Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban
In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.
Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more
Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara, May 2014.
Did she or didn’t she? Israel’s chattering classes have been distracted this week by claims that Sara Netanyahu, wife of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pocketed thousands of dollars collected from the return of drinks bottles from their official residence over several years. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When last week I saw a White House spokesman say that Israel’s bombing of a UN school was “totally indefensible”, I briefly thought that I had witnessed something new. Surely the Americans had never before been that strong in condemning Israel? But a colleague with a longer memory reminded me that Israel’s siege of west Beirut in 1982 had provoked President Ronald Reagan (yes, Reagan) to telephone Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, and accuse him of perpetrating a “holocaust”. There is nothing new about Israeli military action killing hundreds of civilians. There is also nothing new about the international outcry it provokes.
Israel set itself clear goals when it launched its assault on Gaza. Stop the rocket fire into Israel and close the tunnels that might allow Hamas to infiltrate fighters into Israel. Some 18 days into the offensive, and these goals have not yet been achieved. But that is not the only sign that Israel’s Gaza offensive is going wrong. On the contrary, there are multiple signs that Israel is losing control of the situation: Read more
Palestinian employees of Gaza City City's al-Deira hotel carry a wounded boy following an Israeli military strike on the nearby beach in which four children were killed on July 16, 2014. AFP/Getty Images
While the current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas looks ominously as though it may intensify, exacting a yet greater toll in Palestinian civilian deaths, there is a pattern to these conflicts: they usually end after an episode of appalling carnage that shocks international actors into action. Read more
Gaza crisis: what does current conflict mean for Netanyahu, Hamas and the wider middle east?
As bombing reaches its ninth consecutive day, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is facing criticism abroad for causing unnecessary bloodshed, and at home for not sending troops into Gaza. Gideon Rachman is joined by Siona Jenkins, Middle east news editor, and from Gaza by John Reed, Jerusalem bureau chief to look deeper at the broader Israeli/Palestinian conflict and how Hamas has been able to use the current crisis to drum up support as chaos in the Middle East reaches levels unparalleled in recent decades.
Israel has enjoyed a quiet few years. No wars, no intifada, no increase in the international pressure on the Israeli state – and a strong economy. With the rest of the Middle East in flames, it has been hard to make the traditional argument that the Israeli-Palestinian question is the key to solving all other issues – or to argue that the plight of the Palestinians is the most urgent human-rights priority in the region.
But Israel’s quiet times may be about to end. The Scarlett Johansson controversy is just one part of it – the less important part, in fact. The other really significant element is that John Kerry seems to be about to launch his peace plan. When Kerry does that it will put Israel on the spot and may split its government. And if and when the talks fail (as I’m afraid, they surely will), Israel is likely to get a lot of the blame. The country will be back in the spotlight – and not in a good way. Read more
Ariel Sharon (right), then Israel's prime minister, shakes hands with Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas as US President George W Bush watches during a 2003 summit in Aqaba, Jordan. (AFP/Getty)
Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, was unquestionably a historic figure. He fought in all of Israel’s major wars – including the disastrous 1982 Lebanon invasion he essentially originated. He is also the principal architect of an Israeli settlement policy long designed to make the occupation of roughly half the West Bank and most of Arab east Jerusalem permanent. While all can agree – as no portrait of Sharon and his impressive but dynamic bulk neglects to point out – that he was “larger than life”, only within the solipsistic terms of debate of much of Israel’s political elite, and those who defer to it, can he be seen as a great statesman and master strategist.
Sharon’s reputation as a warrior began with his role in the 1948 war that established the state of Israel. But, as historian Avi Shlaim and other revisionist scholars have shown, he quickly became the spearhead of a policy of reprisals and provocations aimed at expanding the new state’s borders, which its political and military establishment regarded as dangerously vulnerable if not indefensible. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, backed by General Moshe Dayan and usually using Arab infiltration as the pretext, attacked Jordan, Egypt and Syria across the 1948-49 armistice lines between 1953 and 1955. The officer who led the main operations, establishing early on a reputation for bloodthirstiness, was Ariel Sharon. Read more
By Richard McGregor in Washington
After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.
At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.
So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more
By Gideon Rachman
I executed a personal pivot to Asia this year, with separate trips to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China (twice). There was certainly plenty to write about – new leadership in China, Abenomics in Japan, Sino-Japanese confrontation, nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. Yet, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in East Asia – but writing about the Middle East.
By Gideon Rachman
In recent years, Benjamin Netanyahu has specialised in playing the role of prophet-in-the-wilderness. While much of the world cheered last month’s interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Israeli prime minister denounced it as a “very bad deal”. In a recent speech, Mr Netanyahu warned again that the Iranian government remained a “regime committed to our destruction” and had a “genocidal policy” towards Israel.