Mar 2, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Good evening and welcome back to Axios World. We've got 1,500 words (6 minutes) to get you up to speed on the week's biggest global stories.

  • Tell anyone who might enjoy this newsletter to sign up, and send me your tips and feedback: lawler@axios.com.
1 big thing: Netanyahu's stunning victory

Netanyahu campaigns in Tel Aviv, Feb. 29. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party is projected to win the most seats in Israel's election, according to exit polls.

  • All three polls — updated moments ago to reflect the latest results — show his right-wing bloc one or two seats short of the 61 needed for a majority.

Why it matters: The exit polls are not official results, but they project a strong performance from Netanyahu in Israel's third elections in 10 months despite a looming corruption trial.

  • Both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, his centrist rival, failed to form coalition governments following elections in April and September.
  • Netanyahu has vowed to annex parts of the West Bank within weeks if elected.

By the numbers: All three exit polls show Netanyahu's Likud party winning 36–37 seats, to 32–34 for Gantz's Blue and White.

  • All three show Netanyahu's right-wing bloc with 59 or 60 seats and Gantz's center-left bloc with 52-54.
  • The remaining seats go to Avigdor Lieberman's nonaligned party. Lieberman has resisted calls to line up alongside Netanyahu, but could possibly stand aside to allow a minority government.

Where things stand: There were no signs of voter fatigue in this rerun election. Turnout was 71%, an increase from the past two contests.

  • This is a remarkable turnaround for Israel's longest-serving prime minister, and it likely means the political obituaries that had been in progress will be shelved for now.
  • Despite three indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, millions of Israelis continue to put their faith in Netanyahu.
  • But if he doesn't manage to cobble together 61 seats the political deadlock could continue — and another election could be just months away.

What to watch: Netanyahu is now serving as caretaker prime minister, but he hopes to form a new right-wing government that will derail the legal proceedings against him.

  • At the very least, it would allow him to continue as prime minister during his trial, which begins March 17.
  • Gantz has ruled out a unity government, citing Netanyahu's trial.

The bottom line: No Israeli prime minister has governed while defending himself against criminal charges. But to paraphrase Netanyahu's campaign slogan, there’s no one else like him.

2. Afghanistan: A deal, but no peace

Taliban fighters celebrate the deal. Photo: Wali Sabawoon/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Today offered an immediate reminder that while a deal was struck Saturday for the U.S. to begin to leave Afghanistan, peace remains elusive.

Driving the news: The Taliban said it had resumed offensive operations against Afghan forces following a "reduction in violence" during negotiations.

  • Three civilians were killed and 11 wounded by a bomb blast in Khost. The Taliban denied responsibility.
  • Gen. Mark Milley acknowledged in a press briefing that "an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan ... is probably not going to happen."
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he would not abide by a deal to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, saying the U.S. was "only a facilitator" and couldn't dictate such steps.

What they're saying:

"This is going to be a long, windy, bumpy road. That’s going to be the nature of this over the next days, weeks and months. ... We’re just going to deal with each situation as it arises and make sure we stay focused on the mission.”
— Defense Secretary Mark Esper

The big picture: America has wanted out of Afghanistan for at least a decade. The deal signed in Doha could accomplish that.

  • It calls for some 4,000 U.S. troops to pull out "within months" and for a complete exit within 14 months.
  • The Taliban has declared it a victory.

The big picture: Since the American invasion in the wake of 9/11, 3,500 U.S. and allied troops have been killed, tens of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives, and the U.S. has spent $2 trillion.

  • Polls suggest most Americans tend to consider the war a failure.
  • It's unclear what will happen to the protections the U.S. has helped guarantee for minorities and women, including access to education.
3. Syria: Fighting and fleeing

Heading toward Greece, in Edirne, Turkey. Photo: Osman Orsal/Getty Images

There is war on Turkey’s border with Syria and chaos on its borders with Europe.

Driving the news: Turkey launched an offensive against Syrian government troops after at least 36 of its soldiers were killed in an airstrike last Thursday. It shot down two Syrian aircraft and claims to have killed hundreds of Syrian forces.

Simultaneously, Turkey announced that it was opening its borders to allow Syrian refugees to cross into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians but — with up to a million people displaced by recent fighting in Idlib expected to attempt to cross into Turkey —says the situation is no longer sustainable.

On the scene: “Thousands of migrants have gathered near Greece's Kastanies border crossing, some getting there by taking free rides on buses organized by the Turkish government. Turkey’s state-owned Arabic-language broadcasting channel ... provided maps for migrants showing various routes to reach the border,” per Al-Monitor.

The EU insists its gates remain closed.

  • “We have to stand by Greece and fight together Erdogan’s blackmail,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a senior EU politician.
  • Turkish media released a disturbing video of members of the Greek coast guard apparently attempting to turn back or sink a boat filled with migrants.
  • A young Syrian boy died today when his boat capsized off of Lesbos.

In Syria, meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has focused his ire on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not Syria’s ally, Vladimir Putin.

  • Erdoğan plans to meet with Putin on Thursday in Moscow to attempt to negotiate the endgame in Idlib.
  • Putin has aided Assad in retaking nearly all of Syria, but he has also been working for years to pull Turkey further from Washington’s orbit. He’ll have to weigh those competing priorities.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Idlib continues.

4. Latin America: The world's next rich country

Waiting for the good life, in Georgetown, Guyana. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty

Guyana goes to the polls today a relatively poor nation, but the winner of the election could soon be leading a very rich one.

Why it matters: A massive oil find has led the IMF to project the economy will grow a whopping 85% in 2020. Zoom out further, and estimates get truly stratospheric for the South American country of 780,000.

State of play, from the Economist:

  • "[Guyana] has the world’s third-highest suicide rate and the highest rate of maternal mortality in South America."
  • "One reason is that it loses talent, including doctors and nurses. ... At least four-fifths of its university graduates leave the country."
  • "Most of the population, including that of Georgetown, the capital, is on the low-lying coast that is vulnerable to flooding. Two-fifths live on less than $5.50 a day."

The question is whether newfound oil wealth will make life significantly better.

  • "This could 'change us once and for all into a Singapore kind of country,' says the finance minister, Winston Jordan. Whichever party takes charge of the bounty could govern for decades. Mr Jordan calls the vote 'the mother of all elections.'"
  • But, but, but: "Almost every Guyanese seems to be aware that, like a downpour on parched ground, a torrent of oil money could bring destruction rather than relief."
5. World news roundup: Leaders come and go

Raise your hand if you're Malaysia's new prime minister. Photo: Ore Huiying/Getty Images

1. Malaysia’s king picked a new prime minister to replace Mahathir Mohamad, who resigned last Monday but was expected to either hold on to power while a political crisis played out, or hand it to his ally-turned-foe-turned-ally-turned-foe, Anwar Ibrahim (it’s a long story).

  • Instead, Muhyiddin Yassin takes the top job. A Malay nationalist, he faces immediate questions about his Cabinet and whether he actually commands a majority.

2. One of two men claiming to be Guinea-Bissau’s president has resigned after just one day in office.

  • Cipriano Cassamá was sworn in by lawmakers, who claimed an election won by former Gen. Umaro Cissoko Embaló was rigged.
  • Cassamá quickly resigned, saying, "I have no security. ... My life is in danger,” per the BBC.
  • Guinea-Bissau now has just one president, but it still has two men claiming to be prime minister.

3. Iraq’s prime minister-designate, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, has withdrawn his candidacy, blaming obstructionist political factions.

  • There’s no clear path out of Iraq’s political turmoil that will be acceptable both to the political elite and the protesters who want them out.

4. Slovakia’s governing party was soundly defeated on Saturday.

  • “The election results come two years after the killings of an investigative journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, shocked Slovakia and upended the political order, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico and left the governing party... reeling,” per the NYT.

Update: The Organization of American States issued a blistering response to the MIT research I mentioned Thursday on Bolivia’s election. They write that the article ignores unequivocal evidence of fraud.

Bonus: State of the outbreak
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios
6. What I'm reading: The view from Australia

Australian PM Scott Morrison (center) with his mate Donald. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen/The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty

I spent part of the weekend flipping through a new edition of Australian Foreign Affairs centered around the question, "Can we trust America?"

Why it matters: With China rising and America's strategy and reliability in question, experts debated how Australia should balance relations with its largest trading partner (China) and its American allies.

Michael Wesley of the University of Melbourne writes that the U.S.-Australia partnership grew in the early 20th century during another great power shift in Asia, as the U.K. pulled back and Japan rose.

  • The relationship remained fairly pragmatic until the past two decades. Since then — with American and Australian troops fighting together in the Middle East — "no politician in either major party would risk questioning the alliance."
  • Wesley writes that Australians are increasingly wary of China — "revealing a sense of vulnerability deeper and broader than at any time in our history" — but also less reassured by their partnership with the U.S.
  • Indeed, he contends, as the U.S. relies more on Australia — and potentially seeks to open military bases there — there's a growing risk that the U.S. could "provoke a conflict with China that is not in Australia's or its neighbors' interests."

His bottom line: Australia should partner with the U.S. where interests align, but not simply follow America into a showdown with China.

7. Stories we're watching

On the edge of Europe, hoping for a way in. Photo: Osman Orsal/Getty Images

  1. U.S. places new restrictions on Chinese journalists
  2. Locust swarms in East Africa put millions at risk of starvation
  3. North Korea fires projectiles
  4. Louvre Museum closes amid workers' fears over coronavirus
  5. NASA images show China pollution clear as coronavirus shuts factories
  6. Chinese authorities send Uighurs to work at Nike supplier
  7. Russia opens first theme park, "Dream Island"

Quoted:

"We don't want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a 'racist' is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both!”
— Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, on Bernie Sanders
Dave Lawler