Hi there,

Today we look at Israel, where rockets are flying again. We'll also wonder about the future of Hong Kong. Plus: Brazil's Lula freed from jail, a Brexit truce, a hopeful prisoner swap in Afghanistan, and some of your memories of 1989.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow GZERO on Twitter and Facebook.

Kevin and Los Signalistas

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Hi there,

Today we look at Israel, where rockets are flying again. We'll also wonder about the future of Hong Kong. Plus: Brazil's Lula freed from jail, a Brexit truce, a hopeful prisoner swap in Afghanistan, and some of your memories of 1989.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow GZERO on Twitter and Facebook.

Kevin and Los Signalistas


In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 220 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least 19 Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:

The Gaza Strip — Israel's assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata, the Gaza-based commander of the Iranian-backed PIJ, was not a surprise. For months, he had an Israeli target on his back for directing rocket barrages against Israeli cities and coordinating a spate of terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. But it wasn't just Israel that saw Abu al-Ata as an agitator; the political and militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has grown increasingly frustrated with the PIJ. Things have been improving a bit since Gaza's border crossing with Egypt was opened in 2017, the first time in a decade. That's helped Hamas' image among Gazans. As talks of a potential parliamentary election in the coastal enclave loom, the last thing Hamas wants is to be dragged by the PIJ into a fresh war with Israel.

Now Hamas faces a serious dilemma — If it does nothing to stop PIJ from following through on its threats to escalate against Israel, it could be dragged into a military operation anyway. But if it tries to rein in Islamic Jihad violence, it risks being seen as pandering to Israel — not a good look in Gaza. At least for now, Hamas is allowing PIJ militants to continue to run wild with rockets as it weighs up the potential benefits and costs from a new round of conflict with Israel.

The eastern border — The Gaza tensions come right as Israel is already facing a diplomatic crisis with one of its firmest regional allies: Jordan. A months-long spat over Israel's detention of two Jordanian nationals escalated this month when Jordan took the unusual step of recalling its ambassador in Tel Aviv over the issue. Israel released the prisoners, but this week tensions rose again as Jordan refused to renew a provision of their 1994 peace treaty which gave Israeli farmers access to lands just inside the Jordanian border. Israel has long deemed ties with the kingdom as "a cornerstone of regional stability," in a neighbourhood of few friends. But recent events cast doubt on whether it can rely on an increasingly tenuous "cold" peace treaty, now in its 25th year.

The domestic front – And then there's Israel's dizzying national politics. Two months after the general election, Benny Gantz, the leader of Israel's opposition party, has just days left to form a coalition after his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to consolidate a government last month. Gantz's prospects aren't good. But a prolonged military operation in Gaza could strengthen public support for a unity government, forcing the two rivals to serve together for the sake of the country. Remarkably, Gantz could end up accepting a deal playing second fiddle to Netanyahu in managing a military crisis, or even a war.

A lot depends on whether Hamas decides to rein in a group that likes to go rogue on its watch, or instead decides to join in. But as always, a miscalculation by either side could trigger a full-blown war.



Escalating violence between police and protesters in Hong Kong has left the city of over 7 million on the brink…but of what exactly? Read more here about why the politics point to a protracted, violent, and costly stalemate.


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Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.



Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreements over sharing the cost of maintaining military readiness have caused friction between the alliance's members in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.



More Brexit shenanigans: Britons this week saw Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson endorse Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in upcoming elections. As a special bonus, they got to see Corbyn return the favo(u)r with a formal endorsement of Johnson. Most viewers in the UK will have understood immediately that these are the latest example of "deep fakes," digitally manipulated video images. The more important Brexit story this week is a pledge by Nigel Farage that his Brexit Party will not run candidates in areas held by the Conservatives in upcoming national elections. That's a boost for Johnson, because it frees his party from having to compete for support from pro-Brexit voters in those constituencies.

Spain's leftward lurch: After coming up short of a majority in last weekend's elections, Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist party has been looking for a governing partner. Now, in a move that would bring the far-left into Spain's government for the first time since Ernest Hemingway's days, he's struck a deal with the left-populist Unidas Podemos. It's an awkward tie-up between two former rivals, but both see it as the best way to contain the surge of the far-right Vox party, which doubled its seat count in the election last Sunday. The Socialist-Podemos coalition would need the support of some smaller regional parties to stick – we're keeping an eye on the horse trading before parliament reconvenes next month.

A prisoner swap in Afghanistan: The Afghan government announced on Tuesday that it would release three Taliban leaders in exchange for an American academic and an Australian colleague who were snatched from a Kabul university campus in 2016. Details of the swap have yet to be publicly announced, but we're watching this story to see if it creates an opening for the resumption of peace talks between the US and Taliban that President Trump declared "dead" in September.

Lula unbound: Last week Brazil's Supreme Court ruled the popular former left-wing president Lula da Silva can go free from jail while he appeals his conviction on corruption charges. His release jolts an already deeply polarized country: ahead of last year's presidential election, Lula led the polls but couldn't run because of his conviction, which supporters saw as a political hit job. Lula can't run for president in 2022 unless he gets his conviction cleared, but he has pledged to mobilize Brazil's left and sweep Bolsonaro from office. The political divides in Brazil are as bitter as anywhere in the world: we're watching to see how much uglier things get now.

What We're Ignoring:

If Mark Sanford falls in the woods…Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford has dropped his bid for the 2020 Republican Party nomination.



80: More than 80 percent of the electronic voting systems currently used in the US are made by just three companies, according to a new report which warns that they are regulated less effectively than "colored pencils."

45: The number of countries suffering organized online political disinformation campaigns has shot up 45 percent since 2017, to a current total of 70, according to a recent report by Oxford researchers.

168: Last month the global tech consortium that strictly regulates the coding and use of emojis approved 168 new ones, bringing the total to more than 3,000. It turns out the geopolitics of emojis – from navigating Russian government opposition to a gay family emoji or China's pushback against the Taiwanese flag – are pretty interesting.

3.2 million: Traffic in the rickshaw-choked streets of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is so bad that it costs the city's people 3.2 million working hours every day, says the World Bank. A city plan to ban rickshaws has run into resistance from people who make a living off them, as well as critics who say the city lacks sufficient public transit alternatives.



Last week, in our 1989 anniversary edition, we invited you to share your recollections of that pivotal time. We received a number of beautifully written and moving responses. Thank you to all who wrote us. Here are some highlights, lightly edited.

Karl Krochmal of Vancouver was eight years old at the time, living in southwestern Poland. As the wall fell, Karl remembers "looking at an article in a local paper titled Who will be our neighbor to the East? and instead of a "big brother, for the first time I heard of countries like 'Lithuania' or 'Belarus.'"

Noor, in Washington D.C., writes us that "back in another life when I worked in neuroscience, my microscope said, 'made in West Germany.' I told my dad and remarked that in his day, that's where the best microscopes came from. This was in 2010. In Syria in about 2008, my brother had purchased an ink and quill set to practice calligraphy. He couldn't get the pen to work. The ink pot said it was made in West Germany."

Nareg Seferian, a PhD student at Virginia Tech remembers his brother telling him that the USSR would soon break up. "The notion of a country breaking apart," he writes, "meant to my young mind that a giant crack was going to go through the centre of the pink-outlined USSR. A chunk was going to float away to the east and crash into Alaska. I am not sure what the other half was going to do. Meanwhile, I pictured a family sitting down to dinner, that same crack cutting through their exact house and table, moms and dads and kids reaching across, trying to grab each other's hands and arms before being forcibly pushed apart."

Doug S., an American who went to high school in West Germany in the years before the wall fell, recalls the feeling of "absolute disbelief" in those days. "After living in Germany for so long, and traveling to West Berlin many times, through Soviet East Germany and seeing the wall and passing through Check Point Charlie and living on the front line for so many years, there was nothing else to feel."

Amar Adiya, Managing Editor of Mongolia Weekly, was in 3rd-grade in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. "I was going to Soviet school with Russian expat kids. I was a careless kid, happy that I had better textbooks and better school environment than my friends in Mongolian schools. I vividly remember that I was preparing to become a pioneer [the communist youth organization] in November and was learning Lenin's teachings by heart. I was thrilled to wear a red scarf.

I was not aware that the Berlin Wall had fallen - but the ripple effect came to Mongolia in December 1989 with mass protests in the main square. I remember my father saying some young folks went on hunger strikes."

Willis Sparks, Signalista, writes: "I was a third-year grad student at the Juilliard School. In April 1989, I had spent three weeks in Moscow as part of an exchange with the Moscow Art Theatre School. Perestroika and Gorbachev were front of mind, and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact had played out week by week over the course of that fall.

For those who weren't alive or aren't old enough to remember those events, the dominant feelings were disbelief and fascination. Things that could not happen played out over weeks, then days, then hours. Four months after that November night I spent money I didn't have to go to Berlin to see the Wall for myself."



This edition of Signal was written by Gabrielle Debinski, Kevin Allison, Alex Kliment and Willis Sparks. Graphics Magic by Gabriella Turrisi. Let us know what you think here.


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