The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 60

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Good morning everyone,

It’s been a big week. Iran finally struck back at Israel after weeks of holding the world on edge, South Korea held a major election, and some major fighting broke out throughout South America. But, as always, there’s been a lot that happened elsewhere this week too. Don’t worry, we’re going to take a look at it all.

In Europe, the EU approves a new asylum reform, Serbia is expected to sign its largest weapons deal ever, and Germany sends permanent forces to Lithuania.

Over in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s megacity project faces setbacks, and Netanyahu sets a date for Israel’s Rafah operations.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Sudan’s war hits the one year mark as France hosts a humanitarian conference aimed at supporting humanitarian initiatives in Sudan.

In the Americas, Mexico seeks the expulsion of Ecuador from the UN, the ELN pauses peace talks, and a Mexican police officer dies in a lynching.

In Asia and Oceania, South Korea sees a major election upset, Japan and the US prepare for conflict with China, and India makes major changes to it’s air force.

Looks like just another day at the office. Let's jump right in:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Iran Strikes Back at Israel

Photo showing Iranian missiles inbound to Israel during the attack. (Photo - Xinhua/Chen Junqing)

April 13th, 2024: (2 Minute Read) In a heavily anticipated showing, Iran has carried out a large-scale missile and drone attack against Israel in retaliation for the killing of several high-ranking IRGC members during an Israeli airstrike against Iran’s consulate in Damascus. This unprecedented attack marks the most significant escalation since the start of the Israel-Hamas fighting on October 7th. This also marks one of the rare times throughout the fighting in the region where Iran itself has struck Israeli targets without the circumvention of using it’s proxy militias.

The initial attack wave saw between 50 and 100 Shahed 136 drones launched from Iran and eastern Iraq towards Israel, with civilians posting footage online of the low-flying drones and their iconic loud buzzing. Israeli, US, British, Jordanian, and possibly French aircraft engaged, knocking down most of these over Syria and Jordan, with the latter opening it’s airspace in cooperation with Israel.

Secondary and tertiary attack waves seen the launch of about 120 ballistic missiles and at least 30 cruise missiles, with possibly hundreds more drones. The Israel Defense Forces reported that most of the projectiles were intercepted before reaching Israel; however, breakthroughs and falling debris caused damage across the Jerusalem area and Negev region. Several missiles got through the air defenses with video showing several slamming into air bases. Most notably, the Nevatim Airbase, which houses a large fleet of F-16 and F-35 aircraft, was hit several times according to onlookers and online videos. Ramon Airbase was also said to have been hit. However, the IDF claims only minimal damage was taken at either.

There has been no conclusive word yet on casualties or the full extent of the damages, but Israel confirms several injuries. Local media reported the death of a Bedouin child but this has yet to be substantiated. There are also unverified claims of three deaths due to falling debris in Jordan. Local media has reported several injuries.

Iran stated following the attack that “the matter can be deemed concluded” in reference to its retaliation. They followed with, “However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe.”

Israel has promised “unprecedented retaliation”, with Israeli media reporting several meetings of the war cabinet to discuss the possible response. The United States and other allied nations have urged restraint, with a senior Biden administration official telling CNN that “the U.S. will not participate in any offensive operations against Iran; U.S. President Joe Biden has made [this] clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” Biden also stated that “Israel should consider tonight a win because the current U.S. assessment is that Iran’s attacks had been largely unsuccessful and demonstrated Israel’s superior military capability.” This happened during a phone call between the two leaders that took place at the tail end of Iran’s drone and missile barrages targeted at Israel, which were largely intercepted.

Biden reaffirmed “America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel” in a statement after the call and said the U.S. helped take down most of the drones and missiles.

Additionally, Biden is continuously working with G7 leaders to coordinate a diplomatic response to Iran’s attack. The U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defenses to the region in the past week, according to the White House, in an apparent preemptive anticipation of the attack by Iran and any further escalation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have all reiterated U.S. support for Israel as well.


April 10th, 2024 - The European Union approved a reform targeting the union's policies relating to the approval and deportation of those seeking asylum within member states. The new reforms end years of deadlock over a change in the EU’s policies over asylum, with key portions of the reform including faster deportations, more data collection for prospective asylees, and redistribution from overburdened EU states. The reforms include the deportation of asylees who have little chance of obtaining asylum, with those affected either facing expedited procedures or outright deportation. While a controversial section of the reforms includes a "solidarity mechanism," which intends to redistribute a minimum of 30,000 refugees, a move that has been condemned by both Polish and Hungarian officials.

The European Union approved a reform targeting the union's policies relating to the approval and deportation of those seeking asylum within member states on Wednesday. (Photo - AFP/John Thys)

April 14th, 2024 - Serbia is expected to sign its largest purchase of weapons ever in the near future. The deal consists of 12 French Rafale fighter jets that will cost an estimated €3 billion. “The contract is expected to be signed in the next two months and in the presence of the president of France,” stated the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic. Belgrade and Paris have maintained a productive relationship since Macron took office. The French president supports a Serbian bid to join the EU and has worked diligently to improve the relationship between Vucic and other European nations. “Our economic relations have received a real boost … and we can go further,” stated Macron. This comes as Serbia is becoming less reliant on Russian military purchases and is shifting its buying power toward other nations.

April 8th, 2024 - The Bundeswehr, Germany’s army, announced that the nation would begin the construction of a NATO military base in Lithuania in order to further solidify the western alliance’s strength on the eastern front. The base will first house 5,000 soldiers, 20 of whom have been sent to prepare for the arrival of their comrades, overseeing the construction of barracks, accommodations, and other forms of infrastructure. But some have raised concerns regarding the cost of such a military investment. The station is set to cost Berlin 800 million euros, creating an even deeper dent in Germany’s already unstable budget. The deployment will also cost the Bundeswehr a large sum of equipment, as equipment for domestic soldiers will have to be shifted in order to supply operations within Lithuania. This loss of equipment is beloved to be restored within years, with Armed Forces Commissioner of the Bundestag, Eva Högl, telling ARD Magazine, "Of course, this initially creates enormous gaps because the equipment of our soldiers, as well as the large machinery, are not yet available, which means everything will now head towards Lithuania.”

Middle East

April 8th, 2024 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that “there is a date” for Israel’s impending ground operation in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. He gave no clues as to when this date would be, and his announcement came amidst stalled negotiations for a temporary ceasefire and a hostage release in Cairo. Israel’s insistence on an operation in Rafah is one of the largest points of tension between Israel and the US, which is not in favor of such an operation. Netanyahu has stated the operation will go on “with or without” the US’ support. Rafah was previously established by Israel as a safe area within Gaza; however, now Israel claims that it holds within it Hamas’ last remaining battalions as well as the majority of the remaining Israeli hostages. Rafah also holds within it approximately 1.4 million civilians, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who evacuated from northern Gaza. The large presence of civilians has led many to condemn the potential Israeli operation, claiming it would result in excessive civilian casualties. Rafah has also been a primary base for humanitarian operations. The UN’s Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has warned that an Israeli operation in Rafah would be the “nail in the coffin” for humanitarian operations in Gaza, which are already hanging on by a thread. Netanyahu has claimed that the IDF has a plan to evacuate Rafah’s civilian population out of harm’s way; however, it is unclear where exactly civilians would evacuate to, with much of Gaza remaining an active combat zone or being subject to bombardments.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo from AHMAD GHARABLI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES).

April 11th, 2024 - According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia has scaled back its ambitious plans for a futuristic megacity known as 'The Line', after it has faced a series of delays and additionally faces uncertainty regarding funding for the project. The Line is just one part, though the largest, of Saudi Arabia's 'Neom' project. Neom aims to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil. The Saudi Arabian economy, as one of the world's largest oil producers, is heavily reliant on oil. The Line is their most ambitious and largest part of Neom. It is a megacity, sided with mirrors, that is set to span a whopping 105 miles, going in a line through the Saudi desert. The city is supposed to be carless, hold within it a multitude of state-of-the art technologies in order to better daily life, have several of the world's fastest trains in order to facilitate travel, be as tall as the Empire State Building, and eventually become home to nine million people. By 2030, Saudi Arabia had hoped to have enough of The Line completed in order to become home to approximately 1.5 million people. However, after the project has faced continual delays, officials have now changed their expectations. Now it is only expected that a mile and a half of the project's construction will be completed by 2030, and it will only be able to house approximately 300,000 people.


April 15th, 2024 - Sudan's war has now hit the one-year mark, having begun on April 15th, 2023. The war has seen significant portions of Sudan's infrastructure damaged or destroyed, millions displaced, thousands killed, reports of rampant ethnic-based violence, and Sudan's economy tank further than it already had been. The situation is worsened by the fact that Sudan had endured several years of civil conflict prior to the war's beginning. The war began between the SAF and the RSF due to disagreements on if and how the RSF should be integrated into the military, as well as due to power-sharing agreements amidst the long process of transitioning into a civilian government.

Since the war's beginning, Sudan has grown into the world's largest internal displacement crisis. Approximately 8.5 million people are internally displaced within Sudan, the majority of whom (above six million) have been displaced since the war began in April, with the remainder having been displaced in previous civil conflicts. The 8.5 million are joined by nearly two million additional people who have fled Sudan completely, becoming refugees in neighboring countries. This brings the total number of displaced Sudanese civilians to approximately 10.5 million.

The war has also spawned an extensive humanitarian crisis. Prior to the war, significant portions of Sudan's population were reliant upon humanitarian aid. Since the war began, this problem has only worsened, with approximately 18 million people in Sudan being food insecure. If Sudan, Chad, and South Sudan are grouped together, 25 million people are experiencing varying levels of food insecurity, representing a massive need for humanitarian aid. Of Sudan's 18 million, five million are experiencing emergency levels of hunger. The WFP has additionally stated that approximately 90% of those experiencing emergency levels of hunger are in areas that are simply inaccessible to the World Food Programme (WFP), meaning they are going entirely without aid.

Due to the lack of humanitarian aid that is entering Sudan, the WFP recently warned that the hunger crisis the nation is experiencing is threatening to become the world's largest. If it does, this would not be the first time Sudan has held this title, as the hunger crisis experienced in Darfur, western Sudan, was the largest in the world 20 years ago. In addition to a lack of proper funding and the heavy fighting throughout the nation, the WFP has additionally stated that "insecurity, restrictions, threats, roadblocks, and bureaucratic impediments" further harm humanitarian aid efforts.

Over the course of the war, at least 13,000 people (as of January 2024) have been killed. Casualty numbers are likely heavily underreported.

The war has been very costly in civilian casualties, with both sides attacks oftentimes leading to collateral deaths in civilian populations, particularly in and around Khartoum.

The UN has attributed ethnic violence to both sides, in particular to the RSF, which has reportedly carried out a number of massacres against civilian populations in Darfur. Darfur has a history of ethnic violence, and many of its populations have been targeted in Sudan's previous conflicts as well.

Sudanese children pictured playing in a UNHCR refugee camp established in Sudan's Gadaref state, sheltering people who had fled from Khartoum and Jazira (Photo from AFP).

April 15th, 2024 - France is hosting a humanitarian conference in Paris, meant to drum up funding in order to support humanitarian initiatives in Sudan. The conference is to be attended by a number of different western entities, including the US, the EU, the UK, and more, as well as a number of different Sudanese civilian groups and NGO’s. The primary purpose is to attempt to garner funding for Sudan’s humanitarian aid programs that go extremely underfunded. The UN is requesting an additional 4.1 billion USD in order to address Sudan’s humanitarian needs. The US’ Special Envoy to Sudan, Tom Perriello, has stated that they are “only at 5% of the needed amount,” after stating that “the international response has been pitiful.” Missing from the conference, however, are representatives of Sudan’s military government, something they have been very critical of. The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement in which it expressed “its utmost astonishment and condemnation” of the conference, stating “that such a conference is convened on a matter concerning Sudan without consultation or coordination with its government and without its participation.”

The Americas

April 11th, 2024 - Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Thursday that the country has filed a formal complaint against Ecuador with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), with the President demanding that Ecuador be expelled from the United Nations. Mexico claimed in its official filing with the ICJ that the raid follows “a series of continued
acts of intimidation and harassment” after Glas arrived at the embassy, which included "constant police presence around the Mexican Embassy" since the arrival of Glas. The case follows a raid conducted by Ecuadorian authorities on the Mexican embassy in order to carry out a warrant for the arrest of former Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas, who was convicted on two charges of corruption. Following the conviction, Glas fled to the Mexican Embassy in December to apply for asylum. Ecuadorian authorities claimed this application was illegitimate, claiming that Glas was targeted due to his criminal conviction and was not political. The Mexican Foreign Ministry released footage of the arrest of Glas on Tuesday, which shows authorities breaching the embassy and carrying out a search of the premises before having multiple altercations with Mexican Ambassador Roberto Canseco. Following the raid, Mexico broke all diplomatic relations with Ecuador, recalling its embassy staff, who returned to Mexico on Sunday.

Ecuadorian authorities carrying out the raid which resulted in the capture of Jorge Glas and the breakdown in relations between Mexico and Ecuador. (Photo - Forbes)

April 11th, 2024 - Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) announced on Thursday that the group would suspend peace talks with the government due to the government negotiating with a portion of the organization. This announcement follows recent upsets regarding the peace process between the ELN and the government, which originally began in February after the ELN accused the Colombian government of violating a previously agreed-upon ceasefire by pursuing the disarmament and disbandment of the organization's Nariño front. However, the government's negotiation team criticized the ELN following the February statement, requesting that the ELN return to negotiations. "The decisions unilaterally taken by the ELN are their complete responsibility, and they generate unnecessary crises that prolong the armed confrontation and the violence that communities suffer, as well as weakening society's confidence in (the rebels') will for peace," the delegation said in a statement.

April 8th, 2024 - A police officer in Zacatelco, located in Mexico's Tlaxcala State, was killed while attempting to break up a lynching of two men who have been accused of killing a taxi driver on Monday. Officers responded to a mob of individuals who had attacked the two accused men who reportedly attempted to rob the elderly taxi driver, killing him when he resisted. When officers attempted to break up the mob, those participating in the lynching turned on the authorities, severely beating responders, which left four others in the hospital. Those who attempted the lynching witnessed the crime and rushed to the aid of the taxi driver. Locals managed to capture two of the four thought to be responsible for the killing and began to beat them at the scene of the crime. Other officers responding to the lynching were forced to retreat, following the retreat, officers requested backup from other cities' police units, who then deployed tear gas and discharged firearms in order to disperse the crowd.

Asia and Oceania

April 11th, 2024 - The National Election Commission (NEC) announced the election results of the April 11th legislative elections, with the Democratic Party (DP) winning a majority of the seats contested in South Korea’s National Assembly. The People’s Power Party (PPP) lost several seats during the election, only gaining 90 seats. The DP’s win in the elections likely means that the current government of President Yoon Suk Yeol will continue to have difficulties passing laws that would support the reforms it wants to implement. The country’s National Election Commission (NEC) said that 67 percent of the total 44.28 million voters participated in the elections, marking the highest voter turnout for a general election in 32 years.

PPP Chairman Han Dong-hoon speaking to other members after watching election results at the political party’s headquarters (Photo - AP/Kim Hong-ji)

April 10th, 2024 - According to the White House, the United States and Japan have agreed to launch a military industrial council to evaluate co-production of military capabilities. Experts suggest the United States is seeking to “flip the script” on China, which they say has been attempting to isolate the Philippines and Japan through increasingly aggressive military maneuvers in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. This tri-lateral security alliance, which includes bi-lateral defense guarantees is the U.S.’ primary bid for overpowering China in the First Island China. These comments were in addition to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel’s comments to CNBC that U.S. INDOPACOM and U.S. Forces Japan are launching a new military command structure which will focus on utilizing Japan’s Joint Military Command Center. This command center was announced in 2023 and is set to launch in March 2025.

April 13th, 2024 - The Indian government has issued a tender for 97 Tejas Mk1A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) from India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The purchase will be the largest ever for domestically produced equipment, as the deal’s total value is around $777 million (Rs 65,000 crore) if it were to go through. HAL has around three months to respond. If these aircraft are purchased, they will replace the current fleet of older-generation MiGs, such as the MiG 21, 23, and 27, which are now phased out or being phased out. This comes after a similar deal with HAL in 2021 to acquire 73 Tejas MK1A and a recent increase in defense spending and development.

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