An explosive week in many ways, most of them bad.
The worst was in Egypt’s Sinai Province. Dozens of terrorists, probably affiliated with ISIL attacked the Sufi al-Rawda mosque near Bir al-Abed. First, they bombed it, then gunned down those trying to escape, and shot at ambulances coming to help the wounded. More than 300 people were murdered including 27 children. There’s a low-level insurgency war going on in the Sinai, hundreds of soldiers, police, and civilians have been killed there in the past 4 years. President Sisi ordered the military to restore stability and security within three months – the army and air force went after jihadist groups with ground raids and bombing runs – but the Sinai remains a poverty-stricken area, fertile ground for radicalism.
At 0300 local time on Wednesday the North Korean’s launched another intercontinental ballistic missile. It was the 16th missile test since February – but this was different. It was bigger than any previously launched and showed a major advance in technology. Theoretically, it could carry a nuclear payload hundreds of times more powerful than that dropped on Hiroshima. The Hwasong-15 missile took off from near the capital, Pyongyang, reached an altitude of 2900 miles, flew for more than 50 minutes and landed in the sea off the coast of Japan. Not in sovereign territory, but within Japan’s exclusive economic zone which extends 200 miles from its shoreline. Experts said that a lower trajectory could allow it to even reach Washington D.C. So, a new missile, new range – new problem. President Trump said he was going to deal with it it – Senator Lindsey Graham said ‘we’re headed towards a war if things don’t change’. The UN Security Council held a meeting. That didn’t change things.
On Thursday Saudi Arabia said Houthi rebels in Yemen had fired another ballistic missile towards the Kingdom following the one launched on November 4th. This one was aimed at the city of Khamis Mushait but was intercepted and destroyed midair. Writing before the incident Reuters reported that it had seen a UN Document suggesting that previous missiles fired appeared to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, but it stopped short of saying Tehran had supplied them to the Houthis.
More explosions – in Syria – despite a 48-hour truce proposed by Russia. Artillery shells fell on Eastern Ghouta, one of last remaining rebel strongholds near Damascus. Rockets were also fired into government held areas of the capital. The ceasefire was supposed to co-inside with the latest round of peace talks in Geneva. The U.N. Special Envoy Staffan di Mistura said the talks were the first ‘real negotiation’ for a possible deal to end the war. There’s a long way to go.
Next door – in Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said he may withdraw his resignation next week if matters remain positive. He’d resigned while in Saudi Arabia on Nov 4th criticizing Iranian influence and saying there was a death threat against him. He went to France, to Egypt, back to Lebanon and the next move looks like…a reverse.
Language can be explosive – so when the Pope went to Myanmar – the question was would he refer to the persecuted Muslim minority – the Rohingya – thus angering the military. He did – but not by name. Pope Francis met Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who herself has been criticized for not speaking out against the campaign of violence against the Rohingya. In a speech, the Pope referred only to justice for ‘each ethnicity and identity’. Human Rights activists were disappointed but the Pope was treading carefully – the visit came just 6 months after formal diplomatic relations were established for between Myanmar and the Vatican. He then went on to Bangladesh, and duly said the ‘R’ word.
A year ago some Donald Trump tweets might have been described as ‘extraordinary’ – no longer, now explosive remarks are routine. The latest? He retweeted videos first posted by an extremist far right group called Britain First. Last year British MP Jo Cox was murdered by a man who shouted ‘Britain First’ before killing her. Her husband, Brendan said the American President was ‘legitimizing hatred’. Prime Minister Theresa May said it was ‘wrong for the President to have done this’. Mr. Trump responded, again on Twitter, basically telling Mrs. May to mind her own business. MPs queued up to denounce him and suggest the invitation for him to visit the UK should be withdrawn. That visit had already been kicked into the long grass, it may have just gone into an impenetrable jungle.
Finally, fireworks of a different kind. Sparks! Sparks of love. A former actress announced she was engaged to a former helicopter pilot. Meghan Markle and Britain’s Prince Harry are to marry next May. I doubt Donald Trump will be invited.