W. Africa Bloc Says Military Intervention in Niger ‘Last Resort’

ECOWAS Senegalese troops hold their position in Barra, across from the Gambian capital Banjul Jan. 22, 2017. (AP)
ECOWAS Senegalese troops hold their position in Barra, across from the Gambian capital Banjul Jan. 22, 2017. (AP)
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W. Africa Bloc Says Military Intervention in Niger ‘Last Resort’

ECOWAS Senegalese troops hold their position in Barra, across from the Gambian capital Banjul Jan. 22, 2017. (AP)
ECOWAS Senegalese troops hold their position in Barra, across from the Gambian capital Banjul Jan. 22, 2017. (AP)

West Africa's regional bloc on Wednesday said a military intervention in junta-ruled Niger was "the last resort" as Nigeria cut electricity supplies to intensify pressure on the country's coup leaders.

Military chiefs from the grouping were meeting on Wednesday to frame a response and a delegation was in Niger for negotiations, a week after a coup shook the fragile nation and prompted ex-colonial power France to evacuate its citizens.

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders on Sunday imposed trade and financial sanctions and gave the coup leaders a week to reinstate Niger's democratically elected president or face potential use of force.

"(The) military option is the very last option on the table, the last resort, but we have to prepare for the eventuality," said Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.

An ECOWAS team headed by former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar was in Niger to "negotiate", added Musah, speaking at the start of a three-day meeting of the grouping's military chiefs in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The current chair of ECOWAS is Nigeria, West Africa's military and economic superpower.

It has vowed to take a firm line against coups that have proliferated across the region since 2020, most of them the outcome of a bloody extremist insurgency.

A source in Niger's power company said Nigeria had cut off its electricity supply to its neighbor as a result of the sanctions.

"Since yesterday, Nigeria has disconnected the high-voltage line transporting electricity to Niger," the source at Nigelec, the country's monopoly supplier, told AFP.

Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, depends on Nigeria for 70 percent of its power, buying it from the Nigerian company Mainstream, according to Nigelec.

Junta-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso have warned that any military intervention in their neighbor would be tantamount to a "declaration of war" against them.

General Salifou Mody, one of the Niger coup leaders, arrived with a delegation in Mali's capital Bamako on Wednesday, a senior Nigerien official and a Malian security official told AFP. They did not give further details.

Europeans leave

Mohamed Bazoum, 63, was feted in 2021 after winning elections that ushered in Niger's first-ever peaceful transition of power.

He took the helm of one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, burdened by four previous coups since independence from France in 1960.

But after surviving two attempted putsches, Bazoum himself was overthrown on July 26 when members of his own guard detained him at the presidency.

Their leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani, has declared himself leader, but his claim has been condemned internationally.

France on Wednesday scheduled more evacuation flights from the capital Niamey following hostile anti-French demonstrations at the weekend.

By Wednesday more than 500 people had landed in Paris aboard two flights, mostly French citizens but also Portuguese, Belgians, Nigerians, Ethiopians and Lebanese evacuees.

Two final flights have been organized for Wednesday, according to the French army.

Italian authorities also said they had evacuated around 100 foreigners living in Niger, who arrived in Rome early Wednesday, with ANSA radio reporting they included 36 Italians and 21 Americans.

Germany has urged its citizens to leave, but the United States -- which has 1,100 troops stationed in Niger -- has opted to not evacuate Americans for now.

Strategic ally

Under Bazoum and his predecessor Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger has had a key role in French and Western strategies to combat an extremist insurgency that has rampaged across the Sahel since 2012.

After joining a regional revolt in northern Mali, armed extremists advanced into Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015 and now carry out sporadic attacks on fragile states on the Gulf of Guinea.

Countless numbers of civilians, troops and police have been killed across the region, many in massacres, while around 2.2 million people in Burkina Faso alone have fled their homes.

The impact has contributed to army takeovers in all three Sahel countries and inflicted devastating damage to economies at the very bottom of the world's wealth table.

France at one point had about 5,400 troops in its anti-extremist Barkhane mission, supported by fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

But that mission had to be drastically refocused on Niger last year, when France pulled out of Mali and Burkina Faso after falling out with their juntas.

Today, the reconfigured French force has around 1,500 men, many of them deployed at a major air base near Niamey.

France's army chief of staff announced on Tuesday that a pullout was "not on the agenda".



Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza. 

The court ruled that in the absence of a law that distinguishes between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizens. 

Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war, as the military has called up tens of thousands of soldiers and says it needs all the manpower it can get. Over 600 soldiers have been killed. 

Politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties, key partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, oppose any change in the current system. If the exemptions are ended, they could bolt the coalition, causing the government to collapse and leading to new elections. 

During arguments, government lawyers told the court that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.” 

The court decision comes at a sensitive time, as the war in Gaza drags on into its ninth month and the number of dead soldiers continues to mount. 

The court found that the state was carrying out “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.” 

It did not say how many ultra-Orthodox should be drafted. 

The court also ruled that state subsidies for seminaries where exempted ultra-Orthodox men study should remain suspended. The court temporarily froze the seminary budgets earlier this year. 

In a post on the social media platform X, cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, called the ruling “very unfortunate and disappointing.” He did not say whether his party would bolt the government. 

“The state of Israel was established in order to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the bedrock of its existence. The Holy Torah will prevail,” he wrote. 

The ultra-Orthodox see their full-time religious study as their part in protecting the state of Israel. Many fear that greater contact with secular society through the military will distance adherents from strict observance of the faith. 

Ultra-Orthodox men attend special seminaries that focus on religious studies, with little attention on secular topics like math, English or science. Critics have said they are ill-prepared to serve in the military or enter the secular work force. 

Religious women generally receive blanket exemptions that are not as controversial, in part because women are not expected to serve in combat units. 

The ruling now sets the stage for growing friction within the coalition between those who support drafting more ultra-Orthodox and those who oppose the idea. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are likely to face intense pressure from religious leaders and their constituents and may have to choose whether remaining in the government is worthwhile for them. 

Shuki Friedman, vice-president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank said the ultra-Orthodox “understand that they don’t have a better political alternative, but at same time their public is saying ‘why did we vote for you?’” 

The exemptions have faced years of legal challenges and a string of court decisions has found the system unjust. But Israeli leaders, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, have repeatedly stalled. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu will be able to do so again. 

Netanyahu’s coalition is buoyed by two ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose increasing enlistment for their constituents. The long-serving Israeli leader has tried to adhere to the court’s rulings while also scrambling to preserve his coalition. But with a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, he's often beholden to the pet issues of smaller parties. 

Netanyahu has been promoting a bill tabled by a previous government in 2022 that sought to address the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment. 

But critics say that bill was crafted before the war and doesn’t do enough to address a pressing manpower shortfall as the army seeks to maintain its forces in the Gaza Strip while also preparing for potential war with the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has been fighting with Israel since the war in Gaza erupted last October. 

With its high birthrate, the ultra-Orthodox community is the fastest-growing segment of the population, at about 4% annually. Each year, roughly 13,000 ultra-Orthodox males reach the conscription age of 18, but less than 10% enlist, according to the Israeli parliament’s State Control Committee.