Weekly Snapshot
5-11 August 2018

1. Iranian Naval Exercises Heighten Tensions Once Again

Naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz were started this week by Iran. This is the biggest naval exercise that Iran engages in, with one US defense official saying there are more than 100 ships participating. However, most of the ships are considered to be smaller vessels. There is also a small air element in the exercises, with UAVs flying overhead.

It is believed that these exercises will run for the next week, ending on Aug. 6th. This is all a part of Iran’s annual military drills. However the date of this year’s naval exercises begs the question, what is the true purpose of this year’s drills? With tensions high between the United States and Iran, and harsh words coming from both sides, it is likely that this year’s naval exercises are being used as a show of force in the Middle East.

2. Sanction Shakeup with North Korea

This week there have been several updates on the sanctions with North Korea. Recently the US Treasury Department has added two new North Korean companies to the list of entities that are included under US sanctions. These companies are rumored to be front companies in support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program.

In addition to these new sanctions, the Russian bank Agro-Soyuz Commercial Bank of Moscow was added to the same list of entities that are helping the banned weapons program of North Korea. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has also proposed that the UN add these three entities to the list of UN sanctions (this is unlikely as all the members of the security council would need to sign off on it, including Russia). This comes as the UN prepares to allow humanitarian aid back into North Korea.

The US has backed a plan to ease the restrictions on countries looking to give humanitarian aid to North Korea. The plan would allow the international community to help support humanitarian missions in the country without going against the United States initiatives to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

3. Russia Seeks US Help in Syria

As Russia looks to the future of their foreign policy in Syria, the cost of rebuilding is setting in. The country that has faced seven years of civil war, and countless countries fighting within its borders is going to need a lot of help rebuilding. That is why Russia has sent secure messages to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, proposing a plan for the US to help in the rebuilding process of Syria.

The United States has been open about its conditions in regards to Syria, including finding a political solution to end the Syrian Civil War, and U.N. supervised elections. With Russia helping to cement Bashar al-Assad’s power, the United States would need some surety that Assad would no longer be in power.

This plan would help reunify the more than 6.6 million people that have fled due to the fighting. However, this would cost a lot of money and resources, an estimated $250 billion according to the UN. It would also be an opportunity for the United States to finally have leverage and say over the actions in Syria, an area dominated by Russia and Iran.

4. Violence Continues in Gaza

Once again, the Palestinians have engaged in their Friday protests against the Israeli government. It was hoped that last weeks ceasefire agreement would stand, but on Friday over 8,000 Palestinian protests rushed the border of Gaza. Several made it over the border and attacked Israeli soldiers with rocks and firebombs, resulting in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) responding with force. This left one Palestinian dead and over 200 others wounded.

This is just the latest of a long list of violence that has sparked up since March between these two sides. It is hoped that a permanent ceasefire agreement can be reached, but Palestinians will continue to protest as long as Israel holds its economic blockade to the Gaza Strip. And Israel will hold its blockade as long as the Palestinians continue to be violent against the IDF troops.