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  • OSINTSUM: Wednesday 3 January 2024

OSINTSUM: Wednesday 3 January 2024

UK retail bosses say maritime attacks in Red Sea could lead to price rises, five more countries officially join BRICS, and Turkey blocks delivery of British minehunter ships to Ukraine

OSINTSUM
Global Situation Update
Wednesday 3 January 2024

Headlines

International
Diplomacy: Five more countries officially join BRICS

Africa
Niger: France closes embassy until further notice
Sierra Leone: Ex-president's guard among 12 charged over failed coup
Somalia: President condemns Ethiopia-Somaliland coastline deal

Asia/Oceania
Australia: Government launches inquiry into historic Iraq invasion documents
Japan: Death toll from earthquake rises to 64, further shocks predicted
South Korea: Police raid house of man who stabbed opposition leader

China
Taiwan: Chinese pressure likely to increase if pro-independence party wins election
Taiwan: Four Chinese balloons detected over median line ahead of election

Europe
Netherlands: Chip equipment manufacturer ceases shipments to China
Turkey: British minehunter ships destined for Ukraine to be blocked

Israel/Hamas Conflict
Gaza: US "confident" militant groups held hostages in Shifa hospital
Israel: IDF "prepared for any scenario" following assassination of Hamas leader
Red Sea: UK retail bosses say maritime attacks could lead to price rises
Red Sea: UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting on Houthi attacks
Turkey: 34 people detained on suspicion of spying for Israel

Latin America/Caribbean
Mexico: 26 migrants kidnapped en route to US border still being held
Panama: Record 520,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap in 2023

US/Canada
US: Names of over 150 people linked to Jeffrey Epstein to be made public



International

Diplomacy: Five more countries officially join BRICS
Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially joined the BRICS group on 1 January according to an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin made the statement as Russia assumed presidency of the bloc for 2024, adding that the expansion of BRICS was a "strong indication of the growing authority of the association and its role in international affairs".

Russia has hinted that more of the 30 countries which have expressed an interest in joining the bloc may be offered membership by its next summit, which will be held in Kazan, Russia, in October.

Analyst Comment: With its new members, BRICS now represents over 40% of the global population and almost 36% of global GDP - more than the combined total of the G7 nations.

Argentina, who was invited to join BRICS alongside the five new members at the bloc's Johannesburg summit last August, declined the offer last week after new president Javier Milei said he would prefer to align with western nations such as the US and Israel.

Source: All Africa

 

Africa

Niger: France closes embassy until further notice
France has closed its embassy in the Nigerien capital of Niamey until further notice in a further deterioration of the countries' relations since Niger's military coup in July last year.

The French foreign ministry said the embassy had been severely hampered by a blockade, travel restrictions for staff, and the refusal of permission for diplomatic personnel to travel there for the last five months.

France will conduct future diplomatic activities - such as maintaining connections with French citizens in the region and supporting humanitarian NGOs - from Paris

Analyst Comment: France and Niger's diplomatic relationship broke down following the ousting of former President Mohamed Bazoum by Niger's military in July 2020.

Since then, the ruling junta ordered the withdrawal of the 1,500 French soldiers stationed in Niger to combat jihadists in the country, and the expulsion of French ambassador Sylvain Itte.

Source: France 24

 

Sierra Leone: Ex-president's guard among 12 charged over failed coup
Sierra Leone authorities have charged 12 people - including a member of former President Ernest Bai Koroma's security team - with treason in relation to a failed coup attempt in November last year.

The country's information ministry said those being charged also included former police and prison officers, and that it expected more people to be charged in the coming days.

The attempt saw gunmen attack a military barracks and a prison amongst other locations across the country on 26 November, freeing 2,200 inmates and killing over 20 people.

Analyst Comment: The government has previously accused Koroma's security team of leading the failed coup. Koroma, who condemned the coup attempt shortly after it occurred, was taken in for questioning in relation to it in December last year.

Source: Reuters

 

Somalia: President condemns Ethiopia-Somaliland coastline deal
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has criticised a deal which will see breakaway region Somaliland give landlocked Ethiopia access to its coast as a violation of international law.

Somaliland signed an agreement with Ethiopia on Monday (1 January) to lease it a 20km stretch of its coastline to establish a marine force base. The agreement also contained a clause which would see Ethiopia recognise Somaliland as an independent state in the near future.

Mohamud said the agreement threatens the sovereignty of Somalia - which still claims Somaliland as its own territory - and that Ethiopian presence in Somalia could act as a recruiting tool for al-Shabaab.

Analyst Comment: Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country descended into warlord-led conflict, and has maintained its own government ever since despite not being internationally recognised.

Source: AP News

 

Asia/Oceania

Australia: Government launches inquiry into historic Iraq invasion documents
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has ordered an inquiry into why 20-year-old Cabinet documents relating to Australia's participation in the Iraq invasion have not been declassified.

The National Archives of Australia released Cabinet records from 2003 in line following the expiration of a 20-year secrecy provision, but 78 documents relating to the Iraq war remain classified.

It is believed the documents were withheld as they are being prepared for the National Security Committee, a subgroup of Cabinet ministers responsible for making national security decisions - including the decision to join the US in its invasion of Iraq.

Analyst Comment: The decision to join the Iraq war was opposed by Albanese's then-opposition Labor Party at the time.

Source: AP News

 

Japan: Death toll from earthquake rises to 64, further shocks predicted
Japan is continuing to experience aftershocks following Monday's (1 December) 7.6 magnitude earthquake, which is now known to have killed at least 64 people.

Japan's meteorological agency has warned that more major earthquakes could hit the affected area in the coming week, adding to the casualty count.

Over 300 people were injured in the quake, 20 seriously, and many others are still missing. Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, leaving around 31,800 people currently in shelters.

Analyst Comment: A tsunami warning issued following the earthquake was lifted yesterday morning.

Source: Independent

 

South Korea: Police raid house of man who stabbed opposition leader
South Korean police have raided the home and office of the man who stabbed opposition leader Lee Jae-myung in the neck yesterday (2 December) and left him in intensive care.

The unnamed suspect was detained immediately by police following the attack, which took place as Lee walked through a group of journalists. He claims to have operated alone, and no motive has been offered for the attack.

Police have as yet revealed few details about the suspect, except that he is 67 and bought the 18cm climbing knife he used to stab Lee online. Media photos show the office being raided is a real estate business.

Analyst Comment: Recent opinion polls have suggested Lee is one of the two favourites to win the next presidential election in 2027 alongside current President Yoon Suk Yeol's former justice minister, Han Dong-hoon. Yoon is not allowed to stand in the election due to South Korea's single term limit.

Source: AP News

 

China

Taiwan: Chinese pressure likely to increase if pro-independence party wins election
Chinese military pressure against Taiwan is likely to increase if the ruling pro-democracy Democratic Progressive Party's (DDP) candidate wins the upcoming 13 January presidential election.

Former head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office and major general in the PLA, Wang Zaixi, said DDP candidate Lai Ching-te was an "extremist" independence supporter, and that the possibility of a military clash across the Taiwan Strait could not be ruled out if he won.

Former Taiwanese military chief Admiral Lee Hsi-ming corroborated this prediction, saying he believes China will take more hawkish actions in an attempt to warn him over his future policies towards China.

Analyst Comment: Any conflict between China and Taiwan would block key shipping lanes and disrupt the supply of semiconductors and commodities, therefore significantly impacting the global economy.

Source: Reuters

 

Taiwan: Four Chinese balloons detected over median line ahead of election
Taiwan's defence ministry reported it had detected four Chinese balloons moving across the median line which separates Taiwan and China, three of which flew directly over the island.

The incident comes two weeks ahead of Taiwan's 13 January presidential election, and marks the second time in as many days that balloons have been detected over Taiwanese territory.

An official from Taiwan's Institute of National Defence and Security Research said China was deploying the balloons for military coercion and psychological warfare aimed at securing more pro-Beijing votes in the election.

Analyst Comment: Taiwan's military began reporting the presence of Chinese balloons in its airspace in December, and since then has noted six separate incidents.

Source: Times of India

 

Europe

Netherlands: Chip equipment manufacturer ceases shipments to China
Dutch manufacturer ASML, which makes semiconductor chip machinery, has halted deliveries of its products to China following pressure from the US government.

The firm is a key part of the global semiconductor manufacturing supply chain, and was due to export three chip-making machines to China before it had its export licenses revoked by the Dutch government.

It is one of the only companies that manufactures extreme ultraviolet lithography systems which create the circuits on semiconductor chips using lasers.

Analyst Comment: Following a previous restriction on semiconductor exports to China, it responded by implementing its own restrictions on the export of two key semiconductor materials, germanium and gallium.

Source: The Guardian

 

Turkey: British minehunter ships destined for Ukraine to be blocked
Turkey has said it will not allow two minehunter ships donated to Ukraine by Britain to transit the Turkish Straits en route to the Black Sea, saying it would violate an international treaty.

It informed its NATO allies that it would not allow the vessels to use the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straights while the Ukraine war is ongoing, as the outbreak of the conflict had triggered the 1936 Montreux Convention which blocks the passage of military ships of the warring parties.

According to the convention, warships belonging to non-belligerents can pass through the straits during wartime, but Ankara has the final say on whether to permit this if it considers itself in danger of being drawn into conflict.

Source: Reuters

 

Israel/Hamas Conflict

Gaza: US "confident" militant groups held hostages in Shifa hospital
A recently declassified US intelligence report states the US is "confident" that Palestinian militant groups used Gaza's largest hospital to hold "at least a few" hostages kidnapped on 7 October.

The report also states the US intelligence community is confident Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad used the hospital and sites below it to house command infrastructure, store weapons, and conduct command and control activities.

It adds that Hamas likely evacuated its members from the hospital site days before Israel raided it on 15 November last year, and that they destroyed sensitive documents and electronics before doing so.

Analyst Comment: Hospitals enjoy special protected status under the international laws of war, but this does not apply if they are being used for military purposes.

Source: AP News

 

Israel: IDF "prepared for any scenario" following assassination of Hamas leader
The Israeli army has said it is "prepared for any scenario" after it assassinated Hamas's deputy leader and other senior members in a drone strike in Beirut yesterday (2 January).

Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah said the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri would not go unpunished, describing it as "a serious assault on Lebanon... and a dangerous development".

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati also condemned the strike, saying it "aims to draw Lebanon further into the war" and that he would file a complaint with the UN Security Council.

Analyst Comment: The strike in the southern Beirut neighbourhood of Dahiyeh killed six people, including two leaders of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military arm. As yet, Israel has not claimed responsibility, but has described it as a "surgical strike against Hamas's leadership".

Source: The Guardian

 

Red Sea: UK retail bosses say maritime attacks could lead to price rises
The British Retail Consortium has warned the recent spate of Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea could impact the availability of goods and lead to price increases.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said the price rises would be caused by higher transportation and shipping insurance costs, adding that some goods will now take longer to be shipped.

Games retailer Boxer Gifts, whose goods are made in China then shipped to Europe via the Red Sea, said its costs have gone up by 250% over the past fortnight and that it is currently seeing delivery delays of two or three weeks.

Analyst Comment: The delays are a result of shipping companies diverting their vessels around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and up the west side of Africa to avoid being attacked by Houthi militants in the Red Sea.

Source: BBC News

   

Latin America/Caribbean

Mexico: 26 migrants kidnapped en route to US border still being held
31 migrants kidnapped by gunmen while travelling through Mexico's northern Tamaulipas state en route to the US border are still being held.

Five other Venezuelan captives including two minors, who were taken in a separate incident in the same area, were freed by the Mexican National guard.

Migrants and human rights activists have been warning over the past few months that there is an escalating kidnapping crisis in the Tamaulipas border region as rival drug cartels vie for power there.

Analyst Comment: It is likely the hostages were taken with a view to securing ransom payments from their families or authorities. A local migrant shelter has said kidnappers are routinely charging hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to release hostages, and that those whose ransom is not paid "are never released".

Source: Reuters

 

Panama: Record 520,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap in 2023
A record 520,000 migrants crossed the jungle region straddling the Panama/Colombia border known as the Darien Gap in 2023, more than double the number who made the journey the year before.

The migrants mainly came from Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, and China, and around a quarter of them were minors according to Panama's migration agency.

Analyst Comment: Around seven million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years due to the country's economic and social crisis, while the increase in the number of migrants from China has been put down to the country's economic slowdown.

Source: Reuters

 

US/Canada

US: Names of over 150 people linked to Jeffrey Epstein to be made public
Previously sealed court documents containing the names of over 150 people with links to late convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein are due to be made public.

Those named in the documents include individuals accused of wrongdoing as well as those who worked for or had tenuous links to Epstein, who died by suicide in a US prison while awaiting trail on sex trafficking and other charges.

Some names in the documents will remain confidential, as the individuals were minors when the alleged sexual abuse took place and had not publicly spoken about it.

Analyst Comment: Member of the UK royal family Prince Andrew and former-US President Bill Clinton are both expected to be named in the documents.

Source: Al Jazeera

 

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