Middle East

Just as talks between Iran and world powers to nail down a deal restricting Tehran’s nuclear programme enter a decisive phase, the Islamic Republic last week put on a show. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) placed a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, and then blew it out of the water. For the IRGC, praetorian guard of the Shia theocracy, it would not do to show flabby muscle tone at this juncture, to the US or its Gulf Arab neighbours.

In Washington, meanwhile, another form of triumphalism is on display. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, is tomorrow due to address the US Congress – at the invitation of its Republican leadership – and is expected to say that the nuclear deal under discussion amounts to capitulation to Iran and will allow it to build an atomic bomb. As well as a brazen electoral stunt before Israel goes to the polls on March 17, this is a calculated snub to President Barack Obama. Mr Netanyahu is flaunting his ability to go around the White House to Congress, where ordinarily he enjoys the near unanimous support he could only dream of in the Knesset at home. Read more

 Read more

How strong is the Islamic State?
Islamist terrorists have grabbed headlines in the Arab world with horrific atrocities, but there are signs their influence may be on the wane. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of their power with Borzou Daragahi and David Gardner.

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

The scenes of chaos during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the opening of South Africa’s parliament last week will be remembered as one of the darkest days of the post-apartheid era

Visitors from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong are known as “locusts” and now a long-simmering resentment at their presence in the territory is boiling over into angry protests

Greece must impose capital controls or repeat the costly mistake of Cyprus, where emergency funding from the ECB was spirited out of the country, argues Hans-Werner Sinn

What Isis Really Wants: The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. Here’s what its beliefs means for its strategy – and how to stop it (The Atlantic)

Washington’s uneasy partnership with Tehran now extends to Yemen (Foreign Policy)  Read more

 Read more

 Read more

  • Greece’s privatisation programme, ordered under the terms of its international bailout, was falling far short of targets even before the country’s new left-wing government vowed to scrap further sales of state assets
  • Following Isis’ brutal execution by immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, many in the country have called for a deeper military commitment against the jihadist group
  • Foreigners are leaving Russia in unprecedented numbers, reflecting a worsening economic outlook as western sanctions bite
  • The west’s inability to comprehend how Vladimir Putin sees the world means it has trouble thinking constructively about how to deal with him (The American Interest)
  • A convicted al-Qaeda operative has claimed that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures were donors to the terror group and that a Saudi diplomat discussed with him a plot to shoot down Air Force One (NYT)

 Read more

 Read more

 Read more

By Gideon Rachman
There are three crises afflicting Europe. Two are on the borders of the EU: a warlike Russia and an imploding Middle East. The third emergency is taking place inside the EU itself — where political, economic and diplomatic tensions are mounting.

 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

 Read more

 Read more

(c) WEF

Holding the World Economic Forum in a ski resort in the Alps sounds like an eccentric decision. In fact, the choice of Davos as a location for the WEF is very clever. It is such a pain to get here that once the delegates are in Davos, they feel compelled to stay. If the WEF took place in a big city, there would be a lot more flitting in-and-out. Read more

  • Donetsk’s $1bn airport was supposed to showcase the country’s prosperity. Instead it has become a battleground, with airliners replaced by a relentless stream of rockets that have reduced the glass-fronted terminal to a skeleton of blasted concrete and warped steel
  • Houthi rebels who surrounded the residence of Yemen’s president have reached an agreement with authorities over constitutional change and power-sharing in the country. But who exactly are the Houthi and what do they want?
  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s new, $600m presidential palace is not merely symbolic of his move to increase his grip over government – with few constitutional checks and balances, it shows who is really in charge
  • Indonesia and Malaysia have often been put forward as examples of modern and moderate Muslim states, yet in both countries there are signs that tolerance is eroding and a more rigid interpretation of Islamic orthodoxy is taking shape
  • In Yemen, the world’s most dangerous jihadi group is both the government’s enemy and its ally of convenience (Foreign Policy)

 Read more

France has been through a traumatic period following a spate of terror attacks that killed 17 people, which led to a wave of demonstrations by millions of defiant citizens in response. In the latest edition of the FT World Weekly podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, a former Paris bureau chief, and Michael Stothard, one of the FT correspondents who covered the aftermath of the attacks, to assess the wider impact of the events and discuss whether France can ward off the forces of polarisation.

  • Even before yesterday’s shooting, French authorities had warned of a big terrorist attack for months, their concern fuelled by large numbers of French recruits to Islamist groups in the Middle East
  • Having ended a long civil war and presided over an economic boom, Mahinda Rajapaksa expected to coast to a third term as president of Sri Lanka in today’s election. Instead, he faces a resurgent opposition
  • A new antibiotic that could take several decades for bacteria to develop resistance to is being developed through a public-private collaboration, amid repeated warnings about the dangers of growing resistance
  • Charlie Hebdo: its history, humor, and controversies, explained (Vox)
  • 23 Heartbreaking Cartoons From Artists Responding To The Charlie Hebdo Shooting (Buzzfeed)

 Read more

 Read more