TIME Japan

This Week’s Foreign Policy Must-Reads

From yakuza battles to Russian food policy

A roundup of the most intelligent takes on global affairs this week

The Coming Yakuza War—The Daily Beast

Japan’s organized crime groups, known collectively as the “yakuza,” … are different from the mafias we know about in the West. They are treated as if they were some sort of controlled substance, dangerous but accepted within certain parameters… The Yamaguchi-gumi isn’t only Japan’s largest organized crime group; it’s also a well-known Japanese corporation… They are Goldman Sachs with guns.

Only in Japan: The “gangster company man.”

Pablo Escobar Will Never Die – GQ

Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behindThe commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them.

Some say you don’t really die until the last time someone says your name. If so, Pablo Escobar will be with us for a long time to come.

The Lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki – New York Times Magazine

Some government agencies have tried to boil the process of radicalization down to a few clear-cut and inevitable stages, but in reality, the journey to extremism is a messy, human affair that defies such predictability. This was true of Awlaki’s acolytes; it was also true of the great radicalizer himself. Before Awlaki could talk anyone else into violent jihad, he had to talk himself into it. One giant step came as the unintended result of surveillance by the United States government.

Here’s a question: Does law enforcement tend to overestimate its ability to use surveillance to understand a person, his motivation, his capabilities, and his intent?

The Other France – New Yorker

France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants… [After the Charlie Hebdo massacre,] there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

There is nothing more dangerous for the internal stability of France (and many other European countries) than the isolation of its minority enclaves, the violence that isolation can inspire, and the rise of political parties who win votes by exploiting the resulting fear and anger.

Why Russia is So Afraid of French Cheese—The Atlantic

Russia’s Federal Customs Service has drafted legislation classifying banned foreign foods as ‘strategically important.’ Until now, that label only applied to weapons, explosives, poisons, and radioactive materials. If it becomes law, the new classification will mean those caught importing banned fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry can face up to seven years in prison. French cheese is apparently now just as dangerous to the security of the state as polonium, uranium, assault weapons, and dirty bombs.

Maybe NATO should load brie into warheads and rain “fromage fury” on Moscow.

TIME Middle East

Hacker Leading Online ISIS Recruitment Believed Killed in U.S. Airstrike

The 21-year-old was a prominent recruiter for extremists fighting in Iraq and Syria

A U.S. airstrike reportedly killed Junaid Hussain, a British hacker who became a top cyber expert for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to officials speaking with The Guardian on Wednesday.

Hussain, also known as Abu Hussain al-Britani, was born in Birmingham, England; the 21-year-old reportedly traveled to Syria in 2013. Western officials believed he was a key figure within the ISIS group Cyber Caliphate, which hacked into the Pentagon’s Twitter and YouTube accounts in January, sending pro-ISIS messages for a short time.

Hussain was married to Sally Jones, a 44-year-old English rocker who converted to Islam. She met the jihadi fighter online and left the UK with her son to join him in Syria.

The White House has not officially announced Hussain’s death. If confirmed, it would be the second time in eight days that a U.S. airstrike has reportedly killed a senior member of ISIS; on Aug. 18 Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, ISIS’s second-in-command was killed near Mosul, Iraq.

[The Guardian]

TIME Middle East

Heartbreaking Photos of Syrian Refugees and Their Newborns

In refugee camps in northeast Jordan, Syrian mothers worry about their children, born in exile

What’s more important: food or medicine? That’s a decision Wadhah Hamada, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee, has been forced to make ever since she gave birth to her first son Ra’fat in Mafraq, northeast Jordan. Hamada’s husband struggles to find work and just one day of diarrhea medicine for their son costs as much as he manages to earn in a whole month.

Hamada’s plight is shared by thousands of other women living in these unofficial refugee camps along the Jordanian-Syrian border, where they endure harsh desert temperatures, sandstorms and crippling poverty, all while trying to care for their newborns.

Jordan currently provides shelter to some 630,000 registered Syrian refugees, out of more than four million who have fled Syria’s civil war since 2011. The vast majority live outside official UNHCR camps, in settlements that Associated Press Chief photographer for the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan Muhammed Muheisen first visited in March. He soon decided he wanted to tell stories of some of the most vulnerable people living there: pregnant women.

The U.N. estimated in March that more than 11,000 Syrian refugees were pregnant. Thousands of babies have been born in these difficult circumstances, to mothers without access to medical care or even running water.

The pregnant women that Muheisen met in these makeshift camps said they could neither afford medical treatment nor the transport necessary to reach a clinic in the nearest city. Many feared looming medical bills that they would never be able to pay. While mobile clinics run by NGOs bring occasional relief, some said it had been a month or two since they had even seen one.

In March, Muheisen photographed 15 Syrian women in Mafraq, all at various stages of pregnancy. “I could not stop thinking about these women,” says Muheisen, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “It’s not just a project. It’s personal, I feel involved. They opened their doors to me and the least I can do is raise their voices.”

Muheisen decided to return to Mafraq in July, spending days trying to track down the women he had met months earlier. All but three had moved on, so he spent days going from camp to camp trying to find the others. Those he found again were visibly transformed by their experiences of motherhood.

When Muheisen first met Hamada, for instance, he says she was incredibly angry and desperate. “She was carrying the whole world’s pain on her shoulders,” he says. “The next time I saw her, she looked totally defeated. She had lost faith in humanity.”

The photographer says Bushra Eidah, a 16-year-old from Ghouta al-Sharqia, appeared to have aged a decade in the space of a few months. “When it was only me and my husband, it didn’t matter if we went to sleep hungry,” she told him. “Now we have a child and I don’t know how we are going to feed her.”

The hardships they endured and the challenges ahead cannot be underestimated. One woman, however, has managed to draw strength from her experiences. Huda Alsayil, 20, feared the medical complications that might arise from the late delivery of her first son, Mezwid. After that trauma, she said she felt “complete”, as if she had been given a new life. “Holding him feels like the best gift I could be granted.”

TIME Middle East

Israeli Airstrikes Kill 6 in Syria After Rocket Fire

Five civilians and a soldier were reportedly killed in separate attacks

DAMASCUS, Syria — Israel’s air force carried out a drone strike in southern Syria on Friday, killing five civilians, while a soldier was killed and seven wounded in an air raid overnight, Syrian state TV reported.

The drone targeted a “civilian car” in the village of Kom, killing five, the report said, adding that the strike was close to a busy market.

Quneitra governor Ahmad Sheikh Abdul-Qader said the attack happened on the road leading to the village of Khan Arnabeh, near Kom, and destroyed the car.

Syrian state TV reported that an air raid just before midnight Thursday in the southern region of Quneitra killed a soldier and wounded seven.

The report quoted an unnamed military official as saying that the Thursday night attack targeted a military post near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The raid came hours after militants in Syria fired several rockets into northern Israel on Thursday afternoon, prompting Israeli retaliatory fire, the Israeli military said. It was the first time since the 1973 Mideast war that rockets from Syrian territory have slammed into Israel.

State news agency SANA reported late Thursday that an Israeli helicopter launched several missiles on Quneitra in the evening. It said the missiles hit the Transportation Directorate and the Municipality Building.

Syrian TV said the air raids aim to “boost the morale of terrorist organizations,” claiming that Israel is backing militants in the area.

Israel and Syria are bitter enemies. Israel has avoided taking sides in the Syrian civil war, which pits President Bashar Assad’s government against an array of militants, including the brutal Islamic State group.

 

TIME Israel

Palestinian Hunger Striker Has Ended His Fast, Lawyer Says

Mohammed Allan went on hunger strike two months ago in protest at his detention

(JERUSALEM) — A lawyer for a Palestinian detainee on hunger strike says his client has ended his protest fast, a day after Israel’s top court suspended his detention.

Lawyer Jamil Khatib said Mohammed Allan ended his strike on Thursday.

Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended a detention order against Allan, who launched the hunger strike more than two months ago to protest his detention.

Israeli doctor Hezy Levy earlier in the day said Allan was showing “great improvement” and that he was taken off the respirator.

Israel says Allan is a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group. He denies the allegation.

TIME Yemen

U.N. Says Yemen on Brink of Famine

Mideast Yemen Food Crisis
Abeer Etefa—AP A mother gives water to her child in Sanaa, Yemen, on Aug. 18, 2015

Four out of 5 Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance

(CAIRO) — The war in Yemen has pushed the country to the brink of famine, with both commercial food imports and aid deliveries held up by the fighting and millions of hungry women and children facing possible starvation, the United Nations said Wednesday.

Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, said that while some food aid is flowing in, fighting around major ports is stalling deliveries, while reaching the country’s interior is proving difficult and donor funding is still falling short.

“If we do not receive the additional access that is required to meet the needs of those who are affected by this ongoing conflict, if we cannot support the commercial markets by ensuring that the ports are open and providing food to ensure that those who have resources can buy the food that is necessary, and if we do not see increased donor support, we are facing the perfect storm in Yemen,” she told reporters in Cairo.

Cousin was in Cairo following a three-day trip to Yemen. The WFP says all sides in the conflict must approve food deliveries.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien, who also just returned from Yemen, told the U.N. Security Council “the scale of human suffering is almost incomprehensible.”

He said he was shocked by what he saw: Four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, nearly 1.5 million people are internally displaced, and people were using cardboard for mattresses at a hospital where lights flickered, the blood bank had closed and there were no more examination gloves.

Yemen’s conflict pits Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The humanitarian situation has steadily deteriorated since the fighting picked up in March, when Saudi Arabia launched a U.S.-backed coalition air campaign against Houthi forces and their allies, which control large swaths of the country, including the capital.

Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as a proxy of its arch rival, Shiite powerhouse Iran, and an attempt to expand its influence on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran supports the Houthis politically but denies arming them.

Pro-government forces pushed the rebels out of the southern port city of Aden last month and have made gains in the surrounding provinces. But their advance stalled on Tuesday after a rebel ambush killed dozens of fighters.

Since August, the food program says it has been able to make 16 deliveries via sea to Yemen, accounting for over 123,000 metric tons of food. But difficulties remain because of the fighting, which has caused port closures. The western port city of Hodeida was hit with airstrikes Tuesday night.

“We actually had a ship berthed in port that was not damaged but had not been given clearance to offload when that bombing attack occurred,” Cousin said. “We’re bringing in food from Hodeida that because of the conflict we can’t get to the south.

“We have right now, a ship sitting off the port of Aden that has materials in it that we could use in the south, and we’re still waiting for permission for that ship to come in,” she said, adding that in order to access the rest of the country, all the ports must be open.

Oxfam’s country director, Philippe Clerc, said only two humanitarian vessels have been able to dock and off-load at the Hodeida port in the past more than two weeks.

O’Brien, the U.N. humanitarian chief, called the airstrikes and shelling at Hodeidah a violation of international humanitarian law, saying they damaged “the main lifelines” for importing crucial food, medicine and fuel and could severely impact the entire country.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, needs to import food even in peacetime.

The WFP estimates that nearly 13 million people in Yemen lack proper access to food, with 6 million, or one in five of the country’s population, in urgent need of assistance. The organization is seeking financial support for a $320 million emergency operation program it expects to launch in September.

Other organizations also registered alarm on Wednesday over the desperate situation in Yemen.

The U.N.’s humanitarian office says to 4,500 people have been killed and a further 23,000 have been wounded to date, many of them civilians.

Human Rights Watch and 22 other human rights and humanitarian organizations said that the U.N.’s Human Rights Council should create a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of war crimes by all parties since September 2014.

In Geneva, the head of the International Red Cross said: “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

___

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

TIME Israel

Israel Suspends Detention of Palestinian Hunger Striker

Mohammed Allan will be released while he receives medical care

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s Supreme Court has suspended the detention order of a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner, releasing him while he receives medical care.

After a long day of deliberations, the court announced late Wednesday that Mohammed Allan, on a hunger strike for 65 days, will remain hospitalized but his shackles will be removed and his family can visit him.

It also said his “administrative detention” is suspended.

Allan went on a hunger strike to protest the measure that allows authorities to hold suspects for months without charge.

The court said Allan, who has suffered brain damage, will remain hospitalized but can petition for his release if his condition improves.

TIME Israel

Israeli Opposition Leader Fears Potential Palestinian Uprising

ISRAEL-VOTE-RESULTS-HERZOG
Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images Isaac Herzog listens during a joint press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015.

Hundreds of people attended a funeral of a Palestinian man killed by Israeli forces, creating tensions for a new uprising

(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — Israel’s opposition leader is calling on the government to work with the Palestinian Authority to prevent what he says could be a third Palestinian uprising.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog issued his call Tuesday after a rare meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his West Bank headquarters.

The meeting came at a time of rising violence. Hundreds of people attended a West Bank funeral Tuesday of a Palestinian man killed by Israeli forces after stabbing an Israeli police officer. The tensions have raised fears of a new uprising.

Herzog says that “first and foremost” the sides must work together to prevent further violence. He also said peace efforts must resume.

Peace talks broke down more than a year ago and show no signs of resuming.

TIME Middle East

Leaked Documents Raise Anger over Palestinian Corruption

Mahmoud Abbas
Fadi Arouri—AP Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the PLO executive committee in Ramallah in April 2015.

Palestinians are increasingly displeased with their government

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Documents leaked online detailing two attempts by Palestinian officials to misuse public funds have triggered outrage, highlighting the corruption and mismanagement critics say remains rampant in the Palestinian government.

The furor over the documents comes as the Palestinian economy is stagnating and Palestinians grow increasingly displeased with government services. Palestinian Authority officials have defended their record on stamping out corruption, saying they’ve recovered millions of dollars in misspent funds.

A senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t allowed to discuss the leak, confirmed the documents authenticity to The Associated Press. They have offered a rare glimpse into the wheeling and dealing of the Palestinian government, long bogged down by rivalries.

One document signed by Majdi al-Khaldi, a diplomatic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who accompanies him on his trips to world capitals, asked Bahrain’s foreign minister for $4 million to fund a private neighborhood complex for Palestinian officials in an upscale area of Ramallah in the West Bank. He insisted the complex was “meant to resist the Israeli settlements,” even though there are no settlements where the complex was built.

Opposing Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a major rallying cry for Palestinians, who demand the territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war as part of their future state, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. It isn’t clear if Bahrain ever paid the money. Al-Khaldi declined to comment when reached by the AP.

The other document by Nazmi Muhanna, general director of the Palestinian Crossing and Borders Authority, requested the government pay for his daughter’s schooling as well as medical treatment for his family in Jordan for a total of $15,000, a hefty sum for many Palestinians. Muhanna defended his demand, saying it was permitted by the Palestinian government. The government later said it did not cover those expenses.

Outrage over the documents quickly spread on social media, where Palestinians challenged everything from their leadership’s finances to its political legitimacy in the face of repeatedly delayed elections, last held in 2005.

“If Muhanna’s daughter costs the Palestinian Authority 6,500 Jordanian Dinars (about $9,175) in private school in Jordan, what about the poor students in government schools? Who will pay attention to them?” Mohammed Abu Allan, a Palestinian political blogger, wrote on Facebook.

Observers say corruption has decreased since the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat. Abbas has promised reforms, but he has been criticized for ignoring corruption among his loyalists while targeting political rivals.

Azmi Shoabi, the head of Aman, a branch of the corruption watchdog Transparency International, said “there are big black holes” in the Palestinian financial and administrative system that “need to be addressed and reformed.” Those include failing to publish financial reports properly and on time while not overseeing some 20 government-run funds headed by executives with excessive salaries, he said.

Various public departments have become “private kingdoms” for some officials, Shoabi said.

The Palestinian parliament, which has limited oversight powers, has been defunct since the Islamic militant group Hamas’ 2007 ouster of Abbas’ government in Gaza.

Rafeq Natsheh, who heads the Palestinian anti-corruption commission, said that the body is fighting against graft and has recovered millions of stolen dollars. But for Palestinians, the leaked documents only reinforced perceptions that their government remains tainted.

“We need to see the real picture which is much bigger than the fees of Muhanna’s daughter,” Rami Mehdawi, a columnist for the Palestinian al-Ayam newspaper, wrote on Facebook. “The entire Palestinian system needs to be addressed and reformed to clean up the rampant corruption, mismanagement and nepotism.”

TIME isis

ISIS Release Photo That Appears to Show Beheaded Body of Croatian Captive

An ISIS video threatened to kill him earlier this month

A photograph believed to be from the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shows what looks like the beheading of a man the group threatened to execute earlier this month.

Last week, a video believed to be from ISIS in the Sinai peninsula threatened to kill a man who identified himself as 30-year-old Tomislav Salopek if the Egyptian government did not release female Muslim hostages within 48 hours. It was unclear exactly whose release the group was calling for. The video was circulated by ISIS supporters and shot in a style similar to other ISIS videos, the AP reports.

Salopek, a married father of two, worked as a topographer for the French geoscience company CGG and was captured on July 22. Croatia’s Foreign Ministry confirmed last month that a Croatian national with the same initials as Salopek was kidnapped in Cairo.

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