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Hello from The National.

Here are this week’s most compelling and exclusive stories from the UK and Europe.

BIG PICTURE

 

Iran 'directing Houthis' in the Red Sea

Iran is “highly likely” to be directing Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea as it tries to support Hamas’s war with Israel, military analysts have told The National.

The Iranian regime has supplied the Yemeni rebels with a large stockpile of anti-ship missiles, including the Khalij Fars, a ballistic weapon that can strike ships at high speeds.

On Sunday, the British-owned Unity Explorers was one of two commercial vessels attacked with drones and missiles.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Carney reportedly shot down two drones in the ships' defence.

Iran is allegedly supplying locations to the Houthis to enable them to attack specific ships, but does not want to escalate the Israel-Gaza war.

There is also a suggestion that the attacks could provoke a US response with a missile strike on Houthi targets in Yemen, although there are fears that this could also escalate the conflict.

International shipping organisations have called on world navies to protect merchant vessels, suggesting that a convoy system could be used to assist ships getting through the Red Sea.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Tuesday about the incidents.

A Downing Street spokesman said they "shared their concerns about increasing attacks by Houthi militants, supported by Iran, against commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea".

Mr Sunak stressed the UK’s commitment to freedom of navigation and highlighted this week sending HMS Diamond, a Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyer, to bolster deterrence in the region and keep trade routes flowing.

He said the UK would continue to support efforts to de-escalate tension and address the threat on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Analysts believe that Yemen is the safest option for Iran to become involved in the Israel-Gaza war without being significantly drawn into the conflict.

While Iran controls Hezbollah and its estimated 150,000-missile arsenal, it understands a mass attack from Lebanon would inflame the conflict, with unknown consequences.

“It’s highly likely that the Iranians need to escalate in some way to demonstrate support for Hamas and as the Houthis are not the crown jewel in Iran's proxy network, it's an organisation with which they have a fairly transactional relationship,” said Dr Sidharth Kaushal, of the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

“Operating through the Houthis is a way to triage between those two conflicting imperatives to do something but not to escalate.”

Farea Al Muslimi, of the Chatham House think tank, said that Iran’s “Axis of Resistance” against Israel was now firmly in the Red Sea.

“Even if the Houthis don’t actually inform Iran of an attack, it's much more significant as it means you have a ‘mini-Iran’ in every way possible in the Red Sea,” Mr Al Muslimi said.

Paul Carey
Deputy London bureau chief

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Kigali or bust

Coming to grips with illegal migration has been high on the agenda in the UK and Europe in the past week, with James Cleverly flying to Rwanda to sign a deportation treaty and the EU unveiling its proposals – entitled Global Alliance to Counter Migrant Smuggling.

Mr Cleverly, the UK Home Secretary, insisted his new legally binding deal addresses all of the reasons that caused the Supreme Court to deem the Government’s flagship asylum policy unlawful.

Europe’s plans involve a broad range of measures that acknowledge “migration is a complex issue”, taking in heftier fines for smugglers and increased funding for breaking up their activities, and a stricter definition of what constitutes migrant smuggling.

There will also be information campaigns on social media and messaging apps, where most crossings are organised, and the EU says it will work with social media companies.

In Britain, getting asylum seekers on a plane still appears to be Plan A, despite murmurings among Conservative MPs that it might not be all it is cracked up to be.

No silver bullet,” was how Alicia Kearns, the chairwoman of the influential foreign affairs committee, described it to The National before Mr Cleverly’s announcement.

For Mr Cleverly, there is a constant reminder of the presence of asylum seekers in Britain right on his own doorstep.

A former military base in the Essex countryside, part of the Home Secretary’s constituency, is housing about 60 asylum seekers, with an original plan to increase that to 1,700.

It seems he has heard local people’s arguments about a lack of infrastructure to support such a large number of asylum seekers and has reportedly promised to close the camp at the earliest possible opportunity.

That, of course, does not solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else.

We spoke to an Eritrean who has been forced to live at the camp after crossing seven nations to get to Britain.

Ali told us: “Sometimes I find myself dreaming about when I was in France and in the boat. It was scary.

"I wanted to come to England because it's a country with human rights.

"I hope to go to college to study IT and graphic design.”

Ali will hope that study can happen in the UK, not Kigali.

 

Ingredients for Cop28 success

At Cop28 in Dubai, the big development was a draft global stocktake showing negotiators are considering a phase-out of all fossil fuels, as Tim Stickings reports.

Campaigners welcomed signs of a possible coal deal that would go further than a “phase-down” agreed on two years ago in Glasgow.

Tom Evans, a policy adviser at think tank E3G, said the new text contains the "ingredients for an ambitious outcome".

"We can see some of the elements that we would need by the end of this Cop," he said, but it is "far from guaranteed that we land those ambitious outcomes" as negotiators continue shuttling around Expo City Dubai.

Meanwhile, Cop28 has won praise from one of the leading international climate coalitions for a groundbreaking focus on methane after a presidency declaration aimed at a third of historic global warming greenhouse gases.

Adair Turner, the head of the Energy Transitions Commission, told The National the declaration on methane was a key move towards avoiding a tipping point for a planet that is struggling to hit a global warming target of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels.

 
 

Schools making waves

At St Just Primary School in Cornwall, the most westerly school in the UK, head teacher Demelza Bolton fears the pupils could grow up “isolated” from understanding the global effects of climate change.

“We’re quite isolated from a lot of things within the country,” she told The National. "The children don't experience other cultures like they would if they were in a school in London.”

This term, however, pupils aged 11 were paired with a school in the UAE, meeting over video links to talk about the coastline near their homes, and exchange artworks and poems on the subject.

By sharing their experiences, they learnt about the similarities and differences of living by the sea in northern Europe and the Middle East.

“Our children see Dubai as an absolute world away,” Ms Bolton said. "Although they have quite a lot of similarities because they are coastal, for the children it’s opened their eyes to the wider world."

 

OTHER STORIES THIS WEEK

UK urged to seek expert advice in shaping Middle East policy
US 'misread' Iran's role in Israel-Gaza war
Sunak outmanoeuvred at every turn by 'Prime Minister-in-waiting'
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