EVENT: Legislative elections
DATE: 17 September
Snap elections for the Knesset (the 120-seat unicameral Israeli parliament) will be held on 17 September.
CHANGES SINCE THE LAST ELECTION
The first 2019 election had been called as a result of military operations against Hamas in Gaza in late 2018. A ceasefire arranged on 13 November was not welcomed by all of the Israeli political establishment, and one minister resigned, accusing the government of “surrendering to terror”. This left Prime Minister Netanyahu with just a one-seat majority in the Knesset, so a snap general election was called for spring 2019.
The general election in April 2019 did not provide the Likud party with the majority that Netanyahu had been seeking by the May deadline. Both Likud and the opposition Blue and White alliance were equal on 35 seats, and he was unable to build a coalition with minority parties to improve his majority. In recent successful elections, Netanyahu had relied upon centre-right and religious parties to build coalitions that put him in office, but for once this proved unsuccessful, so an autumn general election was called.
Netanyahu’s failure to build a coalition is linked to political concerns over the ceasefire with Hamas. Figures in Israeli society who want to take a more fundamental, nationalist approach to relations with Palestine are now better represented by the smaller centre-right and religious parties, who subsequently no longer feel that they can do business with a centrist party that operates on (comparatively) more liberal policies. At the same time, corruption allegations against Mr Netanyahu are gradually disincentivising parties from being associated with him.
It appears that Mr Netanyahu is slowly becoming less of the all-powerful figure that he has been over the last 20 years. To build coalitions with the smaller centre-right parties, he may be forced to pursue a more nationalist agenda than he has in recent years, which may include more aggression in Palestinian territories or more robust policies there. Campaigning and voting for the September 2019 election is subsequently much more likely to revolve around military issues than it has in recent years.
Mr Netanyahu is expected to face corruption charges in October, although this is unlikely to have a major effect on the outcome of the election, after he has been accused by the Israeli attorney general of bribery and breach of trust. Mr Netanyahu’s strong stance on Iran, which it perceives as much of an enemy in the region as the United States does, may garner him enough votes.
RISKS TO TRAVELLERS
There is a high risk of civil unrest and political violence in Israel, which is likely to deteriorate in the aftermath of the Israeli elections. A failure by Netanyahu to establish a secure government will give an opportunity to rebel groups to take advantage of a governmental lull, and pressurise the state with widespread rioting. This will most likely be conducted in the already-troubled areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where violent protests are common.
Civil unrest is handled robustly by the Israeli state. Security forces are comfortable using baton rounds against protestors, and air strikes are sometimes launched against Palestinian positions.
There are some fears that the outcome of the election may be followed by some conflict with Iran, as part of attempts by Tehran to destabilise the region in the build-up to the US elections in 2020. Such an attack is most likely to be conducted against, or via, Iranian proxy groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. However, the Iranian government is more likely, at the moment, to engage in diplomatic discussions to seek an end to the sanctions that are having such an effect on the economy.
Travellers to Israel and the Palestinian Territories should:
– reconsider any travel to the Gaza Strip, the Syrian border, and the eastern half of the Lebanese border, without having recourse to complete security provision
– remain well clear of the perimeter fence surrounding the Gaza Strip
– expect to be stopped for questioning at airports if travelling with Palestinian passport stamps
– become familiar with the appropriate responses on hearing a warning siren in southern Israel
– follow local security advice in the event of any incident
– be vigilant for security threats at all times, particularly in places popular with foreign travellers, and on public transport
– monitor local media for any changes in the political or security environment
– avoid all protests and demonstrations in major urban centres
– avoid commenting on Israeli political issues, either in public or on social media forums (foreign travellers can be denied entry to Israel for this)
– ensure valuables are secure at all times
– take particular care if travelling into the desert (travel in convoy, inform a third party of itinerary, carry spare wheels and water)
BELT AND ROAD SUMMIT 2019
COUNTRY: Hong Kong
EVENT: Chinese political summit
DATE: 11 – 12 September
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a programme involving Chinese investment to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries. It is criticised by some western governments as either a cynical way to guarantee international political support for Beijing and recognition of the Chinese Communist Party, or a way to draw developing nations into long-term debt. It is largely viewed in China as a magnanimous operation that is effectively the Chinese equivalent to USAID or DfID.
A number of summits have been held in the last three years to promote the programme. Last year’s summit was held in Beijing, and involved 68 countries signing deals to develop infrastructure. The summit in autumn 2019 is an opportunity for governments and service providers involved in the programme to sign agreements and memoranda of understanding.
The environment for the BRI has become increasingly less receptive in recent years, as international governments increasingly see how the programme is tying developing-world governments into debt traps.
Of primary concern to the organisers of the summit will be the recent violence on the streets of Hong Kong. Anti-government demonstrations have been held every week since late March 2019, against an extradition agreement with China that has been proposed by the Hong Kong government. The issue has sparked widespread interest and concern in Hong Kong, resulting in many thousands of people contributing to the protests. A demonstration on 16 June was reportedly attended by nearly 2m people, resulting in unprecedented levels of violence in a territory that has traditionally been peaceful. Police have made dozens of arrests, and counter-protesters have turned some of the protests into outright brawls with suspected triad members and right-wing agitators. In late July, 2kg of triacetin triperoxide were seized in a location along with pro-independence leaflets.
This environment will be a huge concern to the organisers if the insecurity is still ongoing. The summit offers little interest to the average resident of Hong Kong, only to high-powered businessmen and politicians, so local residents are not likely to change their behaviour for the sake of the summit, but will continue protesting until some concessions are made by the government. The Chinese will not want to risk any insecurity, so it is very likely that a high security presence will be deployed in the streets, increasing the risk of violence. At the same time, there is likely to be widespread censorship of media coverage.
RISKS TO TRAVELLERS
There is a high risk that travellers to Hong Kong will have their movements disrupted by widespread civil unrest. Transport disruption is very likely, as recent unrest has involved violence in metro stations as well as on the streets. Travellers may also find themselves involved in the violence itself, given the size of Hong Kong. As with most travellers to Chinese territories, they are likely to be targeted by Chinese surveillance of some sort.
Travellers to Hong Kong should:
– reconsider all travel through Hong Kong until protests have finished
– consider remaining indoors in secure accommodation when protests are ongoing
– avoid all large crowds and gatherings, and must not film any protests or violence
– consider the security of accommodation and offices, including proximity to the affected areas
– monitor local media for any changes to the security and political environment
– refrain from carrying umbrellas so as not to be mistaken for a demonstrator
– make contingency plans for disruptions to routes, considering access to the airport and hospitals
RUGBY WORLD CUP
EVENT: Major international sports tournament
DATE: September and October
Japan will be hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with the opening ceremony scheduled for 20 September in Tokyo, and the final match for 02 November in Yokohama. Whilst not as large an event as the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup is very high profile and will attract media coverage and foreign travellers from across the world, particularly Europe and Australasia. 20 qualified teams will be hosted across 12 cities, with an even coverage of venues across the whole country. More than 600,000 of the 1.8m tickets available have been bought by travellers from abroad.
RISKS TO TRAVELLERS
The environment of a rugby tournament is very different from that of an international football tournament. Although heavy drinking is common, rugby union fans are not associated with nationalist violence, and generally share a sense of humour with fans from opposition nations. As a result, there is very low risk of hooliganism, political unrest and civil disturbance. The large crowds may attract the attention of petty criminals, although Japan already has one of the lowest levels of crime in the world, whilst the last terrorist incident in Japan took place more than 20 years ago.
However, there is a high risk to travellers of environmental hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, typhoons, landslides and heatwaves. In summer 2018, Japan experienced one of the highest sustained periods of natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, typhoons and heatwaves, and this could be replicated at any point in the near future. Commentators in Japan are starting to see periods of this high intensity as being the “new normal”, now that climate change appears to be increasing the risk of rainfall, winds and heatwaves. Most public infrastructure in Japan is built to withstand most hazards, but events on the scale of the rugby world cup are not held often (the last being a share of the FIFA world cup in 2002). The risk of injury from natural disasters is inevitably higher in very crowded areas, where any outbreak of panic would increase the risk of stampedes, crush injuries and a failure to escape.
Earthquakes. There is a very high risk of earthquakes in Japan, as it is situated at the border of three tectonic plates. 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes happen in Japan, the highest rate in the developed world; tremors are apparently recorded every five minutes, with several major earthquakes recorded every year. The most vulnerable cities have proved to be Osaka-Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, so most foreign travellers will be exposed to the risk at some point during their visit.
Amongst the most significant recent incidents was the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which led to 16,000 deaths and the destruction of local infrastructure including the Fukushima nuclear power plant. More recently, an earthquake in September 2018 caused 41 deaths. Large tremors are being recorded up until very recently – in June 2019, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Tsuruoka (no casualties), and on 30 July 2019 a 5.7 magnitude earthquake was recorded off the south-east coast. The Nankai Trough, an offshore fault, is expected to produce an earthquake of magnitude 8 or 9 in the next decade, resulting in something at least as disastrous as the Tohoku earthquake.
Tsunamis. The high risk of earthquakes invariably results in a high risk of tsunamis, particularly on coastal and low-lying areas. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was linked to a major tsunami, which caused the greatest number of casualties and forced the displacement of more than 340,000 locals. The areas most at risk are along the Pacific coast including, once again, the cities of Osaka-Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, again exposing most foreign travellers to the risk.
Volcanoes. More than 100 volcanoes are active in Japan, and eruptions are common.
Typhoons. Japan experiences an average of 11 typhoons per year, resulting in deaths, operational disruption and travel disruption. In September 2018, the strongest typhoon in 25 years hit the western part of the country, killing 11 people.
Landslides. Torrential rains during the wet season increase the risk of landslides and mudslides, which can be fatal. Mudslides during the rainy season in July 2018 caused 275 deaths and forced 10,000 people into temporary accommodation. Although the rainy season is usually finished by the end of July, there have been some irregularities in recent years, with a record number of consecutive rainy days being experienced this summer. Sustained heavy rain is still possible in September. Although landslides and mudslides generally affect more mountainous regions, lower areas are particularly vulnerable to flooding.
Heatwaves. A nationwide heatwave in summer 2018 recorded temperatures of 41°C, and resulted in many thousands of people hospitalised from heat stroke, and as many as 60 deaths.
Travellers to Japan should consider the following planning in advance:
– familiarise themselves with all government warning systems and subscribe to alerts
– familiarise themselves with evacuation procedures and response actions at each venue and location
– identify a safe location for earthquakes and tsunamis
– map out evacuation routes from accommodation and have an evacuation plan ready
– discuss emergency response plans with locals and colleagues
– keep a supply of canned food, first aid kit, bottled water, torch, phone, dust masks and goggles in an accessible place
– know how to turn off gas and water mains
Actions on earthquake:
– upon shaking drop down, take cover, hold on to something stable
– stay indoors until shaking stops
– stay away from furniture that can fall
– stay away from windows
– if in bed, remain in place and protect head with a pillow
– if outdoors, lie flat in a place away from buildings, trees and power lines
– if driving, slow down and stop in a clear place – stay in the car until shaking stops
– follow advice of local authorities at all times
Actions on tsunami:
– listen for tsunami warnings and watch for natural signs (rising / falling coastal waters, loud roar from the ocean)
– move inland if in low-lying area
– move as high and far as possible from sea level (2 miles from the coast or 100’ asl is ideal)
– if in a tall building, consider moving above the fourth floor instead of evacuating
– remain in a safe area until the all-clear is given by authorities
– stay clear of flooded areas and damaged power lines
COUNTRY: South-east Europe
EVENT: Infrastructure development
Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled oil and gas company, is expected to complete another major gas pipeline this autumn. TurkStream-2 is an extension of TurkStream (which runs across the Black Sea into Turkey), and will take Russian liquid natural gas (LNG) from Turkey to Hungary, representing another development of Russian foreign policy strategy in Europe.
RUSSIAN GAS STRATEGY
Gazprom has long sought to increase its ability to export Russian gas worldwide. For instance, a pipeline into China is being completed this autumn, to deliver nearly 40 billion cubic metres of LNG per year into China. But Russian’s main objective, through Gazprom, is Europe, seen as being the most significant market for LNG. In 2011, Gazprom opened NordStream, an underwater pipeline taking Russian LNG through the Baltic Sea into Germany. This has changed the gas dynamic for many Europeans, making fuel cheaper and more generally accessible.
The recent strategic problem for the Kremlin has been that many of the early Russian pipelines ran through Ukraine, entering the European market via Slovakia. This exposed the pipelines to the political enmity between Moscow and Kiev. Relations between the two countries have been very poor in recent decades. The former
Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, had a positive relationship with Moscow and Putin, promising to protect pipelines and encourage their development. After the violent anti-Yanukovych uprising in 2013-14, Russia seized Crimea and deployed soldiers into the pro-Russian eastern province of Ukraine. The European response was an official denouncement of Russian aggression, and a half-hearted attempt to find alternative gas supplies.
However, Russian LNG offered too much promise to European governments. Since the instability in Ukraine, Moscow has sought safer routes into European markets, investing billions into bypassing Ukraine. So TurkStream was announced in December 2014, and was completed in November 2018. It runs from a station in the north Caucasus, under the surface of the Black Sea, and into a Turkish province on the European shore. NordStream-2, also running through the Baltic Sea, is expected to increase the flow when it opens in late 2019. TurkStream-2, due to open this autumn, will run from Turkish Europe, through Bulgaria, Serbia and into Hungary.
European leaders are caught between the desire for affordable fuel, and a fear of Russian influence. Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting from office (and the civil unrest that occurred in Ukraine at the same time) was prompted by his close relationship with Putin, a relationship that was interpreted by Ukrainian opposition as Moscow having an unacceptable level of influence over Ukrainian politics. However, Germany’s welcoming of the NordStream pipelines, and Turkey’s welcoming of the TurkStream pipelines, suggest that political leaders in central and eastern Europe will become increasingly dependent upon the influence of Vladimir Putin.
Putin is slowly losing popularity at home after nearly 20 years in office – the opposition movement is gathering momentum and becoming increasingly bolder. To recover some support, Putin is taking a typical autocrat’s route and expanding Russian diplomatic influence to appeal to the nationalist base. However, not only will this Russian influence not be accepted by electorates across Europe, but it will not be welcomed by Washington, regardless of who is in office. In June 2019, President Trump mentioned the possibility of sanctions relating to the project.
RISKS TO TRAVELLERS
At the same time Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, right at the heart of TurkStream-2, will not be diversifying power security through their access to the pipeline, but will rather be making themselves alarmingly reliant on the Kremlin – putting themselves into the hands of the Russian government. Although there are currently few fears in Bulgaria that this will become a political issue, it is possible that some sections of Serbian or Hungarian society will object to this creeping influence, and political tensions are likely in Belgrade and Budapest if civil groups feel that the government is becoming too close to Moscow.
There is therefore a risk that civil unrest will increase in eastern and south-eastern Europe as this project progresses. Putin has demonstrated in the Donbas that he is prepared to deploy his military to defend his position overseas, and it is not impossible that he will encourage the Serbian, Hungarian, or possibly Bulgarian governments to use force to defend the pipeline if it becomes the target of aggression from disaffected locals. Although Putin and President Erdogan of Turkey have had disagreements in the past, their mutual political antagonism to Europe and the liberal west allows them to co-operate on this major infrastructure project, to the political and economic benefit of both of them: this may increase the risk of civil unrest in Turkey as well.
Uncertainty over this pipeline could influence the political environment across eastern and south-eastern Europe at any time before the end of the year. If civil unrest breaks out, it is most likely to be in the respective capital cities or major financial hubs.
Travellers to Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey should:
– monitor local and global media closely for any developments in the security environment
– avoid crowds in major cities and make robust contingency plans for travel disruption and emergency extraction
– if travelling to the vicinity of the pipeline, consider making contingency plans for travel disruption