation of Mexico’s lithium reserves. With the lithium nationalisation bill now in the Senate, the prospect of the López Obrador administration pursuing more market unfriendly policies coupled with Mexico’s weak economic recovery, will further undermine the business environment in the country and dampen investor confidence. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. India: Risk of communal clashes will remain high during the month of Ramadan. Over 16-17 April, local police arrested 14 individuals after Hindus and Muslims clashed in New Delhi’s Jahangirpuri district on the Hindu festival of Hanuman Jayanti leaving six police officers injured. An unauthorised procession of Hindu extremists reportedly carrying swords and pistols attacked Muslims while passing a local mosque that was hosting evening prayers in the month of Ramadan. Communal violence was also recorded in Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka leading to almost 140 arrests. Similar clashes between Hindus and Muslims also occurred on 10 April in multiple states during the Hindu festival Ram Navami (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 11 April 2022). Further communal clashes during Hindu festivals in the month of Ramadan that ends 1 May will sustain threats to bystanders, particularly in Muslim populated areas of cities where the majority of the clashes have taken place. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Rwanda-UK: Agreement will increase scrutiny of abuses threatening reputation of companies with local presence. On 14 April, British and Rwandan officials signed the Migration and Economic Development Partnership, under which Rwanda has agreed to take primarily single male asylum seekers who enter the UK illegally. Despite assurances about rights and support for refugees within Rwanda, there has already been substantial criticism of the agreement, particularly within the UK and has prompted a broader conversation about human rights in Rwanda. Should asylum seekers be transferred to Rwanda under the scheme, with such efforts likely to face legal challenges, greater scrutiny of humanitarian conditions in Rwanda can be expected, increasing public awareness of Rwandan political repression. This may drive demands from activists for Western companies in Rwanda to condemn such action, threatening working relationships with local authorities or negatively impacting their brand image. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Nigeria-Niger-Cameroon: Joint operations will increase pressure on jihadist forces reducing threats to urban centres. On 18 April, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a joint military force from Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, announced that it had killed over 100 jihadists, including 10 commanders, in the Lake Chad region in recent weeks. The announcement follows the force’s intensification of ground and air offensives, with troops recovering weapons from insurgent enclaves in the region. Such efforts will likely be further bolstered by additional military support from the US, which on 14 April approved a US$1bn sale of attack helicopters. As during previous operations by the MNJTF, joint action, backed with enhanced air support, will likely place considerable pressure on Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) controlled areas, particularly in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno State. This will undermine ISWA’s capability to threaten urban centres in the region, particularly Maiduguri, reducing attacks on critical power and communications infrastructure. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Pakistan-Afghanistan: Threat of attacks in mainland Pakistan sustained by lack of cooperation from Afghan government. On 17 April, an Afghan government official stated that the death toll from Pakistan’s military air raids in the border provinces on Khost and Kunar on 16 April has risen to at least 47. Pakistan has not claimed responsibility however the foreign ministry urged the Taliban government to take “stern actions” against militant groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and were likely retaliating to a TTP attack on 14 April that killed seven Pakistani soldiers in Northern Waziristan. The incident marks an escalation in a growing trend of cross-border skirmishes between security forces of both countries as well as TTP attacks on Pakistan border forces. Despite pressure from Islamabad, the Afghan Taliban government, that are allies of the TTP, are unlikely to curb the group’s operational capabilities raising the risk of attacks and threat levels for bystanders in mainland Pakistan at a time of significant domestic instability. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. South Korea: Downgrading of Covid-19 status to herald more conducive operating environment. On 18 April, the majority of social distancing measures were lifted, including the cap on private gatherings and the restrictions on opening hours for certain businesses, which will prove a particular boost for the hospitality industry. The move came as the government prepares to downgrade the classification of Covid-19 to a ‘Class 2 infectious disease’ in the next month, which will permit the removal of the mandatory quarantine period for infected individuals. The government will also make a decision on the mask mandate over the next two weeks. The restrictions have been able to be eased due to high vaccination rates, and the decreasing pressure on the health system. As a result of the lower perceived risk of the Omicron variant, firms can expect a more stable operating environment in the coming months. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Uzbekistan: ISKP attack reflects rising Jihadist threat in Central Asia. On 18 April, the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed to have carried out a rocket attack on an Uzbek military base in the border town of Termez, marking the first time the IS affiliate has targeted Uzbekistan. According to monitoring groups, ISKP fired 10 rockets from Hairatan, a border town in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province, though the Uzbek government has yet to formally comment. The attack reflects the rising jihadist threat in Central Asia following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and follows Russian concerns aired last month that IS affiliates are stepping up efforts to destabilise the region. Uzbekistan has sought pragmatic relations with the Taliban government to shore up border security, but ISKP’s hostility towards Kabul and their growing power base in the north of the country means the border is likely to become increasing insecure, threatening further rocket attacks and efforts to bolster the activities of the domestic Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
19 Apr 22. Venezuela: Blackouts in various states highlight bleak energy security outlook. On 17 April, Venezuela’s state-owned electricity utility company (CORPOELEC) reported power outages in at least 10 of the country’s 23 states, highlighting structural weakness and inadequate energy security. The lack of maintenance of the national grid constantly leads to power outages across the country, with border states commonly reporting daily 16-hour electricity cuts. While the partial deregulation of the energy and fuel sectors has somewhat improved energy security in major cities, the national grid’s reliability remains poor. Government efforts to improve energy security in major cities will likely reduce the impact of energy cuts in Caracas, Valencia, and Maracaibo. But industrial sectors will continue to be affected by recurrent outages. Limited capability to enhance the national grid’s reliability and electricity generation matrix make any significant improvement over the next two years unlikely. Yet continual privatisation of public services creates an opportunity to improve electricity provision, potentially through peer-to-peer supply arrangements. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Libya: Political fragility threatens further closure of oil fields, compounding global energy concerns. On 18 April, Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) confirmed the suspension of production and exports from several oil fields, including the Zueitina terminal and El-Sharara field. The NOC noted that heightened security concerns caused the closure of several facilities after personnel reportedly evacuated due to suspected trespassers. Despite the organisation of UN-backed talks between Libya’s competing political factions, expected to last until 20 April, ongoing political infighting and escalations between armed factions will continue to threaten efforts to secure a stable environment to facilitate Libya’s delayed elections. As a result, the oil and gas sector will remain vulnerable to physical threats as competing factions seek maximum disruption to strengthen their political leverage. Persistent fluctuations in Libya’s oil output will compound global energy supply concerns, particularly in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, driving overall price increases. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Kuwait: Protests heighten concerns over growing domestic activism amid ongoing political stalemate. On 18 April, political activist groups held demonstrations in the central Al-Erada Square in Kuwait City’s Shuwaikh district. Local media outlets reported that the Kuwaiti Youth for Al-Quds Association organised protests to condemn movement restrictions implemented by Israeli authorities towards Palestinian worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. In tandem, Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs aligned with protesters in calling for greater international support for the Palestinian people after weeks of elevated ethno-religious tensions in the disputed Palestinian Territories. However, though it is common for security deteriorations in the Palestinian Territories to drive bouts of civil unrest, recent developments heighten concerns surrounding Kuwait’s activist groups turning their focus towards domestic issues. Amid the Gulf state’s deepening political instability, the government’s growing anxieties and increasingly low tolerance for public criticism will likely result in the tightening of individual freedoms and heightened security provisions, undermining investor confidence and long-term business fluidity. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Israel: Al-Aqsa Clashes. Overnight on 19 April, Israeli forces carried out a series of airstrikes on the southern Gaza Strip, with targeted sites including a Hamas weapons factory near the city of Khan Younis. The strikes come in response to a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in the strip on the evening of 18 April, identified and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system. Reports indicate that neither strike caused injury or death.
- No Palestinian group has claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, though the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reaffirmed in a statement on 18 April that Israel holds Hamas responsible for activities in the Gaza Strip, and consequently, all projectiles. Nevertheless, reports indicate that the rocket launch could be attributable to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), with the group’s leader Ziad al-Nakhalah having released a statement condemning the Israeli government’s actions in Jerusalem and the West Bank hours ahead of the rocket launch.
- The rocket fire from Gaza was the first since New Year’s Eve, with Israel having last launched strikes towards the Gaza Strip approximately six months ago. As such, the incidents have disrupted a period of relative quiet along the border, itself representing one of the longest such periods without hostilities in recent years.
- Over the Easter weekend, Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on two separate occasions, and again on 19 April, to allow entry to Jewish settlers celebrating the Passover holiday. On 15 April, clashes broke out at Al-Aqsa mosque, with Israeli forces launching tear gas and stun grenades against Palestinian worshippers observing Friday Ramadan prayers, resulting in 150 injuries and between 300-400 reported arrests.
In a bid to calm tensions, Israeli forces reopened the Jamalah checkpoint in the Jenin area of the West Bank on 16 April and lifted a closure on border crossings with the West Bank and Gaza Strip soon after midnight on 17 April, initially imposed at the beginning of the Passover period on 15 April. These decisions suggest that the Israeli government aims to ease tensions and avoid further escalations in the coming week amid the continued overlap of the Jewish Passover and Islamic Ramadan religious periods.
Nevertheless, Israeli forces have also simultaneously established additional checkpoints around Old Jerusalem and the roads surrounding the Al-Aqsa compound amid reports that far-right settler and activist groups plan to storm the site over the coming week. Such movement restrictions in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa, in addition to further stormings from Jewish settlers or Israeli forces, will continue to inflame tensions and represent flashpoints for unrest and clashes with Palestinian worshippers in the coming days and weeks.
Nevertheless, developments at Al-Aqsa are at present unlikely to trigger significant cross-border escalations. The single rocket launch from Gaza likely represented a warning to Israel from the Palestinian group responsible, or even a potential misfire, rather than indicating intent to launch major cross-border escalations. With both Hamas and the PIJ having fired much of their munitions in the 11-day Gaza conflict in May 2021, they are likely to continue to avoid triggering severe military escalations with Israel. The PIJ remains more likely than Hamas, Gaza’s de facto political authority, to launch unilateral action falling short of triggering full-scale conflict, in response to any escalations in tensions around the Al-Aqsa compound and the West Bank. (Source: Sibylline)
18 Apr 22. CMF forms new task force to enhance Red Sea region’s security.
CTF 153 will enhance maritime security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandeb. The multinational naval partnership, Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), has established its fourth international naval task force.
Established on 17 April, the new Combined Task Force (CTF) 153 aims to enhance maritime security in the Red Sea region.
A ceremony to commission the new task force was held at the US Navy’s regional headquarters in Bahrain.
During the ceremony, US Naval Forces Central Command commander vice admiral Brad Cooper, along with the US 5th Fleet and CMF, commissioned CTF 153.
Cooper said: “This is a tangible and meaningful demonstration of our commitment to ensuring regional maritime security and stability through international cooperation.”
The new task force will work to improve international capacity building efforts and naval security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Bab al-Mandeb.
As many as 15 personnel from the CMF member nations along with the US military personnel will be assigned as staff of the new task force.
Aboard the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20), the CTF 153 staff is currently operating in the regional waters.
Apart from operating at the sea, the staff will also work from the CMF headquarters in Manama, Bahrain.
Currently, US Navy captain Robert Francis has been appointed as commander of the new CTF 153 by vice admiral Brad Cooper.
Later in autumn this year, the role of CTF commander will be assumed by a regional partner.
Established in 2001, CMF initially was a 12-member nation organisation, which focused to counter international terrorism.
The organisation expanded and presently includes around 34 member nations committed to the international rule-based order at sea.
Besides the CTF 153, CMF comprises of three more task forces including CTF 150, CTF 151 and CTF 152.
CTF 150 maintains maritime security in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean, while CTF 151 leads regional counter-piracy efforts.
The third task force, CTF 152, looks after the maritime security in the Arabian Gulf region. (Source: naval-technology.com)
18 Apr 22. U.S. envoy vows ‘strongest possible deterrent’ over North Korea weapons tests. The United States and South Korea would maintain the “strongest possible joint deterrent” over North Korea’s “escalatory actions”, the U.S. envoy on North Korea said on Monday, amid concerns that Pyongyang was preparing to resume nuclear testing.
U.S. Special Representative Sung Kim and his deputy, Jung Pak, met South Korean officials, including nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk, after arriving in Seoul early on Monday for a five-day visit.
“It is extremely important for the United Nations Security Council to send a clear signal to the DPRK that we will not accept its escalatory tests as normal,” Kim told reporters after his talks with Noh.
Kim was referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We agreed on the need to maintain the strongest possible joint deterrent capability on the peninsula,” he said.
Kim also said the allies would “respond responsibly and decisively to provocative behaviour,” while underlining his willingness to engage with North Korea “anywhere without any conditions.”
Kim’s arrival coincided with the start of a nine-day annual joint military drill by U.S. and South Korean troops.
The exercise consists of “defensive command post training using computer simulation” and will not involve field manoeuvres by troops, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Sunday.
North Korea has condemned the joint drills as rehearsals for war, and they have been scaled back in recent years amid efforts to engage Pyongyang in diplomacy, and because of COVID-19 restrictions.
On Saturday, North Korea test fired what state media said were missiles involved in delivering tactical nuclear weapons. read more
The U.S. envoy has repeatedly offered to re-engage with North Korea, but Pyongyang has so far rebuffed those overtures, accusing Washington of maintaining hostile policies such as sanctions and the military drills.
Kim was also expected to meet with the transition team for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office in May.
A spokesperson for the team said there was no meeting confirmed between Yoon and Kim, but Yoon’s foreign minister nominee, Park Jin, said he planned to meet Kim. Kim also said at his talks with Noh that Washington looks forward to working closely with Yoon’s team. (Source: Reuters)
18 Apr 22. U.S., Philippines Look at Ways to Strengthen Alliance. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana met today at the Pentagon to strengthen the deep alliance between the two countries.
This was their third meeting. Austin met Lorenzana and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2021, and the leaders decided to sign the U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, which has allowed continuing exercises contacts between the two militaries.
“I know that our teams have been meeting frequently … over the past year, and they’ve done a great deal to advance some of the forward-looking alliance initiatives that you and I have discussed,” Austin told Lorenzana. “All of this is a testament to the strength of our alliance and our friendship, and it’s also a tribute to your leadership.”
Austin pointed to the size of the joint U.S.-Philippine Exercise Balikatan — the first since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — as an example of the vitality of the alliance between the nations. “Despite the pandemic, this was one of the largest of these exercises ever, including exercising a new range of capabilities,” Austin said. “And that just underscores our shared commitment to this alliance, and that commitment is ironclad.”
Austin and Lorenzana discussed strengthening mutual defense treaty commitments, enhancing maritime cooperation, and improving interoperability in information sharing. “All these efforts underscore our promise to ensure that our alliance stands ready to tackle future challenges,” Austin said.
Austin said Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine points to the need for countries to stand together to defend the international, rules-based architecture that has served the world well since the end of World War II. (Source: US DoD)
17 Apr 22. Kim Jong Un observes missile test to boost nuclear capabilities. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the test firing of a new type of tactical guided weapon aimed at boosting the country’s nuclear capabilities, the North’s KCNA state news agency reported on Sunday.
The report comes amid signs North Korea could soon resume nuclear testing according to South Korean and U.S. officials and after Kim broke a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing with a launch last month.
South Korea’s military said on Sunday it had detected two projectiles launched on Saturday from the North’s east coast towards the sea. The projectiles flew about 110 km (70 miles) with an apogee of 25 km and maximum speed of less than Mach 4, indicating they were short-range missiles.
The KCNA report gave no details on the launch but linked it to the North’s nuclear objectives.
“The new-type tactical guided weapon system … is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes,” KCNA said.
It said Kim “gave important instructions on further building up the defence capabilities and nuclear combat forces of the country.”
North Korea has been developing short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) that analysts say are designed to evade missile defences and strike targets in the South.
On April 5, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim, said North Korea opposes war but would use nuclear weapons to strike South Korea if attacked, in a warning seen aimed at the South’s incoming conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol.
Yoon spokesperson Bae Hyun-jin said there was nothing new or surprising in the North’s “show of force” as a new administration comes in.
President Moon Jae-in, who will leave office on May 10, has received real-time briefings on the North’s missile launch, his office said.
RESTORING NUCLEAR TEST SITE
The weapon appears to be the North’s first tactical nuclear-weapons delivery system, said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, citing indications of work to restore North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
“You don’t have to be particularly imaginative to put this two and two together,” Panda said.
U.S. and South Korean officials have noted activity at the Punggye-ri site which could be preparations for a test, although the timing and nature of that were unclear. read more
As early as 2017, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that North Korea was able to miniaturise nuclear weapons across the spectrum of its missiles, from SRBMs to ICBMs.
Kim Jong Un in January 2021 said the country was able to “miniaturise, lighten and standardise nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones”. He also outlined goals of developing other weapons such as hypersonic missiles and spy satellites, which have been tested this year.
Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the U.S.-based Center for a New American Security, said the timing could be taken as a protest against anticipated joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, which Pyongyang has long denounced as a war rehearsal.
The United States and South Korea plan to launch the annual springtime exercise on Monday for a nine-day run, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
On Saturday the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, based in South Korea, shared photos of troops test-firing a multiple-launch rocket system, although the timing of the event was not indicated.
A U.S. Defense Department spokesperson on Sunday acknowledged the latest missile test. “We are aware of the North Korean statement that they conducted a test of a long-range artillery system,” said Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners.
U.S. nuclear envoy Sung Kim will visit Seoul on Monday to discuss a response to the North’s recent missile launches with his South Korean counterparts. read more
The U.S. envoy has said Washington is open to talks without preconditions but Pyongyang has rebuffed those overtures, accusing the United States of hostile policies evidenced by sanctions and military drills.
On Friday, North Korea celebrated the 110th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung. (Source: Reuters)
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