By Gideon Rachman
Every time Israel holds an election, it makes a point to the world and to itself. The country has suffered widespread condemnation for its military actions in Gaza. But it remains a lonely democracy in the Middle East.

When an election was called in Israel earlier this week, most people assumed that the likeliest outcome was that a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu would be replaced by another government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet early developments in the election campaign – supplemented by early opinion polls – suggest that Mr Netanyahu may not be such a shoo-in, after all. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Political analysts often use chess as a metaphor to describe world affairs. States and peoples move around the board struggling to make incremental gains. Every now and then, a grandmaster arrives and transforms the game with a new and unexpected gambit – something like Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s “opening to China” in 1972.

After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.

This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
What should western politicians be most worried about: growth, inequality, the environment, education? To judge from today’s discourse, the answer seems to be none of the above. Instead, in the past month, both Barack Obama, US president, and David Cameron, UK prime minister, have made big speeches on immigration. At the weekend Swiss voters rejected a proposal virtually to end the flow of incomers to their country. But anti-immigration parties have made strong gains in a variety of other European nations, including Sweden and Italy, in the past year.

Nicolas Sarkozy is back as leader of France’s centre-right UMP party. The stage is set for him to run for the presidency in 2017. Given the dreadful opinion-poll ratings of President François Hollande, Mr Sarkozy must surely now be considered the favourite to be France’s next president.

But it is not all good news for the former and would-be future president. His victory margin in the UMP poll was a relatively narrow 64.5 per cent. That will probably not be enough to deter potential challengers for the UMP nomination in 2017 – including credible alternatives such as Alain Juppé. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
For centuries European navies roamed the world’s seas – to explore, to trade, to establish empires and to wage war. So it will be quite a moment when the Chinese navy appears in the Mediterranean next spring, on joint exercises with the Russians. This plan to hold naval exercises was announced in Beijing last week, after a Russian-Chinese meeting devoted to military co-operation between the two countries.

The announcement of closer Russian-Chinese military co-operation is a striking sign of how geo-political competition is hotting up – as both Russia and China look to push back against a US-dominated world. Read more

I never had much time for the Greenham Common women. As a mildly reactionary student of the 1980s, I regarded them – and their protest camp outside a British nuclear-weapons base – as silly and misguided. After all, decades of experience taught that nuclear deterrence worked.

The US and its allies are at war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is at war with the Syrian government. So does that mean that the West is now in alliance with the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad? Logic would suggest that – objectively speaking – this must be the case. Talk to western officials, however, and you are told a much more complicated and confusing story. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

This weekend America announced that it was sending more troops to Iraq, Russia allegedly sent more troops into Ukraine and President Barack Obama set off for Beijing.

Viktor Yanukovich's despotic decor

This is shaping up as the year of the controversial presidential mansion. In February, after the revolution that toppled President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, one of the very first things that demonstrators did was to head for his residence outside Kiev. Pictures of its vast grounds, including a lake and a galleon, were soon doing the rounds of the internet. Read more

American elections – even midterm elections – always offer great entertainment: eccentric candidates, whooping crowds, bizarre attack-ads, pontificating pundits, the changing colours on electoral maps. But there is often a sneaking suspicion that the actual results may not have much relevance to real life. The turn-out in Tuesday’s midterm elections looks like it was about 40%. The majority of ordinary Americans may have felt that the 2014 elections were unlikely to change much. It is hard to disagree. Here are four arguments for the irrelevance of the mid-term elections. Read more

Historians may record that Brics mania reached its height during the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff used the occasion to host a summit of the leaders of the five Brics: Brazil itself, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The formation of a new Brics development bank was announced, with its headquarters in Shanghai.

Nobody ever said that reforming Italy would be easy. But Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, is going through a series of brutal tests this month – as he fights on two fronts, in Brussels and in Rome. Read more

Speaking on television earlier this year, Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, declared that his government’s budget would not be written to “satisfy Brussels”, adding – “We are a great nation . . . France is a sovereign country.”

It was an interesting week to visit Spain. On Tuesday, I interviewed Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, on stage at an FT conference in Madrid. We spoke, just as dramatic news was emerging from Catalonia that the regional government there was calling off its independence referendum.

Rajoy was understandably pleased. He pronounced that this was “excellent news”. But just as the Spanish prime minister was leaving the stage, so Artur Mas – the head of the devolved Catalan government – was beginning a press conference in Barcelona. His contribution muddied the waters. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
General Sir Philip Chetwode, deputy chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, warned in 1919: “The habit of interfering with other people’s business and making what is euphoniously called ‘peace’ is like buggery; once you take to it, you cannot stop.”

I suspect that many people’s first reactions to the news that Malala Yousafzai has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize will have been similar to mine: joy that Malala had got the award, but slight puzzlement that it has been given to her jointly with Kailash Satyarthi, a much less-famous Indian campaigner. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Is Vladimir Putin a wimp? The Russian president has a macho image and has shocked the west with his annexation of Crimea. But, in Moscow, there are hardliners who seem frustrated that he has not gone further.